Procrastination is nothing new.
If we look back into history, we’ll see that it goes back all the way to ancient philosophers, who referred to procrastination as ‘Akrasia’, which was defined as acting against what we know we need to do.
So people have always procrastinated. But not to the extent that we do today.
The comforting truth is, it’s not really our fault.
Our world is set up to distract us. We have access to more information than at any point in history, and it’s literally all at our fingertips.
Our brains love novelty, and we have an endless, infinite supply of it thanks to our devices and connections to the internet.
Making matters even worse, technology companies make money based on how long they are able to hold our attention for – so their software and apps are literally designed to keep us engaged and scrolling for as long as possible.
Considering all of this, to be quite honest, it’s a surprise we ever manage to get anything done at all.
While this may all be true, it doesn’t change the fact that procrastination is holding you back from what you want to do and who you want to be.
Table of contents:
- We are living in The Age of Procrastination
- Fighting back
- 11 steps to beat procrastination as a freelancer
We are living in The Age of Procrastination
I believe we have entered the Age of Procrastination.
With so much competing for our attention at every hour of the day, getting anything done is a challenge. While we have the potential to do so much more than ever before, the reality is that for 99% of us we are actually doing less.
We may have the potential to work on anything and bring all of the amazing projects we have in our heads to life, but sadly most of us are wasting that opportunity.
We’re letting times slip through our fingers like sand grains, each and every day.
Fighting back against procrastinaion
I remember being a kid and begging my mum to get our first broadband connection. I told her my homework would be so much better because I’d have access to so many resources and so much research.
Eventually, she gave in and we got the shiny new broadband line installed. Of course, the result was the complete opposite. Instead, I spent far more time online playing games, browsing forums or discovering all new ways to waste time.
That was back when getting online was still a bit cumbersome.
Now our devices wake up instantly, are constantly connected, and are constantly updating. They prod us with vibrations and ping with the promise of novelty and distraction at any moment.
Expecting our monkey brains to be able to cope with all of this limitless stimulation online is far, far too optimistic.
Instead, we need to take steps to free up our attention, manage our exposure, and systemise our productivity.
As freelancers, doing this is key to our success. If we allow our devices to control us, we are going to struggle to do what we need to do – each and every day.
So let’s look at some steps that really work for helping yourself step out of the procrastination trap, and make real progress on the work that matters to you.
11 steps to beat procrastination as a freelancer:
1. Leave your phone out of reach
Your phone is Distractor in Chief these days.
Constantly connected, and constantly on hand, these devices are amazing – but you need to appreciate how distracting they are and then take steps to add some space into your relationship. The easiest way is to leave it out of reach while working.
A common theme of beating procrastination is adding a little friction.
We will generally take the easiest option when we’re on autopilot. If you have a choice of chocolate and fruit in the cupboard, chances are you’ll grab the chocolate. If you have fruit, but you could walk five minutes to the store for chocolate, the fruit has become the easier option and you’ll eat that instead.
It’s the same with your phone. Add a little friction. Put it in another room when you’re working. If you need to receive calls, at the very least place it out of reach, but somewhere you can still see it.
It’s amazing how effective this can be. We get distracted without even thinking about it, so even a little friction can save you from hours of lost work.
2. Prevent procrastination by installing a distracton blocker
I now truly believe a distraction blocker should come installed on any computer. This is a simple piece of software that stops you from visiting distracting websites at certain times of the day.
Again, you can always find a way to go around this type of blocker. But the slight interruption and the little bit of extra friction gives you time to think and consider whether you really want to.
Our brains tend to go for the easiest option. If you can make the unproductive option harder than the productive one, you’ll find you start to make incredible progress.
Get one now – Focus is good. I use RescueTime because of the next point.
3. Be your own boss
We usually talk about being your own boss in terms of giving yourself more slack and freedom as a freelancer.
The truth is you also need to be a boss from hell to yourself. You need to keep an eye on your own productivity and workload to make sure you’re not slacking off. If you don’t know how you’re spending your time it’s hard to make improvements.
As somebody who is self-employed, chances are you have very little external accountability.
No boss is going to shout at you for scrolling through the internet or wasting time on YouTube. So you need to put these checks and balances in place yourself.
Tracking your time is a great way to do this.
You can use software – as mentioned, my favourite is RescueTime, which basically tracks everything I do on my laptop during the day, and then categorises it.
