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.
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.
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?