business of freelancing

How I’m trying to beat procrastination

By September 26, 2018 June 29th, 2019 12 Comments

I know it may appear that I’ve got this whole freelance writing thing sorted. Yes, I earn a very good income from my writing, I love what I do and most of the time I write quickly and can get a lot done in a short amount of time. But I am also quite the procrastinator.

Like many writers, nothing motivates me like a deadline, so I tend to leave things to the last minute, regardless of when they are due. But lately, I’ve really been trying to rebel against my natural procrastination urges because they’re not that helpful to being a happy, productive and fulfilled freelance writer.

How I’m trying to beat procrastination

From speaking with the writers I coach, I know that productivity and procrastination are a big stumbling block for lots of us. While I don’t subscribe to the view that you have to have a writing routine, I do think that some of the habits I have developed don’t necessarily serve me well.

One of the things I love most about being a freelance writer is the diversity of writing projects I have.

But that can be a bit of a disaster for someone like me who tends to get bored easy and forever flit between projects.

I know some writing friends who love nothing more than spending a whole day on one story, but that’s a special kind of hell for me. An hour, or two tops is all I can usually bear to spend on a story at any one time and then I’m ready to change it up.

I think that’s pretty normal for lots of writers.

I love when I have lots of stories on the go. But for a long time I fooled myself into thinking that I could multi-task.

I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new, but multi-tasking doesn’t really exist.

If you’re switching between tasks fairly constantly, you’re not multi-tasking, but multi-switching. And it means the cognitive load you’re carrying is way too high. It’s not good for your brain, nor your productivity.

It’s not unusual for me to be in the middle of writing an article, and to need to know a specific thing for the article so I go immediately to Google to find that thing out.

Five minutes later I find myself on Facebook. And I don’t even like Facebook.

Or I think of someone I need to email and am worried that I’ll forget if I don’t contact them immediately so I go into email to do that and then end up reading the new emails that have come in. Often, I don’t even email the person that I meant to.

So.

Productivity progress

Recently I’ve come up with a couple of productivity hacks that really work for me.

A couple of weeks ago I tried something new.

I made a conscious effort to notice every time I went to do something else other than the article I was writing.

I was pretty shocked. I reckon at least every two minutes I had the urge to leave the article I was working on and do something different.

Even when I persisted and wrote a sentence or paragraph that I was happy with the pull to “reward” myself by checking Twitter or Facebook was so strong.

So, I found out that I have two main ways that I interrupt myself from working.

One, I feel is quite legitimate in that I would be writing an article and I’d need to check a fact or find out something and I’d leave what I was doing and wade into the internet waters.

But rather than leaving my original article, now I do something different.

I write “XXX” or highlight the part in yellow that I need to come back to and I keep going.

I know some people write “TK” as very few English words have TK in them, so there’s only a little risk that you’ll end up submitting final copy with TK in it, as it tends to crop up in a spell check.

I must admit, I am someone who really likes to resolve everything that I’m writing before moving on, but I’m trying to be someone who does numerous drafts, rather than trying to get it right on the first go.

The second thing way that I was distracting myself was that I would be working, writing an article, and would often think of something I had to do. Someone I had to email, a text message I had to send, something on Facebook that I had forgotten to comment on … the list goes on.

So over the last few weeks every time I was working and had an urge to jump onto the internet and do something else, I wrote it down on an A4 piece of paper next to my laptop.

Then I had a list of things to do, that I could take care of when I took my next break.

I know some freelance writers swear by the Pomodoro Technique where you set a timer for certain number of minutes.

And I know freelance journalist and entrepreneur Mridu from The International Freelancer uses an app called Forest to help her stay focused – where for every 30 minutes of work you do a tree grows, and your aim is to grow a forest of trees.

Sometimes I’m amazed that we need these apps and tricks “just” to make ourselves concentrate, but then I think about how much of a monkey mind I have and know how useful they can be.

Some freelancers I know use Freedom, which blocks distracting websites, much like Self Control.

I’m keen to try these out – I like the idea of nominating my own distracting websites, but still have access to the internet for the essentials.

I’ve also turned off all my notifications (email, Facebook and so forth), but then I often find myself wondering if I’ve got any new emails or if I have any new messages, so I’m not sure if that’s the way to go.

And since reading a study about how our phones can distract us even when they’re not being used, on silent or tucked away, I’m much more likely to leave my phone downstairs while I’m working upstairs.

I think there’s a real misnomer that freelancers have to be productive all the time, and I know I put that pressure on myself because time is money, but when I think about the amount of work I squeeze into my week as a freelance writer compared to what I did when I was a salaried employee … well … let’s just say I am SO much more productive when I’m on my own clock.

