For the love of writing: my favorite tool to overcome procrastination

I love writing. I have loved writing all my life. Except when I haven’t.

I have a visceral relationship with writing, and I have determined as an adult that writing is a tool without which I cannot think. After a period of time without writing (varying from hours to days), a sensation fills my chest cavity. It is as if an open faucet has been filling my chest over that time, and it has now filled me up. Writing is the mechanism by which I pour it out. On the page, I can identify the contents clearly. If I don’t empty the container, the thoughts float around in murky places, and I cannot clearly see them, understand them or work with them. I will sneak out to write in the same way a smoker will slip out of a social situation to smoke. Inhale. Exhale. Ahhhh, relief from the craving. 

And yet, despite this drive, I still find ways to procrastinate. I’m completing my memoir these days, The Wilderness of Motherhood. I will self-publish it in April. I have now gone through a couple rounds of edits, and I’m completing yet another in order to get the document to an editor who will help the final fine-tuning process. When I get into it, I love it. I love working with the words, re-reading what I’ve written and finding it to be good. “When I get into it,” is the operative phrase here. I have managed to waste hours, days, weeks, even months avoiding those edits. I don’t understand the mechanism of it, but I am working actively with the method of getting past it. I suppose you could call it ironic that I haven’t yet gotten around to understanding my procrastination. I’ve previously written on this blog about procrastination; I have also taught classes addressing it. Frankly, at this point, I am ready to stop using my examination of procrastination as a means to procrastinate from my writing.

My most powerful tool to get past the procrastination is community accountability. I started a Google Group called “Project Clock-In” for the express purpose of getting my own stuff done more effectively (Check it out, and if you’d like to join, drop me a note with your email address. I’ll send you an invite). I invited other people in, and they seem to be profiting from the group, as well. I had really selfish motives for setting it up in the first place: I know that when I state my intentions and plans for the day to other people, I am significantly more likely to fulfill those intentions than if I think about them or even put them on my calendar. Other people’s witnessing of my plans shines a light there and helps me to focus and to overcome my selective amnesia. I have goals for my writing, my business, my personal life that, if I don’t have reminders of their importance, I simply forget how much they mean to me in the course of the day. Noisy, minor crises take over my day, and the more meaningful projects that fulfill my calling quietly languish.

I’ve written recently about 2014 being the “year of rigorous tracking.” I’ve tracked my use of time and money. Time is a resource that flows through my fingers at the same rate, whether I use it well or not. The benefit of tracking is that I recognize sooner when I’m not using my time for what’s important, and it helps me to identify my patterns that work well and that don’t work so well. For me, and for many others who find social supports to be invigorating and focusing, accountability can make the difference between getting that beloved writing project done or not.

 

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When we’re sidetracked from our goals

One of my coaching clients recently shared that she felt like an “imposter” because she wasn’t meeting her freelance business goals. She went on to share how her family dynamics had changed recently, due to her husband’s job change; how her childcare was not as reliable as she’d originally expected; how resistance to her requests for help from family made her feel under-valued. Her daughter was having problems in preschool, and Mom was worried about the girl’s sense of well-being. There was more, and she listed what was happening around her.

I started off by validating that she had a lot on her plate. Many of the women I coach share similar stories: they carry the lion’s share of the household responsibilities, the emotional well-being of their children and spouses, the childcare coordination and, on top of that, they’re trying to build a business. It’s a lot to manage.

Perhaps the saddest part of the story, however, was that an instructor in a class my client had recently taken brow-beat the attendees: if you aren’t working daily toward your goals, you’re failing, she’d more than implied with her instruction. My client walked away feeling guilty and unsure whether she could even call herself a writer.

Are our goals important? Is it essential to work toward them daily to bring them to fruition? Are we imposters if we have to set aside some goals for others?

Are our goals important? To this question, the answer is a resounding “yes!” Our goals and all the tasks that are necessary to fulfill them are important. However, I frequently encounter clients who use their goals as yardsticks against which they find themselves continually falling short. Our goals are important, but we need to remember that they are our goals. We make them. We make them in order to build a life and a business we can love and that will satisfy our callings and financial needs. If our goals aren’t fitting with our existing lives, we are the CEOs of them: we can change them, adjust them, put them on hold. The most important thing we need to do, if we do adjust them, is to do it intentionally and to keep the dreams alive that fueled them in the first place. 

One client I coached wanted to revive a side business, one that was based on her primary career. However, in our coaching, she had a heart-to-heart with her heart. It told her that the two deaths and another life-changing tragedy in her immediate family (in a very short period of time) still needed some time to heal before she launched into a new venture. She decided, as a result of this work together, that she would write her ideas on pieces of paper and tuck them into a box, to use later, when she was ready. Her solution kept her dream alive, but it also gave her time to wrap-up unfinished emotional business, first. 

Is it essential to work toward our goals on a daily basis? My answer is this: yes and no. 

Our goals, if we’ve done them well, include more than our business success. We have bodies that sometimes have health problems; we have families that sometimes experience emergent challenges; we have hearts and spirits that sometimes need us to slow down and pay attention to their needs; we have unforeseen financial challenges that require us to take a part-time – or full-time – job in order to address the problems. We are more than a one-track goal machine. We have many aspects to ourselves, and our goals need to reflect this. Do we need to work on our goals daily? Sure, we do. But sometimes the part of our lives that requires attention now may not be our freelance writing. Work on your goals daily, but know that it’s no less legitimate to focus on your health and well-being or your family’s well-being for a time so that, later, your freelance writing business can have your full, energized attention.

Are we imposters if we set aside some goals for others? My previous answers address this question, in part. One other thing I would add, though, is that the “imposter” label also reflects our paradigm for how we view ourselves. Our language and our perspectives that fuel it are essential elements to weathering a change in our immediate goals. When we have to change our goals or their timing in order to deal with something else, we may grieve the loss of that goal. How do we treat our friends and colleagues who are grieving? Most of us tend to feel compassion. My questions for the “imposter,” are these:

How can you see yourself, your current situation and your newly-adjusted future with compassion and kindness?

What words would you use to describe a friend or someone you love dearly who found themselves in a similar situation? Can you give yourself permission to use the same words for yourself?