One of my fellow writers complained about how she was annoyed with herself for killing time doing everything but what she felt she should be doing, which is working on her novel. I feel her pain, because I am a huge procrastinator, myself. It’s funny , because I love to write and I enjoy doing artwork, but when I have a writing assignment or a portrait due, that’s when all my dishes get washed, the laundry gets done, and the closets get cleaned out.
While having an assignment due is definitely good for my house, it’s not good for my stress level, if I’m putting it off. I don’t want to make a bad impression on my client or lose the money. And of course, there are also times when I don’t have an assignment, but there are things around the house that need to be done–everything from cleaning the kitchen to doing the taxes–and I just want to go hide under a rock, or at least a pile of crossword puzzles.
However, I have come up with a way to defeat the evil procrastination monster. As big and fearsome as that beast looms, you don’t need a giant, two-handled bludgeon to take it down. You beat it with a teeny, tiny little hammer! What I mean is this: Every task that seems insurmountable, from cleaning out the garage to yes, writing a 400-page novel, can be broken down into smaller tasks, even teeny, tiny tasks!
For example, those of you who are facing a massive kitchen cleanup could say, “Okay, well everything needs to be cleaned, but today, I am just going to do ONE shelf in the fridge,” If it’s still too much to think of emptying out one shelf, throwing things away, setting aside other things to keep, removing the shelf from the fridge and scrubbing it down, then just promise to do one or two of those things–at least go through one shelf and throw away what needs to go. If that wears you out, then save the next thing for tomorrow, but it’s very possible that once you get started, you will become more involved in seeing the task through, and you might clean not just the one shelf but another one, and maybe even the whole fridge!
But the secret is to just undertake that first small part. Making an agreement with yourself not to feel obligated to do the entire thing is the secret. Maybe you WILL do the entire thing, or at least more than you agreed to do, but the idea is to just complete the teeny bit, at least, instead of being so afraid of the larger task that you do absolutely nothing. I advised my writer friend that if she just makes an agreement with herself to write one single paragraph, just one, that she may find herself producing at least a couple of pages, once she gets into the swing of things. And if she doesn’t? Well, hey; she’s got one more paragraph than she did, and she can try again next time with another paragraph. As the novelist E.L. Doctorow once said, “Writing is like driving at night…You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
Since every large task can be made up of a series of small ones, this system can work for anything you are putting off (Taxes? Just promise to spend 15 minutes gathering receipts. Exercise? Just allow yourself to do 10 crunches, or lift small hand weights during a commercial break–it’s only three minutes!) What works for me with article writing is this–if I have an idea but I don’t feel like fully developing it yet, I at least create a document and give it a title, which I then keep in my “Work in Progress” folder. I go back to this folder and look over the file names, selecting one to work on. I never obligate myself to write the whole piece at once: I just add a little bit until I’m done. The articles eventually get finished and published!
So if you have a task to complete that seems so big you don’t even want to think about it, just promise to make that first little step–you know, the one that thousand-mile journey starts with. You may start walking and realize, as you look back, that you are pretty far down the road!