The Queen of Procrastination and what I can teach you about writing

For eleven years, I have stumbled over a large box of family photos in my garage. Every New Year I vow to organize these thousand-plus photos into albums so I can show them to the grandkids and their parents. One year, I bought all the plastic sleeves I would need and threw them into the box. And still, I made no progress on the project.

Finally, propelled by an upcoming family reunion in the Rockies, I’m on it! Starting¬† in April, I committed to work on the photo project one hour per day. For me, that became the last hour of my day. By now, I’m halfway through placing each photo into a sleeve and each sleeve in chronological order. I figure I’ll be done by mid-June. Then I’ll select the 200 best pictures spanning 100 years and make a DVD show for my family. It feels so good to finally move ahead on this project.

I think my “photo block” resembles my “writer’s block.” I had great intentions to start this project way back, but it just seemed so overwhelming! I knew it would take up to 100 hours to complete, and I just couldn’t figure out where I was going to get a 100-hour chunk of time to work on it. Well, guess what: I never did find a CHUNK of 100 hours of time. What I found was much smaller chunks: one hour a day, seven days a week, minus my travel weeks, and I’m now more than halfway through.

And so it might go with your writing projects. “Gotta write a report by Friday! Darn…that will take me at least eight hours. Let’s see; where in the calendar do I have a whole day to devote to this project?” You know what eventually happens…rushing to get it written in less than four hours on Friday morning…ignoring phone calls and skipping meetings and stressing out.

What if you set aside a chunk of time each day wherever you can in your schedule? Perhaps on Monday morning while waiting for a meeting to start, you brainstorm or cluster whatever is in your head that should be in the report. Later that afternoon, a meeting cancels. Devote an hour or more to drafting. Then draft two more hours on Tuesday by stealing away to a conference room with your laptop.

You get the picture: You are project-managing your document by dividing it into manageable chunks and moving ahead through them. (Project managers call this “execution,” but that seems a bit drastic. I prefer the term “moving ahead.”)

By Friday, you’ll be polishing your draft for final submission, right on time.

Still doubtful? Let me share another example. In 2005, I moved myself and my business from Minnesota to Colorado. I had 10 weeks (70 days!) to buy my condo in Colorado, sell my townhouse in Minnesota, downsize by 50%, and work every day.

I could have become overwhelmed, but instead I “chunked” my tasks; for example, I set a goal of packing one box (and hopefully two) boxes every day. By Moving Day, there was a mountain of boxes stacked neatly in the garage. None of the work was easy, but at least I wasn’t pulling an all-nighter the night before the movers came.

My advice to all writers is just “Get a process…any process that works for you…and work that process.” Remember, “I don’t like to write, but I like to have written.” Likewise, I don’t like to move, but I liked to “have moved.”

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