Freelancers, Here’s 7 Steps to Help You Stop Procrastinating and Actually Get Some Sh*t Done

Time is money, especially for freelancers. Tick tock.

Featured image for the "Freelancers, Here's 7 Steps to Help You Stop Procrastinating and Actually Get Some Sh*t Done" post. It features feet sticking out from under some bed covers.

Okay ‘fess up, how many of your days have gone like this (click to enlarge):

Pearls Before Swine comic strip published on 27 July 2014. It features Rat procrastinating as he tries to write 10 pages of his book.

Where instead of working on your clients’ freelance projects, you tell yourself “yes, I will start soon but just after I check/watch this one last thing”.

You then get sucked into what I like to call the Internet rabbit hole:

  • Netflix!
  • Cat videos!
  • Emails!
  • Facebook!
  • So long, so forth, etc.

Before you know it, a big chunk of your day is gone and you have only a couple of hours to get some work done.

This situation repeats itself over many days and weeks.

Sure, you still meet your deadlines. But only after pulling consecutive all-nighters and with copious amounts of caffeine. Which, you know, isn’t doing your health any good.

And you also find that you can’t take on that much work (and therefore you’re earning less money) because you’re spending so much time on dumb things which don’t matter in the end.

Well, it’s time to stop.

I’ve put together 7 simple steps you can follow to cut down on your procrastination and actually get some sh*t done.

You may already know these, but the trick is to remind yourself of them and make sure to actually follow them. Which is why I’ve also made these steps into a fancy checklist you can download here.

Feel free to use it as your phone wallpaper/put it up next to your desk to keep you on track the next time you’re itching to get onto YouTube.

(By the way, these steps are geared towards freelancers whose work mostly involves being in front of a laptop. If you need advice on not slacking off on a shoot, this post won’t be very helpful for you.)

1. Wake up early.

The more hours you are awake for, the more you will be able to get done. This is a no-brainer.

Rather, the more interesting question might be: how early should you be getting up?

Many Medium articles sing the praises of starting work at 5 am every day (or even 4 am, gasp), or that really successful people wake up super early, etc.

Personally though, I don’t think you need to get up THAT early.

You just need to wake up early enough to start work at 9am at the minimum.

Because here’s the logic: follow the working hours of the average office worker.

Start work at 9 am, then put in a solid 7 hours of work (with an hour for lunch) and knock off at 5 pm.

Because if you only get out of bed at 12 pm, you might be able to properly start work at only 2 pm. That’s half the day gone.

So here’s your first order of business: set your alarm clock for 7.30 am or whatever time you want to get up in order to start work at 9 am.

And when your alarm rings: Do. Not. Snooze.

GET UP!!!!

2. Get out of your house.

When it’s time to work, you should be working. Instead of making multiple trips to the fridge for food, or switching on the TV, or crawling back to bed.*

(*Pro tip: unless you’re a freelance mattress tester, don’t ever, ever work on your bed.)

Unfortunately, there are usually too many distractions at home. You’ll need to remove yourself from all these temptations by getting out of your house.

Try working from the library, a nearby community centre, or your favourite café.

You can also consider shelling out some money for a co-working space.

Even though you’ll need to spend some time travelling to and from your new workplace, you may find that the amount of time you spend travelling is less than the amount of time you might waste if you were to stay at home. This is especially if you manage to find a place near your home!

3. Block yourself from the Internet.

Apart from ensuring that you have a conducive physical space to work in, you should make sure that you aren’t distracted by the virtual world.

This means blocking yourself from notorious time suckers such as YouTube, Facebook and Netflix.

There are many apps available out there which you can use to:

  • Limit your access to sites of your choosing, or
  • Restrict the amount of time you can spend on certain sites every day.

Some apps even allow you to set a time when your access rules will automatically kick in so you don’t need to manually turn them on (and be tempted to not do so).

For example, check out:

  • Blocksite
  • Freedom (or its free sister Chrome extension, StayFocusd)
  • Even the parental controls of your antivirus software. (I know you’re not a kid anymore but just swallow your pride and set them up, man.)

If you need to access any banned site as part of your work (for example, you need to see how the client’s video will look like on YouTube), you can temporarily lift the bans.

But otherwise, your access controls should remain until the end of your work day.

You may have withdrawal symptoms from not being able to scroll Facebook videos whenever you feel like it, but you’ll congratulate yourself on your better self-discipline eventually.

4. Make a list of all the sh*t you want to get done.

Before you get started on any work for the day, make a to-do list so you know exactly what you’ll need to get done by the end of the day.

As for the order of completing the tasks, list the tasks in this order of priority:

  1. Urgent AND important
  2. Urgent but not important
  3. Important but NOT urgent
  4. Important and not urgent

This way, you’ll get the stuff that is more urgent and/or important out of the way first. Instead of not doing them until they crash and burn.

To level up your prioritisation skills, I would also recommend completing the tasks which require more brainpower first.

Because if you’re more alert at the start of the day, you should make use of your alertness to get the tasks which need more thinking out of the way first. Leave the more mindless tasks for later in the day as you start getting tired and unable to think as hard.

(If you’re a zombie in the morning whose brain needs a few hours to boot up fully, feel free to schedule the tasks which require more brainpower later in the day.)

Also, it’s important to not overload your to-do list with too many tasks. You want your to-do list to galvanise you into taking action, not demoralise you when it’s already 7 pm and you still have 5 million incomplete tasks on your to-do list.

Side note: If you’re looking for a to-do list app to keep track of your tasks, I recommend checking out Todoist. You can read my review of Todoist here.

5. Proceed to follow your to-do list.

There’s no point in making a to-do list if you don’t actually follow it.

So once you’ve made your to-do list, stick to it.

This means NO deviating from your tasks for a “quick” inbox check, or a “short” nap.

I mean, do you really need that extra scroll through your Facebook feed before you can start work?

Tell yourself NO NO NO NO NO.


6. Keep your breaks short.

Allow yourself to take a break from your tasks every now and then. However, this doesn’t mean you can work for 30 minutes and then take a 1-hour break. You can’t expect to be productive that way.

Try the Pomodoro technique, which involves working in blocks of 25 minutes and taking breaks of 3 to 5 minutes after each block (or a 15 to 30-minute break after every 4 blocks). You don’t need to buy a fancy tomato-shaped timer to do this. Just use the stopwatch app on your phone.

As for what to do on your break, you can get up to stretch, or reply to phone texts, or answer nature’s call.

You can also cheat a little and scroll your social media, but remember that your breaks are supposed to be short. I therefore wouldn’t recommend starting a new episode of The Flash.

7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you’re done.

I think this is self-explanatory. The important thing is to actually execute instead of just telling yourself that you will do it.

As a freelancer, you are your own boss. YOU’RE in charge of your own schedule. YOU only get paid if you get work done.

And it is YOUR responsibility to make sure you don’t slack off. Not anyone else’s.

I know, old habits die hard. But with the above 7 steps and a huge dose of self-discipline (i.e. no trying to get around the constraints you’ve placed upon yourself), you should be able to break free of your procrastinating ways and be more productive during the hours where you’re awake.

If you’d like to have a handy copy of these 7 steps to remind yourself to get your sh*t together whenever you feel like slacking off, you can download it here.

What are the tricks you use to stop yourself from procrastinating? Leave a comment!


Set it as your phone wallpaper, paste it up next to your desk, put it up anywhere that will remind you to stop procrastinating.

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Tan Siew Ann
I’m a freelance writer for some of the most amazing software businesses in the world. On this blog, I share tips on how you, too, can run a sustainable and meaningful freelance business. Let’s forge your freedom. 💪

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