Thursday, April 16, 2020

Planning for the Average Procrastinator

By Aliza Mann, @AlizaMannAuthor

Part of The Writer’s Life Series

JH: Some days, it's harder to get started than others, and procrastination can kill all our plans. Aliza Mann shares tips on how to overcome procrastination and get started again.

Ever since she was a small child, Aliza Mann loved to tell stories. With eyes wide and a smile on her face, she devoured as many novels as she could find and she dreamed that she could write like that too. Maybe. Like most childhood dreams, she soon found that they could be pushed to the side and categorized with a label that read, ‘One day…’

One day finally came, when she found herself laid off from her day job. As things happen, this set back helped to segue her back onto the writing path. She found herself starting a novel which will probably never see the light of day, but gave her more joy than she’d ever though possible. Today, she balances her love of writing a great story between two pseudo-adult children, a fabulous son-in-law, a granddaughter, and the man of her dreams. A true book nerd, she is almost always reading and for sure, writing the world in a way that shows its true beauty, served with a heaping side of happily ever after.

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Take it away Aliza…

As you can imagine, when I was initially invited to write this post, things were much different. I had just started a new journey to procrastinating less and becoming more accountable in my writing career. As a creative, there are times when I used my muse as an excuse. Once I recognized this trait in myself, I decided it was best to tackle it and had been on a good path toward recovery. So, my journey was the perfect thing to share with you all – how I managed to defeat my tendency to put off projects and tasks until the last minute. All good. Right? Right…

Then this thing, this virus, came on the scene and there I was again. The world had come in and pushed everything I wanted to do, every project in my planner, to the left. COVID 19 demanded center stage. I have been fortunate, though. The virus has spared my family, aside from the minor version, which stole a few weeks from me. But I’ve had friends who have not faired so well. On top of general sadness for the world, there are the nights of worrying, the pressure of grocery shopping, and the relentless news cycle with more and more stress inducing information. It’s all enough to make you forget anything you intended to complete, and all with very good reasons.

Despite how this article started out, I’m still here to share the reason it’s so important to try and maintain some semblance of normalcy throughout the chaos that has become our daily lives. After the initial shock of my new normal, it actually felt really good to open my planner and find there were things written there, in detail, which I had complete control over. It was a relief to see the books I’d planned out for the quarter and other goals which had been, and continue to be, important to me despite everything happening outside my front door. I needed those things to remind me one day I would get back to a normal. It may be a new normal, but those things will probably still be important to me.

1. Identify Your Goals

First, I need to take a step back and tell you how I plan. This may be different for each person who reads this, but as a natural procrastinator, I find it extremely difficult to plan out every single day. I think it makes me feel too boxed in and anxious. Perhaps that is common for people who have an aversion to planning, but I can’t speak for anyone other than myself.

I found it much easier to think about things I want to complete every quarter and to break it down by weeks. So, if I want to write two books a year, I would need to split them (depending on length) up by how long I thought each would take. 

To make it easy, let’s say I want to write two full-length books and spend six months writing each. I would have twenty-six weeks to complete the one book – including first draft and several rounds of editing before sending to my agent. I think about things like how long does it take me to write and edit in those twenty-six weeks, and also, all the things that go into every day living. In a quarter, I could either get the first draft done, or the edits. I would plan out the twelve weeks based on writing the first draft of a novel. The edits would occur in the following quarter.

(Here's more on Put a Stop to Procrastination – Today!)

2. Write It Down

Once you’ve set reasonable expectations, it’s a good idea to begin writing it out in the calendar – in ink. I know, but it’s a commitment. And because these plans are rooted in a solid foundation, there’s no need to be afraid of inking them in. You’ve got this.

Be sure to include actionable items – include deadlines and specific information about your goals, i.e. Complete 10K Words – (written on the due date) 4/30/2020. I am careful to break goals down into trackable segments spread over the time period. I track my goals by week, but you may want to track daily or monthly. It is important to use the method which works best for you, otherwise, you may not continue with your planning.

