Eating, YouTube and playing with the kids: my day is a procrastination masterclass

Romesh Ranganathan

My next tour is approaching in September, so I am doing what I always do at about this stage, which is spend more time looking at my working methods than working. My garage/office is strewn with Post-its, cards, folders, notebooks, yoga mats and multicoloured pens, all purchased in a quest to unlock a magic way of working that will ensure my ascension to next-level creativity.

What has actually happened is that I could probably open a stationery shop. A friend recently commented on the clutter, which is obviously a bad thing. I then spent a good half an hour looking up the best ways to organise your office and am now the proud owner of an empty desk-tidy.

Part of this journey has involved working out the best way to manage my time. Usually, if I have a day to write, I will spend the first hour thinking about how I am going to structure my day. I will also spend time helping my kids to get ready for school. Then I spend an hour making and eating breakfast, because balanced nutrition has suddenly become very important. I will then watch an hour of YouTube for some “inspiration kindling”. I will then look up time-management techniques because I am so depressed about the way I’ve wasted my morning – before realising it’s lunchtime. After lunch, I will watch some more YouTube, because it’s difficult to be creative on a full stomach, before writing for about 45 minutes. My kids will come home from school and I will play with them until their bedtime, before entering into a mental tailspin about my work ethic that keeps me up so late that I wake up exhausted. And then off we go again.

I have decided this needs to be tackled. I need to take a hard look at my habits and honestly appraise the way I work. I have accepted that if I don’t start writing as soon as I am showered and ready, then my day will descend into a procrastination masterclass.

I have also accepted that the psychology of having a whole day to write is too much for me. I think I’ve got acres of time, and so have no sense of urgency, and will happily spend hours looking into the bands featured in the Transformers movie. I have read that, when you are writing or working on something creative, and your attention wanders, your brain is processing and working on what you have just done. But I find it hard to believe that my brain is really taking five hours to fully process the seven minutes I have managed to spend focused on one thing.

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I have recently discovered the Pomodoro method. You split your time into 25-minute chunks: a short work sesh, and then a little break, and then your next bit. There is a real sense of achievement as you get more and more productive sections of time under your belt, as well as that gaming element of wanting to beat what you have achieved before.

The only downside is that often ideas take longer than 25 minutes to formulate and consider, and so 25 minutes is an actual constraint. You can be in the middle of a complex idea, see your 25 minutes is up and then all you’re thinking about is your reward toast. Working around this flaw is infinitely better than spending my day testing different porridge recipes. (Cook with almond milk in a pan before adding a tablespoon of peanut butter and a dash of cocoa. Nailed it.)