I'm getting a lot of hits on last week's post about procrastination , so I thought I'd share a little more about the technique I'm most fond of right now.
There's a lot of talk in productivity circles lately about "productive procrastination," which basically just means that you stall on one task by working on something else instead. There's a new book out called The Art of Procrastination (not one of mine), which offers some clever advice on this tactic. It's worth checking out, if procrastination is something that you struggle with.
My personal favorite system at the moment is called the Autofocus System (PDF link), in which you basically write up one very long to-do list, and then when it's time to start a new task, you scan the list for something that appeals to you. You work on that task for as long as you feel like, then cross it off the list and, if it's not complete, write it again at the bottom of the list. Just making progress on something is often enough to break my procrastination streak. I find that when I'm using the system diligently, I really do get a lot more done.
But how, you may ask, does this work for writers? Shouldn't there be only one item on your list:
"write the &*^%&* book?"
Well, yes and no. I think any large task (like, uh, a manuscript) is made up of smaller tasks (this is the wisdom of David Allen's bestselling Getting Things Done), and those smaller tasks tend to feel a lot less daunting, especially if you can break them into pieces that you know how to tackle.
How about a novel set in the American Civil War, as an example? This author's list might include:
-research Confederate soldiers' rations in 1864
-brainstorm plot arc for [secondary character]
-revise opening scene to put us more in [protagonist]'s head
-select an excerpt to take to critique group this week
-do a book map of Cold Mountain to analyze story structure
-consult a linguist about rural West Virginia dialect
And so on. Do you see how much more manageable each of those items looks than "write a novel about the American Civil War?" Completing this list is not the same as finishing the novel, true, but it's quite a bit of progress in the right direction, and sometimes that's enough.
It's been way too long since we've had a CONTEST, so let's do this. At BEA this year I picked up a great promo item from the publisher of The Art of Procrastination: a "to-do list for procrastinators." Look!
So leave me a comment on this post with your best-ever tip on how to beat procrastination, no later than Friday, October 5, and I'll pick my favorite. If yours is the best tip, I'll send you the notepad and feature your suggestion in a future post. Enter as often as you like.