As another Monday morning rolled round, I woke up, had some breakfast, put the washing on, tidied up the kitchen and stared vacantly at the laptop on the table…
I knew I should switch it on, sit down and start my day’s work. But nagging at the back of my mind was whether I should make myself a coffee, maybe there’s a shelf in my wardrobe that needs rearranging…after all, that will only take another 30 minutes, then I’ll sit down and start work.
Does this sound familiar?
Procrastination. It’s the dreaded P word that anyone who’s spent time working from home will undoubtedly know only too well. No matter how motivated you think you are, there will always be times when you just don’t want to get started. And without a boss looking over your shoulder and the threat of a performance review at the end of the year, you need to find your own incentives to achieve.
This is my way of navigating the challenges of being a freelance writer.
Five tips to deal with procrastination
- Write a list
- Have “focused work” time
- Reward yourself
- Schedule personal time
- Get organised
1. Write a list
Maybe you’re a list person, maybe you’re not, but writing a list is one of the best ways to structure your thoughts and make sure you don’t forget something.
- It can be a nice neat numbered list on a piece of paper.
- Or you can make notes in your phone while you’re out and about.
- You can even scribble things on sticky notes and place them around your desk.
It’s just about finding what works for you.
The joy of a list is twofold. You can rest easy knowing that you won’t forget to do something important or miss a client deadline. But you’ll also get that element of satisfaction by crossing something off when it’s complete or screwing up the sticky note and throwing it in the bin.
Making your to-do list visible in your workspace is a great way to keep yourself honest. The bigger the list, the more compelled you’ll feel to get started. And the smaller the list gets, the better you’ll feel about being productive.
2. Do “focused work”
It’s the new trend sweeping corporate workplaces, particularly with the increased popularity of more flexible working hours.
Gone are the days of working 9-5. We all have so many demands on our time and the presence of technology everywhere in our lives means there’s no escaping from it. Thankfully many employers now see the benefit of allowing their employees more flexibility with their working hours to meet these demands. And a good boss will always understand that it’s not time at your desk that counts, it’s the quality and timeliness of your output that’s important.
After all, who hasn’t come across the work colleague who’s always in the office before everyone else, sits at their desk throughout lunch and is the last one to leave, all designed to impress. But it’s highly likely if you catch a look at their screen during the day, they’re looking at Facebook or the latest Cricket scores rather than a PowerPoint presentation or Excel spreadsheet!
It’s time to change our mindset from hours spent working to spending time wisely.
Start dedicating time to “deep work”. It’s time where there are no distractions.
- Turn off your phone
- Shut down your email
- Focus on a single task for a period of time
It could be two hours where you diligently research an article for a client, or maybe it’s just 30 minutes where you update your social media platforms with your latest blog or post. You set the rules around how long you’ll “focus” for or what task you need to complete.
It’s on your terms, and you hold yourself accountable.
And honestly, you’re far more likely to achieve your goal if you focus on just one thing for a while.
But what if you do find your mind drifting? How do you combat the niggling urge to switch to something else or just quickly see whether someone has sent you an urgent email? The simplest answer is be strong.
You know you only have to finish this one thing and then you can have a break.
However, if you really are struggling and you can’t quite come up with that attention-grabbing headline or work out how to rewrite an overly technical paragraph, then think laterally. Instead of taking a break and moving away from your desk, try working on a parallel task, something small like finding an image for your article, or searching for an inspirational quote to include and reignite your creative flow.
3. Reward yourself
Imagine you’ve just finished some excellent deep work. Your first draft is complete. Or you’re ready to hand over the final version of the job to a client after two months of work. You’re feeling really proud of yourself, but there’s no-one there to share your joy with, except the dog, who admittedly does seem excited, but you quickly realise it’s only because he thinks you’re finally about to take him for a walk.
Reward yourself. Raid the pantry and find a treat. Take an hour off and relax. Watch an episode of Days of Our Lives(?!).
Find something that makes you feel good and enjoy it. You’ve earned it.
By allowing yourself a small reward, it makes the time feel well spent. You may get a thank you from your client when you deliver their work, but you may not. I often find a thank you is the forgotten expression of kindness. We all receive so many emails every day and it’s easy to forget to acknowledge the sender who is left hanging about whether they did a good job, whether they’ll ever hear from you again and whether they’ll actually get paid!
So, act like your own boss and give yourself a pat on the back.
You’ll also find that after a small reward, you’re more encouraged to get back to work and less inclined to start procrastinating again.
4. Schedule personal time
When you run your own business and work for yourself it can sometimes be difficult to separate work from home, particularly if your office is in your home.
It’s really important to schedule personal time throughout your week to make sure you have a work/life balance. Personal time doesn’t just mean time to do the laundry or grocery shopping. It means genuine time when you concentrate on your health and wellbeing.
If you had a corporate job in the city, you’d almost certainly make time to meet friends for lunch or go to the gym. So, how does a Wednesday morning coffee with a girlfriend sound? What about a daily run before breakfast to get the mind and body alert? Only you know how you enjoy spending your personal time, so make sure there’s some quality “you time” in your week.
5. Get organised
If you still find yourself prone to periods of procrastination, perhaps you need to find a way to guilt yourself into working.
Not everyone is an organiser, I get that. But I am. I’m one of those annoyingly super-efficient people that writes everything down to make sure I pay bills on time, remember birthdays, never forget to buy milk etc.
My husband on the other hand is not. He relies on me to remind him of things…which means my lists are double the length they should be, in an effort to remember his things as well as mine. And even when I do remind him, the response I often get is “Oh yes, thanks, I’ll do it later. Can you remind me when we get home?”.
To deal with this, I use a combination of the notepad in my phone to write lists and the calendar for reminders.
- In my notepad I have lists for grocery shopping, to-do lists for work and home, holiday packing lists and so on. It means wherever I am and whatever I’m doing I have somewhere to write things down. I’ve even been known to lean over in the middle of the night and grab my phone from the bedside table to add to a list. Remembering to get the chicken out of the freezer for dinner seems so important at 2am!
- And in my calendar, I have all sorts of reminders. The most useful are those that don’t have strict deadlines as such, but where you need to impose your own deadline to make sure it gets done. Social media is a great example of this for me. If I didn’t have a series of reminders scheduled to alert me when it’s time to write my next blog, or upload a new Instagram post, I’m almost certain I wouldn’t do it. While it’s unlikely that anyone will notice if there’s 5 weeks between my blogs rather than the 4-week goal I’ve set myself, I will know. And I will feel guilty that I’ve failed to achieve my own goals.
Make the most of every day
It’s an oldie but a goodie – time is money. This is even more true when you’re working for yourself and how you spend your time absolutely does translate into how much money you’re able to earn.
Procrastination is the enemy.
Think about how you can hold yourself accountable for your actions…and put this into practice. Accept that you will have times where you just can’t settle and there are too many distractions around you. But don’t let this become the norm.
Incentivise and inspire yourself and you’ll find that procrastination is replaced by productivity.