The Art of Productivity & Procrastination

finals-week-you-say-procrastinationI’m currently in the throes of writing book two, which means I have a daily word count to hit and an endless ability to find ways to procrastinate. Like this past Monday morning, when after refreshing my Twitter and Facebook streams multiple times, counting my split ends by the glow of my laptop screen, baking banana muffins and researching how to make homemade facial exfoliator – then making it — I found myself answering one of those internet quizzes determined to discover my personality based off which eye I was most drawn to (it was actually surprisingly accurate). That was my procrastination rock bottom, and I knew it was time to get to work.

Now perhaps it’s because it’s convenient for me to say this, but I think distraction and procrastination can actually be good things for writers. I’ve had many non-writers tell me, with a shudder, how much they loathe deadlines. But not me – deadlines are like the oil that keeps the engine parts moving smoothly. The closer I am to a deadline – within reason, of course, let’s not get crazy here – the better and faster I write. So to appease that side of me, I procrastinate until the moment when my internal alarm screams that it’s time to focus. And when that happens, here are the five ways I make sure I do it:

 Write in a busy place.

This could also be titled, Leave the house so laundry, kitchen mess, telemarketers, puppy, unmade beds, dinner, and Netflix can’t find you. My preference when I really need to get a lot of work done in a short time is a busy coffee shop. Not only can I feed my caffeine habit, the distractions actually keep me from getting, well, distracted. When I’m drafting something there are inevitably moments — even with a solid outline to follow — when I’m stuck, with no clue as to what comes next. And there’s nothing better to give my brain a moment of ‘softness’ (that’s the fuzzy unfocused feeling I need to come up with my next plot move) than watching the comings of goings of people around me. Sometimes, simply watching people interact inspires me — I’ve crafted many character quirks based on coffee shop shenanigans.

Set an alarm.

When I’m writing I only use my phone for two things. One, to play music (the same song, generally on repeat for my entire writing session), and two, for its alarm. I usually set it for 30 minutes, then do NOTHING ELSE during that time — it’s always surprising a) how much I can accomplish in only 30 minutes, and b) how many times I go to break my DO NOTHING ELSE rule. The alarm keeps me accountable, and has been a productivity lifesaver.

Create mini goals, and rewards.

I like to make deals with myself — my husband always laughs when I tell him I’m more competitive with myself than anyone else — like, write 500 words then I (finally) get to go pee (I honestly do this, but it’s probably not medically advised), or finish this scene and I can have a cookie, or write today’s 1500 words and get an hour to read whatever I want. This is surprisingly motivating — especially the cookie one — but the key is making the goal small enough you can achieve it in the time you have.

Tell someone what I’m doing.

Nothing keeps me more accountable than committing to a goal publicly. Sure, I don’t know @funwriter (*disclaimer: This may be an actual Twitter handle, but I made it up for the purposes of this post), but if they tweet me back with a “good luck on hitting your wordcount” after I’ve put a message out about a writing sprint, I feel like I have to do what I said I was going to do. My critique partners are also great support for this — when they get all grabby handed for the next chapters, I’m incredibly motivated to push through.

Go for a run.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that clears out my brain’s cobwebs and gets me into the writing frame of mind than running. It’s my version of meditation, and I have worked out many a sticky plot issue, or character frustration, or writing disappointment with my running shoes, some music, and the trails behind my house. Running makes me a better writer, no question.

So next time you find yourself answering a short quiz about which {movie or television character / celebrity / animal / city / color / personality} you are, why not try one of the above and see if it tempers your procrastination tendencies. And if not, there’s always tomorrow…Funny-definitions-tomorrow



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Karma Brown is the author of COME AWAY WITH ME (MIRA/Harlequin, September 2015), an emotional story of one woman’s discovery that life is still worth living, even if it’s not the life you planned. Karma is also a National Magazine award-winning journalist, and lives outside Toronto, Canada, with her family and their mischievous labradoodle puppy, Fred.

This article has 12 Comments

  1. I love this week of posts about distraction. I like that you give yourself little rewards. I really think that all those little activities you talked about at the beginning (yes, even counting your split ends) is part of writing. It’s like doing mind stretches, preparing for the mental sprint. Or so I tell myself. 🙂

  2. I admit, I took a quiz today. I’m apparently “The Mechanic” in a personality test – who new? It’s pretty amazing the depth of the internet when I’m delaying actually working. Great post!

  3. Yes! Leave the house! I do that all the time. I was reading a book once on writing where they author was saying that all the writers in cafes where phonies and just wanted to be seen “writing.” I labeled him a phony and threw his book into the box of books to go to the used book store.

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