Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Recently I was listening to an audiobook and one question really struck me: “Are you telling yourself you’re working hard, but you’re mostly doing busy work, avoiding the difficult stuff?”

Eek. Yes, there are some things we need to do to keep things going: administrative/financial tasks, filing, etc. But am I doing those to avoid something a little more challenging (like my novel)? If I’m honest, sometimes the answer is yes. Because those tasks have a very clear finish point, I can feel good about reaching that point. I can check them off my list and feel like I’ve accomplished something. And yet…

That sense of accomplishment fades pretty quickly, especially when I remember how I feel when I’m in the writing zone and have made progress on a book. Now that’s an awesome feeling!

So what’s a taskmaster to do?

Here’s what I now do:

  • Acknowledge any procrastination masquerading as an important task. Facing it head on is important! Obvious ones for me are things like checking and replying to email before I write or cleaning around the house. Having said that, I think it’s important to have my creative space clutter-free–a task I performed last weekend–because clutter can clog–I’m a believer in our environment affecting our mood and creativity.
  • Identify tasks you can postpone to keep on track. For me these are things like research for a novel, thinking of something for the first chapter when I’m working on the second, etc. Now I work hard to highlight what needs researching or making a quick note in the first chapter, but I stay on task (most of the time  🙂 ).
  • Believe the writing is important. I often put paid work ahead of my own writing. Obviously, paying clients are important and I depend on that income, but if I’m placing more value on that than on my own projects, I feel devalued and everything suffers. So now I space my paid work out–giving my clients realistic deadlines–and devote time (even if it’s just 15 minutes) to my own writing each day.
  • Write to a smaller goal. Rather than tell myself I must write an entire picture book manuscript or three chapters of my novel, I look at the time I’ve set aside and set a reasonable goal–and then I reset it with something less than that. I do this because I’ve discovered I tend to overestimate what I can actually get done and also because in writing, unexpected things happen. And I want to embrace these unexpected things as gifts to explore. Now I can “check off” my writing progress and feel great!

What about you? Do you have strategies for postponing “busy work” so that you get your writing done? Please share!