3 surprisingly effective ways to beat procrastination when self-employed
By Micah Yongo
Dec 20, 2022
You probably know the feeling. A complicated task on your to-do list. A problem you don’t quite know how to solve. That mounting pile of emails. And then in comes the antsy creep of dread and inactivity otherwise known as procrastination.
Although procrastination is experienced by everyone, organisations like IPSE have been at the forefront of research to show how the self-employed may be especially prone to the stresses that can lead to dealing with procrastination on a regular basis. This is due to the more pronounced challenges around mental wellbeing sometimes experienced by those who work for themselves.
Using brute willpower to manage this challenge is often the go-to for many solopreneurs. But this mental knuckle-down approach is rarely sustainable. Although it can help to meet aims in the short-term, over time it leads to mental fatigue and, ultimately, burnout.
This makes developing sound practices for managing time and wellness vital when it comes to keeping procrastination at bay to maximise your productivity as a self-employed professional.
“One of the best escapes from the prison of procrastination is to take even the smallest step toward your goal.”
What is procrastination and why does it happen?
First of all, procrastination is rarely to do with laziness. This is especially true for those who are solopreneurs. The multiple skills and grit required to build a solid self-employed business — establishing a customer base, liaising with collaborators, marketing, accounts etc. — requires a level of drive that can’t be attributed to an unwillingness to work hard.
Procrastination is a coping mechanism, and often the result of struggling to deal with complex emotional triggers. Stressful or challenging tasks trigger feelings of overwhelm. The temptation to do something distracting or fun is the brain’s way of trying to avoid the discomfort. This creates a cycle that can lead to tasks being left undone, and a mounting sense of pressure that only compounds the feelings of overwhelm, thereby triggering the same cycle.
IPSE, the UK’s largest not-for-profit membership for the self employed, have highlighted studies that suggest how entrepreneurs and freelancers can be especially susceptible to perfectionism and imposter syndrome. Alongside the pressures that can be experienced as part of running your own business, there’s no wonder that procrastination can become a difficult habit to break.
The stress of wanting to impress a new client, dealing with late payments, or perhaps even the boredom of handling everyday administrative tasks inherent to being self-employed — tax returns, bookkeeping, emails etc. — can result in procrastination. Add to this the pressure from unreasonable project briefs, or last minute customer needs, and procrastination can become an increasingly difficult challenge to overcome.
Procrastination is a coping mechanism, and often the result of struggling to deal with complex emotional triggers.
Finding a way to break this cycle often comes down to understanding the type of procrastination you’re experiencing. This makes developing informed strategies for how to identify and address procrastination essential to success as a self-employed business owner.
So, here are 3 top tips to help stave off procrastination, keep stress low, and ensure tasks get done, on time.
Overcome procrastination with time blocking
Making time for work and personal wellbeing is a challenge many entrepreneurs face. A study by AXA Direct revealed the underlying emotional price many solopreneurs pay. Loneliness, diminished confidence, and imposter syndrome are just some of the challenges often faced by those who venture into self-employment.
Having a plan for how to structure your day can be an essential skill for helping to overcome procrastination when working for yourself. This is where time blocking comes in.
Time blocking is a practice in which a given task is assigned to a specific time slot in the day. This method requires you to divide your day into blocks, with each block committed to accomplishing a specific goal — complete a pitch deck, work on a budget for a brief, design a digital marketing strategy etc.
The trick is to ensure that for each given block of time you have a single focus — no calls, no emails, no distractions, just the task. Scheduling your work (and rest) this way allows you to take back control of your time by building a planned structure and ‘time budget’ around each day’s aims.
This practice is great if you need to
Focus on a meaty task amid a busy workday
Carve out more time and headspace for planning or forecasting
Juggle multiple responsibilities and projects
Stop losing time to the reactive tug of your inbox
What makes time blocking so effective is that rather than bouncing between varying tasks as they arise through the workday, you protect the time in your schedule, so that you can focus on one task at a time without interruption.
This has the double effect of protecting your attention from the bombardment of distraction that can lead to stress, whilst also allowing your brain to focus more easily, so that you can get more work done.
“If you procrastinate when faced with a big difficult problem… break the problem into parts, and handle one part at a time."
You’ll be surprised by how much time and mental space you’ll free up after just a few weeks of using this method.
The best way to get started with this practice is by setting aside time to review and prioritise your tasks at the start of your week. This allows you to more easily allocate your to-dos across each day. Keep your tasks specific, and aim to assign them to blocks of an hour or two. Anything longer means you haven’t broken your goal down enough.
Try FLOWN to break down large tasks into manageable chunks
Our facilitated goal-setting at the beginning of deep dives will help you break down intimidating tasks into actionable tasks you can focus on in our two-hour deep dive.
Silence procrastination with time away from your work
Putting aside time to rest can often be a challenge when you’re self-employed. Many freelancers and business owners are prone to feeling there’s always something more they ought to be working on. But this continual desire to eek out more work is a habit that can lead to harmful levels of stress.
A record number of professionals are reporting symptoms of burnout, yet an international study by the Centre for Creative Leadership showed that professionals, executives, and business owners across 37 countries (including the UK and US) now work an average of 72-hours a week.
This makes developing a robust structure for taking time away from your work a critical part of safeguarding against burnout. As importantly, getting enough mental rest and renewal is also proven to enhance your ability to concentrate and get more work done.
One of the most effective ways to do this is through scheduling time in the workday to go for a walk. This simple habit of walking is shown to double creativity and improve wellbeing. It’s no wonder renowned thinkers like Albert Einstein, Marie Curie and Nikola Tesla were all famous for their mid-workday walking habits.
Taking at least one walk during the workday is a powerful way to keep your stress low, and your mind primed to do quality work.
🗨️ Try a Flock for free to trick your brain out of procrastinating
FLOWN runs 5 deep work sessions every weekday called 'Flocks', as well as 2 shorter sessions to help you plan your day. Flocks are digital coworking spaces, designed to free you from procrastination, so that you can get more done, more easily.
How Flocks work
Beat procrastination with digital body doubling
This is nothing to do with mannequins, stunt men, holograms or magic tricks. Although some would say the effects will feel magical.
Body doubling is a term that’s been made popular by professionals with ADHD. It describes the practice of performing a task with someone else present — a method of accountability that’s proven to be an incredibly effective way to stave off procrastination and concentrate on tasks.
The practice is based on a psychological phenomenon known as the Hawthorne Effect, whereby the feeling of being observed motivates the brain to find focus more easily. Of course, most people aren’t able to solicit the time of friends or collaborators to be physically present with them as they work. This is why for many remote and hybrid workers digital body doubling has become an integral part of the workday.
By joining a virtual coworking room via a video call, solopreneurs and other remote working professionals are able to benefit from the feeling of working alongside a silent community of likeminded others.
This practice is proving to be a powerful means of slipping quickly into a focused state, so they can work on meaty tasks with ease.
Although it may sound strange to some, the practice taps into a number of psychological triggers to boost focus and productivity, and is a rapidly growing trend.
Find the procrastination fix that works for you
Each person’s experience of procrastination differs, and can vary among self-employed professionals based on their industry or temperament. So discovering your specific procrastination style to develop strategies that will work for you is vital. For some, overcoming procrastination could begin with something as simple as creating a conducive workspace. For others, the underlying reasons will be more complex.
But whatever your style of procrastinating might be, its important to remember there will be a solution.