How to overcome binge writing

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Five simple ways to escape the procrastination cycle

“The best way for me to write is under pressure.”

“Procrastination works for me. I can only write if I’m staring down a deadline.”

“There’s no sense even trying to start a document until it’s the eleventh hour–I just can’t focus otherwise.”

I find it odd to hear so many workplace writers turn procrastination into a virtue when, in most other aspects of our life, we treat it as a weakness to resist. The trouble is that procrastinating on a writing project can create the illusion of efficiency. Once we’re counting down to the due date and we’re forced to conquer the blank page, we surprise ourselves at our rate of output.

The truth is, though, that most people write more productively when they write regularly and steadily. You may feel you’re working at turbo speed when you’re churning out a 12-page report in eight hours. Chances are, however, that the same report would take less time to produce—and be higher quality—if you spread your writing time over several sessions.

If you cycle between procrastination and frantic drafting, then you engage in what researchers call “binge writing.” Just as alternating between dieting and a feeding frenzy is a poor way to nourish your body or lose weight, binge writing has proven to be an ineffective way to manage your writing process.

Not only does it actually take longer to produce documents using the binge approach, but quality also suffers. Because binge writers concentrate frantically on composing a draft, they’re likely to short-change other aspects of the writing process, particularly revising and editing.

To overcome binge writing, here are some strategies to try:

1. Develop a personal SOW for each major writing project. Project-manage your writing time by making a list of tasks you need to complete and assigning a deadline to each. Anticipate potential difficulties and identify people you might approach for help with them.

2. Set internal deadlines. Rather than thinking of the boss’s due date as your deadline, set a date at least three days earlier as your personal deadline. That way, even if you fall into the binge-writing trap, you’ll still leave yourself time for revising and editing.

3. Plan your writing sessions for the week. A good time to do this is Friday afternoon or Monday morning. Block off your writing sessions in your calendar as fixed appointments.

4. Keep a writing journal or writing log. Keep track of your writing goals and the time you spend working toward them. Creating accountability is the key to improving productivity.

5. Find opportunities to write. If you tend to procrastinate about writing because your job doesn’t require you to do it very often, then find new reasons to write. Start a blog, keep a journal, or volunteer to create an article for the company newsletter.

So what are you waiting for? Which of these strategies will you try today?


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