Skip to main content

15 Tips for Postponing Writing Procrastination

Thanks to my friend and colleague, Meggin McIntosh for providing this great article!

By Meggin McIntosh, Ph.D.
The Ph.D. of Productivity™
Reno, NV |

Heaven only knows that being writers, we can all procrastinate. You could probably generate a whole list of ways that you have procrastinated. But let’s not procrastinate - you're actually reading this article (and using the ideas to help you postpone procrastination).

Let us get to 15 tips to help you postpone your procrastination around writing.

  1. Clean off your desk. You might think that this is actually a way to procrastinate, and it can be. What I am suggesting here though is the idea that when it is time to write, you have a cleaned-off surface.
  2. Notice when you are messing around and only pretending to write. I will make the assumption that you are an adult and that you have the executive control functions required to be a productive grown-up. Given that fact, you know perfectly well when you are fiddling around and not writing. Call yourself out on these behaviors and get back to writing.
  3. Sit down. When I was a professor, I could not believe the number of people who would stand out in the hall or wander around the office area talking about how much they needed to write and complaining that the publication expectations were too high, etc., etc., etc. It was all I could do not to go out into the hall and suggest (nicely, of course), that they might want to get their rear ends into chairs and start writing instead of standing around talking about writing.
  4. Open a document. Whether it is a document on your computer or a physical document that you have in a real folder (imagine that)…open it. It is difficult to write without having a document open and ready for our words.
  5. Open your brain so there is flow. Our brains can be our very best friends when we write or they can really seem to get in the way. If your brain is somewhat dammed up, then you need to get it moving again. Just sit and envision your brain like a dam that is either overflowing or better yet, that has been opened to allow for a controlled flow. No blockage, only flow.
  6. Always capture ideas. Great ideas can come to us at any time – and that is usually when they arrive, i.e., at any ol’ time. Never let an idea slip away. Keep tools available so you can jot down these random thoughts and ideas. When the idea occurs to you, there is no way for you to know if the idea will be good idea, or not so great. You can make that determination later.
  7. Routinize your writing. You brush your teeth. You fix your coffee or tea every morning. You never forget the conditioner on your hair in the shower. You have your clothes static free and clean smelling because you always put in a dryer sheet. Whatever these routines are…they are in place to support a behavior you want. Writing is a behavior you want to have as part of your life. Make it part of your routine and establish routines around your writing. Routine supports productivity vs. procrastination.
  8. Remind yourself why you are writing. As a doctoral student, if I wrote “Dr. Meggin McIntosh,” on a piece of paper once, I wrote it a thousand times. It would remind me in the wee hours of the morning WHY I was writing. It was to finish graduate school so that someday, I could (actually) be Dr. Meggin McIntosh. Whatever the reason is that you are writing, make note and repeat it – out loud, if needed, frequently when you find yourself veering over into procrastination-land.
  9. Ask questions that need answers. Human brains love to answer questions. This includes YOUR brain. When you find yourself stuck and thinking about procrastinating on your writing, take this approach instead: Just write some questions and then begin to write out some answers. You will get in the flow of writing and be able to keep going. I promise.
  10. Timers are your friends. In my Top Ten Productivity Tips series, I have a whole set of tips just about the benefits of using timers to enhance productivity. One of the best ways to beat back procrastination is to use timers. For whatever period of time you have your timer set, you write. You don’t check email. You don’t straighten up your bookshelves. You don’t answer the phone. You don’t grade papers (that’s when you REALLY know you’re procrastinating your writing is if you choose to grade papers instead). For 10 minutes or 30 minutes or 45 minutes – however long you set your timer – you write. You can do this.
  11. Perfection is not your friend. There are no perfect books, perfect dissertations, perfect articles, perfect chapters. There are excellent books, dissertations, articles, chapters, poems, stories, and so forth. Go for excellence – and go for complete. If you’re going for perfection you will NEVER get there and you will fail as a writer. Sorry to be mean, but it’s true.
  12. Take one slice (bite) at a time. Authors Snead and Wycoff, in their book To Do, Doing, Done, talk about the idea of dividing products into “hunks,” “chunks,” and “bites,” using of course, the notion about eating an elephant one bite at a time. Bites are defined as something that one person can do in a reasonable amount of time. Rethink your writing projects so that you have bites available for you to work on today and every day.
  13. Isolate editing and composing. Editing is one part of writing. If you are intermingling editing with composing, you are cruisin’ for a bruisin’ in terms of your productivity. Have days where you edit and days where you compose. Isolate the two practices – both of which are important – so that you can maximize your writing productivity.
  14. Note when you finish where you’ll be starting next. Since the most difficult part of writing for many people is getting started (and this is also the crazy reason that many of us think that we have to have large blocks of time for writing, i.e., because it takes SOOO LONG to get started), using this one suggestion will make a major impact on your ability to bypass procrastination. Each day when you are a few moments from completing your writing time, make a notation about what you were going to do next. Specifically.
  15. Integrate writing into how you define yourself. Do you talk about yourself as a writer? Do you think about yourself as a writer? Do you define yourself as a writer? It is more difficult (and more ridiculous) to procrastinate something that is really part of who you are. It’s hard for me to procrastinate being a sister. I am a sister. If you’re a parent, it’s hard to procrastinate being a parent. You are a parent. If you consider yourself to be and define yourself as a writer (among other attributes), then you are better able to focus on what you need to do to continue in that role. 
© 2010 Meggin McIntosh, Ph.D. is a former professor who earned early promotion and tenure and then ultimately was promoted to full professor before becoming the director of the Excellence in Teaching Program at the University of Nevada, Reno. She now writes (a lot!) and speaks around the country, supporting faculty and other professionals who want to be more productive. Learn more about Meggin at her website: 


