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Stop Putting Off Important Tasks with This Writer Mindset Change (Plus Exercises!)

Stop Putting Off Important Tasks with This Writer Mindset Change (Plus Exercises!)

You’ve heard of ADHD, right? If not, it stands for Attention Deficit Hyperproductivity Disorder.

… What’s that you say? That’s not what it stands for?

Yeah, yeah. I know. It’s actually “hyperactivity,” but this just worked so much better for the subject of this post, ya know?

Anyway, this made-up-but-I-stand-by-it-because-it’s-all-useful-and-makes-my-point-well term is really just a fancy way of saying “sticking to nothing and accomplishing nothing, all while doing a whole damn lot.”

Sound like anyone you know? If you said me, shut up. And if you said you, well, I admire your candor.

Don’t Fall for This Failure of a Writer Mindset

But honestly, Attention Deficit Hyperproductivity Disorder is an exhausting place to be. You know exactly what I’m talking about if you’ve ever:

  • Spent all day putting off the simple act of cleaning out a closet, then finally jumped on it, only to find yourself wearing a dress from Freshman Year Homecoming and sobbing over photos of Earnest Hemingway the Cat, who died 10 years ago
  • Arranged a terrarium to within an inch of its life (does the tiny ironic gnome go here or here??!!) before deciding that, really, you should have used a fishbowl instead of an antique candy jar, and started all over again
  • Fussed over how convincing your dye job is instead of simply putting your hair in a ponytail and sitting down at your desk

You know you have, or something pretty darn close. I certainly have. Along with far more useful types of procrastination, including cleaning the entire house, making a gorgeous photo album on Shutterfly or concocting a pear clafoutis from scratch.

Because, pear clafoutis. Do I really need to explain this? How is that not better than working on a much-dreaded assignment for a client I don’t particularly like, or finishing a 15-page paper for school? (Answer: It’s not better.) The writer mindset is, too often, I will do anything else. Anything. Yes, that. THAT is the non-writing thing I will do. Hooray!

Ask yourself, though: What were you supposed to be doing during this time? Because I’m guessing that your superego would have chosen different activities, like the client project or the term paper. But hey, I don’t know. Perhaps your superego is way more chilled out than mine.

Okay, I’ll be serious for a moment.

The Wrong Writer Mindset Will Ruin Your Dreams

The truth is, you hop from one thing to another because the moment something gets hard, you transfer all your hopes and dreams onto some new, sparkly thing.

If you’re supposed to be working, you suddenly realize how delightful it would be if the kitchen were clean. If you’ve planned a study day, you quickly decide that “all work and no play makes Jill a dull girl!” And if the goal is to finally, finally tell fear to kiss off and jump into that creative dream you’re just dying to make a reality – well, that’s when the thought quickly pops into your head that a nice, long walk would settle your brain and better prepare you for the work ahead. To the tennis shoes!

Even more frequently, you hope yourself from one creative task to another. You get started with your novel, only to realize how suckily hard it is and move all that hope over to your new Etsy site. The maker business gets intense, so you leapfrog over to poetry. When that doesn’t pan out (because it never will; it’s poetry), you start a craft blog.

I know you’ve had these thoughts, because I’ve had these thoughts oh-so-many times myself. It’s hard to put your butt in your chair, especially when fear or prior failure are added to the mix. Chances are, you’re avoiding moving forward on a project because it’s hard or it scares you. You intuitively understand, and have perhaps even experienced, that forward movement in the direction of your dreams is very rewarding. You’d like more of it, certainly. But it’s easier to dilly-dally, hanging onto your fuzzy hopes for the next project, than it is to buckle down and see an idea through to the end.

Yet in so doing, we’re just hoping ourselves to death, and the result is mental exhaustion, burnout and despair.

Don’t do that, friend. It can be excruciating to sit down and get started – and then keep going – but you have to do it, or you’ll never be happy. (I know, because you’re a creative like me.) Staying put is the only way to succeed. It’s the only way anyone has ever succeeded.

