This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

I can’t believe I haven’t written about this yet.

I guess I’ve just been… putting it off.

Which makes perfect sense because most of my friends don’t call me “The Born Freelancer.” To them, I’m more “The Born Procrastinator.”

Today I’m here to testify that chronic procrastination need not be a deal-breaker when contemplating the freelance lifestyle.

In fact, once recognized and properly harnessed, procrastination can be turned from a negative into a positive – another useful tool in the freelancer’s arsenal. Don’t believe me? I am living proof of it.

Procrastination

First, let’s define it. It usually means to postpone or to delay doing something. For me, it means a subconscious prioritizing of actions I need to take.

And some activities I am simply not yet ready to enact.

Of course there are times procrastination can be a distressing hinderance. But once you understand why you are procrastinating you can use that knowledge to make many of your subsequent actions more successful.

The subconscious barometer

Here’s a perfect example. I hate making cold calls. So I usually procrastinate, coming up with all sorts of reasons not to call.

Now, some of those reasons are nonsensical and unworthy of further investigation. But often many of them may appear to have some validity. xAnd so the act of procrastination forces me to re-examine the motivations for my delaying of action.

Have I done my research? Have I a strong enough pitch? Do I know my subject well enough? Have I checked the market for similar ideas?

In this way procrastination acts as my subconscious guide to my preparation for action. If I hesitate I review why – and there are often good reasons – reasons that once examined can be addressed and as a result maximum confidence restored.

I can tell when I’ve done all the necessary prep because then I can just go ahead and make those cold calls without needing any further delaying tactics.

Of course there are those times I just don’t feel like doing something and I can determine no specfiic reason. It’s what I call free-floating procrastination.

In those cases, instead of zooming into the micro (specific), I zoom out to the macro (big picture). Is the entire project really of enough interest? Is this person really the ideal contact? Zooming further out, am I in the best health? Am I challenging myself in positive ways or am I just trying to get a quick paycheck? (Nothing wrong with the latter as long as you are aware of it!)

In these cases, procrastination is the warning flag of larger issues that seem to need my immediate attention.

In this way, my procrastination becomes a kind of subconscious barometer. It acts as a biofeedback loop to my conscious self, informing me of issues I need to deal with before whatever action I am contemplating should begin.

Finding the point of critical mass

The biggest revelation to me about my procrastination is that it is a psychological mechanism I employ to create a point of “critical mass.”

If I’m not motivated to do my anticipated activity, it is almost always because I have not yet reached “critical mass.” Critical mass is defined as the minimum of something required to begin an activity or action.

Now that something varies according to each activity or project. Usually, if I’m procrastinating it means a lack of something.

Often it is a lack of research. Or it may turn out I lack a clear focus or perspective on my proposed topic. I may need to rethink the point of view or even the whole approach I am proposing in any undertaking.

Or I may lack sufficient resources to do the job at hand. Do I have the right hardware, software, whatever may be required? Have I allotted enough of my savings to cover costs? Am I physically in shape to proceed? No point starting a massive undertaking if you are unable to complete it for any reason.

Achieving “critical mass” is like lighting the fire under a cooking pot, continually adding and stirring ingredients until it is ready to boil over.

It is fundamentally a matter of waiting until the optimal moment arrives to begin.

Irrationality rules

But there are still times when I just can’t get started. For no readily apparent reason. Micro or macro.

If it seems likely I will need extra time I give myself that extra time, building it into my schedule long before any deadline approaches. (Exactly how much time has evolved over the years and determining it still remains an inexact science!)

And so if I still find myself procrastinating for no good reason, in order to still make some use of it, I initiate the procrastinator’s best friend, namely…

Aversion activity

The average freelancer has a hundred prosaic administrative details to attend to and rarely time to do them. I find I do most of them most efficiently and most painlessly whenever I am in Aversion Activity mode.

That is, I know I should be starting some specific activity. But, for reasons unidentifiable, I just can’t get started.

And so, rather than wasting time, I get busy with all those necessary but lower priority administrative details – filing, budgets, emails, downsizing/disposal, etc. – as well as all the necessary “personal” chores that facilitate any freelancer’s “professional” life – cleaning, groceries, laundry, etc etc.

You’d be amazed how many you can get through when you know you really should be doing something else! In fact, if I don’t have something big to procrastinate about, well, then I just probably won’t get around to many of my more mundane chores.

When I am done I usually find my subconscious has been quietly problem solving in the background and is now ready to help me begin my postponed freelancing activity in earnest.

A matter of timing

If you work long enough in this business you should acquire a kind of “nose” for recognizing when a particular subject is “ready” or “appropriate” or “hot”.

Sometimes it is just a matter of waiting to the very last moment possible to be able to take advantage of and incorporate all the latest developments and advances to make your project as relevant and timely as possible. Knowing this is mostly an intuitive reflex.

The trick is to make sure you don’t leave things too late to complete on deadline. In the early days you may get it wrong as often as you get it right. But in time your judgement will improve and your ability to trust in your instincts will thrive.

And so, by understanding the underlying causes of my procrastination, I am usually able to harness it to actually help achieve my objectives – even if to non-procrastinators it may seem a rather roundabout way of doing it!

The takeaway

For decades I longed to be free of the curse of procrastination. It seemed I had to struggle mightily to fight it, exhausting myself in the process and making everything I did that much harder.

In time, I learned to stop denying its existence within me and to embrace it as a subconscious mechanism for making sure when I act that I get it right.

Indeed, if I’m procrastinating, there is usually a pretty good reason that needs to be immediately examined and explored before I successfully continue.

It is not a perfect solution. But most of the time I am able to make it work for me.

Like this time. Again.

 

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