Ask the cubicle expat: How can I lick procrastination once and for all?

October 1st, 2008

photo-from-tara-swords.jpgIn honor of My So-Called Freelance Life “officially” publishing today, I thought I’d post a short excerpt from a great Q&A that fellow freelancer Susan Johnston did with me on the fantastic webzine Women on Writing. It’s on my favorite topic: procrastination. You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate the sentiment.

But first (heh — geddit?), I’d like to thank Tara Swords for taking the day-making photo above, Toni Martin for rocking my world with the book’s first Amazon review, and the Feminist Review’s Brittany Shoot for her kickass write-up of the book.

Okay, back to the question at hand….

Susan/WOW asks: A lot of writers (including yours truly) find themselves procrastinating online when they ought to be working. How do you stay disciplined when you have a deadline coming up?

I answer: As you’ll probably glean from the book, I still fall prey to the dreaded P-word from time to time. (Damn you, YouTube!) When a deadline is dire, I’ll have to shut off the phone and unplug the modem. Otherwise, finishing the project just doesn’t happen, or at least, it doesn’t happen without involving an additional six hours of emailing and IM’ing friends about nothing of consequence.

This probably goes without saying, but if you don’t work, you don’t eat, so there’s always that motivation. I’m single and bootstrapping it all the way, so it’s not like I have anyone to pay my bills for me. Besides, the more deadlines you have on the calendar, the more you learn to just motor through the pile of articles or projects on your plate. When you’re mistress of your own schedule, it doesn’t take long to realize that if you have three 1,000-word articles due in a week — articles that require locating and interviewing sources — you need to start now, not the day before they’re due.

Licking procrastination is all about playing mind games with yourself. These days, I’m loving the piecemeal approach to writing articles (write the intro one day, the middle the next, and the ending the day after that) while I research and edit other articles on my plate. So, instead of having to write 1,000 words in one four- to eight-hour sitting, I may only have to write 300 words over the course of an hour or two. Much easier to face.

Bonus answer: In both my books, I talk about some of the tricks we freelancers have to play on ourselves to lick procrastination. The Pretend You Have To Be Somewhere At 6:00 P.M. approach is currently my favorite. Anyone who’s ever made plans with me during the past, oh, decade knows that, as weird as it may sound, I tend to get stressed if I have too many evening outings scheduled during the workweek (and by “too many” I mean, “more than one”). But that doesn’t mean I can’t pretend I need to leave my office by 5 P.M., a tactic that miraculously lights a five-alarm fire of productivity under my butt. Who knew that kicking the I Don’t Need to Crank Today — After All, I’m Here Till Midnight mentality could be as simple as telling yourself a bunch of lies?

Entry Filed under: Ask the Cubicle Expat,Book,Creative process

11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Susan Johnston  |  October 1st, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Why, thank you, Michelle! It was a pleasure to interview you, and I hope the book release festivities are a blast!

  • 2. Anjali  |  October 1st, 2008 at 9:22 am

    Ha! I’m the same way about “too many” (more than one) week night commitments. And procrastination. So maybe this lying-to-myself thing is just the ticket….

    I’m looking forward to reading your new book, as I’m trying to transition from full-time work to a part-time job plus freelance writing work. Here’s my review of your first book, if you’d like to take a look!

  • 3. Michelle Goodman  |  October 1st, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Thanks Susan and Anjali. So nice to hear from you both.

    And Anjali, thanks for the great review. I hope you enjoy the new book. And yes, telling yourself little white lies are essential, heh.

  • 4. Angela Mackintosh  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    Hi Michelle,

    I LOVED your interview with Susan. It’s truly inspiring! Thanks so much. :o )

    Your Bonus answer is great and something I do all the time too. I think we have to set deadline-lies (or deadlies, lol) for ourselves or else we’ll get burnt out. We need to “leave the office,” if not physically, emotionally.

    Now that I found your blog, I’ll definitely be checking back. Keep up the awesome writing!



  • 5. Toni  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I’m already moving on a key piece of advice from Chapter 5: “why you absolutely, unequivocally need a web portfolio and how to make one.” So the next time I recieve thanks for a review, I can have a sweet hyperlink underline!

  • 6. Michelle Goodman  |  October 2nd, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Angela, thank you too. So much! It’s great to see you here. I was thrilled to do the WOW interview. And Toni, hilarious! Can’t wait to see your new site. (!)

  • 7. alexa harrington  |  October 8th, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Why is it that I feel compelled to do the laundry and wash the dishes IMMEDIATELY when I should be working? Of course, this need goes away as soon as I’m done working for the day.

    To avoid procrastination and/or fear of starting because I might write nothing but crap, I use the genius kitchen-timer time block method: I set the timer for 30 minutes and sit the eff down and work. I know that after 30 minutes I can take a five-minute break or move on to another task for 30 minutes. Knowing that all I have to face is 30 tensy minutes gets me seated and typing. 99% of the time, I’m amazed when the timer beeps and am irritated at the interruption because I’m involved with my work. I re-set the timer (for an hour this time) and keep on trucking.

    I fully admit to the fact that it’s both childish ad low-tech, but it works. It totally avoids any anxiety or over-thinking, which are why we all procrastinate in the first place.

    Congratulations on the new book, Michelle! Take care,


  • 8. Michelle Goodman  |  October 8th, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks, Alexa. I like that trick, too. I’m even more of a fan of popping in a CD and working till it’s over. Only thing is, I have to keep my creative work CDs separate from my bread-and-butter work CDs, as weird as that sounds. If I put on my “now I’m doing copywriting for a client or a pain-in-the-ass article” CD while trying to write a book chapter, it doesn’t go very well.

  • 9. Candy  |  October 16th, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    At last – people who understand!! My problem isn’t IM or email, it’s games! I spend too much time on or when I should be working on my website, etc.

    I just bought your book online and I’m looking forward to reading it.


  • 10. Michelle Goodman  |  October 17th, 2008 at 8:58 am

    Thanks, Candy. Enjoy!

  • 11. ecp  |  November 3rd, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    I just found this site, and I have a couple of tricks that I use to beat procrastination that I learned while working in a *very* crazy office setting:

    1. Earplugs. I like the really soft squishy ones, though you can only use them for a few days before they get kinda grotty. Buy a large box from Staples, and keep extras in your purse for when you’re working in coffee shops or libraries or wherever. I swear, whenever I have them in, I feel like I am *working*.

    2. A stopwatch – either one I download for my desktop, a physical one. I will set it for a manageable increment of time: 15 minutes, 30 minutes, one hour.

    These kinds of tools have helped make me more aware of the time that is directly work time, so that when I take breaks, they feel like breaks.

Leave a Comment


Required, hidden

Some HTML allowed:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Who I am

Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

Books I've written

My other blog

Popular articles

My Twitter handle

Posts by category