XKCD Time Management

From the wonderful XKCD (click the cartoon to procrastinate a bit more)

How’s your writing going? Well? Or are you procrastinating? maybe feeling a little bit guilty about how lazy you are?

I’ve been reading a book called Switch: How to change things when change is hard. In Switch, Chip and Dan use the analogy of a rider on an elephant to describe the relation between the conscious, rational mind and the emotional subconscious.

What they found, unsurprisingly, is that changing habits requires the engagement of both parts of the brain. And that the self-control and self-supervision required to change any habitual behaviour are exhaustible resources. So if you have to think about what you’re doing or control your behaviour, which is the case if you’re trying to change something or convince yourself to do something *coughwritecough*, the act of doing that will sap your willpower and leave you with less ability and drive to keep at your task.

 ‘And when people exhaust their self-control, what they’re exhausting are the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure’.

What looks like laziness, they found, may be mental exhaustion.

How does this relate to writing? Well, I’ve been thinking for a while that willpower alone can’t be the best way of making yourself write. That constantly thinking about time management, productivity, more words, improving productivity and thinking you never quite get enough done and lack willpower is, well, creatively counter-productive. It’s difficult and tiring, and I don’t enjoy starting from a negative point where I’m forcing myself to do something. Do you?

Starting creative endeavours is hard, yes. Resistance and fear are common and imposing structures like timetables or deadlines to aid willpower is useful. But why do we tend to think that writing is a struggle when it’s actually the lack of writing that troubles most of us? Why do we worry about how lazy and bad we are for procrastinating rather than trying to engage both parts of our brains so that we really want to work?

Maybe we’re just wearing ourselves out. Maybe we’re approaching it from entirely the wrong angle, and things would be much easier if we could find a way to engage both elephant and rider, of making the desire to write stronger than the resistance.

What do you think?