The freelance procrastination monster

Sara Benaissa is a freelance writer and part of the Freelance Folk network. She loves writing about global movements, urban stories and how technology affects the human mindset. Sara specialises in communications, branding and blog content. In this blog, she talks about the freelance procrastination monster and how demotivation can affect any freelancer.

I’m going to be honest right now - being a freelancer isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. I love being a freelance writer and it was by far the best decision I’ve ever made, but my freelance life definitely isn’t the Instagram dream, it isn’t all monochrome coworking spaces, cold brew coffee sessions and sitting on exotic beaches with a MacBook.

Freelancing, like anything in life, isn’t perfect. It comes with highs and lows, and I think it’s important to be honest about that. Because when we start openly talking about the issues we can all face as freelancers, it will help to destigmatise a lot of the freelance problems that are left in the shadows.

And we do have great perks. We have the freedom to work when and where we want or on projects that inspire us. But we are also a group of workers that suffer from high burn out rates, depression, isolation and my personal freelance monster – procrastination and demotivation.

You ain’t the boss of me

I think I struggle with procrastination because I no longer have a boss, so it’s up to me to keep going. If I crash and burn it’s my fault, and that can sometimes feel like a heavy burden, something that’s always lurking behind creativity and inspiration.

I also don’t have the unspoken pressure from a manager to do my daily tasks or complete long-term goals. I’d like to think that when I was an employee I got a lot of things done out of sheer self-motivation, but I know it was also because I didn’t like annoying my boss and ultimately wanted to keep my job.

When you work for yourself, you soon learn that even though you don’t have a boss breathing down your neck, a couple of procrastination heavy days hurts yourself and your freelance career in the long run. And the more you procrastinate the more you feel inclined to let your work pile up until demotivation rears its ugly head.

It’s strange that all-encompassing freedom can feel daunting. It’s a bit like being stuck in a box all your life and then being let out into the wild. The immediate elation soon starts to be replaced by another emotion – doubt, because you realise you aren’t exactly sure how to survive outside of the box.  You realise you have no idea how to find your way around, until one day you find yourself stumbling on the right path.

Into the wild

After 3 years of freelancing, I know that you really need to be passionate and determined about what you do to keep going. You have to be the Bear Grylls of freelancing. 100% committed to the cause no matter what swings around the corner.

The problem is that motivation or drive isn’t always at full capacity, like a battery you can sometimes feel drained and depleted. And I’m friends with enough freelancers to know that this affects most us and that we all keep it a bit hidden. Because who wants to admit that you feel lazy sometimes?

In the spirit of openness, I asked a few Freelance Folkers what they thought about freelance demotivation and how it affects their work life -

“Usually I get it when I’m quiet. Then when I suddenly get busy it’s often hard to switch out of the procrastination mood. When I’m quiet and feel demotivated I usually do something else like go for a walk or have a go at on one of my million half-finished start-up projects. That's something as a freelancer I've had to learn - I'm not chained to my desk 9-5! And apart from demotivation, loneliness can be tough, which thankfully disappeared after checking out a few coworking spaces and being around people again

- Rhys Wynne, freelance Wordpress Specialist and owner of Dwi’n Rhys

 

My trigger is normally something small that’s distracted me, like remembering to deal with a task before I forget, an unexpected interaction with a client or forgetting to turn off my notifications. I’m procrastinating a bit more than I’d like at the moment, but I’m alright once I settle into a task. I think preparation is the best way to push yourself out of it, I also go for a walk to clear my head if I have time. I find I work a lot better if I just head out for a small break. As a remote worker, I think isolation is also a big issue. If I’m having a bad isolation week I work from a café or go to a social get together, like Freelance Folk on a Friday”

- Hugo Finley, Digital Project Growth Manager

 

I get it when I'm a bit overwhelmed and don't have a clear idea of what the next steps are. It can also happen when I have a boring or difficult task that I'm meant to be doing. I've especially noticed it when I've got into a bit of a rut and don't have much variety in my week or if I've had too much. I probably procrastinate most days, but I feel demotivated less often. To kick the feeling, I allow myself a break or change my surroundings, I also try to be proactive and schedule a day off when I think I might need it. I find breaking tasks down into smaller steps makes it seem less daunting and easier to start. And as far as other freelance issues go, I think isolation can affect us all and is linked to demotivation. I met a freelance friend for coffee recently and just being able to bounce ideas off her helped me to feel energised and motivated to develop the idea further.”

- Katy Carlisle, Squarespace website designer, trainer and founder of Freelance Folk

The rhythm of life

Personally, writing articles takes up a lot of my energy and often my brain needs to be in the right space or mood to be able to write well. This means that my social life massively affects my work. I’ve learnt that anything can affect my writing, from someone annoying me, eating unhealthily or not getting enough sleep.

It’s hard to strike a balance between forcing yourself to write when your brain isn’t ready and spending a lifetime waiting for inspiration to strike. Sometimes I can force myself to write and improve it through tons of editing and sometimes it just won’t come out.

I’ve also found that for some out-there articles or complex ideas my brain is subconsciously thinking about the subject for days, and it can be hard to predict when the time has come to sit in front of my laptop and rhythmically type to my thoughts.

I think avoiding demotivation (and its partner in crime, procrastination) is a bit like building muscle at the gym. You need to keep working at it to build up resilience. it’s also very important to be kind to yourself. If you aren’t feeling it one day that’s OK and if you need a holiday take one. Because far too often that not, you’ll come back feeling replenished with a fully charged freelance battery so you can be your best freelancing self.

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Katy Carlisle