October 1, 2013 Jason

Tales of a Master Procrastinator

 “Never put off til tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well” ~ Mark Twain

work in progress

To be honest, I started this post a few months ago…

In many cases, procrastination within an office environment can go undetected for a long time. It’s not a great way to propel your career in the right direction, but there are a ton of available excuses: office politics, unexpected emergencies, shifted priorities, and adherence to the status quo being all too common.  In the freelance world, if you don’t get it done on time, you’re probably going to lose the client and any referral they might have provided, or worse, they might share your “reliability challenges” within your target market. And that’s not good for business.

Procrastination is easy. There’s Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, and a billion other websites, TV shows, movies, family commitments, and everything else that’s willing to suck up your allotted 168 hours each week. To be a successful freelancer, you’ve got to be able to prioritize, commit, and complete each and every project you take on, and if you want to be successful, you must consistently complete them at an excellent level.

I asked a few of freelancers how they procrastinate.

Shawn DeWolfe, of ThoseDewolfesCreative.ca, shared:

How I procrastinate:

  • I get into pointless debates on Facebook
  • I will research weird and obscure topics online for projects that won’t go anywhere at all.
  • I will cook very elaborate meals and start them at 1PM because of all of the steps involved (Homemade pasta? Really?)
  • I have a “shutdown code” that fires in my head to give me the uncontrollable need to have a nap instead of finishing what I am doing.

Lori C., another frustrated freelancer, said:

If you want to know what I do during my procrastination of a particular project or goal… quite a bit.  I get caught up on all the little things that could wait:  cleaning, de-cluttering, organizing papers into files/folders, errands, returning calls/emails/messages, and other miscellaneous nothings.

Then, I think about it… and think about it some more, while simultaneously telling myself that this is actually me working on my project.

Finally, when it would take a miraculous effort to finish on time, I begin work on my project and I tell myself: “Just get it done or you’ll be so embarrassed.”

How I overcome allowing this process to happen is to say that last sentence…. first. Repeatedly to myself. And I add, “It’s just like working out at the gym…. you’ll like it once you get started.”   That works most of the time.  And when it’s really tough, I add music in the background as it can relax me and my mind. The anxiety diminishes and then I can get to work on my project immediately.

Since I was already on reddit, it made sense to ask them, too:

My bad habit is putting off working on my larger, more urgent projects by spending all my time working on much easier, unnecessary tasks (like updating social media, organising and reorganising lists, etc).

Lately I’ve been getting up earlier, putting the urgent task at the top of my list and focusing all of my energy on that task first, not allowing myself to work on anything else. That combined with the Pomodoro technique has been working pretty well for me.

I recall an article I’ve read that I found really addresses this whole issue perfectly. Basically goes through the concept of being afraid of success and how that can hold you back from pushing projects to completion, as well as ways around it. I found it very helpful, hope you do too!

And Lara of The Small Business Blogger, shared:

I’m currently procrastinating, so, I would be thrilled to take a bit of time to share what I’ve learned about defeating procrastination:

  • FocusBooster is the bomb. There’s something about that ticking noise that really means business.
  • Barking Up the Wrong Tree has a great article on using your instinct toward procrastination to make yourself more productive, which I really ought to put into practice someday.
  • And hey, he just wrote a new article on conquering procrastination that I think I’ll wander off and read. You know, for enlightenment and expanded knowledge and stuff.
  • Start by doing one easy, pleasurable thing. It gets me into work mode without being too painful.
  • Lists and deadlines. Sometimes, I need a hard deadline breathing down my neck to get myself moving. I fiddled around for hours yesterday before finishing everything on my mondo list.

Personally, I’m guilty of chatting on r/freelance or checking my ebook sales on Amazon too often. Apparently I need to know when each new sale happens. Or doesn’t happen…

Some of the tools I use to stay on track and work towards completing each project:

  • StayFocusd – this is an excellent browser plugin for Chrome and Firefox. It lets you allot a daily time limit for extraneous websites. Once you’ve surpassed this limit, you’ll be redirected to a “Shouldn’t you be working?” landing page. This is a great tool, but it’s easy enough to get around by opening up a different browser (one that doesn’t have the plugin installed). Personal discipline is required.
  • RescueTime – This is another nice tool, but it is more passive. It will monitor the sites you visit daily, regardless of browser (including private browsing). Based on your browsing habits, you are assigned a “productivity rating” and this info is emailed to you on a weekly basis. You can tweak the default settings if you find that some sites are more productive for your needs. Chances are, Reddit is not a great way to spend your day…
  • Physical Blocks – There are other tools available that you can use to physically (well, virtually – nobody is going to tap you on the shoulder when you visit Facebook) turn off specific websites. I’ve used Cold Turkey for a while and found it to be very preventative. Other people have used their router to block unproductive domains (have a friend/family member enter a new password if you don’t trust yourself to tinker with the settings in a moment of weakness)
  • Check out Mike Vardy’s blog, Productivityist, for more tips and tricks to increase your productivity.

While these are great tools, I’ve found that by choosing to procrastinate productively, I can give myself a mental break from the current project and use my time effectively to build my business. Instead of getting sucked into cat videos, I’ll look for new clients. Instead of spending a few hours minutes on reddit, I’ll do a blog post or update my portfolio. I still spend some time in social media and other fun sites, but I try and limit my time in these spaces until outside of my regular office hours.

What do you do to avoid procrastination?

“You may delay, but time will not” ~ Benjamin Franklin

 

Photo credit: Grant Kwok – Flickr

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