(Psst! Want to get a whole library of resources that will help you stop procrastinating and start making moolah as a writer today? Check out the Free Resource Library, below!)

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Stop Procrastinating and Start Making Strides Toward Your Writing Goals (Or Other Goals)

And this is where we return to my made-up term, ADHD. Hyperproductivity might sound like a good thing, but it’s really not. It’s quite misleading, in fact, because it makes it seem like somewhere in there you’re getting a lot of things done. And sure, maybe you are. Perhaps people even compliment you on how productive you are, but inside you feel a little hollow, knowing you’re not any closer to reaching your real goals. Knowing those hopes just keep bouncing around while you keep yourself distracted.

The question to ask yourself whenever you’re busily engaged in a task is: Do I actually want to do this? Is this a task that measurably adds to my success as a worker, a parent, a spouse, a friend, an artist or a healthy, happy individual? Do the things I’m getting done really get me anywhere, or are they just making me feel as though my life has meaning when really, I need to buckle down and finish the manuscript/art portfolio/popcorn sculpture/rebuilt Mustang/Baroque-era dress I’m sewing from raw silk/whatever the hell it is you find rewarding?

If you’re my husband, it’s our tax return. Stop procrastinating, honey. You do this for a living. I expect you to get it done … as soon as you’re finished reading this, of course. #priorities

If you’re me, it’s adding to my Amazon catalogue, posting to my copywriting blog or sending new work to my writing group.

The Correct Writer Mindset Leads to Success

And as for you? Well, perhaps I’m way off base about you. Perhaps you know everything there ever was to know about being all crazy productive and stuff.

Yes? That’s you? Awesome. I have nothing to teach you, O Vaunted One. Turn away from this post and please write your book and give us all a hand.

For the rest of you, SIT DOWN.

… ahem.

Lest my Minerva McGonagall-ing is about to scare you off, let me be frank: I haven’t mastered the art of overcoming procrastination either. Far from it.

However, I have learned to stick to projects once I start them, which is a really big deal for me. I now realize that hyperproductivity isn’t the answer, and that hoping for a feel-good kick from the next thing is a sure route to madness, not success.

Success comes from deep, sustained attention to a limited range of goals, not from super-de-duper positive and exciting thoughts and feelings about a whole cartload of them. In order to stick to those goals, though, you have to learn to fight the many beasts that plague creative types: fear, overwhelm, insecurity, doubt, despair.

You can beat them. You can stop subsisting on hope instead of action. You can stop getting a whole lot done while actually getting nothing done. You can pull yourself out of this hole, and make real progress and become the writer, artist or creative you want to be.

Really. You can.

But right at this moment, for God’s sake, just put the terrarium down and do the following exercises.

Exercises to Cultivate the Correct Writer Mindset

Ready to put a stop to the hyperproductive-but-not-actually-effective fugue in which you live your life? Ready to make your waking and working hours mean something? Ready to stop hoping for results and actually see them? Want that writer mindset that will see you to your goals? Great. Answer the questions below to get your honesty juices flowing. You’re going to need them.

1. Do you consider yourself hyperproductive?

2. Do you routinely engage in well-meaning procrastination? (My Achilles heel, for instance, is “making sure dinner gets started early,” when really I could cook dinner later, once the kids are home.)

3. Write out several activities that can wait until you’re done working, but in which you regularly engage during your creative/work time.

4. Make a commitment to yourself that next time you sit down, you will choose a quitting time (in half an hour, an hour, two hours, whatever) and stick to it. Make this vow out loud. Feel slightly foolish. Make it again. Out loud. And again.

5. … Now make it one more time.

6. Witness the power of a new writer mindset taking root.

(Psst! Want to get a whole library of resources that will help you stop procrastinating and start making moolah as a writer today? Check out the Free Resource Library, below!)

Click here to subscribe

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