10 effective tips for freelancers to avoid procrastination and stay focused social

10 Effective Tips for Freelancers to Avoid Procrastination and Stay Focused

As a freelancer, one of the most rewarding aspects of your job is the freedom to work when you prefer. It can, however, also be a double-edged sword. The absence of a traditional work environment and lack of supervision may sometimes make it easier to fall into the procrastination trap. This is precisely why we need tactics to avoid procrastination. What starts as a ‘quick break’ often evolves into a massive obstacle to your productivity. Now, how about we explore some techniques that can help you avoid procrastination and stay laser-focused on your tasks? 

Remember, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Mark Twain

As an example, let me share a personal anecdote. One day, a couple of years ago, I found myself struggling to start a writing project. Before I knew it, I’d wasted the entire day binge-watching a show on Netflix. And then I watched the whole Season 1! An incident like this sparked my interest in understanding why we procrastinate and how we can overcome it. Today, I’ll be sharing that knowledge with you!

Understanding the Procrastination Trap

Procrastination isn’t merely a lack of willpower or time management skills; it’s a complex psychological trap. Understanding this trap is the first crucial step, so let’s unlock its mysteries. 

Avoiding procrastination doesn't have to be hard.
Avoiding procrastination doesn’t have to be hard.

Why do we procrastinate?

Usually, it’s because of the discomfort associated with a particular task. The task might seem too difficult, boring, or meaningless. So, how do we cope with this uncomfortable feeling? We delay the task and look for momentary relief, such as checking social media, watching a TV show, or simply doing less demanding work. Yet, the problem with this strategy is that the discomfort doesn’t go away – it just keeps growing. 

Freelancers spend an average of 2 hours per day on non-work related activities.


Here’s a relatable example: Imagine it’s Monday morning, and you’ve an important, yet challenging article to write. However, because the task seems daunting, you decide to postpone it and answer a few emails instead. Every time you think of the article, you feel a nagging sense of anxiety and guilt. Eventually, the anxiety becomes overwhelming, and you finally muster the courage to begin writing, but now you’re stressed and burnt out, and the quality of your work suffers. This is the procrastination trap

Now that we understand this trap, let’s look at some techniques to outsmart it, starting with setting clear and realistic goals.

The Power of Setting Clear Goals

Being a freelancer, I’ve discovered over the years that clear goals act as the cornerstone of productivity. They’re the compass that directs your everyday actions and decisions. It’s easy to tell yourself you’ll write that article or create that graphic “later,” only to put it off indefinitely. However, when you have a clear goal in mind, it’s a different game entirely. 

Setting clear goals helps you prioritize your tasks, giving you a clear idea of what needs to be achieved and by when. It isn’t just about what you want to do; it’s about when and how you plan to do it. Call it a roadmap to success if you will. 

But, setting goals is just half the battle won. The other half involves setting “S.M.A.R.T.” goals. In my experience, S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. Think incremental but substantial, size does matter but so does the direction of growth. 

A goal without a timeline is just a dream.

This quote is especially true when you’re steering your ship in the sea of freelancing. Deadlines aren’t just for corporate jobs. Smart freelancers know the importance of setting deadlines for themselves. After all, your time is your greatest asset. 

  • Specific: Your goal should be clear and explicit. There should be no room for guesswork.
  • Measurable: Have concrete criteria to measure progress towards the accomplishment of the goal.
  • Attainable: Your goal should be realistic and achievable, not a lost dream.
  • Relevant: It should align with your broader business and career goals.
  • Time-bound: There should certainly be a timeline attached to your goal.

For instance, instead of saying, “I’ll finish the project soon,” get more specific: “I’ll finish the logo design by Tuesday evening.”

That small change can make a massive difference. In essence, setting clear goals can become your antidote to procrastination. 

Dealing with Procrastination Triggers

Procrastination triggers are environmental or psychological cues that urge you to delay the task at hand. Identifying and managing these triggers can be crucial in maintaining focus on your goals. 

Firstly, it’s vital to take notice of these triggers. For example, do you see yourself losing focus when you’re tired, stressed, or in a noisy environment? Do you put off tasks that seem too large or complicated? Or is it long periods of isolation that make it hard for you to concentrate? 

