One of my biggest challenges as a writer is actually sitting down to write. Once I’m in front of the keyboard with a cup of tea, work happens. It’s getting to that point which can be difficult – and I know I’m not the only writer who suffers from a healthy dose of procrastination.
When you go to work at a 9-5 job, you’re accountable. You turn up and do your work in your allotted hours, or you get fired. It’s pretty simple. When you work from home, particularly for yourself, things get a little more complicated. It’s so easy to become distracted, or to convince yourself that there are other tasks which need to be done first. Everything from folding the clean clothes to washing your hair, or wrapping great aunty’s birthday present – the list goes on. Now that I have kids, it’s even easier to allow other things to take precedence. Piper’s teething, she needs extra cuddles. Orion asked for pancakes for lunch. We got home from playgroup later than expected – I’m sure you get the idea.
Now, before you get all bad mothery on me, I am NOT for one moment suggesting that I should put my children’s needs aside. They always have and always will come first in my life – but having them in my life means it’s incredibly easy to become disorganised, and from there descend into chaos. Writing takes discipline, organisation and dedication. It makes sense that fitting it into your life requires those things too. Six or so months ago, I’d wake up in the morning and think “I must do some writing today.” Then things would happen, the day would pass, and before you know it I was waking up the next morning thinking “I must do some writing today.” Beyond writing, my life was no better. We missed appointments, forgot birthday parties until the last moment (and had no present prepared) and other such things. I felt like I was chasing my tail with no hope of ever catching it. The stress was ridiculous, accompanied by a mild yet permanent feeling of panic. At last I decided it was time for change. How was I ever going to fit in writing when I couldn’t even get my life together?
Step one was to tackle organisation. I bought a day-to-a-page diary and I started writing in it, and I still do. I structure my day with a healthy To-Do list. Everything important that runs on a time schedule such as making lunch or getting to the chiropractor goes into the appointments section. The diary is A5 – big enough to write in and small enough to fit in my enormous handbag – and I take it everywhere with me. As soon as I introduced this change, life immediately changed for the better. Before long I was attending everything on the right day and in the right place (not always on time, because kids are like that), equipped with the correct presents.
Step two was to add in discipine and dedication. I sat down and fleshed out my writing goals. I assigned each task to a different day of the week, and rearranged my week so that I could be home during Piper’s nap time as many days as possible. Whilst she sleeps, Orion gets to play games on Daddy’s computer and I work on the day’s allotted task. Once I created this plan, I had to be dedicated to it. Washing not done? Too bad. Dishes dirty? Wash them after Piper wakes. Kids need their wardrobes cleaned out? Tomorrow. Once I got to the computer, I had to become disciplined enough to make sure the tasks were carried out. I made the commitment to myself that if my day’s work was not completed to my satisfaction during that allotted time, or if there was some reason that I couldn’t do it (such as Piper waking early or not being home in time, or visiting a friend) then instead of relaxing after dinner, I must sit down and work until the day’s task is completed. I trialled this new method for two weeks and you know what? We all still have clothes to wear, and clean plates to eat off. In fact, not only were my daily writing tasks getting done, but I found time to fit in other things – like a spot of baking or knitting – which had been absent from my life since Piper’s birth twelve months ago. I decided to keep my new way of life and I am so glad today that I did.
Unfortunately procrastination can only be overcome by willpower. When we were growing up, my dad used to say: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” I used to roll my eyes at the time (sorry dad) but now that I’m an adult, I couldn’t agree with him more. I have dreams, and the only person responsible for making them reality is me. Whilst this is a hefty burden, I also find it incredibly freeing. Nobody can stand in my way, because I have the power to create my own reality and claim my dreams. I have often said to my friends and family, in moments of frustration, “It feels like everything is right there, if only I could just reach out and grab it.” Well, that too was another form of procrastination, although I didn’t realise it at the time. Knowing you have the capability and actually undertaking a task are two different things, and that is a lesson that has taken me many years to understand.
So I take it slow, and steady. Some days – and even some weeks – it doesn’t happen and that’s okay. I don’t beat myself up over it, I just accept it and reaffirm my commitment to myself and to my family, and I start again the next day. Procrastination will always be there, tempting me with a chocolate bar, or a chance to try a new cake recipe, or perhaps to start embroidering that cute pattern I just saw in a magazine. But I am strong, and I believe not only in my dreams, but my ability to accomplish them no matter how long it takes.
How about you? Do you procrastinate? What plans have you put into place to combat it?