Making a to-do list sounds like a great idea…at first. But because you’re a writer, your to-do list probably ends up including about a hundred items or more. When your brain sees this gigantic roll of tasks it starts to shut down. Your eyes glaze over and you suddenly need a nap.
You are not lazy.
You are not useless.
And you are not doing anything wrong.
Lazy, useless people actually never worry about getting things done.
Lazy, useless people don’t have any projects, or even any ideas for projects, that they put off starting. You, on the other hand, have this intelligent, curious, creative brain that has many ideas and projects that you would love to follow through on and finish. But…procrastination tends to seep in.
So if you’re so intelligent, curious, and creative, then why do you have problems with procrastination at all?
Precisely because of those very same traits.
Intelligent, curious, creative people are also intense, driven, and struggle with perfectionism. Our brains work well with extremes, and that’s why we’re able to think not only outside the box, but we can also imagine what would happen if the box was invisible, had superpowers, or decided to impersonate a unicorn just for kicks.
This extreme mode of thinking sometimes gets us into trouble. When we think about starting the first chapter of our novel, we then leap ahead to the second and third chapters, then the ending, then how readers will react, then onto the book tour—and then we’re totally exhausted because all of these things have flitted through our mind in the space of one half second. And we haven’t even picked up the pen yet!
This is not a bad thing. Our brains are wild, dynamic creatures that must swim and fly and roam. Letting them do just that is totally okay. As long as there is one solid part of you that gets into the habit of hanging back and being the sensible parent. That part knows that your eyes are always bigger than your stomach and only lets you put one or two things on your plate instead the whole buffet.
The practice of writing down your goals can be extremely helpful when it comes to parenting yourself. You don’t have to go nuts with a crazy to-do list. In fact, it will be most helpful if you keep it simple. Most writers already know their big goal—write a book and get it published—so you don’t have to worry about that. What you want to do is write down your small goals, the things you can get done in one day.
So if you want to move forward with writing your novel, a daily goal list for you might look like this:
Write two pages
That’s it. The aim is to keep things simple, manageable and no-pressure. If two pages still seem overwhelming, then make your goal one page, or one paragraph. The amount of work does not matter. The forward motion is what matters. And beware of listening to the Beast of Self-Judgment who will try to tell you that you aren’t doing enough. The truth is that even one short paragraph gets you further than you were before.
Every time you think about starting or continuing a project you’re procrastinating on, pull out your post-it notes and write down one small goal connected to that project. Keep these notes somewhere all together and every day choose just one of them to complete. Some days you will feel like you breezed through that one job and you’re ready to tackle another. Go ahead. But be prepared for other days, when it will feel like a Herculean task to move through just that one little goal. No judging yourself when you’re in this space! Just move through the work and give yourself props for doing it.
Think of it this way—if you saw all the food you were going to eat in one year piled up in front of you, it would most likely make you feel physically ill. That’s how your path to success works. If you look at the whole thing together there is a 99% chance of you becoming overwhelmed. Truly successful people do a little bit each day and count on all those increments to add up.
Take the first step towards conquering procrastination—know that your eyes are always bigger than your stomach.
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