10 Top Tips to Combat Procrastination

Procrastination can be dangerous for a freelancing business.

If you put critical tasks off for too long you may find yourself without enough time to get them done properly. This is important because rushed work tends to be sloppy and less desirable for clients.

Procrastinating may even cause you to lose a client, or worse, your business. Yet, many of us put off necessary tasks every day without even realizing it.

In this post, I’ll tackle some of the reasons why we procrastinate and provide practical steps that you can easily follow to overcome it.


10 Ways to Keep from Procrastinating

With a little planning and a little effort, you can keep yourself on track. Use these tips and tricks to keep your procrastination from getting out of hand:

  1. Set a schedule. While I’m sure that your schedule includes your most important tasks, such as client meetings and project milestones, do you also schedule less essential tasks as well? Tasks like completing your quarterly income tax returns or invoicing your clients won’t perform themselves. And if you’re like me, if it’s not on your schedule it doesn’t get done…
  2. Get organized. It’s easy to put things off when you can’t find them. Let’s face it, disorganization can make even a simple task seem difficult. Find a system to organize your business and your life. Stick with it, and get things done. Don’t let a messy desk, unorganized files, or a sloppy email inbox keep you from getting right down to business.
  3. Find an accountability partner. As freelancers we don’t have anyone who will hold us responsible for getting tasks done. There’s no boss or team leader to crack down on us if we don’t meet our goals. You can overcome the lack of a boss by finding an accountability partner. This could be a friend or family member, or even another freelancer.
  4. Break large tasks into smaller tasks. Another reason many freelancers put off doing something is because it seems insurmountable. You just don’t know where to start. You can make a large task less daunting by breaking it into smaller pieces and tackling those small pieces one by one. If you’re facing a large task, see if it can be broken into parts.
  5. Don’t overcommit. Some freelancers procrastinate because they commit to too many projects. Then, when they realize all that they have actually committed to do, they are overwhelmed. You can keep from getting too overwhelmed by keeping your schedule manageable and realistic. Be sure to record each new task on your schedule as soon as you receive it (and allow yourself enough time for each).
  6. Control distractions. Are you easily distracted? If you answered “yes,” you may need to take some steps to change your environment. Try to learn what distracts you the most and take steps to minimize those things. Does a ringing phone bother you? Try turning the ringer off except for an hour a day. Are you drawn to too much social media? Try timing your social media interactions.
  7. Figure out what motivates you. Sometimes freelancers procrastinate because they’re just not very motivated by the work they have to do. If this is you, figure out what type of work does motivate you. Try to target those projects more often. If you have a project that you’re really looking forward to, you may find that your procrastination habit evaporates.
  8. Track your progress. It’s easy to fall behind on a project (especially a large project) without even knowing it. Before you know it, it’s impossible to catch up. Keeping regular track of where you are on a project versus where you should be on it can help you stay on course. Large companies track their project’s progress using project management tools and so should you.
  9. Tackle self-doubt and other psychological issues. Procrastination is sometimes caused by psychological issues like self-doubt, fear of success, or other fears. If you’re struggling with these underlying issues, putting work off may be one way that you are subconsciously sabotaging your own success. Deal with the underlying cause and your procrastination should improve.
  10. Reward your success. Are you still struggling with procrastination and having trouble getting motivated? Once in a while, it’s perfectly okay to “bribe” yourself. You heard me right, give yourself a little incentive for keeping up with your work. Think of something affordable that you’d really like and promise it to yourself when your project is complete.

What About You?

In this post, I’ve shared ten different methods for overcoming procrastination. But, there are probably as many ways to fight procrastination as there are people.

Do you struggle with procrastination? What methods do you use to overcome it?

Image by bogenfreund

Comments

  1. says

    Having a set schedule really helps me stay on top of things. I know I have from 8am til 5pm to get things done and after, I can play. So, instead of working late, I work hard to get it all done in that timeframe. Scheduling helps a lot.

  2. says

    I love this list. I’d actually like to add on to idea #1 though. For me it isn’t enough to create a list. I actually have to place it in three rooms so that I keep focused on it. That way I can help myself to do #6 and control my distractions more. It lets me know what I have completed and that I shouldn’t be falling for the distractions in that room. My list is what keeps me on track and not falling off of completing everything. Great post and good advice. Thank you for sharing.

  3. says

    I loved this post! I am a horrible procrastinator. I do feel that I produce my best work under pressure, but now that I’m self-employed and am juggling multiple projects, it’s simply not realistic to procrastinate — it’s more likely something will be overlooked or, as you said in your post, completed at a lesser quality.

    Thanks for these tips – I especially like the one about breaking a large project into smaller pieces to make it seem more manageable. I could have certainly used that approach in a better way in 2009 when I wrote a travel guide!

    Procrastination tends to cause me a lot of anxiety, and it’s such a good feeling when something is finished and off the plate. I try to tackle things head-on and remember how good it feels to complete something and not have to worry about it, instead of stewing in a nervous or anxious state that could easily be alleviated.

