Editor's Note: Guest blogger Jonathan Kastner, LCSW, a psychotherapist in private practice in Manhattan and Brooklyn, helps people work towards achieving their personal and professional goals through cognitive-behavioral therapy and solution-focused therapy. www.JonathanKastner.com
We all know that the work of a freelancer can be incredibly fulfilling, and the lifestyle has many benefits. But sometimes, even for the most productive of freelancers, starting a project can seem overwhelming – and we delay for so long that it makes the job less fun and less rewarding. This can be called many things (blowing it off, messing around, taking a nap, puttering), but at its core, we're talking about procrastination. Procrastination is the bête noir of the motivated freelancer.
But fear not. By identifying and confronting some common dysfunctional thoughts that perpetuate procrastination, we can change the way we respond. The following suggestions are adapted from Dr. David Burns’ The Feeling Good Handbook.
Don't wait for the mood to strike. Let’s start at the beginning. Literally. Just starting a project can be a monumental task. Why? Because work is work (as opposed to play) and work sucks, or it can feel that way in comparison to more exciting things such as shopping, going to the gym, napping, getting coffee, or checking Twitter. So, rather than sitting down and getting to business, we may instead decide to wait for when the mood strikes, unannounced, and then respond by creating/building/writing. It doesn’t happen that way. Waiting for such inspiration is more likely to result in panic than product. Prolific people don’t wait to be moved, they begin the work, and the work moves them to create more.
You're not lazy, but you might be scared. Procrastinators are not lazy people. Lazy people simply don’t care. Procrastinators often care too much and this can be an obstacle to productivity. The fear of failure can be paralyzing, and the simplest of decisions can feel like life or death. We are creative people, and this usually comes in handy, except when we allow our creativity to intersect with fear. Have you ever thought of all the ways that things could go wrong? Has this ever been of any help? Probably not. Unfortunately, we never allow ourselves to think of all the ways that things might go right. Halting the imagined worst-case scenarios, and injecting some optimism (or just realism) can do wonders.
Work isn’t easy. Work is only difficult for you. …Wrong! It only feels that way. When you believe that professional achievement comes easy to everyone else, you may conclude that something is wrong with you. That’s BS. Success doesn’t come easy to anyone. This is something you probably already know, but you might forget when you hit an obstacle. When you are in the midst of a block, or some other hurdle, it is important to remember back to the past when you successfully made it through to the other side. Reassurance that “this too shall pass” can sometimes be enough to provide enough breathing room to find a way through.
For the first pass, good enough is good enough. The desire for success is healthy. Even the aim for perfection can be healthy, but the constant demand for perfection is daunting, self-defeating, and ultimately unrewarding. I must complete this project perfectly. I need to do it all by myself. I have to make everyone happy. Albert Ellis, the father of cognitive therapy, describes this pattern of thinking as MUSTerbation. Wanting to be great is what inspires us to tackle formidable challenges, but to demand that we must do so perfectly is too much to bear. When we lower our standards (just a bit – we don’t need you in sweatpants all day) we can free ourselves to enjoy greater satisfaction and facilitate creativity.
Give yourself a little credit. Getting paid is nice, but it won't help with procrastination. It can be helpful to have little payoffs along the way to stay motivated. Otherwise, the promised rewards at the completion of a project may not be enough to keep you going. Work can be a slog, and if you provide a few incentives along the way, the marathon can feel more like several rewarding jogs.
We have all struggled with procrastination. By developing new patterns of thinking, it’s possible to avoid the pit-falls that have stalled us all at one point.