Freeing yourself from the grind of the nine to five and going freelance is one of the biggest, and often most exciting, steps you can take. All of a sudden, your work is getting done your way, and you have the opportunity to choose when you accomplish what.
Yet what often doesn't become clear until you're waist-deep in those warm freelancing waters is the ever-tempting premise of just... putting off a project that little bit longer. Workplace culture is such that we're trained to expect a concentrated eight-hour chunk of hour day in which we blaze through our workload to avoid uncomfortable conversations about dawdling on company time. But when the business is basically yourself, and company time is yours to dictate, how do you know where the rules are?
Learn to keep procrastination in mind, in terms of understanding where its urges come from, and you could well find it's not as much a battle as you might think.
Why we procrastinate
Debates over the positives and negatives of procrastination, why we do it and why we feel guilty about it have been bubbling over for years. One of the most insightful yet entertaining overviews of the subject is Tim Urban's TED Talk on procrastination, in which he delves into his own struggles with the issue – but also highlights how it becomes such an internal debate for so many of us.
Urban reasons that within each of us is the part of the mind that prefers instant gratification, and that no matter how intelligently we schedule our freelancing days, that more primal part of us bristles against long periods of concentration and effort. It begins to offer enticing ways to score a little dopamine hit – time to check our phone, make another cup of coffee, eat a snack or simply take an hour to ourselves.
Keeping dopamine, serotonin and the like topped up can prove great ways to remain positively productive, but the potential to overindulge is always there. And if it happens, the real perils of procrastination begin to take root.
Panic and guilt
While we can all smile wryly at the late great Douglas Adams' outlook on deadlines, the fact is that, as freelancers, we are entrusted with getting things done for our clients on time. It's our responsibility alone – no blaming the company internet going down, management for losing the file or HR for mangling the message here if things go awry.
Cutting it close when it comes to delivering on your promise within reaching distance of a deadline can, as you're no doubt aware, hamper the brilliance of your work. It's easy for panic and self-berating to take over, as well as intensive working that edges you closer to creative burnout, especially if you're suddenly putting in all hours to deliver on time.
Go easy on yourself – if you get ill from stress, there's no company health plan to cover you, and certainly no paid time off, unless you've stuck to a good budget.
Turning procrastination to your side
Procrastination needn't be a doom and gloom subject, nor ought it be as demonized as it often is. In truth, it's simply a hallmark of who we are as a species – we weren't actually biologically designed to work the kind of days we are often beholden to. Aren't you glad you decided to become a freelancer to avoid that?
While the eight-hour workday was in part invented to prevent truly excruciating hours from becoming the norm back in the 1800s, today's modern conveniences mean even that construct is a little behind the times. Flexibility and remote working have completely changed how we can freelance, and in turn, it means you can find ways to turn the urge to put things off to your advantage.
If you're flagging in the afternoons, try adding a coffee nap to your routine. If your mind is beginning to wander, see if it's because it's looking for inspiration to do better, rather than craving solstice in distraction – creative inputs that work coach Todd Henry calls 'activating your red zone'.
In other words, learn to distinguish between real and perceived procrastination. Sometimes, you do genuinely need to take a break or to put a project off long enough to let good ideas mature. Other times, it is just a case of your primal mind trying to find the next scrap of serotonin. If you can master this approach, you'll not only stand to reduce stress and work more efficiently but also have a better balance within when it comes to work, rest and play.
Procrastination can be the bane of a freelancer's professional existence, but also a well-managed way of offsetting busywork with genuinely valuable time to find ideas and explore inspiration in your downtime. Distinguishing between what's your body's signal to relax and what's a cheeky impulse to goof off is the key to making it work for you – and once that's under your belt, you've every chance of being both productive and calm in mind throughout your freelancing life.