Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ms. Theologian applies the three minute rule

Dear Ms. Theologian,

Do you have any focusing tips for how to get yourself to finish a project on which you are procrastinating?

I'm trying but every time I try to work on it, my brain shuts down and I sit staring.

-Urg.

P.S. I already took a walk.


Dear Urg,

We've emailed back and forth a bit, so Ms. Theologian thinks it's probably best to let readers know that a. you're a writer, b. under deadline, c. you've been working steadily and are exhausted, and d. you've napped recently to address the exhaustion issue.

Procrastination is actually much more complicated than it seems. It's not a matter of buckling down usually to address the problem; you need to figure out why you're procrastinating first.

Writers of all sorts procrastinate from perfectionism, which leads to a fear of the shitty first draft. We want our work to be good! And good soon! But there is always a shitty first draft, so it's better to get it written earlier than later. Often procrastination is a way of avoiding that first draft. But then Ms. Theologian often has a shitty second draft. Indeed the entire blog is a shitty second draft for her. So writers often want to avoid this too. So they just stop working.

Fear of the shitty drafts is linked to fear of failure, which may be one of the larger challenges here. Ms. Theologian has had a number of projects where she received mostly negative feedback at each stage, and after a while could only procrastinate because she knew the negative feedback was coming. Why continued to work toward it?

Ms. Theologian has a little trick: the three-minute rule (not the three-second rule for food on the floor; this is much different). This means you only devote three minutes to the project. It can be a painful three minutes of work, but often that is enough to get you back in the groove. Just three minutes. Really.

Also, for what it's worth, when Ms. Theologian really wants to get something done, she turns off the ringer on the phone and flips the switch on the side of the laptop that disconnects her from the office wireless network. No phone, no email, no Internet, and just the work.

And then there is kindness to self. Important stuff that. Work can be hard and there is no need to punish oneself. Possibly ever.

Anyone have other procrastination tips?

-Ms. Theologian

P.S. To write to Ms. Theologian, send an email to ms dot theologian at gmail dot com.