Achieving focus: How to kill your procrastination gremlins for good

Writing can be hugely rewarding but the process of reaching The End can be a challenge – and that’s why we procrastinate. But it’s only by knowing when and how you get side tracked that you can kill your procrastination gremlins and keep. Here’s how to use the science-backed methods of ‘choice architecture’ and ‘controlled breaking’ to keep focused your writing.

Achieivng focus and killing your procastination

Make friends with your procrastination tendencies

Dr Robert Boice is an American psychologist who spent two decades researching procrastination among writers.

His research revealed there are two types of procrastinator:

  1. DELAYERS: These people opt for short term relief through acts that are immediately rewarding, while generally avoiding the thought (and anxiety) and doing more difficult, delayable and important things.
  2. BLOCKERS: These folks get stuck at a difficult mid point in the writing process. They often experience anxiety and uncertainty about their work because their writing will soon be evaluated publicaly.

Two types of procrastinators

Procrastination tendencies

Boice found that whilst everyone procrastinates in different ways and in different amounts, we tend to turn to the same activities and distractions when we procrastinate again and again.

These activities and distractions make up what he calls your procrastination ‘tendencies’ – they’re the things that you typically do when you really should be writing – and everyone has different ones.

Boice found that it was only by getting to know and understand your own specific set of tendencies a little better that you could start to conquor them – and keep focused.

Some people have one thing that they typically get distracted by. Other people have a whole list. The key thing to remember is that everyone has these tendencies (so don’t feel bad).

It’s only by making friends with these tendencies that you do something about them and organise your writing life better.

Getting to know these tendencies is easier than you might think.

> Take action

Think about a time you recently procrastinated about your writing.

What was it that distracted you? What did you do instead of the writing task you were meant to be doing?

Are you distracted by the same kinds of things? What are they? Note these down.

Remember:

Procrastination gremlins

Using ‘choice architecture’ to keep focus

We all know that when you’re writing, it’s all too easy to get side tracked and start tidying that cupboard or organising your filing system.

One way to keep focused is to use a technique shared by Professor Richard Thaler, scientist at the University of Chicago and father of something called nudge theory, and that’s to use ‘choice architecture’ to deliberately arrange your environment to influence the choices you make.

For example:

  • In the same way that dieters reduce the temptation of snacking by putting sugary treats away from view (or not buying them in the first place) you can keep your procrastination at bay by keeping your writing environments distraction-free.
  • In the same way that dieters can increase the likelihood of weight loss by making it easier for them to eat low-calorie food (by, say putting healthy snacks in the cookie jar) so you can positively arrange your environment by introducing writing triggers.

Now, because you know your procrastination tendencies – the things you typically do to avoid getting down to your writing –you can better design where you write.

This will help you minimise and remove procrastination triggers from your life and maximise and introduce writing triggers into your life.

> Take action

How are you going to maximize and introduce writing triggers into you day? How are you going to minimze and remove writing distractions?

For example:

Maximise and introduce writing triggers:

  • If you often have ideas when you are out and about – make sure you always pack a notebook into your bag or download a note taking app.
  • Make sure you always have a few of your favourite inspirational writing quotes dotted around your workspace to remind you to get back to the desk!

Minimize and remove procrastination triggers

  • If you know you get side tracked by social media leave your phone in a different room – or turn off the internet altogether.
  • If you know you get distracted by mess and untidiness, make sure your workspace is neat and orderly BEFORE you sit down to write.

How to use ‘controlled breaking’ to keep focused

In reality, beating your distractions and keeping your focus and attention are two sides of the same coin.

But science tells us that every time you break off and get side-tracked, your levels of concentration get depleted – just a little.

But taking regular breaks aren’t necessarily harmful for your concentration.

The key is to take those breaks on your own terms according to Dr Paul Dolan, a behaviour change professor from the London School of Economics.

Kill your procrastination by ‘cheating it’

Dolan’s research reveals that the best way to avoid distraction is to cheat it by staying in control and deliberately switching to a pleasurable activity when you feel your concentration is starting to wane.

Once you know the types of activities you tend to get distracted by (presumably because you enjoy doing them or find them satisfying) you can use these activities as mini-rewards to keep you going through the writing process.

Read: How to master the art of deliberate procrastination >>

Instead of your pleasurable activities distracting you from your writing and causing your to procrastinate – turn these activities into rewards which motivate you to continue. For example:

  • If you know you get distracted by cleaning the kitchen cupboards, promise yourself that you’ll clean the next cupboard when you’ve written another 500 words.
  • If know that flicking through your Facebook feed is your social media drug of choice, then give yourself a 15 minute break when you’ve reached a writing milestone means you’re less likely to get distracted half way through.
  • Once you realize that Candy Crush is the thing you find yourself doing instead of writing, reward yourself with a session once you’ve finished your writing for the day.

Dr Paul Dolan Quote

Take back control!

When you become unwittingly distracted your reserves of concentration get depleted. When you deliberately decide to spend time on that activity – we can keep going for longer.

Remember, the more you take control over your procrastination gremlins the less hold they’ll have over you.

Using these gremlins as your reward for finishing a writing session means that you take back control – you don’t get pulled away, you don’t get unwittingly distracted and you keep more concentration.

Read more secrets of writing productivity

Accountability: How to keep writing using rewards and people pressure >>

Tracking: How to use reflection to optimize your writing routine >>

Writing goals: How to achieve your big writing dream in small steps >>

Scheduling: How to find the time to write in 5 easy steps >>

Routines: Why writing systems beat willpower – every time >>

Chris Smith About the author: Co-founder and writer in residence at Prolifiko | Ex-philosophy lecturer | maker of unpopular short comedy films.