Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Creative Procrastination & the Art of Saying ‘No’

Picture by Chalkboard Manifesto
Back in May, I gave a presentation at the dayjob on the book Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy. I'd scheduled time in my workdays for about a month to not only read the book, but to dissect it and put together a two hour presentation and workbook for my teammates.
In Eat That Frog! there are twenty-one important principles Brian lists that are important if you want to learn how to best manage your time, manage your to-do lists, etc., etc. One of the principles in the book is creative procrastination. Or rather, how to practice the art of saying ‘no’ or ‘not right now.’ At the time of putting the presentation together, while I was gearing it more towards what my team and I do on a daily basis at the dayjob, I realized that every one of these principles can be tweeked to fit for the writing life.
When I got the tweeking juuuust right, I decided to share the most important lessons I derived from the book. Are you ready? Awesome – let’s do this!
Take a moment to think about what you need to get done over the course of the next week. Now think on what needs to get done over the next month.
Got your list ready? Good. Now we’re ready to creatively procrastinate.

Take your handy dandy to-do list and read through each item. Decide on the level of importance of each item.

  • Do you have a few things on there that made you think: “Eh, that’s not too important, and it’s not something that really needs to be done at the moment.” I hope you had a few, ‘cause I most certainly did. 
    • Those particular items are the backburners, the items where it’s not life or death if they don’t get done. And because they’re not that important, you can creatively procrastinate on those. Put ‘em in the back of your mind and move on the more important stuff. 
  • What about any items that can't be done until after you've tackled something else? 
    • Move those tasks to the bottom of your list then. Don't even think about those items until you've taken care of the other, more important, this-must-done-first-items. 
Here’s a great guest post that Tina Moss did on this blog last year that has a list of questions to help you decide those backburner items.
By going through your list like this, you're not only identifying those lower-priority tasks that you don't really need to do, you're also organizing your list. So you're really doing two things at once! Ha!

The reason it's important to sit down and take the time to do this with just about everything task list you create is because:

  • Ultimately, you can't do everything, so you have got to procrastinate on the low value items
  • By organizing your list this way, you're saving time in the end. It's the 10/90 Rule of personal effectiveness: It you spend the first 10% of your time planning and organizing your work and/or task list before you begin, you'll save 90% of time in getting the work done when you start. 
  • It's better to consciously procrastinate, than to unconsciously procrastinate. Because when you unconsciously procrastinate, you end up not taking care of the hard, big, and more important tasks that you really do need to get to. 

Now what if something super-duper important comes up? Like a really great beta reader of yours need you to return the favor with a turn-around time of forty-eight hours. Okay, so now that you've got your list organized by importance, you can now add this particular item to the list and push aside other items that, once again, aren't gonna kill ya if they don’t get done in the timeframe you wanted.
But…what if I really, really don’t have the time to return that favor right now? How do I say "No?"
Telling someone "No" is never easy. Well, let me rephrase that, telling someone you care about, or telling another author who want to see succeed in their career, is never easy (I rephrase because telling my niece and nephew "no" comes waaaay to easy to me *grin*). We’re writers. We know how hard it is, and we’re incredibly giving of our time to other writers, our family, and our characters/stories. So yeah, saying "No" can be difficult.
And there are many ways you can tell a fellow author/writer "No." Jami Gold recently reached out to Twitterverse for some advice on this very topic. The advice she got was fabulous. There were "No’s" and then there were "No, not right now’s." The latter is my favorite response because I don’t want the other person to never approach me again in the future.
And this is actually one of the principles in Eat That Frog! In the book, Brian actually encourages you to practice saying 'no.' Say it early, say it often.

But instead of a flat-out "no," explain you don’t really have the time to take on another project at this time. Explain that, to be quite honest, if you even try to take on the project, you don’t feel as though you’re going to give their WIP the attention it deserves. If this is a writing pal you’ve known for a while, let them know when you should start to have a bit more free time in case they run into anything they might need later. If it’s not a writing pal, then another great suggestion from Jami’s blog post was giving the inquirer a link to somewhere like Critique Circle (a personal fave, but there are other sites shared in Jami’s post). And that falls right into the category of "No I can't right now, but I know of some really great resources to help you get that critique." So you're not leaving anyone in the lurch because you're still being incredibly helpful.
Don’t ever feel bad about saying "No"
I know this is easier said than done. I usually feel a little guilty for a while after having to turn down a request to Beta Read or critique. But every time I do, I have to remind myself that I’m only one person. I can only do so much. If I run myself ragged by saying ‘yes’ to everything everyone asks me to do, I’m going to make myself sick. Then where will I be?
Yes, that sounds a bit selfish at times. Yes, it sucks we’re not the super heroes we wish we were most times. But guess what! The person you just said "No, not right now" to is a writer also! They understand you’re spread a bit thin. They understand you've got the dayjob, the house, the family, the blog, the drafting, the revising, and the editing to take care of. That’s what makes the writing community the most fabulous community out there!
So yea, feel a little bad and guilty, but then remind yourself they're going to understand in the end. Then got get ya a glass of wine and some chocolate and get back to checking those tasks of your never-ending to-do list!
What about you? Do you already creatively procrastinate in your own way? How do you decide what to put on the backburner and what needs to be done right now? Are you practicing the Art of Saying ‘No’ or ‘No, not right now’? Are you secretly a super hero? ‘Cause if you are, I know a lot of writers who’d pay a pretty penny to get your secret. ;0)
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