Let’s just call it what it is. You’re putting it off. Avoiding. Dodging. Hiding. Running. It has many names, but the most popular one – procrastination – makes it sound fancier than it deserves.
A writer probably came up with the term because that’s the kind of thing we do when we’re avoiding the blank page. We find other things that need doing instead of the “it” that needs doing the most. We writers are so skilled at procrastination that we’ve turned it into something that sounds more like a dread disease – writer’s block.
But writers certainly don’t have the market cornered on procrastination. There’s plenty to go around, and it doesn’t matter what the “it” is that you’re avoiding. It could be a work project, an overdue apology, a junky garage, a tense conversation or even that box of family photos you promised yourself you’d organize one day. We’re all avoiding something, so here are three steps for learning how to procrastinate like a pro.
Step 1: Fritter and putter.
Don’t just dive right in to full-on procrastination mode. You could pull a muscle that way. I like to start with a nice warm-up like frittering and puttering. For example, if the polish on one of your fingernails is chipped, go ahead and pick at it until you chip away all the polish on that nail. We all know it’s going to bug you to stare at that chipped polish all day, so you might as well pick it off. It’s just one nail, right?
Half an hour later, when you’ve neurotically picked all the polish off all the nails, tell yourself that at least it can’t distract you anymore. You’re ready for Step Two.
Step 2: Do other stuff.
Once you’ve wasted enough time to feel bad about it, ramp up your efforts into “productive procrastination.” But don’t let the “productive” part of the name fool you. You’ll still be avoiding the task at hand, but you can use all that avoidance energy to do other stuff.
When I’m on a deadline and staring into the black abyss of nothingness, I’m at my most productive on other, less pressing tasks. You can tell I’m in Phase Two when there are fresh vacuum cleaner tracks in the living room, or the refrigerator has been cleaned and organized. I sort through emails and rewrite my to-do list so it’s nice and neat, as if better penmanship will somehow meet my deadline.
The only thing I don’t do and urge you to also avoid is opening Facebook or attempting to “Google something really quick.” Nope. You can’t do it. If you’re foolhardy enough to think you can, you’ll be dragging yourself out of a digital rabbit hole two hours later feeling worse than ever.
Step 3: Hello pain. Meet pleasure.
The great, trail-blazing columnist Erma Bombeck once said that procrastination and writer’s block are a luxury a serious writer can’t afford. She said her editors never cared that a funny thing didn’t happen to her on the way to the bank. She said you had to “train yourself to shut out the world and write.”
What I’ve learned over two decades as a professional procrastinator is that sometimes the struggle is part of the process. It’s almost like you’re circling the problem, glancing at it from different angles, looking for the best point of attack.
But just like a plane running out of fuel, you can’t keep circling the airport forever. Eventually the pleasure of putting something off morphs into the pain of avoiding what must be done. The scales tip in favor of action, and we settle down to do the work.
When you’ve finally done the thing you were running from, pain gives way to the pleasure of accomplishment. It feels so good you wonder why you avoided it for so long. You promise yourself you’ll never procrastinate again.
(But if you do, at least now you’ll know how to do it like a pro.)
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.