A few years ago, I was the queen of procrastination.
I didn’t just waste hours or days, I wasted over a year doing nothing.
I’d just moved to a new city, was unemployed, and lonely.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. The only thing I’d ever wanted to do was write.
But I was even terrified of that.
Over the last five years I’ve gone from the queen of procrastination to the queen of productivity.
Some days I can write over 14,000 words and still have time to play King’s Quest and get some chores done.
On the days when I’m at work, I can still write up to 5,000 words.
I also squeeze in editing, marketing, exercising, and having some sort of a social life.
If 2012 me could see 2017 me, she wouldn’t recognize herself.
Here’s how the queen of procrastination became the queen of productivity, and how you can change your habits too.
There are certain events in life that make us re-evaluate our priorities.
For me, it was when my maternal grandmother had a stroke. Seeing the woman that had raised me so frail made me realize just how fragile life really is.
I was done wasting my life.
I made it my priority to write and publish my first book.
It took me a year, but in that time I wrote (and rewrote) it, edited it, proofread it, formatted it, designed the cover, and did everything else that goes along with publishing a book.
Had I not prioritized writing and publishing my book over everything else, I never would’ve been able to achieve half as much as I did in that time.
Focus on one project
When I first started working on What Happens in New York, I had about 12 books floating around in my head. Some were part of the same series, but many were unrelated.
I had to choose which book I wanted to focus on first, then dedicate as much time to it as I could.
If I’d split my time between all 12 ideas, I never would’ve gotten any of those ideas past the first draft phase.
Think about all the projects you have floating around in your head. Which means the most to you? Which do you have the most ideas for?
We all have one project that’s closest to our hearts and that we want to focus on. Trust yourself enough to make that your priority.
Set a goal
Setting a goal allowed me to keep focused when I felt disheartened.
There were days when I didn’t want to write or edit; days when I hated my characters and couldn’t stand to think about them.
But I had to keep going.
And I did.
There are always negatives that come with chasing our dreams. Most of us give up when things get tough, but if you want to reach your dreams, you have to keep going no matter what.
If you want to reach your dreams, you have to keep going no matter what.
Setting a goal keeps you focused even when times are tough. It reminds you why you’re doing what you’re doing, and that there will be a pay off at the end, even if that’s just the warm, fuzzy feeling you get from seeing a project through.
Because of my aforementioned habits of procrastination, many people didn’t believe me when I told them about my plan.
I don’t blame them. They had more evidence to back up my procrastination than my productivity.
But, as time went on, they began to see how serious I was.
When I set a publication date, that’s when people knew I was really serious.
Having that publication date — and making it public — kept me on track and meant that I had people to hold me accountable.
On the days where I felt disheartened they would listen and offer advice, and sometimes even tough love.
Some also shared their excitement about my first book being published.
I wasn’t excited — I was terrified — but seeing others so excited helped me to stay motivated.
Deadlines are a great motivational tool. The more people that know about your deadline, the more people there are to hold you accountable. The more people there are to hold you accountable, the less likely you are to want to let them down and the more likely you are to get the job done.
Break down your goals
Instead of focusing on writing 90,000 words, I set out to write 1,000 words per day. I often exceeded this.
Once the first draft was complete, I focused on editing a chapter at a time.
Having a goal I knew I could achieve in half an hour to an hour a day meant that I could do it in an evening after work and still have time for other things.
When I reached my goal for the day, I also rewarded myself with something, such as a chocolate bar.
Having something to look forward to when we’ve finished helps to keep us motivated and means we associate achieving those goals with something that we love.
Create a routine
Routines are hard to create but easy to break.
However, they’re exactly what you need if you want to achieve something fast.
Each night after I got home from work, I’d have dinner, then sit down on the sofa and write. I didn’t move from the sofa until I’d finished.
Routines are hard to create but easy to break.
Eventually I got so used to sitting on the sofa to write that when I didn’t I felt like I’d missed a crucial part of my day.
On the weekends, I got up early so that I could get some writing/editing done before my partner woke up. That way I got my writing time in without sacrificing any time with him.
Reduce your game time
While studying for my MA, I wasted so, so much time playing games like Solitaire and Bejeweled.
Most days it was only a few minutes here or there, but those minutes added up.
When I committed to writing and publishing What Happens in New York, I knew that I had to break out of this habit and utilize every minute that I had.
2012 me would’ve spent my 30-minute commute playing games. 2017 me spends it reading. If I read a page a minute, that’s 60 pages a day, or 300 pages a week — a whole novel, in a lot of cases.
Even if I only have five minutes to spare, I’ll spend it reading.
Most of the books I read these days are ebooks, which means that I can read on my phone even if I don’t have my Kindle with me.
If I’m reading a paperback, I’ll either take it with me (if it’s small and I know I’ll be waiting around a lot), or I’ll read some blog posts instead.
When I play a game now, I make sure that it serves a purpose, whether that’s helping me to relax or acting as a reward for reaching a milestone. I also aim for games that are more stimulating, such as puzzle games or RPGs.
Listen to music
Music has a huge affect on my mood.
It also has a huge affect on productivity.
I have playlists for each of my characters, each of my books, and different moods that I want to create.
Music is particularly useful to drown out outside stimuli if you’re in a noisy environment or there’s a lot going on around you.
Classical music has been proven to be most effective as lyrics can also be distracting, but personally I prefer to listen to my favourite artists (lyrics or no lyrics) when I have work to do as it helps me to relax.
If you’re the kind of person who dissects music when you listen to it and it adds an extra stimulus instead of drowning others out, there are websites and apps where you can listen to everything from a crackling fire to running water instead.
Make notes. Lots of notes.
I carry a notebook around in my handbag, and also use the Notes app on my iPhone.
Whenever an idea pops into my head, I write it down.
It doesn’t matter what it is — it could be a line, an image, or even a whole scene. I write it all down.
That way, I’m not wasting mental energy trying to remember it, but it is there for when I have time to go back to it.
The more thoughts you get out of your head, the easier it is to focus on the task in front of you.
When you split your focus, you get less done on both tasks and you’re more likely to make mistakes.
Don’t let your fear control you
As I mentioned at the start, one of the reasons I didn’t write much a few years ago was fear.
I love writing, but I was terrified of writing something bad.
I didn’t think about how much editing I could do to change something. I wanted my first drafts to be perfect.
But the thing is, nothing we create is ever perfect.
Nothing we create is ever perfect.
No matter what we do, there will always be something we can do to improve.
So now, instead of trying to create something perfect, I try to create something that’s the best that I can do at that moment in time.
I have no doubt that I’ll look back at my early books and cringe when I’m older, but they’re all part of my journey.
Productivity vs. procrastination
When I was at school, some of us wore our ability to procrastinate as a badge of honour.
But you know what?
All procrastination does is waste precious moments of our lives.
And we have no idea how long our lives will be, so why waste any of it?
Create more. Procrastinate less.
Find out more ways to stop procrastinating and start creating in my book, Productivity for Writers.