Wait a Minute while I Procrastinate

Procrastinate. What a funny word. Its roots come from words in Latin that mean tomorrow and forward. In other words, why do today what you can put off till tomorrow. Maybe you are engaging in a bit of procrastination right now, when you told yourself this is your writing time. Perhaps you were surfing the net hoping for inspiration or direction with a troubling scene you are trying to write, but then got distracted by this blog post title. But I’m glad you stopped in so we can take a look at procrastination. Hopefully, I’ll give you some pointers that will redirect your attention back to where you’d hoped it would go.

Gone Are the Days …

We live in such a distracting world these days. Too much information running through our brains (so goes one of my favorite Police songs). Gone are those halcyon days of rocking on the front porch, sipping lemonade, the big event of the day being the mail delivery. The phone was in the house, so if it rang, you didn’t really have to get up and answer it. Not like today, with our cell phones like an appendage we can’t live without. How did we get here? Did you ever imagine one day you would go into apoplexy if you weren’t “connected” to your tribe for more than a few minutes?

We’ve allowed distraction to be part of our lives. Few people have the discipline or the desire to discipline themselves to focus and concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time. Sure, some of us have jobs where we have to focus or we’ll get fired. But during our personal time, off the clock and away from watching eyes, we let go of the reins. We allow media and life to pull our attention in a myriad of directions. Sometimes we feel like a kid at a carnival, with all those bright, shiny, noisy, exciting things clamoring for our attention.

But I Really Need My Cell Phone

One of the reasons I go backpacking in the summer is to force myself to cut out as many distractions from modern life as possible. Before cell phones, no problem. I could successfully cut that umbilical cord and actually relax, be here now, and enjoy the creation around me. But now . . . I get four bars and 4G at the top of a mountain, and I’m sometimes dealing with cover design decisions with my publisher or confirming editing appointments while sweating up the hill. And forgetting to see the beauty around me.

And now . . . I just ordered a solar cell phone charger. Heck, yeah. So I can strap it to my backpack, where it will charge all day, so I can recharge my cell phone in the middle of nowhere. I really need that phone, right? In case of an emergency. Or to use the cool GPS and compass apps I have. And to take photos of the stunning wildflowers. And to play my iTunes library of great “hiking music.” All this enhances my joy and feeling of security. But will I resist checking my e-mail and dropping in on Facebook? Do I have the discipline to draw the line and tune out the world. Not.

Where Has All the Willpower Gone?

This isn’t to say it’s a bad thing to be connected. Not at all. But the problem comes in when we let the distracting world encroach when we are trying to get some writing done. Willpower is a virtue of past generations, but we today don’t seem to respect it. Or believe it’s possible. So much food around us and it’s hard to say no, to diet. We tell ourselves we need to exercise, but just can’t find the time. Maybe some feel willpower is overrated, but I feel we need to put it back up on that pedestal. We need to view self-control and discipline as virtuous and something to strive for.

But, wait! My favorite show is about to air. I’ll think about this more tomorrow. Scarlett O’Hara had it right. And so did Mark Twain, who wrote: “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Next week, however, I will give some tips on how to avoid procrastination. But in the meantime, instead of getting back to writing, share some ways you procrastinate and what distracts you.

Featured Photo Credit: Foxtongue via Compfight cc

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  1. (1) Don’t put off ’til tomorrow what you can put off ’til the day after tomorrow.

    (2) I always have time for procrastination.

    (3) It’s not procrastination — it’s creative avoidance.

    1. Great piece, CS! And I like your comments, Michael. Is there a degree program in #3 Creative Avoidance? I feel I have accumulated sufficient credits for a Bachelor’s degree, at the very least 🙂

  2. Thanks Susanne. This post has rekindled a poem I wrote in a chapbook years ago.

    I lost the swing on the porch
    white, peeling paint and rusty
    chains holding firmly
    the creaking bench.

    I search up among the
    distant stars and
    into the velvet sky
    to get a glimpse of
    where the swing vanished
    along with fireflies
    the smell of honeysuckle
    and apple blossoms
    from the old tree
    in the yard and the
    long conversations below
    the porch light.

    Where I wonder
    have I lost it?
    Was it when I moved away
    from town?
    Or was it when
    the bulldozers advanced like
    bulldogs foaming
    at the mouth?
    Was it those shiny dollars
    or the signature
    on the deed
    that pushed and pushed
    the swing up and away
    to disappear into the sky?

  3. Thank you for this! I certainly do procrastinate, it seems even more so now when I am not working that 9-5 job. I love that Mark Twain also understood: “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”
    I don’t feel so bad about procrastinating now that I see others do it…Maybe some of us do it out of fear that we will still be beating up on ourselves tomorrow when we see how little we actually get done today.