Once you’re aware of these triggers, there are several strategies you can adopt to help deal with them effectively: 

  • Break tasks down into smaller chunks: When a task seems too daunting, chop it into manageable sections. Each small victory will keep you motivated to continue.
  • Create a suitable work environment: If you know you work better in quiet spaces, make an effort to find such a spot. If, however, you find complete silence distressing, try some ambient sounds or music in the background.
  • Rest and self-care: Make sure you’re well-rested and practicing regular self-care. This helps significantly in managing stress, a primary trigger for many people.
  • Use the right tools: Numerous productivity tools, like time-trackers or to-do list apps, can help manage tasks efficiently, reduce procrastination triggers, and keep you focused.

Sometimes, the cause of your procrastination might be deeply ingrained habits or thought patterns, which could be harder to identify, let alone change. In these instances, professional assistance such as a coach or therapist might be beneficial. As a freelancer who’s been through this, I’ve found coaching to be tremendously helpful for breaking free from my procrastination habits. 

When you identify your triggers and implement diverse tactics to counteract them, you can drastically enhance your efficiency. Keep in mind, that every small stride you make is a triumph in its own right!

Overcoming Perfectionism and Embracing Imperfection

Let’s talk about perfectionism. If you’re anything like me, you’ve also faced moments where you’ve spent hours tweaking a single design or rewriting an article, seeking that elusive ‘just right’.’ 

There is a nagging, unrelenting voice inside the head of a perfectionist who keeps pushing for the best, sometimes at the cost of productivity. The fear of making mistakes or delivering subpar work can kick in, causing us to procrastinate to avoid potential criticism or failure. But here comes the reality check – no one is perfect and perfect work doesn’t exist. 

Embracing imperfection is the key.

You must learn to accept the fact that no matter how much you try, there’s always room for improvement and that’s completely okay. Remember this – ‘Done is better than perfect’. 

  • Set realistic expectations. It’s great to push for high-quality work but also know your limits. Don’t strive for a masterpiece every time.
  • Accept mistakes as part of the process. Mistakes are inevitable and sometimes, they’re the best way to learn. Know that it’s not the end of the world and you can always improve in your next tasks.
  • Become happy with ‘good enough’. When you’ve satisfactorily completed the task according to the deadline and quality expected, it’s time to stop.

Try the “Swiss cheese” approach. Break your work into small tasks and do them imperfectly. This helps you make progress and takes off the pressure to do everything perfectly.

So, it’s time to silence that critical inner voice that’s pushing you towards unrealistic standards, causing you to procrastinate. Instead, replace it with a more encouraging, forgiving one that’s more centered around growth and development rather than an impossible standard of perfection.

Avoiding Analysis Paralysis

Let’s dive into another common snare for freelancers: analysis paralysis. This is the state of overthinking a situation to the point where no action is taken, ultimately paralyzing the outcome. You’ve probably banged your head against this frustrating wall at some point, especially when working on complex projects with multiple variables. But fear not, I’ve been there too and I have some tips that have helped me tremendously. 

Firstly, you need to limit the amount of information you take in. This might seem counter-intuitive because, as freelancers, information is our bread and butter. But when you’re feeling stuck, try to focus on the essential details and sideline the rest for later. Remember, you don’t have to solve all the world’s problems in one day! 

Next, break down the task into manageable parts. Overwhelm often comes from looking at the task as a big, unmanageable mountain. Engage in a little bit of project management and break your task down into smaller, more manageable parts. It’s not as stressful as you may think — in fact, it can even be fun. 

“Divide and rule” applies not just in politics, but in task management as well.

A practical method I discovered is the Pomodoro Technique. This time management method involves breaking your work into 25-minute intervals (for some tasks I take 55-minute intervals), known as ‘Pomodoros,’ separated by short breaks. It’s remarkably impactful in retaining focus and making an immense task appear far less intimidating. 

To round things off, just start. Pick a starting point – any point – and just get going. Sometimes, the simple act of starting can get the ball rolling and before you know it, you’re making progress. Trust me, this has saved me from many late-night deadline hustles. 

