One Way to Manage Procrastination

I’ve come to believe we don’t put things off because we’re lazy or disorganized, we put things off because we don’t think we can deal with the feelings that come up for us when we even think about doing whatever it is that we want to/have to/need to do. 

For writers, I think we have to deal with a lot of fear just to sit our butts down in the chair and start typing. Especially if it’s something creative or something you feel passionate about. 

Our primitive brain starts yammering as soon as we walk toward the writing desk: What if it’s no good, what if I have nothing to say, what if nobody likes it, what if I make everyone angry?

Have you noticed how often that primitive brain, that critical voice, talks about “everyone” and “no one?” It’s scarier that way—and more vague, so harder to refute. If our primitive brain said something like, “what if my brother doesn’t like it?” my evolved brain would just answer, “That’s nonsense. He likes everything I write.” 

So it sticks to “everyone” and “no one” to keep us from writing. To keep us out of our chairs. To keep us in fear. 

Because the primitive brain doesn’t care about your book, your blog post, or your email. It only cares that you survive until tomorrow, and it’s fine with you living a very small life. It thinks turning on Netflix is a great idea. 

And because fear is such a difficult emotion for us to manage, we often do just turn on Netflix. The brain does not distinguish between fear of physical danger and fear of what others will think of us. We have the same physiologic reaction to the thought of others not liking what we’ve (not yet) written as we do to being cut off in traffic while driving. Our hearts start to pound, our hands get clammy, we find it hard to breathe. 

But we can manage the fear that’s not related to physical danger. There are ways. Here’s one that works for me:

As you approach your writing desk and you start to hear all those negative questions, write them down. Start a journal entry or grab a pad of paper and write it all down, all those thoughts. 

Acknowledge your fear and notice the physical symptoms that come up. Also notice you are not in any actual physical danger. All is well. 

Then tell that part of yourself that is so scared that you’re just going to write. You’re not going to show it to anyone, not going to publish it right now. You’re just going to write. 

Then, after all those reassurances to that primitive (scared) part of yourself, stay in your chair and write. 


Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website,

11 thoughts on “One Way to Manage Procrastination

  1. In the past when I was acutely aware of needs ie children, husband, meals, home etc etc. Plus endless school functions and other necessities. Writing for me was often sentences written on pieces of paper in various rooms. I started to have a plan. I put paper (note book and pencil in every room and even in the car). It worked but the frustration of not being able to sit and let the story or the ? flow over me was painful. Its different now and for that I am grateful. I no longer care if no one reads anything I write. I simply write. I have to let the flow, flow. That’s why I have two website and 1 blog site. This way I can write whenever I desire and the writing is my passion not what the writing can do for me. I simply love words….and writing. Hope you can cut through the procrastination and find your own place and time. Cheers! Also your own voice not dictated to by trend, business models or preference…your voice!

    • Hi Faye,
      Thanks for your words. I’m so aware that, though I’m in a very busy phase of life right now, it won’t always be this way, so I try to go with the flow. I take notes, as you did, and I take time to write when it’s quiet–often in the early morning hours before anyone else is up.

      I’ll keep writing and it’s good to hear that you are, too!


  2. Hi Diane,
    Thanks for this. I really like the idea of writing those fears down. I’m going to give that a shot. However, for me the fear is the opposite of everyone/no-one. When I send my writing out into the world, I don’t worry about the unknown people who read it or who comment on it. But when I write I’m very conscious of all the people I know, who I know will read it. ‘How will my mum feel if I write about this other woman who feels like a mother figure to me?’, ‘How will my neighbour feel if I write about a funny/sad/thought provoking incident that involved him?’, ‘What will my mother-in-law think about such-and-such?’ So, often I don’t write from the bottom of my heart, because I’m worried about how the people I know will react. And, I’m often quite embarrassed when people I know tell me that they have read my blog/magazine article/newspaper story etc. It reminds me very much of public speaking. I was an academic for years, and standing up in front of a lecture theatre of 300 undergrads ad-libbing for an hour on a few scant notes didn’t bother me one bit. In fact, I loved it. But standing on the altar in church to do a reading at a family wedding, funeral, etc, leaves me a knee-knocking, shaking wreck, because every face in the congregation is a family member or a friend. I come from a very warm, loving, supportive family, so I have no idea where these feelings come from. But I know I prefer writing for ‘everyone’ rather than ‘my aunt Josie’. So I hope writing down those fears will help me overcome them and write from the heart. xx

    • Hi Martina,
      I agree, thinking about those we know reading our work is much more difficult than people we don’t know. But we have to write anyway. We have to be as careful as we can of others, but still write what we know to be true for ourselves. I find writing down my fears does help, especially when I’m worried about someone specific who might not like what I’ve written. I usually come down to: “I’m doing the best I can, and they are, too.”

      Good luck writing and let me know how it goes!


  3. El vie., 3 de may. de 2019 10:01, Live to Write – Write to Live escribió:

    > dianemackinnon posted: “I’ve come to believe we don’t put things off > because we’re lazy or disorganized, we put things off because we don’t > think we can deal with the feelings that come up for us when we even think > about doing whatever it is that we want to/have to/need to do. ” >

  4. Kindly help me get client’s on academic writing Or on web designing and development

    On Fri, 3 May 2019, 6:00 pm Live to Write – Write to Live, wrote:

    > dianemackinnon posted: “I’ve come to believe we don’t put things off > because we’re lazy or disorganized, we put things off because we don’t > think we can deal with the feelings that come up for us when we even think > about doing whatever it is that we want to/have to/need to do. ” >

  5. Hi Diane,It was really great to read the post.It’s been a year since I wrote anything and I comfortably rest the reasons with busy life,office requirements,family commitments and everything else other than my lack of commitment and will for the same.I feel you have given me a roadmap to finally set the keyboards tickling and I convey my thanks for the same.Hope something soon will get uploaded on my blogsite…thanks again dear

    • Hi lifeloguesite,
      I hope you get something written, too! Try it, and let me know what happens.


  6. I am an aspiring author. I just started a blog and came across this post. It’s so true we sit down and the fear of what if no one likes this starts to take over our thoughts. It’s stopped me several times from writing and I kept procrastinating. I finally told my self I had to write just for me no-one else.

    • Hi Sarah,
      Yes, in the end we have to write for ourselves. If it resonates with others, that’s great, but if you have a longing to express yourself through writing, then you need to write.

      Happy writing!


  7. Hello Diane,
    Found your post when I searched for “procrastination” and I looked no further! Yes, FEAR is my reason to procrastinate. It not only concerns writing. For the last 3 years (after my son was born), I turned into a true wreck when it comes to dealing with any sort of matters. I would much rather crawl under a blanket and wait for someone else to settle it for me… I fear failure – what if I can’t settle the matter? According to research, I also fear success. What if I’m successful at doing this? I don’t know how to react to that, it would push me out of my comfort zone, etc. So, yes – writing my fears down is a way to persuade myself that there’s no immediate danger. Thanks for this!

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