‘I’m too tired.’
‘I can’t be bothered.’
‘I don’t have the energy today.’
Have you ever made these excuses when it’s time to write or to create?
If you have, please don’t beat yourself up. It’s natural to procrastinate about a decision when you’re tired.
In a 2009 study, Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University, carried out an experiment whereby he asked students to sit next to a plate of fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies.
He gave permission to some students to eat the cookies, and he told others to avoid eating any of the treats.
Afterwards, Baumeister gave both groups difficult puzzles to solve.
The students who’d resisted eating the cookies found these puzzles more difficult to complete, and they abandoned the task.
Their mental resources were depleted.
On the other hand, those students who ate the cookies worked on the puzzles for longer. They were able to focus for longer because they had more mental resources.
So how does this affect writers and creative people?
If you’re working on a difficult writing project, your productivity will suffer if your willpower is running low and you will become more likely to experience decision fatigue and even creative burnout.
The Early Signs of Creative Burnout
- Have you ever planned to write at the end of the day, only to come home exhausted and watch television instead?
- Do you find your word counts are lower when you write while tired?
- Do you find it difficult to concentrate on creative projects after a stressful event or a busy morning?
If you answered yes to these questions, then a lack of willpower affected your writing or creative work.
Here’s the good news:
It’s easy to avoid decision fatigue and even a creative drought.
How to Avoid Decision Fatigue
Set yourself up for success the day before you get to work.
At the end of your day, prepare the next day’s writing or creative work in advance.
Decide what you are going to work on or write and for how long.
You could even go as far as tidying your workspace, arranging your notes and opening up the writing application or prepare your art space.
The next morning when you wake up and get to your desk, you won’t have to make any decisions about your writing, and you won’t have to waste time getting your tools or your project ready. All you have to do is sit down and do the work.
Another way to conserve your willpower is to decide on your most important tasks for the following day beforehand.
This is an approach productive people use to accomplish more in the workplace.
Set Yourself Up To Become More Creative Tonight
Later tonight, spend five minutes writing down three to five tasks than you want to accomplish the next day.
For example, you could decide to free write, edit and then market an article in that order.
Alternatively, you could decide to brainstorm, proofread and research a chapter of your new book or you could write down what you’re going to do once you finish writing for the day.
The idea here is you don’t waste mental energy the following morning figuring out what you need to do and when.
You will just get up and get to it.
Your Priorities vs. Their Priorities
Deciding on your most important tasks each day forces you to review your commitments in advance.
These regular mini-reviews will give you a chance to check in with how your writing is progressing.
And they will get you into the habit of identifying and overcoming hurdles preventing you from finishing what you started.
The next day when you start work, progress through your most important tasks in order and first thing.
The key is to finish these tasks before you check email, make phone calls, arrange meetings or meet with colleagues, before you attend to things that pop up.
The majority of these other activities are items on someone else’s To Do list.
Yes, they may be important, but are they as important as your writing?
Remember, every time you say yes to someone else’s priorities, you’re saying no to your writing. Sometimes, being successful means being a little selfish.
Replenish Your Willpower
You can replenish your willpower by looking after yourself.
Do this by sleeping, eating healthily, exercising, meditating, doing the right thing at the right times, taking naps and even by listening to music.
I like writing first thing in the morning because it sets up the entire day.
I feel like the day is golden because I put some words down onto the page, however ugly.
If a meeting runs over, if there’s a last minute appointment or a crisis, it doesn’t derail my day.
Your Best Self
Conserve your creative energy for the moments when you really need it, for when it’s time to write, to create, to live.
If you avoid decision fatigue, it will become easier and more natural to write every day and you will gain the momentum you need to keep going even when you want to stop.