Home > Life in General > How word targets help creative procrastination

How word targets help creative procrastination

November 25th, 2013

I think I’ve written before about creative procrastination, but I can’t immediately find it, so I’ll restate my idea here. Whenever you have an urgent deadline, the desire to procrastinate becomes irresistible. Rather than trying to resist it, the optimal response is to succumb, but to have a list of necessary but non-urgent tasks at hand (as I’ve argued before, there’s no need to prioritise non-urgent tasks. Just divide them into those you are going to do, and those you aren’t, then do them in whatever order suits). Now, the guilt induced by the deadline should stop you goofing off on FB, killing boars or whatever, so the desire to procrastinate will force you to tackle the jobs on your list. Then, as the deadline approaches you will finish the job. This works even better if (as is usually the case) an extension of the deadline is possible, but you can conceal this knowledge from yourself until the last possible moment. That way, you get a second round of creative procrastination, plus you have enough time to do the main job properly.

That’s all revision. My new idea for today links this to my long-standing advocacy of word targets. I try to write 500 to 750 words of new material every day. 500 words a day might not sound much, but if you can manage it 5 days a week for 40 weeks a year, you’ve got 100 000 words, which is enough for half a dozen journal articles and a small book. So, that’s my target. If I haven’t written enough one day, I try to catch it up the next day and so on.

And here’s the link. If you’re involved in a big project like a book, or a PhD, there aren’t really any deadlines. But, if you make a rule of being caught up on your word target at the end of the week, you create an automatic deadline for yourself. While doing your best to avoid dealing with this deadline, you create an automatic opportunity for creative procrastination, during which you can deal with admin tasks, write blog posts, sort out your reference system and so on.

Obviously, everyone is different. But this has certainly worked for me and, as a by-product, for you, my readers (at least, those of you who don’t just come here to get annoyed at whatever lefty nonsense I’m banging on with today). In the past 10 years, WordPress tells me, I’ve written over 5000 blog posts, while still keeping up the supply of books and journal articles for which I earn my living, and, I hope, managing to keep plenty of time for family and friends.

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  1. Michael
    November 25th, 2013 at 09:37 | #1

    This site is a core part of my procrastination system, especially since you have maintained TerjePbot, although I do miss some of the older deprecated bots.

  2. John Quiggin
    November 25th, 2013 at 10:03 | #2

    I’m afraid there was no alternative to deprecation. They took up too much of my procrastination time.

  3. aidee
    November 25th, 2013 at 11:59 | #3

    @Michael Likewise! A necessary stop in that wonderful toolkit of the procrastinator the RSS Feedbin…

    Echo John’s strategy but I frame it as just plugging away on anything relevant to the task at hand. If the writing is the holdup, maybe head into your data manipulations, chase down a ref, format the document, wordsmith a paragraph, etc… This is the change that you seek 🙂

    As long as SOMETHING is happening in a tangential but relevant task to the final product, procrastination can be tempered.

  4. may
    November 25th, 2013 at 12:04 | #4

    yes, i’ve been meaning to post this for a while.

    in last weeks(?) fin some one hit the spot naming a certain turfed out morloch minion.

    i had tried and failed but

    “Mr Sheen” nailed it.

    well done Markus.

  5. hc
    November 25th, 2013 at 12:15 | #5

    I find that working to urgent targets increases my productivity greatly. Maybe the effect is obvious but I have to force myself to come to the point more quickly and to resolve difficult tradeoffs with sensible compromises. I’ve never been able to stick to word targets but I surprise myself how productive I can be over a short period – I need to relax for a few days after a heavy work effort.

  6. Ikonoclast
    November 25th, 2013 at 12:23 | #6

    The only trouble I have with word limits is keeping under them. I have written several 30,000 word papers on topics of personal interest. Nobody ever reads or will ever read these papers of mine of course. Imagine the annoying number words I would write if people read it and/or paid me for writing! However my interests are obscure, my opinions unpopular and my style pedantic.

    My “creative” writing (an unfinshed novel) is not certainly not worth reading. That’s a no BS personal assessment. Mind you there are plenty of published novels not worth reading either so I don’t feel that bad.

    What attempting to write teaches one are the problems genuine, skillful authors have in writing; style, exposition, inclusion, omission, characterisation, naturalism, symbolism, prefiguring, plotting and so on. Thus when you read a really good author who does these things well you appreciate it manyfold.

  7. may
    November 25th, 2013 at 12:23 | #7

    completely OT but i’ve been meaning to do it.

    how come publically funded ABC renumeration is a secret?

    (sorry JQ)

  8. Ikonoclast
    November 25th, 2013 at 12:38 | #8


    I have thought the same thing for all public bodies. Such pay scales should be on the public record. All contractual payments including exec salaries should also be on the public record. The public has a right to know. There is nothing particularly private or sacrosanct about wage payments made to standard pay scales. An individual worker would still have some privacy in that his or her exact pay grade might not be known to the general public and his or her overtimes and extras would not be known.

