A Freelancer’s Guide to Overcoming Procrastination

Business advice
Estimated read time: 4 mins
Published: 30/04/2016

When you’re a freelancer and responsible for creating your own working schedule it can be easy to lose focus. Stay on track and stop procrastinating with the help of a few little tips:

1. Set out what you need to do for the day.

A lot of people will tell you to write a to-do list and that might be good advice, but that depends on the kind of person you are. Having a tick-list by your side might help you focus and prioritise, but it may also stress you out and make you anxious. The important thing is just to have a clear idea of what you need to achieve that day.

This should be realistic. We would all love to write a novel in a day, design an app in the evening, and still get to bed before 10pm. But that’s not going to happen, is it? It’s no good saying “I know it’s too much, but it all needs to be done!” – if it can’t, it won’t. Stop biting off more than you can chew. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t aim high and push yourself, this is saying you need to remember that we’re all flawed humans. We need time to relax, we need time to nip to the shop, and we need to make time for family/friends. Set out what needs to be achieved today, what you would like to achieve, and further admin/personal tasks; then you can get your working priorities straight.

2. Recap at the end of the day.

This is good practice both for helping you switch off and relax, but also making you more productive tomorrow morning! Im your last 5-10 working minutes, write yourself some brief notes on where you are up to with your work, anything that wasn’t quite finished for today, any important meetings/details you might forget for tomorrow, and anything else relevant to tomorrow’s working day. That way, you have your list of priorities almost ready for the day ahead and you are able to switch off properly without telling yourself you need to remember x, y, and z for the morning. If it’s written down, you’ll see in the morning.

3. If you’ve been good, give yourself a little treat.

Condition yourself with rewards and sanctions, train your mind to obey work and not just run care-free through any mindless thoughts which happen to arise. You would do it with a pet, you’d do it when teaching children; so do it now you are training yourself! We all strive for a pat on the head, whatever we might say to the contrary, so provide yourself with the incentive. Whether this means grabbing another coffee, going for a quick walk, or simply checking Facebook (or BBC Sport) for a few minutes. In some cases, make the reward bigger. If you get this project done by Friday, then it’s time for a night out!  But take the high with the low, if you have a day of procrastinating then don’t let those rewards carry on! If you don’t cut this out, then you’re only double bluffing yourself.

4. Be honest with yourself and avoid distractions.

This is fairly simple and straightforward, but it is still an incredibly common stumbling block! You should know by now what your main sources of distraction are (if not, make a note of every time you notice yourself getting distracted and you will soon see) so you need to be honest with yourself and be strict – remove those distractions. If listening to music while you work means that you lose focus, then switch the music off. If you work better in silence, create a quiet space; if silence is too distracting (yes, really, this can be a problem), then set yourself up somewhere where there is a relatively constant hum of background noise, without any likely sudden loud noises or interruptions. Despite the romanticised idea, cafes aren’t great places to work!!

5. The Pomodoro technique.

Your brain is at its most effective in short bursts. This is something that you probably already know upon reflection, but it has also been effectively proven in psychology and cognitive science alike.  This is what led to Francesco Cirillo to term ‘the Pomodoro Technique’: committing to 25 minutes of full-throttle work before a timer goes off, allowing you to have a 5 minute break. This is followed by another 25 minutes and then typically a 10 minute break. (Why ‘Pomodoro’ you ask? Well funnily enough, it is named after the ‘tomato-shaped’ kitchen timers). If you find working for 25 minutes straight pretty easy, then why not try to commit to 45 minutes followed by a 5-10 minute break?

But first… Find out what works best for you! Record what you manage to achieve in a set amount of time and record when you find your mind wandering and getting noticeably distracted. This can help you see what your untrained powers of concentration are like and it can give you something to build upon. If you find that you only last about 10 minutes before the urge to check your emails or Facebook becomes unmanageable, then you can start by restricting yourself to 15minutes, before a couple of minutes break, them this can be upped to 20minutes the next day (and so on). There is no point setting unrealistic targets, so this is often a good place to start before doing the Pomodoro technique or something similar.

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