  4. says

    Thanks for the helpful post, Laura. I have a lot of trouble with this myself (I’m doing it right now!!) and my little Ninja trick is to tell myself I’m only going to work 5 or 10 minutes and then I can stop. That makes the task seem palatable – and of course once I do get started, I get involved and just keep going.

    With that said, I’m off to do 5 minutes of writing a blog post… :)

  5. says

    Great points, Laura. This goes hand-in-hand with #6, but I find that clearing off my desktops (both physical and on the computer) helps me stay focussed. Just the act of cleaning up my workspace helps me get in the right headspace to work.

  6. says

    I’m procrastinating right now. ;)

    So many of these tips are spot on. Scheduling out blocks of time can be incredibly helpful… as long as you have the discipline to stick to it.

    Breaking larger tasks down into smaller piece is SO helpful for me. I often put things off because they seem overwhelming… which only makes them grow larger and larger in my mind, causing me undue stress. Then, when I finally just suck it up and tackle the project, I’m all, “Oh! That wasn’t so bad!”

    I just acquired a writing partner to help me make my way through all the writing projects on my plate… and make my personal projects a greater priority. I’m still in the market for someone I can send my daily goals to every morning… and report back to in the evening.

    One more thing I’d add (and which I just read in Real Simple’s latest issue), is to tackle the hardest project first. Though perhaps that’s connected to your #9?

  7. says

    For me the trick is to chose something I know needs to be done and just get started. Spending too much time prioritizing or planning what needs to be done ultimately wasts more time for me than it saves. I find that by diving right in, I tend to get things done quickly and enjoy doing it more. Great post!

  8. says

    This is a great post Laura! I find that I work best with a schedule and to-do lists. The to-do lists especially keep me from feeling overwhelmed or worried about missing or forgetting to do something important.

  9. says

    Steph Auteri–LOL, I fully understand. Reading and commenting on blog posts CAN be procrastinating IF you spend too much time on it. All is not lost though, you’ve gotten the chance to share your thoughts and review some posts about freelancing. :)

    Nick Beske, That’s right! There is such a thing as analysis paralysis. Getting started is half the battle.

    Darlene–Thanks so much for the compliment. :) Great addition to the tips.

  10. says

    It used to take me forever to get started when I sat down at my computer to work in the evening. After a lot of trial and error, I discovered that I procrastinated far less if I took fifteen minutes the night before and wrote a “to do” list for the next day. It’s not rigid by any means–we all know how things can pop up that demand our attention–but it does give me a place to start when I’m ready to begin a writing session.

  11. Richard Bishop says

    I completely agree with point 4. I dub it the divide and conquer principle.

    I’ve used it with clients to mutual advantage – the overall task seems less daunting to me and helps clients see where we are on the overall project.

    It also turns in a process that can be used on similar future projects.

  12. says

    No offense but this is about the silliest post I have read in a while. The problem with creative people who procrastinate (from personal experience) is that they cannot actually do what is called for in this list in a structured way!!!

    Does the writer actually think that this knowledge is somehow unique, or hard to come by? In the stating-the-obvious dept. I would venture a guess that EVERY book and article out there on overcoming procrastination covers all of these points. All of them say the same thing.

    If we could simply write out a list and tackle it in a piece by piece common sense way, then we would not be having true procrastination issues. The only point that seemed truly useful was the idea of finding an accountability partner. I have tried a variant of what was suggested in the link, but it only works for a short amount of time since usually these excercises are done with other creative people who have….issues with procrastination.

  13. says

    I’m terrible with wasting time on certain websites. So I got the Leechblock add-on for Firefox, which is really good for locking you out of specified sites at specified times.

    I like Susannah’s idea about telling yourself it’s ok to break in 5-10 minutes, I can see that working well for me. I think I subconsciously do that anyway but I might give it a go for real :-)

  14. says

    I like you mentioned psychological issues. I must admit I have a serious problem with procrastinating due to unexplainable fear. (Especially in the morning. That’s funny.)

  15. says

    Thank you so much for this helpful post! This is something I have been working hard on lately. The best step that I have taken so far is to chunk activities and put a timeframe on them. For example, instead of writing on my list…do taxes (which seems overwhelming and NOT shiny), I write…work on taxes – 1 hour. This way I can plan my day, add up the time and see whether or not my list is realistic so I don’t end the day feeling like I’m lacking. Your other tips are crucial too. I will be saving this in my favorite to refer back to OFTEN.

  16. says

    The breaking bigger tasks down is good, and so is Ellen’s comment of assigning a specific amount of time to projects. I believe that some strategies work better for specific personality types, and hence there is no one size fits all solution.

    Also: I just discovered that writing a simple list of what I have accomplished in one day – as the day goes on – helps me feel like / realize that I actually *did* accomplish something, even when it *feels* like I did not. It is positive reinforcement for those who tend to feel like small steps are not enough.

  17. says

    Great advice on procrastinating.

