Time management and productivity are essential for almost any self-employed business to succeed. But even experienced freelancers and contractors can find themselves putting off tasks for various reasons, so it’s important to understand how to stop self-employed procrastination hurting your career.
Most self-employed business people will experience the temptation to delay various assignments throughout their working life. And a mild tendency to postpone unpleasant or less enjoyable work isn’t a big problem, but over time it can become a more serious issue.
The most common advice and technique is to just force yourself to power through all of the jobs you’ve been avoiding. And this can certainly work in the short-term, but it tackles the symptoms of procrastination rather than the cause. Which means bad habits and problems will soon start to re-emerge.
To truly tackle self-employed procrastination may mean knuckling down to clear urgent issues. But you also need to understand what causes the issue, and how to eliminate it from creating friction with clients in the future.
What causes self-employed procrastination?
The common assumption is that procrastination is a sign of laziness. But this is rarely true, particularly if you’ve shown the drive to establish a self-employed business, and it’s occurring on projects that you should be able to deliver without any issues.
Many freelancers actually procrastinate due to perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and worrying that they can’t deliver good enough results. Especially when it’s for a new or important client, or if the project brief has been vague. In a previous study, 67 per cent of business owners admitted they have suffered from impost syndrome.
To manage fear and worry, you might find yourself endlessly tidying the office, focusing on less important work, or losing yourself in hobbies until deadlines are close or missed. At which point, it’s then an all-or-nothing attempt to deliver everything in one big rush, simply to catch up.
The other main cause of self-employed procrastination is the reality of dealing with dull and mundane tasks. The dream of working for yourself is to focus on the tasks and projects which are most fun and exciting, but the reality always involves a certain amount of administration and management. And you find yourself constantly checking emails, or re-organising USB cables rather than chasing unpaid invoices or organising tax returns.
Unrealistic clients and projects can also contribute to procrastination. It’s good to be willing to learn and stretch your skills, but underestimating the work involved or the time required can cause you to spend too much time worrying about getting started.
Finding the right solution relies on understanding the reason you’ve delayed a particular task. It’s important to be honest with yourself.
So how do you tackle self-doubt, mundane tasks and unrealistic briefs?
Tackling self-employed procrastination due to self-doubt:
There are a variety of ways to earn and establish a level confidence in your abilities which allows you to deliver your best work in the available time, rather than missing deadlines striving for perfection.
As a specialist in your field, the temptation will be to compare every piece of work you produce with the best you’ve seen. But this won’t be the case for your client, especially if your experience, budgets and available resources aren’t on the same level as your inspiration.
Your client may have much different expectations. And the earlier you can start sharing drafts, proposals or finished work, the sooner you can achieve them. Remember that a subdued response, or perceived negative comments can have a bigger impact on you emotionally than compliments, so it’s important to separate your personal worth and feelings from your work.
Socialising with other freelancers, or finding an accountability partner, can also boost your self-belief, as it will demonstrate how many other successful self-employed professionals have overcome the same issues. And they can provide encouragement, or a friendly prompt to get started rather than procrastinating.
If someone agrees to mentor you, or keep you accountable for progress, it can help to set yourself a punishment for missing agreed milestones. By setting these yourself, it adds an additional incentive, and avoids forcing someone else into chastising you for any slip-ups.
And make sure you record your previous successes. Good reviews and testimonials aren’t just important for your CV or professional website. They’re also a good reminder of your skills and abilities, especially if you’re prone to self-doubt.
- Focus on delivery a high quality of work to meet the expectations of your client. Not striving for perfection at the expense of deadlines.
- Socialising with other self-employed professionals will demonstrate how common these challenges are. And you can find good advice, accountability partners, or just an outlet to share your concerns.
- Record your previous successes and run through them to keep self-doubt and imposter syndrome under control.
Solutions for mundane tasks causing self-employed procrastination:
You can have all the self-belief and confidence in the world, but still encounter procrastination by putting off anything boring for a later date. And never actually making it a priority to deal with those tasks.
This can cause major business issues when you’re self-employed. Ignoring administrative duties can lead to problems with missed invoices, tax payments, or simply wasted time and money due to workflow issues.
The first step is to spend just a small amount of time planning and prioritising key tasks, even if they’re not the most exciting items on your ‘to do’ list. If you’re overwhelmed by overdue deliverables, it’s easy to feel that you don’t have five minutes to spend organising your daily and weekly tasks. But the benefits will vastly outweigh the time you invest.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the huge range of complex project management and planning tools available. It’s better to get started with a simple list on a notepad or app, rather than putting off prioritisation until you’ve mastered Gannt charts and resource allocation.
And while flexibility is a key benefit of self-employment, developing daily routines and habits will help you not only manage procrastination, but also regain the separation between work and personal time. Allocating time to regularly tackle administrative work, or the boring tasks that might slip between the cracks, ensures they’ll be handled.
The benefit of working for yourself is that you can choose how to resolve boring tasks. As your own boss, you can outsource, automate or fit them into your routine in a way that’s less of a chore – or reward yourself for getting them organised.
Various approaches to time management, such as the Pomodoro technique, encourage spending a short amount of focused time on a specific, important task. And prioritising the most difficult and important jobs will mean you can fill the rest of your day with more fun and enjoyable work.
Stop bad clients and briefs contributing to procrastination
Most successful self-employed professionals become increasingly discerning about which clients and projects they’ll take on. And more effective in setting appropriate timelines and resources for delivery, based on previous experience.
Bad clients and unhelpful briefs can contribute to a whole range of issues for freelancers and contractors. But it’s important to understand how you might contribute to your own problems by overpromising, and then underdelivering. Especially if you have a recurring problem with procrastination and missed deadlines.
Investing a little time in setting out a client onboarding process can help ensure that you have all the information required to deliver the work. And help you identify if a client might pose a particular problem.
You can then set out a realistic timeline for work, allowing for any research and learning, feedback and revisions, and a little leeway for any unexpected holds-up such as illness, injury or other life events.
Having a solid brief and contract in place also means you can define working hours, what happens in the event of any delays, and prevent additional work requests being added on without a change to the timescales or financial reward.
If you’re uncertain about the skills required for a certain element of the project, then it’s best to be honest from the start. It’s important to learn and stretch yourself throughout your career, but if you think it might be a leap too far, then collaborating or referring those tasks to other freelancers will be far more beneficial than putting them off before admitting failure.
Can self-employed procrastination be a good thing?
When it is limited to a mild effect on your work, self-employed procrastination can actually have some benefits.
It can be a sign that you might want to adapt or change your freelance career to something more enjoyable. Or that it’s time to invest in learning and skill development, potentially giving you a justification for higher rates.
And if you can invent a solution to reduce or remove boring tasks, then it might even be something other people would pay for.
Find the procrastination solutions that work for you
Self-employment covers a massive range of industries and individuals. So, it’s important to find the methods and techniques which work for your particular circumstances.
Many brilliant creative ideas and solutions have occurred when someone was procrastinating with a relatively mindless task. And everyone will have their own preferences for minimalist or cluttered workspaces, the sound of silence or noise, and office or remote working. You may be happy with a low level of procrastination as part of your planned working week, or choose to try and eliminate it entirely. Ultimately, it’s up to you.
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