Today’s question comes from Gabby W., who asks, “I’ve been really lucky and have gotten a few great freelance clients lately. The problem is, I’m having a really hard time digging into the work after a full day of working my other job. How can I stop procrastinating??“
Oh, Gabby, here’s the bad news. You will never stop procrastinating. Never, never, never. Your first urge will always be to go do something else like arrange your sock drawer or re-sod your backyard.
However, the good news is that you can defeat procrastination on an instance-by-instance basis. When the moment comes that you need to sit down and bang out some brilliant copy and you’d rather stick a cocktail fork in your eye than do it, there are things you can do to help you get in the groove and get work done.
1. Identify the most important project.
One very typical and tricky method of procrastination is to do other items on your to do list that are easy to accomplish, but not even close to being the most important. This tricks you into feeling like you’re accomplishing something, when what you’re really doing is just sucking up time and pushing your most important project out. So, first things first: Figure out exactly which project is the crucial, must-get-done task.
2. Break it up into small tasks.
Chances are, one of the reasons you’re avoiding your Most Important Project is that it’s a tad overwhelming. The bigger the project, the bigger the stakes and, often, the more work there is to do.
So, to combat the panic- and procrastination-inducing feeling of being overwhelmed, break your big task into a bunch of small tasks. In fact, the smaller the better. Your to do list could start with “Turn on computer. Open new Word document. Type “HEADLINE”. Write headline options to review later. Type “SUBHEAD”.” And so on and so on. The smaller the tasks are, the easier each will be to complete and, as you complete them, you’ll gain momentum.
3. Find a place to be alone.
Other people, in general, are great. Companionship and chatting and general human noise is wonderful—except when you need to get something done. If you have roommates or significant others or children around, they are terrific people, but they are death to your concentration. You’ve got to go somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Pop over to the library or shut yourself in a closet, just find somewhere that you can truly concentrate on the work at hand.
4. Have a deadline—an external deadline.
Some clients think they’re doing us a favor when they say things like, “Oh, whenever you can get to it is fine.” No. No, no, no. All this means to your psyche is, “Eh, it’s not important…I’ll do it…at some point…” You’ve got to have a deadline and it’s got to be one you’ll be held accountable for.
As much as I trust that you’re a hardworking writer, if you try to set your own deadline, you’re probably going to blow right past it. There’s no blame here, it’s just human nature. Set up a deadline with your client or some other equally important person. When that deadline starts to loom, it will put you into full-on, “Holy sh*t, I’ve got to get this done!” nose-to-the-grindstone mode. There is nothing that will make you buckle down better than a looming deadline.
5. Set 10/5 alarms.
When you really don’t want to get down to work, try bargaining with yourself: A little bit of work yields you a little bit of fun until you’re done with the whole project.
Set an alarm for 10 minutes. Then, work with fury and focus for those 10 minutes. When they’re up, set an alarm for 5 minutes and do whatever you want for those 5 minutes. Read a magazine, catch up on an episode of Breaking Bad, whatever. But when that alarm goes off, stop, set the alarm for another 10 and dig back into work.
Keep alternating between 10 minutes of work and 5 minutes of fun until you’re done. (You may find that those a couple of those 10 minute sections get you into a groove and you just want to keep working. But even if you don’t, you’ll get your work done eventually.)
Your turn! Do you have any tried and true techniques for beating the procrastination demon? Let us know in the comments below!