    Contracted public execs should be subject to stringent public scrutiny. Indeed, part of the contract should say “As a publicly contracted executive I understand all my contracted payments will be public domain knowledge at all times.” Personally, I don’t believe in contracts in the PS at any level in any. It’s pure BS and it does not work for public service except to politicise it and managerialise it. Both very negative trends.

  9. john
    November 25th, 2013 at 12:44 | #9

    how come publically funded ABC renumeration is a secret?
    I agree
    also they should look at ABC becoming self funded like SBS
    else go the way of ABC equivalent in Greece (ERT)

  10. may
    November 25th, 2013 at 12:48 | #10

    oh dear,i’ve derailed the thread.

    it was an accident JQ,really.

    everybody get back in line,this subject is not going away.

    it can be picked up later.

  11. Jim Rose
    November 25th, 2013 at 13:30 | #11

    what is the option value of procrastination?

  12. John Quiggin
    November 25th, 2013 at 13:50 | #12

    ABC issue can be discussed in Sandpit, or in Bolt thread.

  13. kevin1
    November 25th, 2013 at 14:52 | #13

    There were some claims in the 1980s about a drop in productivity as word-processing replaced typing in offices. Not just 2 fingered clumsiness replacing professional typing, but a new capacity for easy repeat drafts of reports, letters etc. This post makes me think that the hardest part of a writing task – getting something down to start – was made easier, knowing that improved iterations and ‘polishing’ did not create the delays and work they once did.

    The productivity conclusion at the time was that selective editing on screen rather than having to type the whole thing again reduced the care taken by the author to get it right first time, and true to Parkinson’s Law, the iterations expanded to fill the allocated time. Excessive time might be spent so the final version might show off fancy layouts, graphics and pretty vanities, but with diminishing returns in terms of consumer benefit eg. “cluttered” powerpoint shows. Another consequence was that the predicted ‘paperless office’ was disproved for a while, but eventually triumphed.

    So a quicker start, and a better result from the iterative approach, but where produced in a non-competitive environment such as government, I suspect the timeframes still took some time to adjust down. On word targets, I still like what an sub-editor somewhere was famed for writing on journalist copy: “More nouns, less adjectives.” What do others think?

    Having now “produced” something, I am energized to go back to what I really should be doing. Thanks for the tip JQ.

  14. November 25th, 2013 at 16:49 | #14


    The beauty of the original email was that it was plain text. No opportunity to waste time with fancy formatting. And because it wasn’t formal, you had to create nuance with smiley faces or other devices. I used to enjoy getting the feel and tone right.

    Now I’m too busy, and as long as the message is there, off it goes.

  15. TerjeP
    November 25th, 2013 at 16:50 | #15

    at least, those of you who don’t just come here to get annoyed at whatever lefty nonsense I’m banging on with today

    That’s exactly why I come here. But it works for me. If I’m going to listen to lefty nonsense it ought to be the best lefty nonsense on offer.

  16. kevin1
    November 25th, 2013 at 18:44 | #16


    The unanswered question Terje is “why do you bother?” You are a man who knows exactly what he thinks, without waiting on left wing opinion. And your philosophy is not one of deferred gratification or martydom. (Or is it? Maybe i still don’t know what I’m talking about).

  17. Megan
    November 26th, 2013 at 00:17 | #17

    “Never put off until tomorrow that which you can put off until the day after tomorrow.”

    Now, off to the sandpit….

  18. JKUU
    November 26th, 2013 at 01:02 | #18

    My favorite day of the week? — mañana

  19. November 26th, 2013 at 06:36 | #19

    John Q: please consider using TerjeP’s encomium in your sidebar: “the best lefty nonsense on offer”.

  20. may
    November 26th, 2013 at 11:41 | #20

    James Wimberley :@TerjeP John Q: please consider using TerjeP’s encomium in your sidebar: “the best lefty nonsense on offer”.

    why not?
    after all,turgid provides the best righty(oh?) unsense.

  21. may
    November 27th, 2013 at 12:50 | #21

    oh ho ho

    Dear pynehead,

    for your course in “Creative Procrastination”

    please find enclosed your application for the following classes.

    “Baby and Bathwater”

    you qualify with passes in

    “Bulldust and Bluster” 100%
    “Leaping the Door” gazelle div 100%
    “Washing Clocks” 50% (bare pass)

    your first classes will be

    1st Section

    1) “not Getting Soap in Baby’s Eyes”(baby does not like it)
    2) “Introducing Duck to Baby” (rubber duck NOT real duck.real duck does not like it)
    3) “Drying and dressing Baby”

    2nd Section

    1) “Removing Baby from Bath pt 1
    2) “Removing Baby from Bath pt2
    3) “Removing Baby from Bath pt3
    4) “Not Dropping the Baby”
    5) “Chucking Water on Garden” (the flowers like it)

    A pass in section 2 is mandatory or you will be gonski.


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