Getting around the block – Beating procrastination / writers block

A short discussion on Twitter got me to write this article about writers block and procrastination. I’ve found that the same techniques can be applied to both really and these are my opinions on things that work for me, they might not work for you.

Motivational Poster
Photo owned by Simon Davison (cc)

The biggest obstacle is that big obstacle.

Procrastination causes procrastination because of the sheer size of the object that needs tackling. Everything can be broken down into smaller parts though. The key for me is to get some momentum going again by doing something quick and small and getting an almost instant reward. Buoyed by that, start tackling other bits until the bits get bigger and that large object of tasks starts getting smaller. Eventually you’ll have enough momentum going to take on the core piece which is still weighty but you can take it on by then.

Writing is like this too. Forget the big long essay or thought-piece. Pick a subject and give a quick summary of it. Do the same for a few more subjects. Short snappy comments. After a while you’ll not be happy with the shortness of those and off you’ll go on a riff and a riff from that riff. Many of the longer blog posts I’ve written started off as a single sentence comment from a Fluffy Link but I found I couldn’t stop after that first sentence. Funnily once you get that long piece done you have enough positive energy and momentum going that you want to write more and more.

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Photo owned by GIRLintheCAFE (cc)

Do not plan your attack too much.

Planning is a trap there in itself. You’ll put all your thoughts and energies into planning how to tackle the obstacle insteading of shaving pieces off it and then you run out of time. Study is the classic one. How many people who put off their study started off by cleaning their room? After the room is cleaned then comes sorting all the notes into nice sections. It’ll make the study easier certainly when you eventually get around to it but that pile of notes will sort itself eventually if you dive in to tackling one subject head on straight away.

Well that works for me. I don’t have a step three or four or five. What works for you?

15 Responses to “Getting around the block – Beating procrastination / writers block”

  1. Sinéad C says:

    Interesting article Damien.

    I read a study recently that suggested that hope is directly related to lower levels of procrastination e.g. if you are hopeful (confident about what will happen in the future) you are less likely to suffer from procrastination.

    Personally, I would attempt to increase my own hope (and in essence confidence in my own abilities) by being as prepared as possible for the task at hand. So, even if these smaller tasks are a form of avoidance in themselves, at least the bigger task that I’m avoiding will actually be lessened by my tactics e.g. if I need to write an essay for college I’ll do all my background research (searching for articles) first before writing anything at all and as I’m researching I’ll also be working on and perfecting the reference section (something most people leave till the end).

  2. Grannymar says:

    Great hints there Sir!

    I must have a couple of dozen pages with one sentence on each filed away for future use.

    From time to time I go BLANK. I discovered that if I typed the first thing that came into my head,
    a) The fingers were ready to work and
    b) The page was no longer pristine or blank.

    Very often the piece went off on a tangent and that first line was deleted.

  3. Andrew says:

    Ver useful, thanks. Short notes really are the way to get started, but its incredibly easy to lose sight of that when facing up to a massive task.

  4. aquaasho says:

    I find I have to go about “enabling” myself to do things like blogging or the ironing or whatever i.e clear a space in the day, set up the laptop etc. so if I concentrate on the enabling works and not the main task it seems easier. (Probably similar to what Sinead C said).
    Another thing which is probably what most people do, is break it down into small bits say for example I’ll just tell myself to iron all the jeans first and not concern myself initially with the big mountain of stuff to be done! 🙂
    With blogging, if it’s a post for Team Geared Up involving lots of links and uploading photos etc. I start off telling myself I’ll just put in the title of the post and a link and maybe come back to it later. Or just put in the photo and the tags and tell myself I’ll do the main post another time. Usually I end up doing the whole thing even though I wouldn’t have imagined I’d have had the time!

  5. Trinity says:

    ah if only I could keep up with yesterday! At least Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday 🙂

  6. MJ says:

    You’re right. The big tasks are always the hardest to start! I try to reassure people when they are trying to start writing their first business plan – just to start with the headings & page breaks. Then go and get a cuppa or something. Then go back and pop a few bullet points down under each heading. Then go away again. Then come back to it…and (hopefully!) the thing will start writing itself almost. This advice calms people down hugely! Makes it seem less daunting I think. Break. It. Down. Good man Damo 🙂

  7. B'dum B'dum says:

    Good ideas but I find having really low-quality control works just as well. 😀

    Nah, the vast majority of my blogs are just almost fully-formed ideas from earlier on in the day… that leaves the blog messy by my own admission.

    Quite often when I hit a wall I just leave the entire thing hanging rather than try to patch it up, then return in a weeks time and find the whole idea fresh again.

  8. S says:

    Unfortunately procrastination is a basic human condition that requires a heightened sense of self-awareness and discipline to tackle.

    I find what works for me is to involve another person. It’s like having a gym membership, you’re more likely to use it if you have a gym buddy! I, like Damien also have to get over the hurdle of breaking down the big problem into smaller pieces. Personally, I can only do this visually on a whiteboard, but some of my peers are addicted to mind mapping software.

  9. J Kennedy says:

    Don’t think, don’t plan. Just do! Take it from an arch-procrastinator.

  10. John says:

    I’ll let you know once I have formulated an opinion on procrastination……Oh look my room needs tidying….:-p

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