Know Your Enemy – Procrastination
Procrastination blocks productivity. Still, procrastination is better tackled when it’s understood. By definition, procrastination means “the act of delaying or postponing something”, more specifically “putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention”. You are technically only procrastinating in those moments when you believe you should be doing something but are purposefully not doing it. You might do very useful things, but in that time when you believe you should be doing something else you are procrastinating.
Nuts and bolts out of the way, this is an issue mainly when it becomes a habit. Some people appreciate working under pressure, and believe putting off the project for another day will help rather than hurt them. Others believe procrastination, for them, is a character trait, something permanent and like a disease for which fellow artists should show sympathy. More don’t want to share that they do this, feeling shame for not putting their work first at all times. Whatever your relationship with procrastination, it gets in the way of that moment’s productivity and has the capacity to damage mental and emotional health.
This is not to say it hurts everyone. Some people live comfortably within the pendulum swing of stress that comes with regular procrastination. The root of its danger lies in the conflict between what you believe you should be doing and what you actually do.
Procrastination produces frustration and stress. Frustration, as a psychological term, is the emotion that results from a disagreement between your expectations and the result of your efforts. For example, someone facing a term test who hasn’t studied on their own, may have believed simply attending lectures should equip them for this test. Of course, a review of the content the test will cover can immediately make it clear their expectation that their efforts have been sufficient was incorrect. This creates frustration.
This same situation creates stress, too. Stress, again in psychology’s terms, is “a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/stress). Some stressors in the above situation include a deadline, a lot of new information, deprivation of sleep, limited experience with the material, effects of a poor grade, family pressures to perform well, loss of scholarship/financial support, canceled social plans, etc.
Our own expectations create the unique blend of frustration and stress produced by procrastination associated with our creative writing. Writing is an enriching hobby, a side business, or even a primary business, depending on your position in life, talent, and your investment in the work. Each of these purposes affects your expectations for the payoff in your work. There are few writers who can comfortably say they’re always satisfied with how long it takes to go from idea to finished product. There’s always something to work on, always more words to write, and always another way to reach out to readers. This is self-directed work, but it doesn’t progress without committing to time spent working.
To avoid procrastination, you have to want to. You have to want the project bad enough, and also see the connection between the work you’re doing and the ultimate goal. Of course, this relies on the simple power of choice inherent in the definition of procrastination. There are other factors.
It could be the next step is something difficult, or you don’t know what the next step in the process is. What is it, then, that you’re avoiding? Writers avoid many things all for their own reasons. The first step is figuring out what exactly is in the way. Do you believe in your talent, or are you doubting? Do you feel good about your story, or is there something off about it? Do you need an expert to help with your marketing, or do you just need to take the difficult leap? If procrastination has stalled you, and it’s strong enough that you’re seriously concerned, take the time to ask the serious question: what’s in the way?
There are really only a few ways forward when procrastination has got you down. You can knock out the roadblocks (once you know what they are) by getting help, sampling some test readers, or whatever you need. Or, you can plow forward without knowing what comes next, and look for clues to resolve the issue as you go. And finally, you can keep letting it sit. If there’s a good enough reason for you putting it off, then wait a bit for that issue to clarify before moving forward. Detour, four-wheel it, or wait. That’s all there is.
Longitudinal Study of Procrastination, Performance, Stress, and Health: The Costs and Benefits of Dawdling by Dianne M Tice and Roy F Baumeister – http://www.jstor.org/stable/40063233?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
RELIABILITY OF ACADEMIC AND DISPOSITIONAL MEASURES OF PROCRASTINATION by JOSEPH R. FERRARI – http://www.amsciepub.com/doi/abs/10.2466/pr0.1989.64.3c.1057