Once I figured out my ‘ideal’ timeline, I started on realistic planning for weekly word goals, check-in points to ensure I was on track to completion, and adding in padding for important life events (such as kids/significant other birthdays; girls' weekends; etc.) and the addition of things like writing retreats or days spent dedicated to writing. In doing so, I found more realistic outcomes and an easier to maintain schedule. Also, the end result was a schedule that didn’t end with me beating myself up over perceived failures over foreseeable events.

(Here's more on The Guilty Pleasures of Procrastination)

3. Stick to Your Plan

Now that your plans are written down in a planner and ready to go, what’s next? I never have a problem with getting them down. My problem is following through on the plans. One of the practices I’ve started to remain on track is buying a planner that I could carry around with me and reviewing at least once a day.

Ideally, I look at my planner in the morning and at night before bed. By having an idea of what is on deck for the upcoming day, it’s easier to recall the things I need to do. Before, I would write my plans and reminders down only to never look at them again. 

While this is the third tip, I consider it the most important. If it isn’t easy to keep up with goals and daily activities, you simply won’t be able to. Be sure to pick a planner you love. There are large (8.5 x 11 page size) and small (A5 size or pocket sized) varieties in monthly, daily, or weekly options.

Until you’re sure which style and size you enjoy using, I recommend purchasing cheaper options. There’s nothing worse than paying top dollar for something you won’t end up enjoying. I have an A5 size which is about a half page so it’s easy to carry with me. You may prefer a full page sized planner to keep on your desk, or maybe even a pocket size for well… your pocket. There isn’t a one size fits all plan for planning – see what I did there? Do what works for you.

(Here's more on Procrastination Be Gone! Tips for Staying Focused as You Write.)

4. Be Flexible When Necessary

Naturally, I couldn’t have planned for the writer’s block and upon recovery, the slower writing pace, which accompanied a pandemic, but I could look at my plans and identify the likelihood of needing more time to complete my first draft and perhaps to consider one fewer round of edits. Or even pushing out the self-imposed deadline to ensure I hadn’t set myself up for failure.

Long story short, I needed to make a few adjustments to my deliverables based on outside factors. Moving my timeline out to something more reasonable doesn’t make me a failure – it makes me pragmatic. One of the deterrents to planning in the past had been the crushing feeling associated with not completing goals. But at the start of my journey, I gave myself permission to explore what worked for me and identify a comfortable path, and one I could stay on – if say, the world suddenly shook beneath my feet.

And there you have it. These four tips help me to stay on track with my goals. I wish I could tell you I came to this organically. I did not. I found my path through lots of online research complete with hours of YouTube videos. There are so many people out there with useful ideas and I’ve included a few helpful resources for you below.

Even though our circumstances across the world are less than ideal, a bit of advance planning saved me from losing track of things important to my career and ultimately, gave me something to focus on besides the dreaded Coronavirus for a few hours out of the day. I hope you found this helpful, as well.

(My Go-To) Sarra Cannon/Hearth Breathings
Erin Condren Resource Guide
Creative Home Keeper on Planner Set up 
Like Decorating Your Planner?

About Disarmed

Jessie Workings was no better for the battle upon returning home from his fourth tour. Having had to deal with the consequences of the Afghan war, his emotional stability was called into question by his commanding officer, leading to some much needed rest and relaxation, albeit in the form of a mandated psychological evaluation. There was , however, a bright side of being forced to come home and deal with the battlefield that was his mind. Chloe.

The memory of Chloe VanHorn had warmed him during those bitter nights on tour and now he would see his high school sweetheart once again. Jessie’s only concern was his inability to provide her with what she wanted more than anything – a deeper, and more committed, relationship with him. For years, he’d skated by with offering only scraps of his love but this time, he wonders whether it will be enough.

As he deals with confronting his darkest guilt and sorting through his feelings on returning to the Marine Corp., all that he’s ever really known, can he explore a more meaningful relationship with Mavis? If he can’t, will Chloe stand for continued exclusion from his life after all these years? In answering these questions, Jessie struggles with the most difficult battle he’s ever faced. The one for his heart.

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