I used to have a blackbelt in procrastination when I first began my freelance writing career.
I’d often find myself having to write more than 1,000 words in the last few hours of a deadline. In fact, I strongly suspect that cramming all of our work into a few hours is the primary source of burnout in our field. Do you ever get that sick feeling when you remember you reaaaalllyy need to work on something due tomorrow? That’s what happens when I procrastinate, and once upon a time, it seemed inevitable.
I got together with my peers and we started sharing what we’ve learned about overcoming procrastination in order to help more freelancers in our field to overcome this problem once and for all! We’ve compiled tips throughout the years that we feel confident applying to any assignment (and life!) and I’m excited to share them with you. Here are my tips for overcoming procrastination that I personally used to create a healthy work/life balance once and for all:
Be Realistic with Deadlines
Deadlines aren’t the most fun aspect of freelancing, but they’re vital in our industry if we want to maintain client relationships (and avoid late fees). Nothing is worse than being overwhelmed at the thought of writing an article because your client gave you one week instead of two or three. However, sometimes it’s hard to meet deadlines when we couple them with unrealistic workloads.
If your client knows she can trust that she’ll get her content by then, it makes the entire process easier. Plus, giving yourself some breathing room ensures that there won’t be stress involved with completing your work. Don’t let your client pressure you into taking on more work than you can chew; instead, estimate how long each piece will take and make sure you leave yourself some wiggle room (not to mention some time off) along the way.
Practice Providing Value
In the online world, providing value comes in many forms: from doing research for a client to sharing valuable information with your social media circle. The better you get at this, the more comfortable you’ll feel about creating a solid body of work – and knowing that what you’re doing is meaningful will make it easier to buckle down and do some real writing.
Create an outline before diving into your first draft. Before I sit down at my computer, I brainstorm ideas on paper first – even if it’s just a few bullet points. Sometimes spending 30 minutes sketching out an idea makes all the difference between investing another half-hour or so into something that isn’t quite up to par and moving forward with an article.
Prepare for Tomorrow the Night Before
This is one of the best practices that I still use today when I find myself getting behind on a deadline. When I review the work I need to complete, block out at least an hour (or more) each day before bedtime to get ahead on what I need to accomplish tomorrow.
It’s much easier than getting up in the morning with only two hours before my first meeting, right? Less pressure makes me feel less stressed and more likely to be productive.
Make Sure You’re on Task: Eliminate Distractions!
At this point in my career, writing has become second nature. However, I still encounter distractions that can lead me down the dark road of procrastination if I’m not careful. It’s tough to get anything done when you’re working under constant distraction – whether it’s the background noise of kids playing or frequent breaks to check social media.
It helps to turn off your internet connection when you hit a rough patch of writer’s block so you don’t get distracted by all of the potential research you could do instead of writing!
Also, try using some brain-training apps on your smartphone (such as Lumosity or Elevate) to keep your mind sharp and creative juices flowing throughout the day. Surprisingly, I’ve found that dual n-back task games greatly improve how many ideas I can keep running concurrently in my head while simultaneously helping me to focus.
Don’t Be Perfect: Just Be Better
Doing something well is never easy, but doing it perfectly takes far more time than is practical to invest. Aim for greatness instead! Don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way because chances are, you’ll learn valuable lessons from your blunders.
There’s no prize for producing an immaculate first draft, so don’t waste all of your time trying to make it perfect the first (or even second) go-around. Getting something down on paper is always better than getting nothing done at all.
Don’t look at the whole picture: write one step at a time instead. It often seems overwhelming when we look at the entire process from start to finish. However, tackling it piece by piece can lessen your stress and ensure you’ve created a successful final product.
Try Experimenting with Different Forms of Creative Writing
Dealing with writers’ block? Not sure what direction you should take an article in? Write about it instead – or maybe brainstorm some creative ideas for writer’s prompts. Trying to come up with a new blog post topic? Have fun writing a poem instead!
One of my favorite methods for dealing with writer’s block is to try out a new creative writing style: rap lyrics, dumb fan fiction, poetic musings… there are so many possibilities and I’ve found that switching back and forth between different types of writing allows me to clear my mind and come up with fresh ideas.
Use Time Blocking and Scheduling Apps
Even with the best of intentions, many freelance writers can find themselves suddenly surrounded by distractions while staring at a deadline that seems impossible to meet on time. If this has happened to you before – or if your calendar is looking downright scary and you’re wondering how in the world you’ll be able to complete everything on your list – fear not!
I’ve recently discovered a few new apps that help me stay on task, particularly when I’m working from home and my children are keeping me entertained while simultaneously distracting me from what I need to get done. If you tend to be more productive if you stick to a particular schedule or work in short bursts of time throughout the day, these apps may help you stay organized so you don’t feel like your day is constantly spinning out of control. I like using Rescue Time, but feel free to use whatever app you like the most.
Keep a Running List of Ideas
When I get an assignment that’s due within the next week or two, I keep a running list of ideas in my planner. The more focused I get, the easier it is to judge which idea will be most efficient to move forward with first. Yes, it takes practice and time management to decide what you can accomplish each day – but it’s well worth the effort when you have the luxury of working on something fun instead of something daunting!
Sometimes we all need a mental step back before plunging forward. Take five minutes (or more, if you need it) to ask yourself: 1) What am I doing? 2) Why am I doing this? 3) Am I making the most efficient use of my time?
Reflecting on why we are writing a certain piece for a client, or why we have even chosen this career at all is an important step toward understanding ourselves better and becoming more confident in our abilities while making progress on our writing projects!
Last But Not Least
Never forget that you’re a professional freelance/independent writer. You’ve got this! If you need to take a break, put down the work for ten minutes and walk away. Get yourself a cup of coffee, read through an unrelated article for inspiration, or spend some time with the kids.
I’ve found that I work better in short bursts in the morning. It may help you to do focused chunks of work at a time instead of trying to maintain the same speed and intensity throughout the entire day. Ultimately, you’ll have to find your own rhythm; we’re all comfortable with different speeds and varying degrees of focus. Knowing and accepting yourself can save you from wasting time out of guilt or frustration when you struggle to meet your own expectations.
I hope that helped. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you find yourself struggling with procrastination and productivity issues. There are so many helpful articles online, as well as books you can read specific to the problems you’re encountering.
Please feel free to contact me directly if you’d like more information on how I manage my time or have any questions! I’m happy to help in any way that I can. Thank you again for reading this article and please enjoy the rest of your productive day!