Spill It: Are You a Terrible Self-Starter?

Last week, I headed over to my local library to sit in on a meeting of the Toastmasters Club. When we went around the room to introduce ourselves, I admitted that I was on a panel at a major conference that coming weekend, that public speaking terrified me, and that I was hoping to pick up some pointers.

So when it came time for impromptu, two-minute presentations, the master of ceremonies (the Toast Master?) asked me to take the first shot and talk about the presentation I was preparing for.


I got up there and babbled incoherently for just under two minutes about ASJA, sex writing, the book I was working on, and promotional plans. It wasn’t terrible. But it was definitely unfocused, and I was obviously nervous.

(A few presentations later, a guy with fantastic biceps opened up his presentation by saying that my presentation was his favorite. But I’m pretty sure it’s because no one expects to come to the public library, attend a Toastmasters Club meeting, and hear somebody talk about sex.)

ANYway. At the end of the meeting, I received some more constructive feedback from the person tasked with analyzing each mini-speech, and one thing he said stuck out to me. “People tend to use filler words (stuff like uh and um) in the same way they clear their throat,” he said. “You feel unprepared, so you fill in those words while you gather your thoughts.”

It struck me then that my tendency toward extreme procrastination is much the same thing.

When I receive a new assignment or get the go-ahead on a new project, I don’t immediately start drawing up outlines and tracking down resources (as I probably should). Instead, I put the deadline into my Google Calendar and set up an email alert, so that I’ll be sure to start soon enough to meet my deadline.

Then, when that email shows up in my inbox, I hem and haw even further.

I do some spring cleaning of my Chrome bookmarks.

I decide the coffee table needs dusting.

The prospect of cleaning out the kitchen sink is suddenly attractive.

I draw up to-do lists, which make my already-existing to-do lists even more impossible to manage.

And I do all of this not because I’m a terrible freelancer who can’t be trusted to complete her work. (I always meet my deadlines.) I do this because… well…  just don’t know how to start! I still need to gather my thoughts!

Some people recommend writing what Anne Lamott refers to as a “shitty first draft.” This is excruciating for me.

Other people (including me) advocate breaking a larger project down into smaller, more manageable tasks, so as to make it less overwhelming. I do this a lot of the time.

One of the things that helps me most is drawing up an outline. Once I have an outline down on paper, the rest of the assignment seems easy as pie.

What about you? Do you procrastinate? Do you suck at the self-starting?

How do you trick yourself into getting down to business?

Related: How to Break Through Your Work Block, Getting It Done


  1. What a perfect analogy! I “hem and haw” like crazy when I’m supposed to write. Usually it’s a question of just forcing myself to write something, ANYTHING, and then think: “where the hell is this going next?” Not perfect, but works most of the time. 🙂

  2. Funny you should mention that. I recently joined our local Toastmasters and in our last meeting I was assigned the role of “Ah Counter.” My task was to – count the number of ah’s, um’s, etc. It wasn’t until I was specifically looking for them, that I noticed how often people were using them. The same goes with procrastination; you don’t notice it until you start to look for it.

    • Ha! I was the Ah Counter a few weeks ago, and one guy had about 30 of them! He was so polished in his speaking otherwise, it blew me away to realize how much he was relying on them.

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