I’m going to be honest: This post is being written after days and days of procrastination.
You know how it goes, right? You start your month, you pay your rent or mortgage, you think, “Okay, self. Let’s do this. Let’s get started now. This month will be smooth. This month will not end with you racing the clock to midnight like some 90s Keanu Reeves thriller. This month will be different.”
Then, sure enough, the 30th rolls around and you’re doing the equivalent of riding a speeding freelancer bus that’s set to explode the second your super-high-tech digital watch clicks midnight.
No offense to Keanu or anything, but that’s not how I like to end the month.
A little procrastination help can go a long way.
Sometimes, you just need a little help. It might make you feel better to know that researchers are beginning to say there’s more to procrastination than just laziness. You know how it feels when someone tells you to just “suck it up and get it done,” right? If so, then, you probably also know that it doesn’t really help at all. Well, that’s because, according to the Association for Psychological Science:
True procrastination is a complicated failure of self-regulation: experts define it as the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result. A poor concept of time may exacerbate the problem, but an inability to manage emotions seems to be its very foundation.
Okay, so that might not sound super-encouraging, but I like the fact that this means I’ve got options when it comes to procrastination help. I’ve got options other than just do it. The fact that procrastination is so complicated means that fixing it takes a few more steps than simply “lighting a fire under your ass.”
First, ask yourself why.
Why do people procrastinate in the first place? Why, exactly, are you putting off this specific task?
If you can identify the reasons for your procrastination, it’s easier to find a way to deal with (and overcome) it. When you start to reflect on your reasons, be sure to visit your physical circumstances first. Are you healthy? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating enough and at the right times? When your body isn’t functioning properly, it’s hard for your mind to put forth its “A game.”
Of course, there’s a good chance your procrastination can’t be fixed from the outside. In that case, you’re going to have to figure out what’s keeping you stuck. Are you avoiding the task because you’re not interested in it? Are you avoiding it because of its intimidating size? Are you avoiding it because you’re really concerned about the most recent season of Sherlock, and just want to watch one…more…episode?
Like I said, once you identify the problem, it’s easier to find a solution… and the trick to finding an effective solution is to get all introspective with your bad self.
Think about your personality.
Since freelancers often struggle with motivation and procrastination issues, it’s likely that you’ve seen every productivity technique in the book (or the blogosphere). The problem with productivity techniques is they can be misleading. If you’ve got a personality that doesn’t gel with a method, trying to force it will likely result in failure, too many glasses of wine, or both.
For example, I love the Pomodoro Technique. It’s easier for me to think, “Okay, I can do this for 25 minutes,” than, “Okay, I can do this whole entire thing all in one sitting.” For those who are better at knocking something out in one shot, however, this technique might be infuriating. It’s important to find methods that are compatible with you.
If your procrastination is amped up by the size of a project, try breaking it down into more manageable steps so that it doesn’t seem so intimidating. If you’re simply bored by the type of project, or if you’d MUCH rather be doing something else, you can try implementing rewards to help get you through the work.
Once you finish that undesirable work, however, it’s a good idea to reevaluate the work you plan to take on in the future. Money is great, but the stress of procrastination coupled with intense lack of interest can turn into burnout in lightning speed.
Think about the consequences.
This part isn’t fun, but it’s essential when you get down to the wire.
The longer you procrastinate, the higher your stress levels rise. Not only does your project become even more of a big deal, but you’re running out of time and excuses. In these situations, procrastination can paralyze you. When I get paralyzed, I have to force myself to think of the “bad stuff.”
For me, the bad stuff looks a lot like this:
I miss my deadline. I ask for an extension.
My client loses faith in me.
My client finds somebody else.
I lose out on monthly income I previously depended upon.
I have to start opting out of things like conferences or signing my kids up for swimming lessons.
I could literally go on and on with worst-case-scenarios here, so I’ll just finish out with the threat of having to move my whole family into my parents’ basement.
Procrastination paralyzation is a very real thing, and one of the most effective ways to knock myself out of it is to look at the consequences of putting off my work. Maybe for you it means skipping a vet visit for your cat, or cancelling your long-planned vacation to Dollywood.
Regardless of your motivations or values, procrastination can have catastrophic effects if left unchecked.
Think about the feelings.
While the threat of consequences can often send procrastination packing, it’s helpful to add a little positive energy to your plan of attack.
(You might want to grab your multi-colored emotion scarves and light a little positivity-scented incense, because we’re going to talk about some touchy-feely stuff, folks.)
When it comes to figuring out how to stop procrastinating, you’ve got to put some stock in your emotions.
Having a snack feels better than working. Watching your favorite show feels better than working. Sometimes, even organizing your silverware drawer feels better than working… but that feeling won’t last long. Your neglected duties will always be there, waiting to get taken care of.
You remember that “inability to manage emotions” the Association for Psychological Science was talking about? That’s what’s going on here.
Think about stress, and how it feels. Think about your life when you’re worried about all the consequences of procrastination. Have you gotten used to the fact that your future self will always be feeling this, just so your present self can be as comfortable as possible?
Now, think about your life when you’re not worried about the bad stuff. Think of the things you can accomplish when you’re not stressed, and revel in the positive effects those accomplishments could have on your life.
Which “future self” do you want to see?
There’s no miracle method of procrastination help that will work for everyone. Rather than trying to beat a square peg into a round hole by forcing some random productivity method on yourself, do a little internal research. Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and choose a solution that works well for you. Whether it’s daily meditation, a fancy new productivity app, or a good, old-fashioned rewards system, it’ll only be successful if it’s compatible with your values.
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