You’ve blocked off your freelance blogging time, you have your clients and assignments all lined up, everything is ready to go…
…and you’re cruising around on social media, not sure why you can’t get started. You’re miserable and overwhelmed with stress. You open your word processing program, check the client’s requirements, and take a few seconds to research one last thing…
…and it’s three hours later, your mental energy has drained like a tub with a leaky plug, and you’re playing a video game with your neighbor’s six-year-old kid (and losing). You’ve done solitaire, Words With Friends, Angry Birds, Farmville and…
You still haven’t started your blogging for the day. You mean to. Really you do. But every time you try to get started, your throat tightens up, your stomach clenches, you get distracted by a Facebook ad for car insurance, and before you realize it, you’ve wasted the day.
On top of which, you haven’t made your earning goals, and…you start going broke doing nothing when you very much want to be doing something.
So much for following your dreams.
Here’s how to start recognizing the habit of procrastination and learn what steps you can take to negotiate with your inner two-year-old and their delaying tactics.
Instead of continuing a cycle of trying to guilt yourself into writing, using up all your willpower, then collapsing into mindless time-killers, let’s look at procrastination itself: if it were mere laziness, then you wouldn’t be so stressed!
Procrastination comes from another source: fear.
When you’re trapped between something you must do (like write that blog article) and something you can’t do (like write that blog article, because of a variety of reasons), it causes stress. It feels like any action that you can possibly take is the wrong one; if you do manage to work on your article, you second-guess your work and that feeds right back into the stress.
The mind is tricky and likes to avoid stress when possible. Which is when you find your attention sliding away from your article and back to social media, games, even housework…anything to put off the complex problems ahead of you.
However, this vicious cycle of can’t-do/must-do can usually be stopped.
First, start with the requirements.
Make sure you understand them thoroughly. What does the client want, when do they want it, what will it be used for, and how will you know if you’ve succeeded—or if you’ve failed? If the requirements aren’t clear, communicate with the client to find out.
If a client can’t communicate their requirements clearly, then their project may not be ready to take off yet. (Your client might be procrastinating, too!) Getting clarification on requirements can lead to a better project all around. Sure, the client has deadlines—but you will be able to write your articles far more efficiently and quickly if they take a few moments to clarify exactly what they want.
You have the right not to spin your wheels on a project!
Second, keep your plans flexible.
Research and plan the way that feels most comfortable to you…but when it’s time to put the words on the page or screen, be ready to abandon the plan in favor of inspiration. Make sure to talk to your client ahead of time about this if you don’t already have an understanding about what happens if things don’t go according to plan, for whatever reason: it’s almost inevitable that no matter how well you plan, things won’t go according to plan. Find out when to contact the client and when to run with your own good ideas. It’s a good rule regardless. Sometimes life throws things your way that you couldn’t imagine.
If your subconscious knows which constraints are non-negotiable, which are negotiable, and that it won’t get yelled at for changing the plan as long as it meets certain constraints and goals…it’s a lot easier to become inspired.
Third, put yourself in a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is when you assume that any skill can be learned…and that you’re not perfect at it yet. When you approach every project as practice, you give yourself the opportunity to get better and more confident as a blogger.
The opposite of a growth mindset is a talent mindset—where you approach every job as though you have a limited (but great!) amount of talent as a writer, limited to certain areas under certain conditions. A talent mindset often contributes to being in a can’t-do/must-do situation. I can’t finish this project…what was I thinking? I bit off more than I can chew.
When you work in a growth mindset, it can help to have a plan for what to do if you fail to achieve perfection on the first try. Deliver the first draft early, make sure that time for rewrites is included in the plan (and that you won’t be left with a lot of work and no income during that time), and give yourself time to mentally process editing requests so you don’t bite the client’s head off! It often helps to tackle the easiest changes first so that you don’t have minor distractions while trying to pare down to the essentials of the client’s feedback. If necessary…go back to the requirements of the project and clarify them with your client.
Finally, once you start writing, the only person’s opinion who matters is your inner blogger’s.
Not the nagging, critical, editorial voice, but the one who got into blogging because of their love of writing. What you love, what you hate, what you know, what you believe, what you think—your most valuable asset as a writer is the way you see the world. Your point of view.
Letting your inner editor take control on a first draft is a mistake. Your inner editor would like nothing more than to be perfectly correct…and perfectly anonymous. Letting your inner editor run the show is one last can’t-do/must-do trap: you can’t be yourself…but yourself is the best thing you can be, as a writer.
Bloggers and other writers talk about “finding their niche.” If you haven’t found yours yet, it might be because you’re trying to be all things to all clients—and not listening to your inner writing voice. You’re stripping out all the things that make you “you.”
But even when you’re blogging for someone else, you get to write the things that make you interested and satisfied. You get to do the research that inspires you. You get to say “no” to the jobs that don’t fit your muse.
If you do, you’ll find that your earnings go up—not down—as your clients start to appreciate the vitality and passion you bring to your projects.
Everything else can wait until the draft is done.
If you understand the requirements of the project, if you know when to follow your inspiration versus when to check in with the client, and if you have a process for feedback and updates…there’s no reason to be afraid of turning in a less-than-perfect first draft.
When you’ve opened up a space where you can do your current best without fear of a harsh, out-of-left-field reprisal, the can’t-do/must-do trap disappears…and it becomes a hundred times easier to take feedback from clients when it does show up. You’re growing, not delivering perfection.
And when you allow your creativity a safe place to play with the projects you take on, the thought of one more predictable round of solitaire isn’t quite as appealing as it once was. Blogging is a fun process, when we’re not making ourselves miserable trying to fight it.
Do you suffer from the can’t-do/must-do loop? What other procrastination problems do you suffer from? Let us know in the comments below!