  4. Thanks for this post. I should be writing, of course, so I have played with my facebook page, fiddled with the email on my iPad as it wasn’t working, checked Twitter and read a bunch of blogs. Will now break for lunch.
    First, though, I’ll just check those emails again…

  5. I am thrilled to have found you, CS.I look forward to reading more of your writing. I too an striving toward faithfulness and hoping that success will be a by-product (as determined by the One who has inspired me). Thank you!

  6. I’m not a writer, but a visual artist and I definitely procrastinate. Why oh why do we do this to ourselves I often wonder. It’s that jumping in that’s the hardest part for me. But when I’m in, I’m in. Thanks for writing this and I’m looking forward to your next post on this topic.


    P.S. just read something this morn about how getting & being in the zone during the creative process relieves anxiety. That alone should be motivating.

  7. It seems that the more information we have, the less time there is to do anything. I feel as if I whirl around trying to figure out what to do first. I have always resisted the writing of lists but know that it would really help, and number 1 on the list must be ‘sit down and write’!

  8. Procrastination – what a big topic! Specifically, right now, I’m hoping to buy a home in about a year and a half, so I spend a lot of time on real estate websites; in general, I spend too much time thinking about doing, instead of actually doing. I’m a planner/organizer – that way, I FEEL like I’m taking action, but I’m really not. It’s my mind’s kind of clever way of procrastinating (mostly out of fear) while making it feel like I’m moving forward. Sucks – I’d really rather be a “doer”, but I’ve always been this way! But I’m pretty sure everyone has this tendency to some degree.

  9. I read this article and will later( lol ) read the comments, because I suffer from the guilt brought on by my procrastinating. The thing is that I do not waste time, so I have begun to tell myself that even when I am not doing what I think I aught be doing, the thing I am doing is going to make me better at what I aught be doing. In other words I am not procrastinating. I simply need more time to think.

    1. Is there one Task that you continually avoid and are you really worse off for avoiding it? A lot of people I know perceive themselves to be procrastinating when they’re actually just practicing effective time management and prioritization. If it’s writing that you “aught” to be doing, the thinking is an important preparation.

      Sometimes when I’m stuck during writing, I’ll pick up a broom and sweep the floor. The brainless work, and the physical activity frees my mind to contemplate what’s sticking me, and I often can easily get back in the writing flow.

      Guilt is an anti-productive indulgence. Banish it by doing at least a little of the task you’re avoiding. Use a timer so you’ll know when that “little bit” is finished and the guilt-monster can be put to rest.

      1. Great comment. Yes, a lot of writers lay on the couch and close their eyes, thinking. A lot do mundane activities (like cleaning or taking a walk) to process ideas. Or even to clear their heads. But that’s different from actually procrastinating. I think we all know what that feels like. You gear up to work on something, set aside time for it, set goals, but then just don’t do it. One writer says we just need to use that “butt glue” and put rear end in chair.

        I like your comment about guilt. It can create more procrastination through feeling worthless or negative. Procrastination is an attitude, and it can best us. So having the balanced attitude about work and goals and accomplishments will serve writers best in the long run. Don’t push too hard, but don’t make continual excuses for not getting projects (of any kind) done that need doing.

        1. Seeing procrastination as an attitude is very important! (thank you for that perspective.) It means that it’s not a deep part of you and it’s something you can change if you are determined to do so.

  10. Procrastination is part of our human nature. Although, the strict type A personalities probably don’t put off until tomorrow or the day following. Something or someone else probably gets put on the back burner due to their not putting off. I have procrastinated reading your article on procrastination! It was on my “to do list”. I admit I suffer from falling into the procrastinator’s world of procrastinating certain tasks…not everything. Deadlines help cure the problem…being held accountable to complete by a certain date, time or else!

  11. The thing about procrastination is that you will usually find something of lesser importance to do as a way of procrastinating so as not to do something of greater importance. So if you can find something that seems important (or really is, but can actually be handled quite quickly, like your tax return) then you can use it to get yourself to do other stuff. So tell yourself that your writing is really fun and much better than boring tax returns, filing, laundry, yard work, washing the car, etc. and use procrastination against itself!

  12. I’m sitting here, reading this post while I’m supposed to be working (I got here via a Twitter link). My cell phone is calling me to complete another Quest on Candy Crush, and my Kindle is begging me to finish just one more chapter. These activities all have greater appeal than my to-do list (which includes finishing work and buying my mother a Christmas present).

    Procrastination is one of my greatest talents. I’m glad I’m not alone. Is there a 12-step plan?

