Avoiding Evasion Behavior

So there’s a story to be written, or a game to be plotted, or a blog to post… you get the idea. Sure, you’ve got time, but this is important. Which explains why, the closer you get to deadline, the more enticing other stuff is—and the more expected of you the thing you’re “supposed” to be doing is, the still more enticing the alternatives are.

The result? Something’s to be done in a week. Let’s call it having the numbers ready for your next game event; you’ve got some vague idea what happens, but you need to hammer it out. Day one—write a blog post. Then a few more; this one’s a really strong idea, and it gets it out of the way; more time for the game later! Maybe a few writing exercises with a friend would get me into the right mindset. And what about that other concept I had…. and oooh, friend sent me a new webcomic, I’m sure I’ll get an idea there. And on, and on. By the sixth day, we’ve drafted story ideas, created civilizations, cleaned our rooms, come up with four plans for another game complete with contingencies, gotten homework done…. and yet we’re no more ready than we were when we started. Pressure killed the idea, and now it’s just us and the deadline and one day to go.

It’s one of the biggest problems with things that we started out doing for fun, and ended up doing as social obligations or similar. Once we’ve got deadlines and extra work, it starts feeling like a chore; once it feels like a chore, it’s not as much fun; once it’s not as much fun, we don’t want to do it; once we don’t want to do it, we find ourselves something else to do; once we find ourselves something else to do, we’re lost until the deadline is on top of us.

For some people, the best workaround is just to buckle down and eliminate distractions. Turn off the computer and the cell phone, unplug the game system, maybe listen to music but only if it’s background noise and not being sorted for future game sessions, WE ARE GOING TO WORK NOW. Or find a place to work that doesn’t allow for most of the standard distractions, like a moving trolley.

Another short-term solution, at least for the people who aren’t very good at holding still, is pseudo-multitasking: doing something that takes up about half of the attention simultaneously with the project, on grounds that that’ll keep one from being completely distracted by something that requires the full attention (and as a side bonus, gives you something to think about aside from “Omigod my deadline’s coming what am I going to do?”). I used to do it a lot with IMs; carry on a conversation in one window, work on my work while waiting through the inevitable typelag from whoever I was talking with. Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone, the half-distraction might become a full distraction, and if the half-distraction requires another person, well, that person needs to be available to distract you.

For people with a little more time in which to finish, or ones who assigned a deadline just to get themselves to work, there’s another answer; create or accept a conflicting, more urgent deadline of another sort, thus making something else more in need of evasion and making the troublesome project something else that can be evaded to rather than evaded from. Asimov is said to have had multiple active typewriters, and flitted from one to another depending on which project he had ideas for; I’ve recently been experimenting with taking a break with one game to run another in hopes that I’ll be so pressured on the current one that avoidance pushes me to my primary. (It works. Mostly.)

And, if the thing that’s being done is optional but expected, there’s doing something else of the same sort and letting the stress sort itself out later. Like, well, writing about evasion behavior because figuring out where to start when talking about endings is getting a little overwhelming.

Don’t let the need to avoid the tough stuff ruin your ability to get things done; use the need against itself instead!

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