Procrastination, Distraction, and Interruptions: A Writer’s Worst Enemies

I am a procrastinator. I’m not even going to bother denying it. In fact, I’m sure that pretty much everyone in the world has procrastinated on at least something in their lives.

Playing video games instead of finishing up that paper for English class? Procrastinating.

Your boss wants this paperwork done by tomorrow, but you’re too busy organizing your bookshelf or cleaning the bathrooms to bother? Procrastinating.

You just found this super cool website/blog online, and you have to go through their archives back two or three years ASAP, rather than finish the half-written book on your hard drive? Procrastinating.

Procrastination is how we actively avoid things we don’t want to think about, be it chores, schoolwork, or calling Great-Aunt Ethel to wish her a happy birthday because once you get her on the phone, she can talk for hours. So we do other, more “important” things instead.

Then there are distractions, and this is especially dangerous in the modern age of the internet. One google search, and you have an entire planet’s worth of information at your fingertips. Now, the internet isn’t all bad, sure. But it’s the wild west. It’s new, it’s messy, it’s scary, and a lot of lawmakers aren’t sure how to proceed. And while we’re not likely to get shot (not literally, at least), this wild west internet can suck all our free time away from us like a giant black hole. But rather than sucking in matter and light, this black hole sucks in time and attention.

It isn’t as simple as saying, “just don’t go on the internet and it’ll be fine.” It doesn’t work that way. You don’t say to an alcoholic “Just stop drinking and you’ll be fine.” Honestly, I still haven’t figured out how to avoid the pitfalls of the internet. I try, I really do, to only let myself browse after I’ve gotten something useful done. Unfortunately, I’m not always successful. Only the most dedicated, most disciplined people seem to be able to avoid distractions and procrastination completely, and I ain’t one of them.

I could disable my laptop’s internet while I’m writing, but then I wouldn’t have access to my email, blog, or google searching for words or grammar help, so that’s hardly a perfect solution.

And lastly, we’ve come to interruptions. You’re on a roll, and the cat wants to be fed. You’re trying to get an essay done, and your mom wants chores done right that second. You’re in a teleconference with your boss and your spouse calls your name.

The best I can come up with to deal with procrastination and distractions is to remind myself why I’m doing this, and this tip works no matter what you’re procrastinating on. Why do you need to do that thing you don’t really want to do? You need the English paper if you don’t want to fail your class. You need to do the paperwork your boss wants if you don’t want to get demoted or fired. You need to call Great-Aunt Ethel and wish her a happy birthday because even if she is long-winded, she’s your family and you love her. And your mom will yell at you if you don’t.

Interruptions, when not life-threatening, are the bane of my existence. I’m right in the middle of something, mom! Luckily, that’s what door locks were designed for. And your family, unlike your boss or teachers, will (usually) be understanding when you mute your phone while you finish up this chapter. And be sure to feed the cat ahead of time so he doesn’t come and try to crawl into your lap when you ignore his FEED ME yowling.

Me? I write because it’s my job. It’s what I want to do with my life. It’s the only thing I want to do with my life, career-wise. If I do this right, I’ll have my dream job all set up in 5-10 years. If it’s worth it for a med student to ignore distractions and settle in for 4+ years of med school and I-don’t-know-how-many-more years of additional training just to become a doctor, then it’s worth it for me to push past petty distractions and do my thing. It’s all about perspective, you see?

Goofing off is fun, but you tend to lose sight of what really matters: getting the important things done so you can goof off later without feeling guilty. Do your chores early so you can eat dinner later without having to look at dirty dishes. Get homework done early, and you get to play Xbox after dinner. Do the paperwork your boss wants right now and you can enjoy the rest of your weekend without dreading the coming Monday.

Write now, edit now, publish soon, relax later.

Now, on a more lighthearted note: Today’s Procrastinators Anonymous meeting has been delayed until next Monday 😉

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