Procrastination can be a copywriter’s kryptonite. We usually think we need a good idea, a muse, willpower, and quiet time before we can even begin. You’ll be lucky to get two.
In this post we’re going to discuss why we procrastinate, and a system that helps you to overcome it, that considers your personality, your habits, and your job.
We’re going to help you:
- Define what procrastination actually is
- Define your goals
- Schedule time to write
- Manage the task, yourselves, and others
Reward yourself for your work
Look out for our printable exercises that will help you along the way - there's even a handy takeaway list of copywriter tools at the end of the post. Look at that, you're already getting a reward for all your hard work.
How does procrastination work?
As you’re probably all too aware, procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished, in favour of instant gratification. But we know we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by putting it off…so why do we still do it?
The limbic system, an extremely powerful part of our brain, is also terrifically primal. It’s what makes us automatically pull our hand away from a flame, flinch when something unexpected touches us, and run away from dealing with a saber-toothed tiger or a tax report. Since it’s so primal, it’s scared of any large effort, has no regard for our long-term success and just wants hits of dopamine - the chemical that makes us feel good.
This is something your work isn’t going to give you, and something that this GIF does give you -
Quit looking at the Easter puppies and focus.
The prefrontal cortex is a more evolved, but less powerful section of our brain.
It’s what allows us to make informed and intelligent decisions, and helps us get stuff done. But unlike the limbic system, there’s nothing automatic about it, and you have to concentrate and kick it into gear to get it going. This is what we try to engage when we're writing. But as soon as there’s a lapse in your concentration, the limbic system regains control, and you give in to the dopamine. You procrastinate.
So to summarise, procrastination is a fight between two different parts of your brain. No wonder it’s tiring.
But, there are ways to power up our prefrontal cortex - such as realising how much time we actually have.
Exercise 1: Schedule your time.
We’ve created a week long writing schedule for you to find time to complete your writing work.
First, go through and cross or block out all the times you CANNOT write for whatever reason.
Then, study the spaces that are left. They are your opportunities…add them to your calendar, and guard them like a hawk!
Note: You may have some spaces at times where you might be distracted or feeling tired, and so not as motivated or creative. Could they be used as planning, research or editing time?
"Guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg." - JK Rowling
Setting, and achieving, goals
Setting goals gives us vision and motivation. It provides a sense of direction and something to work towards. Thinking about the future also releases dopamine and oxytocin into our brain, making us feel happy and creative. So, what’s your goal?
Exercise 2: Set small steps to achieve your goals
Write your goal (it can be as ambitious as you want) in the space on this document, then follow its step by step instructions. It’s helpful to break down goals into much smaller and more manageable ones like this because we can sneak past the limbic system and its fear of effort, and start work on achieving them.
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao Tzu
Writer’s block can be hard to define, as so many of us suffer from it in different ways, places, and for different time periods. Put simply by Dr Patricia Huston, it’s ‘a distinctly uncomfortable inability to write’. It can be extremely frustrating, especially when you’ve worked hard not to procrastinate, only to sit down to work and be unable come up with anything.
Guess what - scientists reckon it’s because of that pesky limbic system again. It stops communicating with your cerebral cortex (part of the brain responsible for creativity) when you put pressure on yourself to write, and releases stress hormones which can paralyse us with anxiety, and put us back on the slippery slope of procrastination.
The most effective way to overcome a period of writer’s block is through free writing. The clue is in the name - writing without fear, judgement, grammar or even proper words. Just whatever comes into your head. Do it as often you can.
Exercise 3: Free writing
Use this page to write whatever comes into your head right now. If you’re experiencing a particularly bad period of writer’s block, write about how it’s making you feel.
"Writing about a writer's block is better than not writing at all." - Charles Bukowski
Make sure they’re proportionate - if you’ve completed the opening of a blog post, give yourself five minutes on Twitter rather than opening a bottle of champagne.
If you’re producing large amounts of regular writing, you need motivation and support. Some people can provide it for themselves, by tracking the amounts they’ve written or meeting personal deadlines. Others might need a friend or co-worker to become an ‘accountability buddy’, or a writing group. Can you come up with any other ways you can hold yourself accountable?
Even if you’re being paid to write, monetary rewards may be too far ahead to keep the limbic system happy. Give yourself little rewards every time you achieve one of your smaller goals. Make sure they’re proportionate - if you’ve completed the opening of a blog post, give yourself five minutes on Twitter rather than opening a bottle of champagne.
Exercise 4: Rewards
Look back at the goals you set earlier, and use this page to decide how you’ll reward yourself for completing each step.
"The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate." - Oprah Winfrey
Building the system
It’s hard for writing to become a ‘habit’, because we can’t really do it automatically. So you need to aim to create a system that helps you work. Here are a few ideas to start with:
- Identify your goal
- Set a small step to begin
- Reward yourself
- Build this as a regular practice
- If you get stuck, free write yourself out of it.
- If you get distracted by other work, don’t worry about it
- Start to complete larger steps
- Reward yourself
- Track how much progress you’ve made
- Celebrate reaching your goal!