Stop procrastinating. Ever heard that voice inside your head trying to remind you of a pending deadline?
I know I have. I’ve ignored it a million times, and it’s never pretty. You end up falling for all kinds of traps that squander away valuable time you could be using to write, make money, and build your freelance career.
Then in the final hour, you’re in a frenzy trying to get your work done. You miss a deadline. Or you have to grovel at the feet of your editor for an extension.
Been there, done that? It’s not a good business plan to make a living writing. It’s stressful, saps creativity, and can damage client relationships.
So how do you stop procrastinating, cease the day, improve productivity, and get freelance work done on time…or even ahead of schedule?
You need to know how to spot the traps that perpetuate procrastination, and take action to keep you on track.
Ready to stop procrastinating to grow your freelance career? Here’s what you need to know:
My ‘stop procrastinating’ epiphany as a writer
The place? Oberlin College, Ohio. The year? None of your business.
I’m standing with my boyfriend outside my dorm one evening and have just told him that I have to go to my room and write a paper that is due tomorrow. He asks me how many drafts I’ve done.
The answer: “I’m about to do my first. And only.”
He explains why writing several drafts is quicker than writing one and wishes me good luck. OK, Professor Smartypants. But he was right.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first time I had ignored the voice inside my head that whispered, “Stop procrastinating.”
But it made me take a hard look at what I was doing to become a better, more productive writer, and avoid the kind of traps that lead to a high-stress-all-night frenzy.
So what are the common traps that lead to procrastination? Here’s what to watch out for.
Trap #1: You think it will be better later
Maybe you think that after a little more research, a little more coffee, you’ll be better able to write the piece. But this is really just a form of perfectionism because how much more research and just how much better are elusive.
The fix: Here’s some advice from productivity writer Anne Lamott: Write a crappy first draft. Why? Writing down what you already know and already think will help you see where more research or refinement is needed. And because it’s impossible to create or edit a document in your head.
Trap #2: The task is too big or complicated
In Australia, we talk about avoiding this kind of task as being in “the too-hard basket.” You have one, right? A task you’re putting off because it seems insurmountable like a blog post, case study, white paper, or pitching editors and marketing managers.
The fix: Break the job down into bite-size pieces. If you’ve been sitting on your hands doing nothing, start with writing one query letter or letter of introduction per day. Then improve, and keep going. The KISS principle really works…Keep It Simple Stupid.
Trap #3: The stakes are too high
You might think that picturing a favorable outcome would lead you to get to work and not stop until you hit send. But freelance writer Barbara Sher says that if you think that too much is riding on it, you scare yourself into resistance and procrastination. It happens a lot when you only have one client, or one project, and you’re counting on getting paid for that assignment.
The fix: Diversify. When you’ve got a list of a dozen or more clients with recurring work or bunch of magazine assignments lined up, you’ve got multiple streams of income. If one assignment doesn’t pan out, or getting paid takes longer than expected, it’s just not that big of a deal. Make time for marketing regularly, and you’ll be a lot less likely to experience the feast-or-famine cycle.
Trap #4: You fail to estimate the time you need to finish a project
You might avoid a task because you think, “I’m going to need a good chunk of time to make any headway on this.”
Or the opposite. You’ve got an assignment and think, “I’ll just knock this off before dinner.” But then you don’t actually do it, feel demoralized, avoid the project, and keep on procrastinating.
The fix: Take a little time to gauge how long a writing project is going to take. If you’re new to freelancing writing, it make take you a little longer to finish a blog post than an experienced writer. But you will improve.
It’s a good idea to track how long it takes you to complete an assignment. You’ll know your hourly rate and you’ll have hard data you can use to quote future projects and manage your schedule.
Trap #5: All-or-nothing thinking
If you’re a perfectionist, this is an insidious trap that can hold you back from moving up and earning more as a freelance writer. You think you have to be a Pulitzer Prize winner before you can land a client, complete an assignment, or get better-paying clients. But it just doesn’t work like that.
The fix: Take it one day at a time. Pitch ONE story idea to a magazine editor. Send ONE letter of introduction to an editor. Take a baby step, and then another. Try to remember that’s the path to success for every freelance writer.
More ways to be a productive freelance writer
When you avoid these common traps that lead to procrastination, you’ll be a better freelance writer. But don’t stop there. Here are a few more things you can do to boost productivity, level up your skills, move up and earn more.
- Join a writer’s group. The Freelance Writer’s Den, or another writing community, is a great place to meet other writers, develop your skills, stay motivated, and prevent fear and procrastination from holding you back.
- Find an accountability partner. It’s a basic principle of goal-setting and habit change. You’re a lot more likely to follow through when you’re accountable to someone else. Find another writer who wants to tap into the power of accountability, and help each other follow through with marketing tasks, client deadlines, and mindset to be productive.
- Create a writing schedule. If you don’t feel like writing, it’s easy to procrastinate, put it off, and squander away your work day. Create a writing schedule. Even if you’re not in the mood, start writing, even if it’s garbage, for 5 to 10 minutes. It’s a great way to release that mental block that’s holding you back.
- Use technology. Consider using apps like Trello, Podmoro, and EverNote to help you manage writing tasks, plan your work day, and organize story ideas and notes. Just don’t fall into the trap of wasting hours on technology, instead of writing.
Stop procrastinating: Build your freelance career one day at a time
At some point in time, every freelance writer has ignored that voice whispering, “Stop procrastinating.” Don’t let that hold you back. Decide today that you’re going to take action, get work done, and build the freelance life you’ve been dreaming of. You’ll never get there if you procrastinate, so just start.
How do you beat procrastination as a freelancer? Let’s discuss in the comments below.
New York-native Amy Bachrach lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband, daughter, and Harlequin poodle. She writes about productivity, women’s health, and mental health issues.