  13. Why I procrastinate – it is the tyranny of the “adequate” over the determination to reach for “excellence.” What I mean is that I allow myself to simply settle for a lesser effort rather than push myself to the limits of potential. It’s easy to procrastinate when laziness is a constant companion. And laziness becomes a tyrant, so much so that I find myself constantly fighting against those whispered lies that adequate is acceptable. It’s easy to procrastinate if all you do is give a half-hearted effort. There’s lots of time to waste – and procrastination becomes a comfortable pillow, well-suited for a lazy head. This is my constant battle. As the Scripture says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

    1. There is a lot of literature that advises doing “good enough”, but that is aimed at perfectionists, the opposite of your situation. Sometimes adequate is acceptable, other times not. The key is knowing which is appropriate for which situation. Perhaps you, Michael, can find one or two things that inspire you to do your best and by working to your limit on only a few things you deem important and interesting, you can come to peace with your constant battle.

    1. I started out knowing that I wanted to self-publish, (Gathering Strength: Conversations with Afghan Women) but then a friend convinced me that I should try to get traditionally published. It was a good process to go through, it helped me organize my thoughts about my book, but ultimately, no one could see my vision as I did and I went back to self publishing. CreateSpace and others of their ilk do a pretty good job, but my layout was so complex that I had to create my own publishing company to handle it.

      A couple of things I’d advise:

    2. I started out knowing that I wanted to self-publish, (Gathering Strength: Conversations with Afghan Women) but then a friend convinced me that I should try to get traditionally published. It was a good process to go through; it helped me organize my thoughts about my book, but ultimately, no one could see my vision as I did and I went back to self publishing. CreateSpace and others of their ilk do a pretty good job, but my layout was so complex that I ended up creating my own publishing company to handle it.

      A couple of things I’d advise:
      1. If you get a large well-known publisher, great. They will have a lot of distribution resources for you.
      2. If you are looking at a small press, vett them first in Preditors and Editors. pred-ed.com/ This due dilligence can save your butt.
      3. If you’re self publishing, I’d highly recommend POD rather than offset printing. When my book first came out, I was appalled at all the mistakes I found (yes, with TWO editors plus a number of readers) which I was then easily able to correct with little loss. Also, the real hold back is distribution. Once you pay for storage and the distributor fee–if you are lucky enough to get a distributor to take your book, your books will cost about the same as POD.
      4. And know that you’ll have to put about the same effort into marketing your book whichever way you go.

  14. Just found this post and had a guilty grin on my face. I am supposed to be writing right now, but hey! It seems like a good idea to add some blogs into my RSS feed.

    For the most part, I postpone things because of video content. Reading I can control, but if some mystic force decides to open Youtube, I am doomed (of course it’s not me! Taking responsibility is hard even for the elderly).

    There was a funny turn-around of Mark Twain’s words: “Never put off for tomorrow what you can do today. Leave it for the day after tomorrow. Maybe it will resolve itself.” Too bad it does not work with writing, right?

    1. I think all writers find great, creative ways to procrastinate! It comes with the territory. Hope you check out the blog and all the free, great instruction, tips, and encouragement here!

  15. I guess I was looking for inspiration when I landed here, but yes I always procrastinate by saying it needs a lot of thinking and I am not in a mood to think!!! Well you have listed down all the distractions so carefully – the cell phone, small talk, call from work that we cant neglect and sometimes noises in the head.

  16. This is so relevant to me right now. I spend so much time thinking about writing and not enough time actually writing. Great read!

  17. I find that I procrastinate by researching random facts and historical events that I didn’t know existed. This way, I often feel like I’m doing something useful, but really I’m just trying to get myself away from the page. But thank you for the reminder of technology’s influence! I often forget about it and let it seep into my everyday activities way too much and far too often.

  18. I find that I procrastinate by researching random facts and historical events. Thank you for this reminder of technology. I often find myself often addicted to checking social media and YouTube, which isn’t healthy for my writing.

  19. Procrastinating is my number one Achille’s heel when it comes to writing. When the mood strikes and I find myself ready to write, more often than not my attention wanders to something completely outside of what I need to be focusing on. Be it a buzzing phone, a television playing in a different room, or even something going on outside.

    Thanks for the advice, I’ll put it to good use!

  20. I find that when I procrastinate, I get things done faster and I have time for things that I want to do. When I had to turn in my essay for school one time, I waited until and hour before it was due and then I rushed to complete the whole thing and I still got a good grade for it. In my time of procrastination I did all the things that I actually wanted to do and at the end of it, I ended up turning in my paper too.

    What do you guys think of procrastinating for writing contests?

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