If nothing else, formal education trained me to procrastinate.
I systematically operated under my own half-crazed, caffeine-powered writing sprints, both in timed journalism labs and when working on any other homework project. I generally wrote everything I turned in either the night (or, to be quite honest, the hour) before papers were due.
That doesn’t work quite as well when you’re offering freelance writing services to others. The writing-in-a-crunch skills definitely come in handy. But procrastinating hurts. For one, you’re usually dealing with five to ten deadlines a day rather than the same number in a week or a month. What’s more, it’s truly painful to miss a deadline now. Suddenly clients are depending on you (and paying you).
If you’re like me, meeting deadlines—and meeting your writing goals—doesn’t happen unless you have a plan. With a strategy, a bit of trial and error, and a good dose of daily coffee to streamline the process, though, it can be done. These tips help me overcome my procrastination tendencies.
Don’t trust your brain
Whether you’re a free spirit who doesn’t want to be tethered by deadlines or a super-organized planner with every five minutes of your day allocated, you’ll have to figure out a way to keep up-to-date on your deadlines.
Don’t trust your subconscious to when your articles are due. No matter how incredible your memory is, you’ll thank yourself for writing due dates down—or religiously entering them into Google calendar and scheduling reminders a few hours before each deadline hits.
Choose your environment wisely
I like to write from a coffee shop because (1) I require coffee to smooth the process and (2) I can reward myself with the laid-back atmosphere of a coffee shop and a gourmet latte when I finish a certain number of words or projects. Princeton University reports that where you choose to work can make all the difference in how much you procrastinate, so choose wisely—and pick an environment that’s both enjoyable and conducive to getting things done.
Rewarding yourself with breaks can work wonders, too—tell yourself that after you finish the article you’re working on or once you’ve reached your next word count goal, you’ll go for a jog, take a break to read that book you’ve been dying to finish, or whatever it is that works for you. You could even ask someone to check up on you—according to MindTools.com, this can be an effective anti-procrastination strategy.
Need a more persistent reward/punishment system? Write Or Die is a free app for Mac, Windows, or Linux that allows you to enter a goal and “punishes” you with harsh sounds or wiggly spiders on screen and “rewards” you with custom reward images drawn from a folder of your own photos. Whether or not the app actually increases productivity is still up in the air, but if you’re feeling desperate, it might be worth a shot.
Break down big projects
If you’ve got a big project looming on the horizon, your best bet is to break it down into bite-sized pieces that you can complete in one sitting at a time. You’ll be less overwhelmed by the task ahead, more likely to stay ahead of your deadline, and because you’ll enjoy it more, chances are good you’ll actually produce higher-quality content.
Steffani J is a coffee addict, bookworm, and military spouse living in the U.S. territory of Guam. She tries not to let part-time freelancing get in the way of scuba diving, hiking, and exploring her island home.