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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

On Process and Progress (or lack thereof): The 4 P's of Procrastination

I sat down at the beginning of May and mapped out short- and long-term writing goals. They were brilliant! They were ambitious! They were doable if I had a parallel life, a twenty-nine hour day, or lots more organizational skill than I actually possess.

Yeah, I'm one who favorites tweets pointing to articles on finding time to write and has even bookmarked Mari Blaser's blog post on it. Have I actually read any of them? No. I haven't had the time. I feel guilty about reading things on finding the time to write when I should actually be writing.

Of course, the question isn't really how to find time to write, but on how to stop procrastinating about writing. Over the past month and during Lent, when my project was to achieve balance (at which I failed miserably), I've come to realize that there are four things standing in my way, and they feed into each other. I call them the four P's of Procrastination:

1. Personality

I'm a Myers-Briggs INFJ, which means I'm introverted, see things in a big-picture, possibilities-oriented way, make decisions according to values (although I split that one), and like for things to be predictable and to go according to plan. You can probably see how this personality type works for and against me, especially since the introverted part directs the energy inward. In essence, I get stuck because I prefer conceptualization and planning, e.g., "the fun stuff" to execution, or the nuts-and-bolts getting to whatever it is. So, I'm great at setting goals, but not so great on the follow-through.

2. Time Perception

Basically, I like to finish what I start, and I want big chunks of time to do it. Fifteen minutes of free time to write? Ha, that's barely enough for me to get started with my pre-writing ritual. I feel like I need two hours to really get something done. That brings me to…

3. Process Issues

My pre-writing ritual typically goes like this:

10 minutes looking at comics online to "relax my mind"

10 minutes checking Twitter and following Favorites to blog posts by other people, but not the time-management ones that make me feel guilty

5 minutes convincing the gray cat not to sit on the laptop keyboard and randomly open windows

5 minutes trying to convince the black and white cat not to jump on my lap, an action that will lead to a fight with the gray cat. Usually black and white cat ends up on the back of my chair.

5 minutes to make tea, get a glass of wine, or other refreshment

10 minutes to remember where the hell I was in my work-in-progress and review most recent entry…

You get the idea. By then, it's been 45 minutes, and it's time to move on to something else. It drives me crazy when someone says, "Oh, I must be ADD" because I think that's an excuse for the whatever percent of us who don't have ADD, so I'm not going to say it, but I realize that I have a problem with distractions. What are they distracting me from?

4. Feelings of overwhelm that come from Perfectionism.

I just asked Hubby if he thinks I'm a perfectionist. He gave me that, "Oh, crap, there's no right answer to this question!" look, which likely means, "Uh, yeah. Duh." That's one of the things I realized during my Lenten project: I procrastinate because I don't like for things not to come out perfectly the first try. This has been a lifelong struggle for me, a sort-of Type A personality. Hubby calls me a "Type A and a half," or not quite Type A, but also not laid-back enough to be Type B.

The problem is that I see what things could be – remember that N part of the personality type? – but they don't start out that way, and I lack patience. This causes me to set goals that are too high, which leads me to be overwhelmed and procrastinate (see: pre-writing routine). I think this is why I like writing #fridayflash stories. I can knock one of those out in 30-60 minutes, revise it in the same amount of time, and be done with it. Longer works take more effort.

Now that I've recognized these things, what am I going to do about them? That will be the subject of my next blog post on writing. Meanwhile, I'm going to knock out a travel blog post so I continue to feel good about myself.


  1. Ha! Great post about your writer's life! I can relate to so much of that.

    I am an INFP, so much of the same stuff!

    I have a heavy thinking mind most times when not writing, so it does take awhile to get that quieted down enough to write - so your routine makes perfect sense to me, and yes, it does cause problems when writing time is short.

    The perfectionism streak, yeah, it's no fun - but just look at it this way - it shows I really care. Now if you know you really care, just let it fly and edit later, hehe!

    I also have a cat that looks just like yours (my second Russian Blue), but it is my orange tabby that pesters me to death when I write.

  2. Oh, and BTW - we have those Canadian Geese all ove the place in MN and often have to wait for them to cross the road, even in the metropolitan areas.

  3. Ah, yes. Procrastination. Sigh. I've never taken the Meyers-Briggs test so don't know what letters I am!

    However, I'm quite the extrovert (though really shy in my younger days), so prefer talking and hanging out with people and listening to their stories.

    I do need quiet time, too. Though I spend THAT period reading.

    Writing is hard. But, so is not writing, eh.

  4. This was too funny. XD
    I'm very much the same way.
    *make coffee
    *get biscuits
    *argue with myself over how many biscuits I deserve
    *debate whether I need to "Irish" my coffee
    *pick up 30 toys on my way to the keyboard
    *decide which music/tv/movie to play in the BG

    15 minutes? It takes longer than that to open Word on my dinosaur computer! 0_o;;

  5. Love this post. And you know, we're all the same... We may do different things to procrastinate but we writers all do it.

    We have a saying in the newsroom: "The ultimate inspiration is the deadline."

    Set a deadline. You'll get 'er done...

  6. hi dear...

    by the way, I was in a wine shop last night and mentioned YOU to my friends. :) ahhhh twitter magic.

    I stopped by here to say, have you checked this out? I signed up for it and after reading your post above which I can relate to on many levels, I am suggesting to you as well...what say you?



    oh thank you for your encouragement and reading "A Sketch of Truth" over at Storyteller's Arms. much gratitude.

  7. of course i forgot to post the link---here:
    21 days which comprise 5 days of yoga a week (doesn't have to be at studio and can be any time or type, or just even laying there!) which include 800 words a day of writing!


  8. Thanks for your comments!

    Anne, ha! I should've guessed you're NF with everything else we have in common. :)

    Marisa, I agree that other peoples' stories are fascinating. If you need quiet time to recharge, you may actually be an introvert. I'm an 'affiliative introvert,' which means I love people, but need that down time.

    Anthony, yes! When I write something for someone else, I ask for a deadline. The accountability helps a lot.

    Thanks, Annie, for the link and for recommending me to your friends at the wine shop! Hmmm... I'm traveling a lot this month, but the yoga practice may help keep me from getting too stiff in hotel beds, etc.

    And thank you, everyone, for reading!


  9. Oh, and Monica, LOL. My old laptop was like that. It took forever to start up and open stuff. :)