Remember, overcoming analysis paralysis is about taking action. Avoiding it means understanding when you’re stuck, breaking down the task, and pushing forward.

Building a Routine that Works for You

Finding the right routine tailored to your own needs can often be the pillar that supports you in the fight against procrastination. Many freelancers find the freedom of dictating their schedules both liberating and intimidating. Simply put, creating a routine that is conducive to your working style is about planning your day in a manner that promotes optimal performance. Let me share with you some ways I have found quite effective. 

Start by identifying your zone of peak productivity, or as it’s often named, your biological prime time. Some people are morning birds and hit their peak productivity early in the day, while others are night owls and find themselves most effective when others are winding down. Understand your energy flow throughout the day and schedule your most demanding tasks accordingly. 

  • Early risers: Schedule your complex tasks for the morning when your brain is fresh and alert. Save administrative or routine tasks for the afternoon slump.
  • Night owls: If mornings are your downtime, use them to take care of emails, planning, and other lower-energy tasks. Schedule your most demanding tasks for when you naturally feel most productive.

Try setting dedicated “power hours”. This concept has been a game-changer in my routine. It’s about defining certain times during the day when you’re going to be solely focused on work. For example, you might mark down a couple of 2-hour blocks each day as your ‘power hours’. During these hours, commit to working with minimal distractions. 

Procrastination is the leading cause of missed deadlines for freelancers.


The freedom freelancers have can often lead to blurred boundaries between work and personal life. Therefore, it’s important to respect your routine once established. Think of your schedule not as something restrictive, but as a tool to guide you through your day. Treat scheduled work hours just as seriously as you would if you were working in an office. 

Sure, developing and adhering to a routine requires some discipline, but remember that by doing this, you’re setting yourself up for success and avoiding the procrastination trap. Give it a shot, make necessary alterations, and witness your efficiency take flight. Like me, you might just discover you can take control and get things done without a boss looking over your shoulder!

The Importance of Prioritizing

A principle cornerstone of remaining focused and timely as a freelancer is mastering the art of prioritizing. I remember a time when I was juggling several projects at once, keeping my mind in a constant state of multi-tasking mayhem. At that point, I learned a significant lesson about the importance of prioritizing tasks, a technique that I apply to this very day. 

Prioritizing tasks does not just mean listing them according to their importance; it’s more about analyzing each task’s value concerning both your short-term and long-term goals. Which tasks are important but not urgent? Which ones are both? A simple matrix categorizing tasks into these four categories can monumentally help: 

eisenhower matrix
Urgent/Not Urgent – Important/Not Important

Tasks grouped in the ‘Urgent and Important’ quadrant should be your first focus, while those that are ‘Not Urgent But Important’ can be scheduled for later. Conversely, tasks in the ‘Urgent But Not Important’ box should be delegated if possible, and those that are ‘Neither Urgent Nor Important’ can be eliminated, or placed at the very bottom of your to-do list

This technique was a revelation to me. It practically transformed the way I handled my work, freeing up valuable time and mental space. As freelancers, our work environments can often be fluid and non-structured. In such situations, assigning priority levels and schedules to tasks gives us control over our workday, making projects manageable and less overwhelming. 

Remember, prioritizing tasks effectively means recognizing and upholding your professional limits, while wisely managing your most valuable resource: time.

Breaking Down Tasks into Manageable Chunks

As a freelancer, you’ve probably encountered a massive project that felt overwhelming, tempting you to delay starting for a more convenient time.’ This is a familiar form of procrastination that can be combated by breaking down the task into manageable chunks. 

The idea here is to make the task less daunting by dividing it into smaller, easier-to-handle parts, each with its mini-achievement. This not only makes the job appear less overwhelming, but it can also make tracking your progress easier. Sound familiar? Let me share a personal anecdote with you. 

A few years back, I landed a massive content writing project. I had to create a series of blog posts, each revolving around different topics. At first, the project seemed Herculean, and my initial instinct was to procrastinate. However, I decided to approach this differently and divided the entire job into smaller tasks – researching for each blog post, outlining the content for each, writing the drafts, and then finalizing each blog post after revisions. This way, the huge project turned into a series of smaller, achievable tasks. Hey, and this can be the opportunity to create workflow or SOP (Standard Operating Procedures) to speed up your next gig.

