Five Tips to Overcome Procrastination

There must be a lot more than five ways to stop procrastinating, but if you do these few things, I predict you’ll see a pleasing improvement in your workflow. I used to teach time management classes, and one of the things I would say to my students was “we teach what we need to learn.” So after all those classes, I have learned some things which I will summarize into these five points. Although in this article I’m thinking about procrastination regarding writing memoirs, these tips are useful for other forms of writing and indeed for other activities.

 [1] Make and use to-do lists

These can take several forms, but however you do them, putting what you need or want to do on a list helps declutter your mind and sort out the tasks. Some people won’t make lists, and if you have been one of those, I encourage you to give listmaking a try. It’s well worth it.

There are online listmaking apps. Two I’ve used are Todoist and Remember the Milk.

Now all my lists reside on a writing app that I use called Scrivener. I like this better than other apps because I use it so much anyway and it’s on my computer. Scrivener is a great tool for writing books and I have written most of my recent books on it, using it for its intended purpose. Then one day I realized it would also be perfect for making lists, massive or small. On the left, the side where chapters would go in a book, I list a lot of different topics. It’s a little hard to see in the image, but when I took this screenshot, my cursor was in that lefthand side, in the BIG PICTURE category. That showed me the four lists I had underneath the category.

The individual pages can be used for text, code, images, whatever. Here is my list of sewing projects. (That list hasn’t changed much recently. Sewing is rarely a top priority for me. But when I go through my lists to update them, I do like glancing at  everything.)

This list in Scrivener covers my life. I have another one that is totally about writing my memoirs, filled with all sorts of details about images, book titles, schedules, and more.

You can, of course, make simpler lists, scribbled on scraps of paper or however you like. The key point here is to do some sort of list to organize your thinking.

[2] Schedule the most important things

Some things are more important than others.  Well duh! You knew that. Once you have a list,  go through it and decide what items really matter right now. In the case of beginning to write your memoirs, it could be finding photographs or old letters. Whatever it is, when can you make time to do it? Put this on your calendar, make a section of your list, put stars in front of it, or just start doing it.

Choose times when you can work with minimal disturbances from other people. My husband and I share an office and sometimes he tries to start a conversation when I am concentrating. I say “Not now,” or something similar, and  he knows I’m busy. If you have co-workers, use some creativity to get them to leave you alone when you are focused.

[3] Notice what is stopping you

We all put things off.  If you keep procrastinating on particular tasks, take a few moments to think about why.

  • Do they seem too difficult for you? What can you do about that?
  • Is the task so huge that it’s overwhelming? If so, try chunking it down into smaller bits.
  • Is it bringing up self-esteem issues? This often happens with all forms of writing, and certainly memoirs would be a category where this would happen.

So notice and then take some action. Keep the pressure on yourself down.

[4] Take breaks

At your computer for hours? Get up now and then. I try to walk for five minutes or more per hour, even just around the house or yard. I do stretches or housework tasks during these breaks I also take longer walks most days.

My after-lunch nap is an institution. Nobody who knows me well expects me to have good thinking power until I’ve snoozed for fifteen or twenty minutes.

[5] Reward yourself

When you achieve some task, a reward can be nice. It can even be one of those breaks. It can be food, but preferably not dubious food you wouldn’t otherwise eat.

For a really big project, the reward can be big too. Sometimes when I finish a book, we go out for a special dinner. Procrastination is done for the time being!