Saturday, January 12, 2013

7 Ways Freelancers Can Avoid Procrastination

When I first had children, I thought that they’d slow down my writing career.  And so they have. But in some respects, they’ve done wonders for it.  

Having kids has made me a far more efficient writer. I used to be a big-time procrastinator. But when you only have 2 or 3 hours a day to work, you tend to get to the heart of things fast. There’s no time to waste staring at a blank page or revising the same sentence twenty times or checking the refrigerator to see if some new, interesting food has miraculously appeared.  It’s Butt in Chair, fingers flying, until someone starts crying. 

But as my children grew older and started school, things started to change.  I had more time on my hands and guess what? I didn’t always use them wisely.  Now, my youngest son just started school full-time, and so for the first time in more than five years, I have about 6 (count ‘em! 6!) consecutive hours a day that I can devote to work.  

Those extra three hours a day seem like an ocean of time...and oh, I see the dangers already. So, to keep myself on-track, I’ve set out here certain anti-procrastination techniques that have been effective in the past.

Care to give these a try? 

1. Make the 15-minute promise. Pick the highest priority task on your list - especially the one you most dread doing - and vow that you’ll work on it for 15 minutes.  Promise yourself that you can stop after 15 minutes have passed you can stop, but until then you’ll give it your all. Most of the time,  once you get started, you’ll keep going.  That 15 minute bump is all that’s needed to get you over the hump of procrastination.  (This is also a great trick for house-cleaning.)

2. Make a To-Do List.  It may seem obvious but making a daily to-do list every single morning can help prevent procrastination.  Seeing all the things you need to do written down can be a great motivator, as is the satisfaction gained from crossing each item off your list. Remember to always put the most important items on your list first - maybe even bold them or put them in a different color.  

3. Eliminate Distractors.  Oh, it’s hard to stay away from that wicked temptress known as the Internet.  So, when I do need the internet for a particular project and want to make sure I’m concentrating, I seek out a location where the Internet simply isn’t available.  Yes, I know great internet blocking software is available but getting out is a good excuse to work in a different environment. (In other words, not Starbucks.)  If Wifi isn’t your biggest distractor, figure out what it is and eliminate it.  Ringing phone? Put it on silent.  Tempted by what’s on the tube? Put a large note on your TV screen saying something like “how does surfing the channels cost?” or place the remotes somewhere so inconvenient, you feel ridiculous seeking them out.  

4. Avoid Taking On Hateful Projects.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  Last spring, responding to an editor’s request, I pitched an idea that I wasn’t enthusiastic about at all.  The editor accepted the pitch (that figures) and gave me an open deadline. Oh how I struggled to write the piece. Not because it was difficult but because it just wasn’t that interesting to me. I must have wasted several hours dragging my feet on the research and writing – hours that could have been used on other paying assignments.  While I don’t have the financial luxury to be wild about every single project that comes my way, I did vow never to inflict such pain on myself again. Well, unless the financial or career rewards are simply too good to resist.

5. Get an Anti-Procrastination Buddy.  Do you have a friend or colleague to whom you can faithfully swear that you’ll get X, Y,  and Z done within a particular amount of time and will hold you accountable if you don’t? Or who’s can give you an firm but inspiring pep talk when you find yourself wandering off-track?  I have a buddy like this and she’s priceless. 

6. Bribe yourself.  It’s an old standby but it works.  I have often promised myself some culinary reward (usually almond ice cream) for finishing a project or task.  It’s effective, though - the way I do it - not too healthy.  Maybe it’s a better idea to reward yourself with a long, hot bath...a good run...20 minutes on Wii...whatever will spur you to get the job done.  You don’t even have to wait until the completion of a project. Try setting up mini-rewards for finishing difficult paragraph or sending an email that you’ve been putting off. 

7. Declutter.  Maintaining a messy desk or computer is an especially insidious way of promoting procrastination.  There’s always the temptation to clean it up, which seems like it’s not procrastination because it feels like you’re doing something productive.  And even if you don’t clean it up, there’s often something on a cluttered desk or computer to distract you. Just declutter.  Take an hour to clean all that extra crap of your desk or computer once and for all, and watch your productivity increase.  

What techniques do you use to stop procrastinating?

Photo credit:©Stuart Mills (

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Top Freelance Writing Resolutions for 2013

Happy New Year writers!  I hope we all have a happy, healthy productive year in which many of our freelance writing dreams come true!

I was thinking of what New Year’s Writing Resolutions I should make this year and decided to take a look at last year’s resolutions to get some insight. In short, this is what I resolved:

  • To keep my freelancing fears in perspective
  • To stare my technophobia in the far
  • To invest in my business as needed
  • To network more
  • To firmly believe that I will meet every goal on my New Year’s list.

Overall, I think I did pretty well. I was very good about confronting my fears, and I definitely didn’t hesitate to invest in my business.  I was okay about networking, though I’d have done more if I had more time.  And even though I didn’t meet every goal on my New Year’s list, I remained confident that I could had I tried.  Sadly, I am as technophobic and illiterate as ever, but, well, you can’t do everything in one year.  It’s definitely on the list again for this year. 

In terms of resolutions, all of these are keepers (though perhaps I should be more selective about how I invest in my business - some investments were worth it, but a few I should have skipped.)  But there’s certainly new resolutions I should make.  And so here’s what I resolve this year:

1. To specialize.   Last year, as part of my investments, I hired a copywriting coach, Chris Marlow, who has convinced me of the need to specialize.  As she points out, just because you specialize doesn’t mean that you only have to do that one kind of work -- or that you can’t change your specialty later.  

But specializing makes sense: it establishes you as an expert in particular area and, when you do it right, makes it easier for your target audience to find you  

This year, I will work on developing a specialty in copywriting for law firms, lawyers and the legal industry. 

2. To be a faster writer.  Since I’ve become a freelancer, it’s never been more clear to me that time is money.  I don’t dither and sweat over my writing nearly as much as I used to (it’s embarrassing to admit but early in my freelance career, I was such a perfectionist freak it sometimes took 2-3 hours to write a simple 100-word piece), but I know can still do better. 

This year, I will not let perfectionism or, more accurately, fear, slow down production.

3. To write every single day.  How often have you spent the entire day working, only to realize, as you step away from the computer, that you haven’t actually written a thing, save an email or three?  Happens to me far too often.

Naturally we freelance writers must do all those non-writing activities that it takes to sustain our business, but we mustn’t let these things overshadow our true passion.  

Only writing (and reading) improves our writing. From good writing comes more interesting gigs, better pay, and greater self-confidence and pride.  There’s really no excuse for not making this, career-wise, a number one priority.

This year, I will write every single day, even if it’s a short blog post or private journal entry. 

What freelancing resolutions did you make this year? How’d you do last year? 

** (Photo courtesy of

7 Ways Freelancers Can Avoid Procrastination

When I first had children, I thought that they’d slow down my writing career.  And so they have. But in some respects, they’ve done ...