A Lesson on How to Write a Proposal: Getting a Handle on Fear and Procrastination

Procrastination is the thief of time. Nowhere is procrastination so evident as in the inability to start a job or task. Here are some thoughts on the fear and intimidation (leading to procrastination) some face in getting to work on an urgent business proposal, or sales letter.

I suspect we’ve all done this – sat with pen in hand or at the keyboard, staring at a blank page or screen, either totally intimated, or waiting for that magical first though to emerge. And nothing happens.

Here’s a way to start. Forget the computer. Instead, use pen and paper and play around with the topic. You can doodle it if you want, but you must get into action. I use a variant of mind mapping. I stick the topic in the middle of the page and attach speech bubbles with my ideas or thoughts. That’s it. It could be random, it could be organized. However, I’m not writing yet, I’m simply preparing. This removes the pressure of having to do it perfectly.

That’s one of the fears that stops us – we have to do it perfectly, first time. One, there isn’t such a thing as perfection. Two, the client may not care. What is important is the communication. Can you effectively communicate what you want to say? We don’t care if it’s a split infinitive, or a dangling participle, or whether the sentence begins with “and”. This is about communication. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stick to rudiments of grammar and be accurate in your spelling and punctuation, but these conventions don’t always help. For example, Star Trek’s Captain James Kirk would have been penalized in English 101 for splitting the infinitive with to boldly go where no man has gone before. But does “to go boldly” have the same power? When you wonder if you’re saying it perfectly, paralysis sets in and you get nowhere.

That doodling or rather rough mind mapping that I do, helps give me content. You could simply write down a list of things on a sheet of paper, whatever you prefer. (There’s something about the physical act of writing down that makes a difference here. To me, thoughts become concrete actions. Psychologists probably have a better answer.) On the other hand, you could just random write. This is known as freewriting, where you don’t worry about how you say something. Just get down those key points. If you want to write in short spurts, do that, as long as you can see progress. Wherever possible I prefer to write conversationally, just as if I’m speaking to you. For me, it gets a point across more effectively. However, writing in the second and third person are more appropriate or required for sales letters and more formal RFPs.

What about the format, you may ask? I don’t know the format. Is there a format? Sure there is. You can go to Google, type in “proposal format” or “sales letter format” and you’ll get lots of answers. There’s no excuse there.

Getting into action is what works. I got great advice from a coach several years ago. She told me to buy one of those small digital timers. To get started on that business proposal, set the timer, turn it away from you so you can’t see it, and then focus on that mind mapping or list making until the timer goes off. I find it very effective to avoid procrastinating.

To briefly sum up, for those who are fearful or intimidated about getting started on that business proposal or sales letter, you must get into action. Try mind mapping or simply writing a list by hand. You are not aiming at perfection and therefore no longer at the mercy of your Grade 9 teacher. If you wrote a PhD thesis, forget it. The business client isn’t interested in wading through academic language. (Different story if you’re writing up an academic grant proposal.) Get yourself a digital timer and get moving. Or, as that well-known Nike ad goes, Just Do It! Procrastination is the thief of time.

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