Most writers would like to be prolific in their chosen field, but not many really want to be prolific procrastinators.
Being one myself, I've discovered there are innumerable ways to put this innate skill to work. After all, how can I possibly write when my head is still fuzzy from sleep? This must be overcome first, which means having a pot of tea, taking a shower, seeing to the dogs' needs, and catching up on the morning's news via television.
That's where my procrastination hit its stride. Until now.
Recently, I read a tale about a baker who puts up a beggar for the night, despite his struggling business. The next day, the beggar tells him, "Whatever you start, you will do all day." The baker decides to make cookies with his last bit of flour and give them to a sick child. The delicious aroma drifting onto the street attracts many customers, but the baker is too busy to serve them. They serve themselves and leave the money on the counter. The baker's business is saved for one more day.
A fellow merchant seeks the beggar, puts him up for the night, and gets the same message next day, "Whatever you start, you will do all day." So the merchant sweeps the floor and counts his cash in anticipation of all the customers. When they come, he's too busy to serve them, so they leave without buying anything. And the merchant spends the day sweeping and counting.
When I read that tale, I realized how much truth there was to it. From the moment I turned on my television set each morning, nothing else happened. Oh, I'd find time to run a few dishes under the tap, nibble on a sandwich, survey my 2500 square foot "estate" to make sure it was all still there, gaze into the sky to make sure it hadn't disappeared either, and take a moment to sit in the sun to rest my brain, weary from absorbing all that input.
Afterward, when the news was in repeat mode and I found myself watching a version of "Murder She Wrote" for the fourth time, I'd turn to reading about writing. Know your craft. Isn't that what experts say? Or, you can never learn enough.
Over the years, I've tried many techniques to get me writing, rather than just reading about it. One such attempt was to make a schedule of my day and detail everything from reading and answering my email for one hour only and searching the internet for markets or resources for two hours a day, to writing letters, queries and articles for four hours a day.
Its success was minimal because the internet took a great deal of time with my slow computer. And then there are all those intriguing links that seem important enough to lure me away from my intended research. Mostly, they would lead me to good information that will be useful for a piece I might want to write in the future, but they do nothing to further today's efforts.
Trying to survive on a budget that doesn't even fit a shoestring makes job hunting a dual goal. Before long, I've spent more time job hunting and researching than approaching a specific market or developing story ideas. The schedule still hangs on my wall, mostly forgotten.
Reviewing my former life as a secretary, I wondered why I was more organized and motivated then than now. My desk was cleaned every night and unfinished projects were piled in order of importance in my in-basket, ready to be completed and delivered the next morning. It was necessary to have such a system then, because my bosses would hover like vultures around my desk wondering when their work would be done. With five bosses, I'd soon have a mini-swarm blocking my light.
Putting this concept to use, I designed a notebook, complete with an orange glowing sun on the cover with the words, "Things To Do Today." It turned out to be the major turning point in my procrastination career.
At the end of each day, I write down everything I want to get done and give them a date. Not a completion date. I head up each page with the date I enter them. In one column, I write the task and in another, I enter a check mark or a date when it's completed. Each day starts with a new page and new goals. And every morning, I review the previous day's list to see what I'd accomplished and what was left to do. The idea is to finalize all the old tasks before starting on the newer ones.
At first, the undone tasks outnumbered the completed ones. Seeing all those stale items every morning was unsettling, especially when I was more inspired to work on the fresh ones. What I hadn't anticipated was how much it would bother me to look back at old lists and see so many things not marked off. Evidently, checking items off my list became the true goal.
Somewhere along the way, getting tasks done became the bonus and my focus. There was something satisfying about watching your life and accomplishments unfold one task at a time and being able to tell yourself every day, "I did all that."