The alarm goes off in the morning, buzzing in your ear like an annoying gnat. Hit snooze. Hit snooze again. You eventually lurch out of bed, get ready and sit down at your computer to tackle the day. There’s a lot of client stuff to get done, so you’d better get to it! Wait.. you should make a coffee first. You need caffeine so you’ll be sharp and at your most creative, right? Only makes sense. Ok.. down to business. Hmm.. you should check your email. What if there’s some important info from a client? Don’t wanna miss that. And since you’re already online, might as well check Facebook and Twitter. Why not, right? Ease into things.
I know it happens with me far more than I’d like to admit. But why do we put things off, and how can we change our patterns? Freelancing takes a lot of energy and a lot of logistical planning to make it go smoothly, and sometimes that seems daunting and overwhelming so we just… don’t. Taking a break so you don’t burn out is a necessity, but avoiding work for your clients or yourself? Not so much. In this blog I’d like to help you kick procrastination to the proverbial curb (pour out a 40 for it while you’re there) with these seven tips that I know have helped me in the past when a deadline was looming and I thought, “Just one more episode of Game of Thrones.”
Eat That (Metaphorical) Frog!
This is the one that will solve most of your procrastination woes. The problem lies in that it’s also the most difficult to implement, which might lead to a procrastination catch 22 (Procrastinception?) The concept of “eating the frog” comes from author Brian Tracy and is a bit bizarre, but stay with me here. Tracy got the idea from a Mark Twain quotation, which goes, “If the first thing that you do when you wake up in the morning is to eat a live frog, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that’s probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you all day long.” In this case, the “frog” is your biggest task, the one you’ve been dreading and putting off.
If there is only one tip from this list that you put into action, make it this one. If you have a difficult client you don’t want to deal with? Call them first thing in the morning. Have to restructure your portfolio? Put on some music and start organizing your work. Doing the hardest things first takes a psychological load off your mind, and gives you an immense sense of achievement early on. Knowing that you have tackled the worst of the day makes you relaxed, creating momentum that carries over to the rest of your day, making you feel unstoppable. In fact, you’ll actively be looking for the next challenge to conquer.
Follow the Two Minute Rule
Even if you’ve gotten the worst of your tasks off your plate, it can still be disheartening to see so many other things yet to go. The good news is that you don’t have to get them all done sequentially. At least I don’t, but this can vary from person to person. Jumping from project to project can keep boredom at bay (and can even help you make creative connections where you couldn’t see them before.) The key for me, when working on multiple things is to follow the “two-minute rule” which has been adapted from author David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity.” In its simplest form it goes like this: Remember physics class back in high school? Remember how an object in motion tends to stay in motion? Same concept here. Once you start something, even if it’s only for 2 minutes, it sets up an association in your brain that there’s a task to be completed. Subconsciously, the mind hates unfinished business (which, incidentally is why when we forget something, we’ll eventually remember and blurt it out at an inopportune time – because the brain has been looking for the answer all that time). Open your sketchbook and doodle. Work on a revision of a logo. Mess around with some layouts. Even if it’s for 2 minutes, you’ll discover that it soon becomes a habit and you’ll be well on your way to getting more done.
Change Your Environment.
In the film, Fight Club, the Narrator wonders, “If you wake up at a different time in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?” Take this concept and spin it through the lens of a designer. Not getting work done in your home office? Go to the park. Stuck on a project? Go for a stroll to a cafe. Changing your location can do a lot to spur creativity and get the ball rolling. Known as state specific memory, people associate certain feelings/memories with specific places. (For example, I work in cafes a lot, but I’m more productive in certain cafes more than others. I can’t exactly pinpoint why – it’s just the “feel” of the place that has an impact on me. So, I make sure to swing by those ones where I know the vibe will help get things done. The bottom line is, if you feel like working at home is too “office-y”, that will be reflected in your work (or lack thereof in the case of procrastination).
Take a Social Media Break
This goes back to my intro and can be a real time killer if you let it. With the ubiquitous nature of social media today, it actually takes effort to get away from it. It’s just too easy to scroll through your Instagram feed, or like a few memes on Facebook. Then while you’re at it, check Twitter or LinkedIn for updates on your network. Before long it’s been hours (I know.. I’ve been there). So the best way to deal with that time-suck is to cut it off cold turkey. I can hear you gasp, but this is a “tough love” moment here. Although there are several apps out there that can help, I tend to use Freedom. I actually covered this app in a video outlining my favourite productivity apps (which you can find here. Covering all devices (tablet, computer and mobile) it allows you to create a schedule, and designate a social media/website dead zone where you’re denied access until the timer runs out. Willpower is great, but sometimes it just isn’t enough. Freedom helps until you can make cutting the social media cord into a habit during work.
It’s the Final Countdown
You’ll have to forgive the reference to the 80’s power ballad of the same name, but it seemed appropriate. This concept goes hand in hand with the “2 minute rule” described earlier, only turbocharged. Set a timer (keep it under 10 minutes), pick a task that fits within that timeframe, and… GO! See if you can get the task completed. In a way, it’s the gamification of tasks. See if you can beat your “high score” of focused productivity. Just make sure that what you’re doing has a measurable outcome and is of quality. Don’t half-ass projects just so you can say you fit them within the limit to give yourself a sense of accomplishment. That will only hurt you in the long run. Use this technique for simple tasks like, “create 10 logo revision sketches in 10 minutes”, “schedule your social media posts for your personal brand,” “Format graphics for your design blog,” etc. It’s a great chance to work on the self promotional side of things while acting as a catalyst to get client work started.
Fear Is The Mind Killer
Not to get philosophical on you guys, but procrastination is, in a very real sense not simply the act of putting things off. Rather, at its heart, It can be the fear of success! Look, freelancing isn’t really for the feint of heart. You have to be a businessperson, accountant, marketer, and artist all in one. The thought of that can make you hide under the covers in the morning and not want to start anything at all out of the fear of failure. But people rarely consider that success can be just as stressful. “What if I do land that big client? Then what?! They’re gonna expect something amazing, and I don’t know if I’m up to it!” The weight of added responsibility can be crippling. So, we stay in a comfortable phantom zone – somewhere between fearing failure and dreading success. We choose inaction over action because it’s comfortable. No one can criticize our design skills if we don’t design. We can’t have clients yell at us if we don’t have any. But, think back to why you started this in the first place. It was to have the freedom to express yourself; to be in an exciting industry that moves a mile a minute due to its very nature. Inaction is not why you chose freelancing. So face your fears and make a conscious decision to make an effort. The rewards on the other side of fear are worth it.
Stop Thinking. Start Doing.
To quote one of the greatest poets of our time, Shia LaBeouf, “DO IT!” The perfect time will never come to take action. The best time is right now. This second. Delaying action breeds more inaction and your dream will forever be on the horizon. It’s really not as far off as it seems. Just take that first step, whatever it is. Start a sketchbook, go to a networking event, take some courses on Lynda about learning Photoshop, anything. It all adds up and it all brings you one step closer. Just.. Start.
BONUS!! Want to save even more time? I’ve collected these tips in a handy video for when you need a refresher. Take a look over at my YouTube channel (and don’t forget to subscribe!)