It ranks my productivity based on how my time has been spent. It helped me see that I was wasting too much time reading the news throughout the day for example.
So I set it to block the offending website, and just like that, reclaimed 30-40 minutes each and every day.
This is genuinely life-changing software for improving your productivity.
4. Reward yourself
To really cash in on the benefits of tracking your time. I highly recommend rewarding yourself when you do manage to beat productivity.
I use RescueTime’s productivity score as a benchmark. If I score over 85% I will reward myself by adding a little money into a separate account. I then have to use this money to buy something I really want but couldn’t normally justify.
This also has a huge impact, as it adds a real incentive to stay focussed throughout the day.
5. Be accountable – work near others
While rewards work great, nothing is quite as motivating as the fear of judgement and embarrassment.
So use this to your advantage!
Most of us hate to be thought of as lazy, or unmotivated. So sit where other people can see what you’re working on. Commit to projects publicly, and try to find a friend who will check up on what you did each day or week.
Adding some kind of accountability to your day to day work is a silver bullet that can solve productivity problems in no time at all.
6. Work in time blocks
Part of being a good freelancer is the mental battle you face each day. Whether it’s imposter syndrome or a lack of confidence in your abilities, you’re probably facing a constant battle against that unhelpful voice in your head.
Working in blocks of time can really help you to zone in and get productive. Even better, however, it helps you to break down intimidating, larger projects into manageable chunks.
It tricks your brain into worrying about the short-term goal – working solidly for half an hour – rather than the long-term goal – creating an amazing book that changes lives.
There are a number of ways to break up your day and projects. My personal favourite is the Pomodoro Technique, which involves working on projects in 25 minute chunks.
7. Use routines
One of the best ways to get more done is to take steps to remove thinking from the process.
If there’s something you want to do regularly, such as working on a large project, try to do it at the same time every day and try to have something to trigger it.
For example, make it a routine to get up and write for half an hour before making your morning coffee. Or, straight after finishing lunch, work for half an hour on your chosen project.
Creating a routine will help you work a little and often on your project, maintain the momentum and continually nudge it forwards.
Because it becomes a routine, you won’t need to think about it or overcome the mental resistance to doing important work.
8. Don’t be tired
This is another one that sounds obvious, but I think we really underestimate the impact that tiredness has on our productivity.
I won’t go into the growing body of science which talks about the impact of lack of sleep on basically everything – from obesity to life expectancy. But we all know deep down how much more energy we have when we’re not tired.
So work on your sleep if you can – the first step is to leave your phone outside the bedroom.
Follow the simple advice – make it dark, make it cool and wind down before trying to sleep.
9. Move more
Finding time to exercise can be difficult but our bodies are built to move, so do your best to schedule it in. It will help you think clearer, improve your sleep, and keep you healthier.
Use the ideas we’ve talked about like creating a routine to help you overcome the resistance you feel to the idea of exercise.
I never want to go for a run, ever. But once it’s done I feel great. Don’t think about it too much, just push yourself out the door.
10. Have a productivity system
This is another game-changer for productivity.
The problem most of us have is we don’t even know where to start. Even when we have some free time, we don’t know what to work on. We are unable to see the full scope of what’s actually on our plate.
So we constantly remember things we should be doing, are neglecting or are failing on. We’re trying to store everything in our heads, so we’re constantly being reminded about problems and issues.
David Allen describes it like this:
“An ambient angst pervades our society—there’s a sense that somehow there’s probably something we should be doing that we’re not, which creates a tension for which there is no resolution and from which there is no rest.”
It all sounds pretty nightmarish – it’s no surprise we’re all stressed, burned out and distracted.
Allen created one of the most influential and effective productivity systems – Getting Things Done (GTD).
But whether you follow that or not, the idea is simple. You need to get everything out of your head and into a trusted system. Once you’ve done this, and have a trusted system – the feeling of relief is incredible.
You can start to use your head for thinking and connecting ideas, instead of having a horrible slush of tasks, worries and guilt sloshing around your head, colouring your life.
Honestly, I can’t recommend setting up a productivity system enough.
Once you’ve done it, you’ll wonder how you ever coped before
11. Remove offending apps
Your phone itself can be distracting, but the worst offenders are the apps on it.
Here’s a great lesson from Make Time:
“Anything with an infinite supply of interesting content should be deleted. This includes games, news apps, and streaming video like YouTube.”
Just delete them, you won’t miss them and you won’t regret not having them.
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Until next time,