As the New Year approaches, many of us make resolutions about how our behavior will change during the next 12 months; one of my resolutions for 2010 is to complete, among other things, a long-overdue writing project for a D&D fan site. Part of planning that project’s completion involves determining why it hasn’t been done – and the answer in my case is time management and procrastination.
Strangely, it was the fact that I frequently post to this blog that brought this project back to the forefront of my mind: The word count posted on this site could account for ten such projects, yet this one remains incomplete. Why was I procrastinating?After a bit of reasearch on the topic of procrastination – which, in retrospect, was probably an act of procrastination itself – I discovered a few tips that will hopefully allow me to complete those unfinished gaming projects. Since most RPG Athenaeum readers are dungeon masters and writers who may be struggling with completing their own projects, it may be helpful to present those tips and ideas here.
According to the folks over at about.com, procrastination is a habitual (and ineffective) way of coping with things we don’t like – by putting off work on an unpleasant project today, we won’t have to deal with the unpleasantness until tomorrow. Unfortunately, the longer we postpone completion of our tasks, the worse we feel about them not being completed, which leads to our postponing them even further. It’s a steep slope downhill from there.
It’s important to start by remembering that we seldom procrastinate with tasks we enjoy doing. Usually, it’s the tasks we dread – or, more rarely, tasks we enjoy that carry an unpleasant aspect we want to avoid – that end up eternally on the back burner. The key, then, is to identify those aspects of a project that make us not want to complete it, determine why those aspects are unpleasant to us, and plan accordingly.
According to About .com, there are four motivators behind procrastination:
Self-Doubt – These people feel there are rigid standards about how thing ought to be done and they fear they will fail. They second-guess themselves and delay taking action.
Discomfort Dodging – This person avoids activities that will cause them distress, discomfort or anxiety. Rather ironically, the act of dodging the activity doesn’t make it go away so tensions mount because of this avoidance.
Guilt-Driven – The person feels guilt over tasks undone, but rather than correct the original lack of action continues to procrastinate in order to not face up to the guilt feelings.
Habitual – The person has procrastinated so many times, it becomes an ingrained response. The person no longer thinks about why they do it, they feel it’s just a part of themselves. It becomes an automatic response to say, “This is too hard”, “I’m too tired”, or to laugh it off as a character flaw.
After identifying our motives for not getting things done, we can plan how we’ll overcome those motives and bring those projects to completion.
While I had been engaged in low-level procrastination on my writing project for quite some time, it really ended up on the back burner when I accepted my current job and my wife gave birth to our son. Now that things are beginning to settle, I’m procrastinating on the project because of guilt feelings (as it’s been years since I’ve worked on this thing) and more than a little self-doubt (as the project involves writing for a legacy edition I haven’t played in years, and I’m unsure about my ability to design encounters using those rules).
Regardless of what motives are behind procrastination, the solution almost always comes down to time management, and dividing unpleasant tasks into smaller assignments that don’t loom as large as the entire project. This idea is probably best expressed by the gruff, old-school, no-nonsense publisher of the newspaper group for which I work as managing editor. He is fond of saying, “The best way to eat a [solid body waste] sandwich is the only way – one bite at a time.”
With that in mind, the path to finishing a project is paved with listing, prioritizing and scheduling those “bites,” in a way that allows the task to be done by deadline, whether the deadline is set for us or one we set for ourselves. Allow for extra time to account for unexpected delays and be realistic about how many bites of that symbolic sandwich you’re willing to eat at one sitting.
As more of the sub-tasks are completed, confidence in and motivation for the projects increase, making it much more likely that the project will be done. Heck, the sandwich may end up not tasting so bad, either.
That being said, I’ve got to start scheduling those tasks, or this thing will never get done…