10 Tips to Help You Avoid Procrastinating

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.
I hope some of these suggestions help you avoid procrastination. Now get back to writing! And don’t forget the cookies.


What helps you avoid procrastinating? Got any great ideas you’d like to share here with other writers?

Featured Photo Credit: tropical.pete via Compfight cc

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  1. I often think of FALL as the NEW YEAR, so this is very appropriate and I’m making making my list and sticking to it. I like to write in the morning and do my rereading and evaluating later in the day. And I do like to turn off my brain–at least by 7:00 at night. Thanks.

  2. I keep my nose to the writing stone because my first book promises the sequel on a page right at the end. I’ve even set the date as June, 2014. Since I’ve told the world I am really motivated to work every weekday to get to my goal. Love your tips!

  3. These come with perfect timing. My current procrastination is due to a particularly troublesome scene. I know the frame of the scene but what’s is in the middle is causing me fits. I have to fix it because it is a pivotal point in the action but every time I start I write myself into a whole new problem that doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. So instead of actually writing I am mulling things over and over and over while doing chores. Granted the house is now clean, the laundry done, the garden weeded, and the lawn is mowed but I have yet to figure out a solution. I actually stopped mowing when a possible solution “arrived”. After thirty minutes of writing I finished mowing. The libraries are closed this long weekend so no escape route available until Tuesday. I remind myself everyday that I AM A WRITER and I LOVE WRITING, even when it gets tough, like now. Your list does help and when I get this scene written I will schedule a massage. Thanks.

  4. Try this tip. Set a ‘To-Do’ alert with a due date and a note to yourself like “Hi (your name),Met your goals this week? If so, great give yourself a treat. No? Uh uh…” I get this message every Friday in my inbox when I do my weekly review.

    1. I like the reminders tip. I’m still making friends in a new town so I don’t have that human accountability partner yet, but I will set up reminders on my phone today. Thanks for the suggestion.

  5. For me, if I get started on things like email in the morning, I look at the time several hours later and realize I have spent my morning on the internet. This varies of course but I try to stay away from the ‘net in the morning. I tend to get caught in it (pun intended). As you can see, I’m breaking my rule this morning.

  6. Oh, thank you…I knew all of this except the Accountability Partner. I’ve been thinking about a mentor, and screaming quietly for someone to take me to task about my book, so this is the absolutel answer. You’re a genius. Let’s see if it works!

  7. It all depends how one takes up writing – as a hobby or ‘time pass’ or an outlet to his creative self.
    When creativity is the ‘call’, procrastination has hardly any role to play.
    Of course the environment does have a role in the productive use of time.
    When the urge to write dawns, it is not that difficult to break any barrier.
    For me writing is the second phase of my activities , which is quite the opposite to my engagement as Management Consultant in my earlier vocation.
    And I am enjoying every bit though I ventured in to this not even a decade back, as full time engagement.
    Thanks for initiating the discussion

  8. Fantastic list. I have been procrastinating for 20 years. I’ve written a “Writer’s Contract”, an idea I got from William Bernhard – I am now committing two hours a day to writing. I usually do it either in the morning after the kids have gone to school, or at night once they are in bed. (Sometimes I can do it earlier in the evening if they decide to watch something on television with my wife.)

    I’m working on my first book, and at the moment, there is a lot of world-building and character dossiers – but I want to put as much effort into this project as I can. I like the idea of treating it as a job. I have my office set up in the den, with my writing books close to hand. And I think that I may make a date with myself to have a nice Chai Latte at my favourite cafe in town when I complete a week’s worth of work.

    Thanks for the tips!

  9. Really helpful list of tips here thanks. Also loved the cookie story, willpower with food or writing is often hard!

  10. Willpower is a lot like enlightment, you never really know when you’ve achieved it…but you know when you haven’t.

    I set writing goals for myself and then try (i.e. willpower) to accomplish those goals. My measure of success isn’t how many times I’ve accomplished the goals, it’s how many times I tried again after failing to achieve one.

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