Tag Archives: procrastination

IT tips #19: How to stop procrastinating by turning the Internet off

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I don’t mind admitting that I am so easily distracted by stuff on the Internet, that if I didn’t have a program like Freedom (Windows & Mac), I probably wouldn’t get much done at all.  Freedom is a very simple utility that allows you to block your internet access for an amount of time in minutes. During this time, you won’t be able to access anything online, thus forcing you to do whatever it was that you were supposed to be doing (writing an essay, sending an invoice, tidying your room).

It costs $10, but there’s a trial version which allows you to try it five times for free.  One of the unexpected benefits of getting this software has been that I now have a much better idea of which kind of job I am likely to procrastinate on or avoid, and on days when I know I have something like that to do, I switch Freedom on for 90 minutes as soon as I turn the computer on.

How to write

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From the Guardian, Ten Rules for Writing Fiction starts off with Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules, and then lists 10 do’s and don’ts from another ten authors. Leonard’s are the most entertaining. Advising against using adverbs, he says ‘I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”. Annie Enright says “The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.” I like Roddy Doyle’s advice about using a thesaurus:  “Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”.’

In fact, I like all of it. Anything that keeps me from actually writing for a bit longer.

Come on in, the water’s lovely: what swimming teaches about procrastination

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Dunwich in Suffolk last summer

At the pool yesterday, I was fascinated to watch a group of  5-year olds having their swimming lesson. One instructor was in the pool ready to catch the poor things when the other instructor, on the side of the pool, ‘encouraged’ them to jump into the water.

A few were quite easy and nonchalant about it, and just dropped themselves in and swam to the steps. But others had emotions ranging from mild distress to pure terror. One just cried and cried and shook his head and his hands and stepped backwards from the edge  in a combination of gestures that couldn’t have said ‘no’ more loudly if they tried.

I smiled, not because I’m cruel, but because I had a feeling that the same child would pretty soon probably enjoy jumping into the water, and might even like  the slight frisson of terror as he does so.  How is it possible to be so upset and terrified and apprehensive, and yet be so wrong?

I smiled also because all that little-boy stepping back from the edge, tears, apprehension and hand- and head-shaking is remarkably similar to how I feel when I know that I have an essay to write or some other big, complex task.  Talking to friends, I discover that I’m not the only one with an ingenious array of techniques for avoiding starting stuff – the best one being ‘I’d better do the washing up first’. Curi0usly, on most days, I’d happily leave the washing up until tomorrow.

Watching those kids trying to jump in the pool made me think that the thing with procrastination is that it’s not a fear of the thing you’ve got to do, it’s apprehension about jumping into it. Surely, you think to yourself, the best way to start is to prepare, to ease yourself in gently, to wait until it feels right, to let yourself acclimatize to your working conditions, to make everything around you comfortable and convenient.

In life as in swimming, this is nonsense.  If you’ve ever swum in the sea in England, you’ll know that there’ll never be a good time to get yourself in the water. Whether it’s an essay or the English channel, it’s there, it’s cold, you have to get on with it and jump in.