You Are Not Busy Enough

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to any artist, literary or otherwise, is procrastination, particularly for a writer who is not already getting paid for their work.  Having been (and soon to be again) a student, I’ve read numerous articles and essays on the subject of procrastination and time management, and I’ve started to detect a pattern.  Most of the books or articles that I’ve read suggest the same sort of ‘cures’ for procrastination: post-it notes, planners, starting early, proper time-management skills, and the like.  These books seem to indicate that the reason why our responsibilities are not taken care of is because we simply have so much going on that we’re overwhelmed.

I don’t think that’s the case.  If my own experience has taught me anything (and let’s be fair, it hasn’t taught me much), it’s that procrastination or time management problems rarely happen because of an excess of activity.  In other words, our time concerns are not ones of too much to do, and not enough time, it’s actually too much time, and not enough to do.

Take the classic deadline for a college student, for example.  When given, say, three weeks to finish an assignment, our mind starts to focus on the due date.  We think, when considering whether to work on the assignment, “I have three weeks until that assignment is due.  I don’t need to work on it yet, because I will have plenty of time to finish it.”

Of course, we’ve forgotten all about that mindset when it’s two weeks and six days later and we realize we have to cram three weeks’ worth of effort into one single all-night project.  What happened? Surely we were not so busy when the assignment was given that we couldn’t have finished it at a reasonable pace, and perhaps even completed it a day or two early.

For a student who is swamped, though, there is no time to consider waiting until the last minute.  They have already accounted for every minute between now and the due date.  Their question is not a matter of when they can sit down to finish the entire project, but how can they fit the project into what meager spaces are left in their already busy schedule.  Ultimately, that proves to be the more productive method, because it does, in effect, what should be done anyway: spaces the assignment out, and ultimately may result in its completion in a timelier and probably higher quality manner.

I’ve known people who, I kid you not, have taken the entire month of November off from their real jobs to work on their NaNoWriMo novel.  A large percentage of those people never end up finishing their books.  Sure they start out in a rush, but because they have so much time available for distraction, such sidetracks come more easily and they cripple more of the writer’s time than before.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you fill your schedule with inane activities and worthless time-fillers.  But, if you find that you have times where you sit around and think, “what do I do now?” then you should probably consider adding another hobby, or else, just sit down and write, and make your novel a full-time part of your life.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ashley Harris on October 30, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    I agree with you. When I don’t have time to be lazy watch tv, I am so much more productive and I feel better about life in general. But I still like my planner too! 🙂


  2. Well said. Naturally, I’ve been thinking about procrastination and time management as November 1st approaches. Too much time on my hands is usually the problem, not too much to do. I hope your NaNoWriMo goes well, and I will be checking in here when I’m not busy writing!


  3. Posted by Patrick Nathan on November 5, 2010 at 9:43 pm

    Found this article in The New Yorker on procrastination. Thought you might enjoy it.

    Later: what does procrastination tell us about ourselves?


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