The Way We Work

Being responsible for freelance work is a lot like being a good graduate student.

My undergraduate university days were spent in a constant state of cramming and playing “catch up.” I’d start each semester with good intentions, but I spent 25+ hours a week at my job, and spent my free time socializing and building needed bonds with my classmates. Completing homework and studying for exams were always last minute affairs.

Somehow, I’d become a professional procrastinator.

When I began graduate school, I learned very quickly my habits had to change or I was going to fail. This forced me to learn how to more effectively manage my time. The workload was so great—and the expectations so high—that procrastination was not an option. Bonding with classmates had to be done over coursework instead of separate from it, and I had to build adequate time to complete assignments and study for exams into my everyday routine.

It was this experience that allowed me to step into my freelancing business so seamlessly.

To do well as a freelancer, you need to have an abundance of self control when it comes to managing your time and getting stuff done. Procrastination isn’t just a time killer for entrepreneurs, it also eats into the bottom line—your earning potential.

If you struggle with procrastination and have the motivation to make the most of every minute, these tips can help.

1. Plan


Sometimes, we put off certain tasks because they seem too big to tackle. By taking a few minutes to create a plan of action, breaking the task down into manageable bites, the large tasks we have been dreading suddenly get smaller and easier to process.

Go a step further and schedule the tasks in a calendar: Setting calendar alerts to prompt you to start the next step will keep you on the right track.

2. Just Get Started

Often, the only barrier to getting a task done is simply getting started. Tell yourself aloud, “Ok, let’s start this,” then do it without making any excuses. Sometimes, it can be that easy—just ignore the looks you might get from anyone near you during your little pep talk!

3. Add Value

Think about why you should get a task done. What will it mean for your career? What will it add to your life? Confirming the value for an activity can give the boost you need to tackle it.

If you have a tough time committing a value to a particularly loathed to-do, look at the cost of not getting it done instead. Missed deadlines can mean a missed payday, or even a future business failure. This can make a difficult task seem a lot less evil!

4. Add Accountability

Make yourself accountable to the task by announcing to someone that you will have it finished by a certain time. Adding accountability provides an extra layer of motivation to complete the work on time because, as humans, we dislike the thought of other people knowing when we have failed.

5. Squash Unproductive Thoughts

Fear of failure? Feel things need to be perfect? Not feeling in the mood? Listen to your inner voice and kill any thoughts that sound like excuses. Excuses aren’t a valid reason to put something off, but they can very effectively kill your productivity. To turn them around, learn to doubt your doubts.

6. Remove Distractions

Imagine how boring it would be to procrastinate if you didn’t have anything to distract yourself with! Putting things off usually happens because we’ve found something else to do. Like Candy Crush. Or email and Facebook. So get rid of or block any distractions that might knock your momentum off course.

Keep a tidy workspace in an area that’s away from your most loved distractions and use tools to help you stay focused. Apps like Freedom can temporarily block time-wasting websites. Before you get started, also make sure you have everything you need, so you don’t have to wander away from your workspace and risk temptation.

7. Reward Yourself

Reward yourself

Adopt an “If I do this now, I will have more time for fun later” attitude. This uses features of behavioural psychology that make procrastination less likely by reinforcing your actions with a positive reward.

When we put something off, we often waste that time doing unnecessary things. That wasted time is actually time that could be spent doing something fun once the task is complete, leading us to be happier overall.

When you waste time when you should be working on something—then get stuck running around to finish it at the last minute—you’re using up time you could spend doing something that’ll make you happy. Plan something specific that you can do after your task is complete, so you have something to look forward to. Only reward yourself once the job is complete.

Procrastination, like any habit, can be difficult to break. But like much of what we do in life, practise makes perfect. Never give up trying.

Do you have anything you would add to this list? Tell us in the comments!

Melanie Feltham

Contributing Author

As the Social Media Community Manager at Upwork, Melanie Feltham works closely with the social team to engage Upwork's active social audience. Her spare time is spent walking the lakeshore near her home office in Toronto, drawing and painting wildlife, and working on passion projects–the latest, a book about misconceptions spread by popular media. Connect with her on Twitter @MelanieFeltham to find out more about… read more