My kitchen counters are clear. The dining room table is already set for dinner. And my son is wearing his favorite sweatshirt for the second time this week—and it’s clean. Want to know my secret?
I’m a work-from-home writer.
And the first step of any writing assignment is, clearly, procrastination.
Some psychologists blame procrastination on a fear of failure. Humans are hardwired to avoid stress and discomfort, even when it’s caused by a blank screen or a looming deadline. This makes sense to me. I may not have the perfect sentence or word—but I know exactly how my dishwasher should be loaded and unloaded. It’s easier to knock out low-value tasks before diving into the difficult part of the day.
That means the path from story idea—or expert interview, or client kickoff—to first draft can be wild and winding. (Fellow Dragonfly Bethany Meisinger-Reiff sent me this illustration about the writing process, as tweeted by Adrienne LaFrance. She nailed it.)
But eventually, writing work has to get done. Here are some strategies that help me overcome procrastination. (Plus a few I found online while I was … avoiding other work.)
- Lists—I love a handwritten to-do list. Jot down what you need to get done for the day, including tasks that are easy to cross off. A few checked-off boxes can build momentum.
- Put deadlines where you can see them—Dragonfly uses a project management system to track writing and editing assignments, but those alerts are easier for me to ignore than my calendar. I create calendar events for my projects and deadlines so they stay front and center.
- Play a quick game—My go-to distractions are the New York Times’ crossword and Spelling Bee. I can reason with myself that it’s a word-related warm-up. They also have short and finite ends, unlike a Netflix marathon or jillion-piece puzzle. Once you hit “amazing” or “genius” level, you’ll be ready to go—and you’ll have a quick confidence boost to draw on, too.
- Set mini milestones—Instead of trying to get an entire assignment done, write the intro or the first page. If you’re really stuck, just commit to writing the outline.
- Start somewhere—Give yourself permission to write out of order. Write the conclusion or an easier part of the assignment first.
- Ask for help—Asking a peer to review your work before it goes to the client forces you to finish ahead of schedule. It also releases some of the pressure to get it perfect. Your friendly editors will help with that!
- Walk away—Take the assignment on a walk, bike ride, or to a yoga class. The writing process takes time, but it’s not all computer time. Sometimes stepping away from your desk is the best way to kick-start an assignment.
Every assignment is unique, but eventually you get through all five stages of grief writing: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Procrastinate your way to acceptance that, yes, you can and will get it done.
What’s your procrastination (or writing) strategy?