Sooner or later, every freelance writer struggles with the ominous question: where have all the hours gone? So little has been done (see my clever use of passive voice to avoid responsibility?) and I’ve spent literally hours on end sitting at a computer.
In all fairness, procrastination is not a problem strictly limited to writers, on the contrary. It’s the modern disease of most workers whose tasks depend on deadlines, unlike, for instance, firefighters or neurosurgeons. Isn’t their job a breeze or what?
But for those whose procrastination shows a serious potential to turn into a habit and jeopardize your job and reputation, there are ways you can fight it. Read on to find out a few tried and tested methods of dealing with this issue and how you can prevent it from taking over your days in the future.
Understand your enemy
Working from home, and typically in a digital environment, any freelance writer is surrounded by numerous distractions. Be it your Facebook newsfeed just waiting to be perused through, a sink full of dirty dishes, or a phone that keeps on ringing with notifications. But unless you have the attention span of a fruit fly, there are common-sense ways to prioritize your time and effort and turn off the rest of the world.
This is where learning about yourself becomes essential – many writers rationalize their way to procrastination, by finding a suitable argument as to why they should delay working on a project. But there’s a major difference between prioritizing and procrastinating, as the former decision involves a benefit to your work. The latter means you’re putting something off despite knowing it’s not a good idea. Catch yourself when you rationalize your laziness, and you have a chance to prevent it.
Procrastination makes sense only out of sheer luck – when you delay your work and discover the project has been canceled. But, as Piers Steel would put it: “But because it only happens when the world operates against your own expectations, on average, procrastination is only a good strategy for the clinically insane or the perpetually deluded. The way the world is and the way you believe it to have to be at odds. Otherwise, you are just getting lucky occasionally by procrastinating.”
Crank up your motivation
What works for me may not necessarily work for you, but you need to find a way to get your creative juices flowing. Listening to Alter Bridge works for me, I follow it up with some coffee, and I’m good to go for a while. You can try the following:
Go to your profile and take a look at your accomplishments. The recommendations and positive feedback are bound to be a boost for your desire to work.
Visualize the desired outcome for this project you’re so desperately trying to postpone. Imagine yourself receiving yet another slew of compliments and praise for your impeccable work, and you’ll be eager to reach to that moment faster.
Then again, if you’re motivated by fear, then simply flip the story and imagine what would happen if you were to fail because you put it off for too long. You don’t want to destroy your reputation and lose your career, right?
Think of a reward/punishment system. If I finish my tasks on time (or ahead of time), I reward myself with an episode of Suits or some Ben and Jerry’s, it depends on my mood. If I fail, I have to skip the gym in order to finish my work. Some people have a $20 bill on their fridge, and whenever they fail to do something of importance, they burn it.
Play mind games with yourself
Not literally, but if you reshape your thinking patterns, it becomes easier to focus and postponing an immediate assignment is practically not an option.
Think in milestones. It can be intimidating to start a huge project that requires months of ongoing effort. Instead, divide it up into manageable tasks, all the way to the smallest possible segment. Think: “I need to write an introduction to this e-book”, instead of “I need to write this e-book.”
Put it in perspective – if money is your main motivator for a certain project (as opposed to passion for the subject matter), how much money will you earn for every paragraph or page of text? Suddenly, your effort has a price, and you know how much you’ve earned every day.
Get curious – learn more about a topic to get excited about it, you’ll be eager to put your knowledge to use and impress your client. Even if you’re writing about a dull topic such as plumbing, change your mindset to perceive it as a challenge, and try to find an original angle for the article.
Use your imagination to find extra resources. When I was prepping for my finals, I relied on other students’ VCE notes in addition to my own, to get the real feel of what I should expect. I use the same technique to look for resources everywhere. Get a different perspective from a fellow writer, talk about the topic with your best bud or someone from the trade, look for an old news story, try to do it yourself (if it’s baking cookies, but not the plumbing).
Move your deadline ahead of time, and if you begin your day believing that you must finish everything by 2 pm, you still have an extra hour to adjust until you completely change your habits and stop succumbing to the temptation of procrastinating. You can even move your watch to show different time and push yourself even harder.
Build a support system
Most writers, myself included, are lone wolfs. However, those who find it difficult to stay focused can always join or form a community of writers, online or offline to serve as each other’s reminders when you should finish a task, and to give you “the look” when you try to weasel your way out of a task.
When inspiration takes a hike, you can choose other tasks that make sense, such as wrapping up a proposal, reading up on the given topic or just brainstorming with your FWA (Freelance Writers Anonymous). But sitting idly by and waiting for inspiration to kick in is just another excuse and a rationalization to avoid working.
Loners can use apps such as Offtime or BreakFree to limit your digital distractions, and ask a friend to call you at a specific time to ask whether or not you’ve completed your work for a dreaded project.
Procrastination is a sneaky devil, and you’ll need to stay on your toes, and rotate and update these strategies if you want long-term success in any creative freelance career where you can only rely on yourself. If all else fails, you can always opt for a career in neurosurgery.