Being productive without a deadline

One thing about freelance writing is that it tends to go in spurts. Some days you have no assignments pending; other times, you don’t know which story to tackle first.

I’ve been trying for a while to figure out how to stay focused and productive when a deadline isn’t looming. Working at home means there are a lot of distractions. It’s easy to delay work because you know you can go back to the computer after throwing in a load of laundry, or cooking a pot of soup, or cleaning out a drawer, or running an errand, or… the list is infinite.

I love the flexibility of freelancing. I like being able to work coffee dates, appointments, and household tasks into my schedule no matter what time in the day they take place.

So I’ve resisted scheduling consistent work hours. I know there are advantages to having them. Family and friends will be less likely to interrupt your work, and scheduled hours impose discipline. Productivity is bound to go up.

I was relieved to learn at the most recent meeting of my freelance writing group that I’m not the only one who struggles with time management.

Yesterday, I decided to try something new. Not only did I slot “writing time” into the calendar on my phone, but before I left the computer at the end of my two-hour morning session, I slotted a second session for the afternoon.

It’s like going to the dentist. I book my next check-up before I leave. That way, I don’t lose momentum, and I don’t leave it too long.

I had a very productive day, and I’m back at the computer this morning. Could it be that simple?

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Writer’s Procrastination

A Facebook friend of mine posted a comment yesterday about writer’s procrastination. It’s extremely common, if Google is any indicator.

The first article that pops up in a search is called “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators.” Ouch.

I don’t think I’ve ever put off writing because I was afraid the end result wouldn’t be good enough, as the article suggests, but I can think of a few other reasons.

1. My deadline wasn’t imminent, and other tasks were more time-sensitive.

2. I wanted the material to be fresh, especially for speeches and blog posts.

3. Something else captured my attention, or needed to be done first, and I was distracted for longer than anticipated.

4. I hadn’t yet figured out where to begin.

Years ago, my editor asked me about an article I was working on. I hadn’t started writing it, but it was percolating in my head. Is that procrastination? Maybe. But I think it can also be part of the process.

How to counter procrastination? A few things that have worked for me:

1. Just start. I may end up changing what I’ve written, but at least there’s something to work with.

2. Work in small chunks. 100 words, then another 100 words. And another. Usually that builds enough momentum for me to keep going.

3. Alternating tasks. Switching focus may not work for everyone, but if I put in a certain number of minutes or write “x” number of words, then switch to a different task (even a different writing task), I find I get more done. At some point, momentum builds, and I don’t need – or want – to leave what I’m working on.

4. Um, chocolate? Or whatever else works as a “reward.” To be used as needed. In moderation.

Further suggestions are welcome. 🙂