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Why Karin Englund Purposely Procrastinates

by Jennifer on March 11, 2010

By Karin  Englund

Procrastination is part of the fun and I’m not giving it up completely. Just like James Bond, I work best under extreme pressure.

Procrastination is part of that process; If I manage to postpone a writing job long enough, pressure will build up and in the end it’s only a matter of protecting the writing time that’s left until the deadline.

It works most of the time, but then there are the unforseens, which have wrecked havoc on my plans a little too often.

With a week left for a job that takes a full week to finish, there’s absolutely no place for a flu, for a surprise visit from a long lost overseas friend or even for computer breakdowns. If you want the full list of unexpected incidents that have sabotaged my writing, I’ll gladly present it.

I’ve learned the lesson and I no longer go all the way down Procrastination Lane. Instead, I use a modified method, which gives me some margins for minor hurricanes, visiting relatives or the untimely death of a pet.

This calls for a good stratagem and a lot of systematic self-persuasion. After all, we are talking about something that goes against all my instincts–a premature ending of that lovely procrastination period.

So, this is what I do: I pretend that roughly 20 percent of the time available just isn’t there.

For a month’s job, I take away five to six days in the calendar. For a two-day job, I cross out one afternoon.

And I’m easily duped.

Once I’ve crossed out time in my calendar I really consider it gone.

Then I look at the job, or jobs, ahead of me and divide them in two different groups: one for IMPORTANT and one for CANNOT WAIT.

I take a closer look at Important and check the elasticity of the deadlines, to see what I can put aside for a while. Then the Cannot-Wait has to be broken down into more manageable pieces.

Now this is where I really manage to manipulate myself.

I look for fun parts of the job. Is there a research part that can be made into something interesting? Should I contact some nice people? Are there parts that need a bit of word collecting or synonym hunting?

When I’ve done the list of fun tasks, I look for easy and difficult ones and list them. Then I can pick things to do from the combined lists of easy and fun tasks, and that gets me going.

And do you know what?

When I have worked my way through fun and easy, then whatever is left to do on the other lists begins to look rather fun, as well. I’ve got myself started and that’s what it’s all about.

About the Author: Karin Englund has been a speechwriter for many years (mostly to members of the Swedish government); She translates (English into Swedish) and writes articles, book reviews and such (when she’s not procrastinating).

Karin is the third place winner of the first Procrastinating Writers “How I Overcame My Procrastination This Year” essay contest. Be sure to read winner Sara Lambert’s essay and second place winner, Alanna Klapp’s essay, too.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 John Soares March 11, 2010 at 1:30 pm

There are times when we need to put the hard stuff off for later and do one of the lower-priority, yet still-important tasks.

I also like the “manageable” pieces suggestion. This really helps me when I do a large project for a textbook publisher.

2 Alanna Klapp March 11, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Congrats on your winning essay, Karin, I enjoyed reading it! You have some really interesting methods in your piece. I like the idea of pretending that 20% of the time you have isn’t there, and then breaking the project down into fun, manageable pieces. I love synonym hunting, too, one of my favorites!

3 Brittany March 11, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Congratulations! And that sounds like a good idea, crossing out some of your time. I’ll have to see if it works for me.

4 K.M. Weiland March 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Interesting take. I know I work faster under pressure too… but I’m not sure the gain is worth the stress. :p I dislike deadlines. I do better, prompter work in a happier frame of mind without them. Deadlines inspire me in that I usually get my projects completed waaay before the deadline, so I don’t ever have to deal with the time crunch.

5 Candace Armstrong March 12, 2010 at 5:36 pm

Way to go Karin! Thanks for sending this to me. I’ve written a few short stories since I was in the Hero’s Journey class (which I’m still processing) and several more pages on a novel other than the one I was working on in that class. Plus, I’ve been in another poetry reading (three in the last year) reading my own work. Today, I spent a long time playing with rearranging words, stanzas, etc. on a new poem while my novel stuff was spread out all over my desk. So, that is blatant procrastination. Once I really start working on it, it’s fine but until then . . . nice to hear from you again, Karin. Good luck on all of your projects, when you get around to them!

6 Karin March 13, 2010 at 4:55 am

I’ll continue to admire everyone who (like K. M. Weiland – checked your website, great stuff!) complete their work ahead of the deadline. Should try it some time because I can imagine the sense of freedom it would bring. And I should definitely try Alannas method, at least once, just to see what’s it like. I mean the “swollow a frog” part. Knowing me, I’d probably try kissing the frog first, but still, the idea that you do something really difficult first, before you do the easy and fun tasks, is worth contemplating.

Candace, great progress! But don’t forget poor Carlene, we wish her at least a semi-happy ending!

7 Reg Webster Carter March 15, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Excellent article! Congrats on the win. I will adopt this 20% method for my current story, though my deadline is self-imposed as a fiction writer with no freelance jobs. Like Weiland, I detest stress. This “important” and “can’t wait” technique is probably the most helpful to me; after reading this, the lightbulb went on and I said: “of course.” The standard to-do list used to work for me but now they don’t. This important/can’t wait technique forces me to keep the business side of writing from encroaching upon the enjoyable part: the creative process. Until now, they’ve been overlapping. Lastly, I do hate stress. So when I read that you put off stuff to feel the crunch, I thought “no way.” However, you said that it forces you to protect your writing time. Bingo. Just today, I set aside time to write and then I let my family impose so that they could do errand running and a few important things for themselves. I didn’t have the courage or reason to say: “Hey, I have to work today because I have a deadline to meet.” So, from now on I will set short deadlines, then shorten them again to get the crunch and force myself to protect my writing schedule. Thanks Karin!

8 Karin March 16, 2010 at 7:29 am

Thanks Reg,

Yes, that’s what it’s all about: protecting writing time. Making not only others but first and foremost yourself acutely aware of the fact that you have to write NOW. Good luck!

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