With each completed subtask, my motivation surged, and before I knew it, the whole project was done! Essentially, this strategy was a tangible reminder that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’, and neither would my project be. And you know what? It worked. 

So, how do you break down your tasks into manageable chunks? Here are some tips to get you started: 

  1. Understand the project: Knowing the project in detail will help you get a grasp of the steps needed to complete it. Thorough understanding enables you to easily divide the work into smaller tasks.
  2. Use a to-do list: After breaking the project down into tasks, list them down. This way, you have a clear visual representation of what needs to be done and can tick off tasks as you complete them, providing a sense of progress and accomplishment.
  3. Set mini-deadlines: With big projects, it can be beneficial to establish a schedule with deadlines for each sub-task. This can help you stay on track and avoid the pitfalls of procrastination.

Remember, intimidating tasks aren’t so scary when you chop them down to size. Give it a try, and you might find yourself not only overcoming procrastination but also enjoying your work more!

Setting Realistic Deadlines and Sticking to Them

Setting achievable deadlines is a crucial part of managing your work as a freelancer. It’s not about the “get-it-done-quick” mindset but more about striking a balance between your speed and the quality of your work. Remember, a realistic deadline allows sufficient time to thoroughly complete tasks, without running yourself ragged. 

So how do we set these practical deadlines? For starters, it’s essential to understand the scale and intricacies of each task. Break down the project into smaller tasks and estimate how long it might take to complete each one. This method has saved me from numerous all-nighters and helped me deliver quality work on time. 

Next, bear in mind that as a freelancer, you’re also human. Life happens. There might be days when you have to attend to personal emergencies or deal with unexpected hurdles. So, always factor in some extra time when setting your deadlines. This way, even when life throws you a curveball, you can still keep up with your work without compromising on personal necessities or self-care. 

  • If the task appears too daunting, break it down into manageable units and tackle each one at a time.
  • Factor in some “buffer time”. It means you anticipate and allocate time for unexpected events that may disrupt your schedule.

Personal anecdote: There were times early in my freelance career when I’d agree to unreasonable deadlines, pressured by the client or my eagerness to take on more work. I quickly learned that this not only led to an out-of-whack work-life balance but also affected the quality of my work.

Finally, once you’ve settled on a deadline, the trick is sticking to it. Procrastination can be a big challenge here, but remember, delaying tasks often leads to more stress and subpar work. The best way to stick to your deadlines is to cultivate discipline and maintain a consistent work routine – elements we’ll delve deeper into in the sections below.

Celebrating Small Wins to Boost Motivation

When it comes to staying focused as a freelancer, it’s essential to acknowledge and celebrate your small wins. These smaller milestones can often get overlooked on the road to achieving larger goals, but every achieved task, no matter its size, deserves recognition. They uplift your morale, maintain motivation, and remind you that you’re making progress, even if it’s slow. 

But how exactly can you practice celebrating these smaller wins? Let’s dive into some practical tips: 

  • Define your small wins: First and foremost, you need to identify what a small win looks like for you. It could be anything; completing an assignment, earning positive client feedback, or even just spending a whole day without distractions. Setting these victories will pave the way for consistent motivation.
  • Take a moment to rejoice: Once you’ve achieved a small win, don’t rush to move on to the next task. Take a little time to appreciate your achievement. It could be as simple as taking a deep breath and acknowledging your accomplishment or treating yourself to a well-deserved break.
  • Sharing is caring: If you’re comfortable, share your victory with others. By telling a friend or a family member about your successes, you invite positive reinforcement that can further encourage your efforts.

Note: The act of celebrating should never become another way to procrastinate. It’s about recognizing your hard work and dedication, not taking extended breaks that delay your progress. 

In conclusion, small wins are truly powerful for keeping us motivated and focused. By practicing these techniques, you can create a positive work environment for yourself where each accomplishment, no matter how small, is recognized and celebrated.

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