A couple of weeks ago I talked about this distracting world we live in and how procrastinating has been refined into an art form of sorts. We’ve become masters at putting off until tomorrow what we should (or aim to) do today. We often set solid goals for ourselves, but like those ephemeral New Year’s resolutions, they seem to recede in our rearview mirrors as we get overly busy doing other stuff.
I can’t help but be reminded of my favorite Frog and Toad story (by author Arnold Lobel) called “Cookies.” Have you ever read those books? If not, you’re missing out! They contain much sage advise, and great observations of human behavior (even if portrayed by a toad and a frog). Even though it’s been years (decades) since I’ve read those stories, I remember them so clearly. Probably because I read them a gazillion times to my daughters. But also because their gems of wisdom stuck in my brain.
No One in Their Right Mind Can Resist Cookies
Frog and Toad want to stop eating the cookies before they become ill, but the cookies taste so good that they just can’t seem to stop eating them. Frog realizes that the problem is that they need willpower to stop eating the cookies. He defines willpower as “trying hard not to do something that you really want to do.” In doing so, Frog raises an interesting philosophical issue. Does having willpower just mean trying not to do something, or does it mean actually not doing it?
Frog puts the cookies in a box, but Toad says they can just open the box. He then ties string around the box. But Toad argues they could just cut the string. Then Frog climbs a ladder and puts the box on a high shelf. You can guess what Toad says next. The solution? Frog takes the box down, cuts the string, opens the lid, then sets it outside and calls all the birds to come get the cookies, which they do.
“Now we have no more cookies to eat,” said Toad sadly. “Not even one.”
“Yes,” said Frog, but we have lots and lots of willpower.”
“You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad. “I am going home now to bake a cake.”
10 Tips to Help You Avoid Procrastinating
If, like me—and Frog and Toad—you are often lacking in willpower, you might benefit from some tips that can help you avoid procrastinating. So here are a few:
- Make a writing schedule. Actually write it down and post it where it can stare you in the face. Let your family know you plan to follow it and ask for their support (to leave you alone so you can write). You can even ask them to nag and remind you to use that willpower.
- Write for short periods of time. So you can feel that sense of discipline and accomplishment. If you try to set aside a whole day or a big block of hours, life may encroach.
- Reward yourself when you meet your goal. Cookies! Literal or figurative. Or bake a cake. Take a bubble bath. Whatever works.
- Work somewhere that won’t be distracting! Okay, that’s a hard one. Some people find the coffee shop noise helpful background ambiance. I drive to my local library four days a week to get away from my dog. Really. He drives me nuts with the ball and Frisbee. He’s a lab. He can’t help it. So I leave.
- Get the other stuff out of the way. I can’t start work until I go through my e-mail and feel I’ve taken care of some stuff that I know will bother me if I don’t take care of it first. You know what stuff that is for you.
- Close your e-mail programs and social networks, and turn off your phone. Yes, you really won’t die if you “unplug” for an hour or three.
- Write at your best time. It’s way harder to push through to write if you’re sleepy or unfocused. I turn off my brain around 5 p.m
- Get an accountability partner. If you want to set tough goals to reach a deadline, set up someone you have to report to or send your chapters to by a specific date and time. I know of one author who agreed to pay $100 every time he was late sending his required pages to his accountability partner. Sometimes he got them sent one minute before deadline, but it was great incentive for him.
- Remind yourself you love to write. I hear from some writers how they’ve come to hate writing. If so, why bother? Write because you love it. It’s fun! Yes, it’s hard work, but so are a lot of things, like scrubbing grungy toilets and digging trenches. Personally, I think writing is a whole lot more fun to work at than a lot of other things. Writing is a privilege; a lot of people struggle each day just to find food and water to survive. Count your blessings. Change your attitude.
- Think of yourself as a writer, that this is your job. Adjust your attitude to view your writing as a profession. Be professional. Treat your writing as a business and be responsible about it, just as you would any other job you are hired to do.