By Annette Lyon
A recent article in Newsweek discussed the psychology behind procrastination. Go ahead and read the piece later, but here's the upshot (or a least what I got out of it):
When an activity or goal is stated in nebulous terms, people are more likely to procrastinate doing it.
But, when an activity or goal is broken up into concrete steps, people are more likely to get the thing done.
The example the piece gives is with exercising (a common resolution this time of year). If you think, "I really need to exercise," that's too vague. It's easy to ignore.
But if you turn the thought into, "I need to put on my exercise clothes, tie on my shoes, and get on the treadmill for 30 minutes," you're more likely to do all of the above and get in the workout you know you should.
Reading the piece, I had a light bulb moment regarding writing, which is quite possibly one of the most procrastinated activities ever. I constantly hear aspiring writers say, "I want to write a book," or, "This year I'm going to finish the book I started," or something similar.
And . . . they procrastinate and procrastinate. Even published writers get caught in the trap.
"I'm going to write a book" is too vague . . . and too BIG . . . of an activity. Something of that magnitude is easy to put off until later. It's just too intimidating to sit down and face the beast.
I've seen that with my writing, the more I break down a writing goal, the more likely I am to achieve it. Just like breaking down exercise into getting dressed and getting onto the machine, I'm more likely to get the job done if I can imagine the concrete steps involved.
The trouble with writing is that there really are few concrete steps. Much of what we do is nebulous already.
How about breaking it up anyway? In addition to a big goal like, "I'm going to finish this draft by April," add those little steps such as, "I'm going to write 1,000 words a day" or "I will edit ten pages of this draft every day."
Focusing on nothing but the next small step makes the entire project less intimidating.
"All I have to do today is one thousand words, and then I've succeeded." That thought is freeing, isn't it?
For that matter, it's much harder to justify procrastinating 1,000 measly words (or whatever your smaller goal is) than it is to put off an entire book.
This year as you make your New Year's resolutions, try to cut them up into small, concrete pieces. How many words per day will you write? How many queries will you send out?
Make each step concrete, and, more importantly, make each one doable. Allow yourself small successes, because added all together, they lead to the big ones.