My definition of procrastination is nothing particularly deep or fancy. Simply put, it’s to avoid something you should be doing, or you think you should be doing.
I like to add that last part because procrastination sometimes makes you avoid things that are unimportant, or that you don’t really have to do. Make no mistake, though: in most cases procrastination is not your friend.
Steven Pressfield wrote a short, wonderful book about it, called The War of Art. He calls it Resistance, and he says it’s caused by:
any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower.
It’s not hard to see why. Very often, following our higher nature puts us in a vulnerable position, like the risk of failing, or being rejected or looking dumb. But that also means there’s a positive side to all this: if you’re procrastinating, you’re probably onto something.
Like all freelance writers (and all professionals solely responsible for finding their own clients), I fight my daily battles with procrastination too. Very often I win, but not every time. And I’m making peace with that: it’s part of us being humans, so there’s no getting rid of it. If it’s really a war, then it’s a trench war, where neither army can win.
Here’s my most recent example: for the past few days I’ve been meaning to send an email to a client to ask him for a honest feedback on the work I’ve done so far, especially on the quality of my writing (the guy is a magazine editor). I know it wouldn’t be a long email, but ‘for some reason’ I never managed to find the time to write it… But I’m determined to do it today… I just need to finish this blog post, and maybe do the laundry too…
The worst part about procrastination is that it’s sneaky, always ready to take advantage of every moment of tiredness or weakness. As Pressfield says, “Reduce it to a single cell and that cell will continue to attack.”
Sure, if you’re wasting time on Facebook or watching TV at 3pm instead of working, that’s a blatant case. But there’s not always a flashing neon light attached. You may be procrastinating even when you’re working, simply by doing less important (but easier) tasks, with the wrong impression of being productive.
How to fight back procrastination
With that in mind, there are still things content marketing writers (and other work-from-home professionals) can do to win more battles against Resistance.
Here’s my personal list.
When you do your work planning for the day (because you do that, right?), find out what the most important tasks are. Sometimes you’ll know immediately, sometimes Resistance will be your rhabdomancy wand: see where it points, and you will know.
Once the important stuff is clear, start from that. Don’t think, just do it. Every second of hesitation is an opportunity for Resistance to strike with a “sure but let me check if my packet from Amazon will be delivered today”, or “let me check the news to see if Italy’s government has fallen already.”
Whenever you get distracted by thoughts like “I need to do X before I forget”, write it down on a piece of paper, so you won’t forget when you do it later. I call this my distraction bucket. I don’t use it all the time, but it’s particularly useful when there’s too much clutter in my head. Later, when you’re done with your work, or you need a break, you can work on that list. If you find that some of the items are hilariously trivial, that will be the best proof of procrastination in action.
Keep working until you’re done, or until you get to the point you’re supposed to. It may be true that willpower is overrated, but sometimes that’s what will keep you going.
Another reason for doing the most important tasks first, is that they usually require a lot of mental energy. So it’s useful to know your energy curve during the day.
In my case, I know my mental energy starts to dwindle after five hours of work, so I schedule the most demanding tasks during that time. After that, I need to take more frequent breaks and I’m more prone to giving in to distractions.
Finally, try not to beat yourself up. On some days you’ll be less productive, and that’s OK. Just go back to work.