Goals & Habits

Procrastination: There is No Such Thing as Ready

This post contains my productivity lessons from National Novel Writing Month but the insights on procrastination and focus are applicable to many of the larger projects we often hesitate to throw ourselves into.

So far I’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo just once and I achieved 50,808 words in 25 days, with a working title of Ten Things My Husband Hated. That was  a pretty fierce pace, but I also noticed some important learning along the way:

Productivity lessons from NaNoWriMo

No ideal time

There is probably never an ideal time to embark on a major project, especially one which is likely to demolish every moment of your free time, and plenty more moments beside. But if you decide to stop waiting for ideal conditions and just jump in, at least Hugh Laurie is in your corner:

Productivity lessons from NaNoWriMo; No Such Thing As Ready


Focus is intensely powerful

You can achieve incredible results if you focus on just one thing for thirty days. During my writing marathon I also showed up for my day job, did some laundry and the odd bit of running, but most days I was zealous about a single mission: write 1667 words. The cumulative effect of this short term, high intensity approach amazed me.

If you identify something that you’re willing to make your primary goal for just thirty days, I think you’ll be really surprised also at how far you can get.

Other people are understanding

People are surprisingly understanding if you explain you’re doing something that will gobble all your bandwidth for just one month. As long as you can state the end point, most requests can be postponed. My husband, in particular, was a saint at picking up extra domestic duties.

If you’re desperate to carve out room for a big project, just tell friends and family you’ll be out of normal circulation for thirty days. Decline or defer as necessary, and you’ll be rewarded with space.

Productivity lessons from NaNoWriMo

Magic does come at a price*

Your stunning productivity will, however, have a price tag. (*I’m borrowing a mantra from Once Upon a Time). I hit my word target early and, thanks to not getting sick, there was no day where I didn’t write at least 1,500 words. But – I’ll be honest here – by November 21st, I was a mental wreck. The pressure of writing every single day, of coming home from work and having absolutely no choice how to use the evening, really got to me. By that third weekend, frankly, all I did was cry and sleep and write. (You’ll notice that even in the middle of my mini breakdown, I was still churning out words.)

So, watch for this: you can push yourself to achieve incredible results in short sprints, but for the good of your overall wellbeing, you’d better recognize when to ease up. As I assert in my book Indie With Ease, you’re not a productivity machine.

Productivity is addictive

My NaNoWriMo output is a short first draft of a novel which still needs a massive amount of work. I’m not saying I can write a novel every month and unleash the results upon the world. But I confess I’m now wondering, what else could I do, if I go “all in” in this way? NaNoWriMo hones skills like focus, avoiding distractions, self-belief and the ability to use slithers of time; these translate well to almost anything else in our lives we might want to make progress on. It’s intoxicating to see how thirty days can create such tangible results.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, in much the same way that marathon runners cross the line, collapse to their knees, drink a gallon of chocolate milk, and then inexplicably sign up for another. My sincere thanks to a) Mr. Wiles and b) the staff and volunteers at NaNoWriMo for an amazing experience.

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9 Comment

  1. Reply
    Prince snow farm
    December 1, 2015 at 6:24 pm

    This is wonderful Pauline! And brave! It must have been quite intense. Not sure I could take the pressure!!

    1. Reply
      Pauline Wiles
      December 3, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      I didn’t do all that well with the pressure, either. But I got to the point where I was too stubborn to give up!

  2. Reply
    Joanne Phillips
    December 2, 2015 at 3:20 am

    Congratulations and well done, Pauline! I love that title, by the way. That sounds like a bestseller if ever I heard one. (I’m shoehorning myself in as a beta reader if you need me.) You are an amazing person, you work so hard and still find time to support your friends and fellow writers, you still find time to be creative and healthy and are an inspiration. I wish I had a tenth of your energy, I really do. The lessons you learned are fascinating and sobering, particularly about there never being a ‘right’ time, and about productivity being addictive. I had a busy first half of the year and my family kept on at me to rest and take a break. I felt guilty, as though I was neglecting them, and have been conflicted about that work-life balance thing ever since. But reading your post I realised that I was, actually, happier and more productive when I was working a little harder, and therefore my family had a happier me to live with. Lots to think about, so thank you again. xxx

  3. Reply
    Pauline Wiles
    December 3, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    Jo, you’re far too kind!
    I suspect we might share the personality trait where we tend to push ourselves much harder than we should. The trick is knowing when to take a break, and – for me at least – making sure the break feels truly refreshing and not just a switch to another kind of chore…

  4. Reply
    December 3, 2015 at 6:07 pm


    I can’t imagine sticking with it that long and certainly can only guess what that accomplishment feels like.

    Want a cup of tea?

  5. Reply
    Julie Valerie @Julie_Valerie
    December 4, 2015 at 7:53 am

    Yay you! I’m so happy for you, Pauline!

    50,808 words in 25 days. Amazing. 🙂

  6. Reply
    April J Harris
    December 7, 2015 at 9:06 am

    That’s incredible that you finished, Pauline! Well done!!i find the idea of writing a novel in a month beyond intimidating – but you’ve inspired me to at least think about it. Love the tips you have shared here – this is such an encouraging post!

  7. Reply
    Jena C. Henry
    August 27, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    Good post! I’m a few years behind in reading it though! Your post reminded me of a peloton but instead of doing it in a group, you do it by yourself. So for 30 day’s you write as hard as you can. Then you slip[ back into the pack of your everyday life and enjoy the draft. You gave me much to ponder. Thanks

    1. Reply
      August 27, 2018 at 3:17 pm

      Jena, that “sprint/rest” idea is really interesting. It’s important we don’t keep pushing ourselves without allowing time to step back, too.

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