The Thief of Time

An excellent title for a SF novel! But I am, of course, referring to that dreaded enemy, that first world demon – Procrastination.

Procrastination is so easy now, quite posssibly the easiest it’s been in the entire course of human history now that we have Social Media. Whoever came up with that idea was really onto something – the deep human need to do something pointless, trivial, and time-consuming – especially when there’s other, way more important stuff you know you ought to be doing.

But this post isn’t intended to be yet another article bagging Social Media. Plenty of people have been there before me. Enough that it exists and is an excellent time waster.

I’m releasing my novel “The Troubadour” at the end of this month. It needs a little revitalisation – a couple of new chapters, some characters need different names – which will take me a day or two at the most. I’m excited about sending the chapters to my beta readers (I have six now!) and getting their advice and recommendations back. The cover is already done.

But can I do it? Three entire days I’ve wasted so far!

Procrastination has a very creative side

Here are a few of the things I do in order to postpone/avoid doing the things I really ought to be doing:

  • Enrol for a course is a great one, doing a course can tie up my time for months or even years. There’s usually a huge range of justifications for doing yet another course. I’m out of date is a good one. Of course, we’re always out of date, the world changes constantly. An added bonus is that courses often have assignments, which provide even more bases for procrastination.
  • Books, especially self-improvement books, because I have to fix this, right? Because something must have happened when I was four and a half to make me into the chronic procrastinator that I am! One of the first was called Do it now! – took me six months to get around to reading it. I have an entire library of self-help books, many of which have provided excellent advice over the years. But nothing is entirely wasted. The latest was Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. Ironically, that’s why I’m making this my first blog post on my new website. Procrastination has always been very much a part of my creative process.
  • YouTube videos are excellent for the purpose, even more so than books. I’m a fast reader and can demolish a book in an hour or two, but with a video I’m stuck with having to let it run for its full ten or twenty or fifty minutes. I find myself watching videos of really filthy rugs being cleaned or the history of corsets or “unexplainable” archealogical artefacts.  Great for chewing up several hours of my time! But discovering Ali Abdaal on YouTube led to Austin Kleon led to this blog post. Justification sneaking in again. Note that Justification is Procrastination’s handmaiden.
  • Facebook is further down the list because I find it relatively easy to move on from and even easier to justify as it’s the basis of much of my contact with the rest of the world. And it can be relaxing at the end of the day. Or first thing in the morning. Or when I’m on a break.
  • Housework was the go-to distraction for many years, and an immaculate house was always a good indicator of the extent of my current battle with procrastination. These days I often house sit, and cleaning out entire closets isn’t a viable proposition when I’m in someone else’s home. When I’m not house sitting I live in a motorhome (more on that in later blog posts!) which takes 15 minutes clean. Damn, I messed up there!
Now for the juicy bit – how I get through it!

Many of these are based on this excellent article.

  • The bulldozer method. Full steam ahead, just go for it. Hard to do, but great for really serious blocks. Visualisation helps. When I’m stuck I tend to get an image of a huge brick wall between me and everything I want to achieve. When I’m using the bulldozer method I visualise a gate, or a huge hammer, or earth moving equipment like the massive machines they use in the mines in Western Australia.
  • Do something, anything, that’s related to the task at hand, if only for five minutes!
  • I don’t need to know why I procrastinate! I stop beating myself up about it, let it go, breathe deeply, even close my eyes and meditate for a few minutes. I tell myself I’m just not going to any more.
  • Establish a routine. I’m a morning person, but it takes me a while to wake up. Once I get (back) into the groove of getting up, doing my morning tasks, then sitting down and writing I’m fine. My brain tells me it’s time to write, and it becomes easy. The hard part is re-establishing the routine once I’ve slipped out of it.
  • The Pomodoro Technique. Google it, there’s plenty of stuff on the net about it. Basically it means taking regular breaks. I’m still learning this, and I’ve downloaded an app to tell me when I can take a break. My problem has always been that when I am working I will work flat out for three or four or five hours and then be exhausted. I’m hoping this technique will enable me to be more productive and less exhausted.
  • Watch your language! Swear all you like, but use definite language. “I’m writing a book” isn’t very effective, and “I’m thinking of maybe writing a book” is far worse. “I’m releasing my novel on 30th June” is concrete – what I’m aiming for, when I’m aiming to do it. Create the future you want to have. It took me a long while to learn to say “I am a writer”. Start small with (for example) “I’m writing a blog post this morning” and go from there. Even marathon runners start with baby steps, they didn’t pop out of the womb breaking world records.
The caveats

Procrastination can be useful! The first question I ask myself if I’ve been putting off doing something is “Do I really need to do this?”

Recently I’d planned to change my pen name (my birth name is not Jane New). I have 13 titles already published under this name but 12 of them are in a genre I don’t want to write in any more. I have an author profile with Goodreads under the name of Jane New, but as it’s registered with a different website and a different email address I can’t access it, so coming up with a new pen name seemd like a good idea.

I thought of five or six usable, interesting pen names, but couldn’t bring myself to do the work in setting any of them up. In the end I realised that I already had history as Jane New including Facebook and Twitter profiles, and a website initially set up for my comedy shows that I could reinvent. So here I am, still Jane!

Be wary of confusing procrastination with weariness!

Legitimate weariness is when you come home after working for eight or nine or ten hours plus a couple of hours of commuting, you sit down in front of the computer to write, and you can’t.

Go to bed! Sleep! We’ve all been guilty of trying to fit too much into 24 hours. Practice some self care – eat well, get plenty of rest, and tell the boss to fuck off next time they want you to work overtime – you’ll be more productive and more creative when you’re back on your feet again. Be kind to yourself.

Procrastination weariness is when you sit down at your computer to write and you feel your eyelids grow heavy. This is your psyche playing tricks on you. If you know that logically there is no reason for you to be suddenly incredibly tired, after ruling out health issues, then try the bulldozer method above. You’ve got this!

People who procrastinate still produce incredible work! Don’t beat yourself up if you get stuck, things are still unfolding as they should. We’ll all get where we are supposed to go. Eventually. And remember:




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