4 Tips to Beat Mental Procrastination

Daydreaming WriterThis week a writer friend suggested that I blog about the writer’s age-old enemy: procrastination. Thing is, I don’t procrastinate anymore. I don’t avoid writing by doing other things. I have set times to write and I stick to my schedule, but… sometimes I still get nothing written. How come? What’s my problem?

A few months ago I thought it was The Internet. It’s so distracting! So I broke up with the Internet (at least during writing time) and that helped a lot, but I still struggle to meet my writing goals. Seriously, what gives?

Then it hit me: daydreaming.

Often when I sit at the computer during my designated writing timeslot, I zone out and think about what I did last weekend, or what I’m going to do this weekend, or where I’d like to travel, or that time I biked through Cuba, or what I’ll be in the future apocalypse (sword-wielding bicycle messenger!)… and suddenly an hour has passed and I’ve not written a word.

I’m not avoiding writing by doing other things; I’m avoiding it by thinking other things. Daydreaming is procrastination’s mental cousin!

But wait? Isn’t daydreaming beneficial to creativity? Caryn blogged about that in her post on The Neuroscience of Creativity. And Psychology Today agrees:

…daydreaming now appears to be a vital function of the psyche—a cauldron of creativity and an arena for rehearsing social skills. It may even be the backbone of our consciousness. Maybe what we all need is more time to let our minds meander.

However, the article also states that people spend 15% to 50% of their waking hours daydreaming. I am most definitely at the top end of that scale, so I think I can afford to daydream a little less. Also, if I was daydreaming about stuff relating to any of the three WIPs I have in various stages of development, maybe it would be helpful. But that’s not usually the case.

I need to get my distracting daydreams under control.

So, without further ado, here are 4 things to try to thwart mental procrastination:

  1. Ignore the outside world prior to and during writing time. This means not checking Facebook or Twitter or the news, because if I read something upsetting, I’ll waste hours brooding over it instead of writing.
  2. Set my computer screen to turn off after 2 minutes. This is a visual cue that I’ve zoned out. Whenever my screen goes black it reminds me to get back to writing.
  3. Read a book. If after doing steps 1 and 2 I’m still daydreaming, I’ll read a book. Reading forces my brain to focus on one fantasy world (as opposed to the half dozen that might be lighting up my gray matter) and therefore calms it down. Plus, reading a book usually inspires me to get back to writing my own.
  4. Record daydreams. After all that, if I’m still daydreaming, I write down my scatterbrained reveries and mold them into a story. Yep, a conscious effort to make mental procrastination useful!

How about you guys? Do you suffer from mental procrastination? How do you focus your brain?


Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

12 thoughts on “4 Tips to Beat Mental Procrastination”

  1. I find that when I am stuck, no energy, I’ll play an adrenalin-filled computer game, where I’m a pilot in world war 2, or commanding a starship in a desperate battle. All of these games tend to be mission-focused, and exciting. then after a good hour, I’ll log off, get some coffee and write.

  2. I picked up a book last week that talks about the problem of our modern intellectual vocations. Years ago we knew work was done when we came home from the factory, or when the sun came down over the field, or when we left the shop for the day. These clear beginnings and endings to our ‘work time’ flicked a switch in our brains that allowed us to relax.

    (Please excuse the obvious patriarchal bias of that example)

    I realize that’s putting it simply, but it resonates with me because I can’t stop feeling guilty most of the time, over some other thing I should be doing, when I’m currently doing nothing. Writers can write in any quiet moment of the day, and there’s always more writing to do.

    There’s no switch to tell me when it’s time to stop – unless it’s on one of those rare occasions where I’ve written for hours and hours, and the well has run dry. Only then do I feel I’ve earned some down time. Problem is, there’s no clockworks to that method. There’s no designated measure of how to map out work time from play time.

    Perhaps I’ll have more comments as I dive deeper into that book.

    Thanks for writing the article Heather!

  3. I have found what works for me is not trying to write when I just don’t feel like it. Maybe that makes me a lazy writer. So be it. I can’t do that “1,000 words a day” thing. When I feel the need to write, I write. I know a lot of people that can be helped by this article – so I shared it to Twitter. There is a lot going on about NANO. I tried it one year – lasted about three days. I just can’t do that. I work full time and babysit a lot and go out and read a lot. When the writing bug hits, I write. But that bug doesn’t bite as often as I’d like. Hence, I’ve not published a whole lot. But I’m fine with that.

  4. I love the idea of setting the computer to idle after two minutes. That is a great way to force yourself back into reality. I waste a lot of time “researching” on the Internet, looking for a backpack my character just has to have or the right material for the skirt she’s wearing. A screensaver should would bring me back into focus. Excellent suggestion!

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