I honestly believe that if what you’re doing works for you, then keep on doing it.

But most of the writers I speak to want to become at least a little bit more productive, less distracted and more able to stay on task.

I think ultimately you’ve got to find what works for you.

The only way we can do that is to try different techniques and find out which ones work for us.

I’d love to hear about your procrastination-busting and productivity-promoting experiences. What do you use to keep yourself on track and motivated?

12 Comments

  • Rashida says:

    This was me until a few weeks ago so I decided to get stricter with my time which I have in short supply anyway because I have a toddler. By sheer willpower I’ve shut down Facebook and avoid opening it up when I’m working. I’ve also deactivated a couple of social media accounts and have a list of 3 things I need to get done. My phone also goes on silent. These methods are working great for me.

  • Zohra says:

    I am such a super procrastinator, Lindy, and both the ways you’ve mentioned are things that happen to me all the time. I make little booklets from paper that needs recycling to use as To-do lists, so these are always near my laptop. Will now add those thoughts that pop up as need-to-do’s onto my list for when I have a break!
    And growing a forest sounds like a great idea too! Good to know we all suffer from the same foibles!
    Thanks Lindy!

  • Anne-Liesse says:

    I can so relate! Thanks for this article, Lindy. Just now, I’m procrastinating by being here and not writing!! But then again, doing "inspirational reading", as I call it, or work-related reading is often a good idea in the long run…

    I definitely work better when on strict deadlines. I also have tried to shut down distractions and the XX method works really well for not going on the web too often and losing track of the original information search.

    I find I can be REALLY productive for a few hours in a row, with almost no distraction at all, if I know exactly what needs to get done by when. I am really satisfied when I manage to work this way. After a few hours, though, my brain starts to heat up and slow down. Airing it, by being outside in nature or just on a different task, is necessary.

    Finally, I’ve seen the results meditation and yoga – and a general care of my body and mind – have on my productivity. I work best if I plan a daily session – from an hour and a half of yoga to as short as 10 or 20 minutes of meditating. If I have a 7 or 8-hour day ahead of me on my computer alone, that’s when I usually procrastinate!…

    That said, I’m going back to my writing!

    Love from Lyon, France

    AL

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Anne-Liesse, thank you so much for dropping in here during one of your breaks! I love how you put that – airing your brain – that’s perfect!
      Meditation is definitely on my list of things to start doing, it may be time to move it up the list. Thanks so much for your comment.

  • [object Object] says:

    It’s so easy to become distracted isn’t it. I read a really excellent book recently by Cal Newport called ‘Deep Work’, all about how we need to train ourselves to concentrate so that we can do the stuff that we need focus to accomplish. I can highly recommend it if you have a spare moment (!) in which to read it. I find it particularly hard when I’m fact-checking not to get sucked into the internet vortex.

    Not sure why my name isn’t coming up properly here any more. Claire Jones

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Thanks Claire, you’re the second or third person to recommend Deep Work to me, so I’ll seek it out. I feel so reassured that I’m not the only one getting sucked into the Internet’s black holes!!

  • Leah McLennan says:

    Hi Lindy
    This is a relief to read, I’m surprised you procrastinate too! I’ve had a shocking week with my procrastination. I’ve wasted so many hours and have become very cranky with myself! I told my husband and he started sticking notes next to my computer. They read something like: that is $350 lost today (or whatever the commission is worth that I’m supposed to be doing!). It has helped jolt me into work! However, I’m looking for a more positive solution! I’ll try some suggestions in your post and in the comments.
    Love from Broome, Leah

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Oh Leah, I love your husband’s ‘tough love’ approach 🙂 But I don’t think that a sticky note next to my computer would work for me either!
      For me it really helped working out WHY I was tending to procrastinate (often because I wasn’t enjoying the article I was writing – but then I realised by procrastinating I was dragging out the un-enjoyment of it even more!) and then notice WHEN I was procrastinating. That helped me develop those little tips.
      Let me know how you go and if you stumble upon any others!

  • Lisa Smyth says:

    It is amazing Lindy how your blog posts often arrive in the same week when I am having the exact same issue as you! Procrastination is a really big issue for me, especially having just made the leap to working from home where there are a million ways I can distract myself from work. I’ve employed both techniques you describe, but I’m often not strict enough with myself. It’s a massive learning curve for me at the moment – but I plan on doing better.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Ha, we’re in sync again Lisa! Oh yes, working at home just adds a whole other level of procrastination opportunities. I don’t know if you have a separate space, but it really helped when I moved from the kitchen table to another desk in another part of the house. Let me know how you go and if you come up with any great procrasti-busting ideas 🙂

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