Beating Procrastination as a Freelancer
There are a few things that get in the way of successfully freelancing, but the biggest one is procrastination.
Procrastination is tough to quantify, partly because it can be different for everyone, but more so because most of the time, we don’t even notice it’s happening.
If you’re at a point where you’ve realised you’re putting off certain tasks and areas of your work are suffering, then it’s time to take some action and get back on track.
First of all, make sure you’re actually procrastinating. It’s quite possible that you’re just overworked. If that’s the case, take a step back and rework your schedule to make it at least a little more realistic.
This is tricky because a lot of the time feeling like you have too much work can actually cause you to procrastinate in the first place, whether you actually do or not. However, there are some warning signs to look out for. Let’s go over a few…
Browsing Social Media
If you find yourself browsing any sort of social network during the workday, then you’re procrastinating. There are certain exceptions to that rule, such as if you work in social media, but even then you shouldn’t be browsing your own personal feed at 11am.
Putting Off Simple Tasks
Each morning when I turn on my computer, I open up Wunderlist to see what tasks there are for the day (all tasks are planned ahead of time and are never usually added to be done on the same day).
If find yourself putting off even the simplest of tasks, you’re more than likely procrastinating. This can have a knock-on effect to bigger, more important and sometimes time-sensitive tasks as well. So it’s not a good idea to just “try to get over it” or “let it pass”.
Having Long Overdue Tasks
Look at your to-do list, do you have items on there older than a few days? Then it’s more than likely you’re putting them off. This is a telltale sign something is wrong with your current workload.
It’s OK if there are one or two items which are being blocked by something else, like waiting on someone to make a decision or getting feedback on something you’ve designed. However, if the tasks could have (and should have) been done a few days ago, there’s a problem.
Those a just small handful of the more general warning signs to look out for, but most people who struggle with procrastination do those things at some point. There are quite a few more, but they tend to be specific to the person who’s procrastinating, so look out for yours. In the next section, we’ll take a look at some advice on how to get past all those mental roadblocks.
Now that you know a few of the warning signs, let’s look at a few ways to solve it. Before we do however, you need to know it’s not easy, trust me, but it can be done.
The hardest and most frustrating part of procrastination is just getting the work done, because the only real way to beat it is to just get on with it. However, it’s a little more complicated than that, so here are some ways to make it easier…
Do Your Biggest Task First
When you wake up in the morning, it’s the perfect time to fight the urge to procrastinate. This is because both your willpower and focus are at their strongest. Use this time wisely to tackle your biggest task of the day. I’ve used this technique on many mornings when I’ve felt like closing my laptop and sticking the TV on.
The great thing about it is that you get a huge productivity boost from accomplishing something big so early in the day. This then has a knock-on effect to the rest of your tasks and generally tends to make everything else a little easier.
Make a Anti-To-Do List
An anti-to-do list is where you keep all the things you’ve been putting off. It’s helpful for tackling the items that are really dragging and you just can’t find the energy for.
A good tip I learned is to use my early morning energy to tackle just one task on my anti-to-do list so that eventually those pesky to-do’s I’m avoiding get done.
Change Up Where You Work
Working in the same space day after day can make your work and life feel stagnant to say the least. It can help if you grab your laptop and go work from the sofa or outside for a little while.
Another option is to spend some time rearranging your office space so it feels fresh and new. I do this every few months and it works great.
Eliminate Your Go-To Options
When you procrastinate, there are usually a couple of things you do. A lot of people start scrolling through Facebook or Twitter, like I mentioned above. Others, like myself, sit looking at the their email for far to long, just trying to find something to reply to.
A great tip for getting past this is to eliminate those go-to options, otherwise they become habit and it’s then about more than simple distractions. Once a habit is formed, it can be very difficult to break free of.
When it comes down to it, you need to figure out the root cause of your procrastination. People very rarely put off doing things because they simply “feel like it”. There’s usually a cause that needs to be taken care of first.
Finding that cause is no easy task, but to get you started, think about a task you’re putting off right now. Then go through these few questions, which should help you narrow down the real problem:
- Do you not enjoy that type of work?
- Is the client someone you dislike working with?
- Are working on the same type of thing too often?
- Are you burnt out? (Read my article on burnout if you think that’s the case)
The next time you come up against a task that’s giving you trouble, think deeply about why you’re putting it off, not just what you’re doing to distract yourself, and then by finding the root cause, you can actually solve the problem instead of putting a temporary solution in place.