  1. I not only procrastinate, i think i am highly disorganise, the first thing i need and must do is clean up my desk you are right, so many distractions.
    I thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  2. It's easy for others to give advice, because I fall into the same traps as everyone else. But one thing I know is that I have to stick to my main priority instead of organizing my desk. And then I work on my desk later in small bits of time. In my case, very small bits of time. But eventually it gets done.... until the mail comes.

  3. Joan Bolker discusses these issues issues in her excellent book "Writing your dissertation in 15 minutes a day". If you need motivation - check it out! And get good writing software!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"ABD" -- what does it really mean?

I thought I knew what the definition of ABD was. It was exactly the same as defined here in Carnegie Mellon's University Doctoral Candidate Policies for All But Dissertation (ABD) : After the completion of all formal degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as All But Dissertation(ABD). I have, though, occasionally run into the term ABD being used as a somewhat disparaging designation for one who fulfills the formal degree requirements of the Ph.D. but never finishes the dissertation, and then quits the program. Most recently, I saw it in What They Didn' t Teach You in Graduate School: 199 Helpful Hints for Success in Your Academic Career , by Paul Gray and David E. Drew. Number 9 of their helpful hints is one that I strongly agree with: "Remember that a Ph.D. is primarily an indication of survivorship." They go on to say, "You stuck wi

Academic Exhaustion Syndrome: Four Recovery Strategies

The semester’s over. If you’re anything like the academics I coach, you feel like death warmed over.  Those last stacks of grading got done on sheer will, determination and fumes. And this is before considering your writing deadlines, committee responsibilities, and other demands.  You are suffering from Academic Exhaustion Syndrome.  Academic Exhaustion Syndrome (an advanced, more scholarly state of burn out) is a state of emotional, and physical exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, ending with grading, over the course of the semester and academic year. As the stress continues, you begin to lose interest and motivation to work, you have fantasies of standing up and screaming in the middle of a meeting, and you wonder what temporary loss of reality testing made you decide to become an academic.  This dreaded Syndrome can: Reduce your productivity and saps your energy Make you irritable and have thoughts of strangling an undergraduate Make you feel like you have nothing more to g

The Second Holiday Writing Challenge for Academics

Here's a little boost for those who need a little kickstart to write over the holidays.  I first offered a Holiday Writing Challenge  back in 2005, so I'd say it's about time to do it again. Here's what you do: Post in the comment section: what you'd like to work on (if anything) over the holidays, and the maximum amount of time you'd like to spend on it daily . Please keep this time limit reasonable and low unless you're under huge deadline pressure -- in which case you don't need this challenge in order to get something done! Whether you're a professor or a grad student, make sure you get a copy of the Dissertation Toolkit.  These tools will give you more information and tips for productive and creative writing.  For those of you who have had trouble making yourself write, you may want to start with VERY short writing goals . Even 5 or 10 minutes will be enough to get you jumpstarted.  Don't go more than 25 or 30 minutes withou