Writers, here’s how to slay the procrastination monsters

Distractions take the form of Twitter hashtags, caffeine cravings, text exchanges—and myriad other demons. Here’s how to vanquish them and get into a steady work rhythm.

We’ve all been there: sitting up straight at your desk, computers on or notebooks open, your eyes bright and your intentions set.

Yet somehow you can’t quite bring yourself to start making words appear on the page. Some tiny, squiggling temptation is pulling on you like gravity, and you yield to it almost without thinking.

Suddenly you’re off on a social media binge, or a coffee run, or a texting frenzy with friends. You may or may not be conscious of how much time it takes to go off on these tangents, but you sure do feel lousy when you’ve used up all your writing time on them.

The world is full of endless distractions that can derail your dreams, but you can establish procrastination-busting habits to have ready when needed.

You might already know about blocking distractions such as social media and email and removing any objects of temptation such as books, magazines and other forms of print media not essential to your current writing project.

Here are five ways to overcome procrastination and jump-start your productivity:

1. Check your production schedule, and review past work.

At the beginning of your writing session, take a few deep breaths and review the production schedule for your latest project.

Look back on your previous work session, and give yourself credit for what you’ve achieved. The greatest predictor of future behavior is past behavior, and you’re making good progress. Remind yourself that you have a history of getting down to work and meeting deadlines.

Think of all the words that have filled up inside you and spilled over into your work, and remember what a great joy it is to feel that. Now look ahead at your upcoming deadlines. Visualize yourself meeting them, as well as the sense of accomplishment that comes with taking action.

Feel the words filling up inside you again, open your project, and go.

2. Research your subject.

Procrastination can be an expression of anxiety.

Are you not as sure of your subject as you thought you were? Do you need a way into the piece, but can’t seem to find the right angle? Set a timer and dive into some dedicated research for 30 minutes.

Make a list of six new facts that you could use in your piece. You can also ask some new questions or get help from new sources. Who are the experts in the field? What’s the latest iteration of your subject, and what is the outlook for its future? Make a simple timeline of your subject’s history, and add important highlights as they sprang up along the journey.

Step back, and look at your work: Does anything in particular catch your eye? Is there an unsolved mystery staring you in the face? Dive into it.

3. Warm up with something easy.

We all have tasks that support our writing. Usually this comes in the form of organizational tools such as your production schedule, which helps you stay focused and manage deadlines.

You could also start a Google spreadsheet to keep track of your submissions. Make an extra column called “Expectations,” which refers to your editor’s expectations of you once the piece is published-usually it’s about interacting with commenters and answering any questions about the piece.

When’s the last time you checked the comments on your published pieces?

You can clean up your cloud writing sites, whether you use Evernote or Ulysses or whatever, and make sure everything is properly catalogued with dates.

One last idea: Make a list of 10 blog topics that inspire you to write, even if they have nothing to do with your current subject.

Just get the juices flowing, and set yourself free on your piece.

4. Meditate on your subject.

A regular meditation practice can work wonders for your writing by clearing out a space for your inner voice to make itself known. Sometimes you just need to quiet all other thoughts and let your words come to you in whatever form they assume, without constraints or edits.

Many clients tell me that once they begin meditating regularly, their writing sessions flow much more smoothly, and they face less procrastination overall.

You can do a simple meditation by sitting comfortably in a chair, closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing.

Count slowly to four as you inhale, and again as you exhale. Do this until you feel your breathing calm a bit; then start counting to five as you inhale and exhale, then six, and so on.

In the spaces between breaths, visualize a blank page. What words appear there? Don’t worry if they don’t make sense right away. Just allow them to form and settle on the page. They might have nothing to do with your current project, or they might just be the key that unlocks the entire thing.

You can also use them as a prompt for your writing session if you’re still stuck. Keep a small notebook of words that appear during your meditations, and refer to it occasionally when you need a boost.

5. Do a simple household task for 30 minutes.

If you absolutely, positively cannot sit in front of your desk for a moment longer, get up and be productive for 30 minutes.

Look around your space: How can you cleanse, clear or organize it? Set a timer, keep it near you, and obey when it goes off.

Don’t start a giant project that involves strong emotions, such as cleaning out your clothes closet. Make quick, utilitarian choices. Clean the bathroom, take out the garbage and recycling, or wash all the dishes and wipe down the sink. Clean your computer screen and keyboard.

Laundry is a good choice, because it’s a time-limited task regulated by machines. You can put a load in and scrub down the bathroom while it washes. Put it in the dryer and return to your writing session; you can fold and sort everything when the session is done.

While you’re cleaning, keep your mind on your subject, and let new thoughts and ideas float around freely. Perform a task that ends with a feeling of accomplishment, and take that feeling back to your writing.

Which of these anti-procrastination methods are you most eager to try?

Alicia Dara is a professional creativity consultant and coach with over 20 years’ experience as an arts educator, helping people create meaningful personal works and huge public triumphs. A version of this article originally appeared on The Write Life.

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