    I have been making pottery since 2003 and it is a large learning curve. My problem is that when I have a struggle, such as my clay is old and getting too dry, making it hard or impossible to center on the potters wheel I feel defeated then I find it hard to get past this stage. My mind goes back to the beginning days of when I couldn’t turn clay and I think I still can’t make good pottery. Then procrastination sets in.
    I have to realize it is only a situtation that is causing me problems in making pottery. I need to put his old clay in a wet cloth to sit and get out a new bag of clay.

    Joyce

  18. says

    @Joyce – What a WONDERFUL observation / anaology. That indeed is part of what brings on procrastinating (for me at least) – The seemingly insurmountable difficulty of accomplishing something makes one feel like they are not capable of doing it at all.

    I am a photographer and there are many costs involved in a “self-assigned” shoot for my portfolio. I cannot afford to pay much for these as they are costly, so I get hung up on the Catch-22 of needing to do something for my portfolio, but not being able to afford to.

    Studio rental costs etc are expensive, and if you cannot afford to create 100% stellar new work to have in your portfolio, it is SO incredibly frustrating and can lead to epic procrastination (another expression of frustration). When you feel like you cannot afford the tools to play in the same sandbox, and yet have great talent, it is difficult to keep plugging away.

  19. says

    I made a note of each suggestion, for a constant reminder.
    Thanks

    also: I am easily distracted by household chores such as dishes in the sink, and counters that need cleared. I re group my thoughts and walk straight down to the studio, just a few steps and immediately start on a painting or ceramic project that will drag me out of my role as “the maid”, and tell myself that someday I will be able to hire someone to help with the household chores. I remind myself that my spouse is off to work, and I deserve to be working at what I love also! It should not feel selfish to spend my time in the studio making myself and others happy with my art. My Italian grandmother who lived to be 99, could not get away with this type of thinking, so I do it for her too! She was an artist.

  20. says

    Excellent post! Tip no. 4 works for me great! the best part of it is ticking or erasing a task…
    i used to have a very good memory, but now i need to write everything down.
    i also liked your no. 10 tip – rewarding yourself…I will definitely going to adopt this tip!
    Thx!

  21. Kate says

    Bribing myself is the BEST way to get things done! I say to myself “I’ll just start on this then I’ll get myself a biscuit.” or “Another 10 minutes then I’l have a quiet sit down with my book.” Almost always the creative flow kicks in & before I know where I am the task is often finished… but I still give myself a reward!

  22. says

    This list is really hitting me. Right now, I’m still procrastinating and the main reason I’m roaming around online is to look for something inspiring. This post serves right for my own good to pack up and start another run. Perhaps, I should also think of the last one..”Rewarding success”..

  23. says

    I used to have a bad problem with procrastination and a lot of these tips that you went over I have started using to help me complete projects and tasks on time! I really liked how you suggested project management tools for tracking progress, it has been one technique that has played a huge role

  24. says

    When I first started freelancing, I used to procrastinate a lot. I used to have the mindset of “I’ll get back to it in an bit.”

    I used to over frequently take breaks from my desk, get more coffee etc… I found out rather quickly that I was doing nothing but wasting time, and as most of us in business know, time is money.

    I’ve found it helpfull to set small goals throughout projects that feel like small achievements. Perhaps this works for me as I like to results and progress quickly. Doing this has also negated any rush that I would force myself into in an attempt to just see change and results for a project.

    In the long run, we all put things off till “a little later.” Yet determining which or what should be put off is a simple way to prioritize. By no means should we procrastinate on client projects, and by better managing priorities and those projects we can better develop ourselves.

    • Ryan Domm-Thomas says

      Hi Joe,

      I’m glad you’ve found a system that helps you – breaking down a bigger project into smaller ones is a really great idea. I’ve had to put a conscious effort into figuring out exactly which things I tend to procrastinate and then place those items towards the top of my list.

      Recognizing which things I tend to put off until later has really helped me place my focus more on them and stay more productive. You couldn’t be more right about time management and prioritizing helping us become better – better at our business, our writing and overall!

      Take care & keep reading!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Procrastination is prevalent in the freelancing world because some freelancers have the entire day to themselves. They tend to procrastinate and drag a project out beyond its timeline. When they finally do work (after the client has started to lose his temper), quality suffers and they are unable to produce something that can make them proud or more importantly, make the client happy. [...]

  2. [...] Procrastination is prevalent in the freelancing world because some freelancers have the entire day to themselves. They tend to procrastinate and drag a project out beyond its timeline. When they finally do work (after the client has started to lose his temper), quality suffers and they are unable to produce something that can make them proud or more importantly, make the client happy. [...]

  3. [...] Procrastination is prevalent in the freelancing world because some freelancers have the entire day to themselves. They tend to procrastinate and drag a project out beyond its timeline. When they finally do work (after the client has started to lose his temper), quality suffers and they are unable to produce something that can make them proud or more importantly, make the client happy. [...]

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