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A freelance career in the creative arts
A freelance career in the creative arts

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4.1 Tackling procrastination

Tim Pychyl (2013, pp. 14–15) explains that ‘Procrastination is the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may harm the individual in terms of the task performance or even just how the individual feels about the task or him- or herself. Procrastination is a needless voluntary delay’.

Bailey (2016, p.58) summarises Pychyl’s research into triggers of procrastination as follows. He explains that there are six main task attributes that make procrastination more likely, i.e. if the task is:

  • boring
  • frustrating
  • difficult
  • unstructured or ambiguous
  • lacking in personal meaning, and/or
  • lacking in intrinsic rewards (i.e. it’s not fun or engaging).

Bailey goes on to suggest four ways to combat procrastination (pp. 63–67):

  1. Flip the trigger – for example, if you know that something is going to be difficult, what can you do to make it easier? Perhaps you could try out some new techniques or materials, for example.
  2. Create a procrastination list of other high-return tasks to do when you are putting something else off. For example, writing important emails or organising your files. That way your procrastination will be productive. Give yourself a choice between the two tasks.
  3. List the costs of putting something off – to you, to the client and to your business.
  4. Just get started – Bailey recommends starting the task you are procrastinating about, even if you only do it for 15 minutes. You might feel like carrying on and you might realise that the task isn’t as daunting as you first thought.

Other authors recommend either starting with the hardest elements of the task to get them out of the way or starting with the easiest – to ease you into it gently. Which would you choose?

Activity 3 Practise flipping the trigger

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Adapted from The Flipping Challenge (Bailey, 2016, p. 68)

Think of something you’ve been putting off (or if there isn’t anything specific at the moment, something that you typically procrastinate about whenever it comes up) and try to identify which of the six task attribute triggers is influencing your decision. It could be more than one. List them in the box below.

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Now think about ways in which you could change your perspective on that task and list them below. For example, how could you make it less boring – perhaps by changing the environment in which you do it?

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This can be a really useful exercise in many ways. For example, if you find that your reason for putting off a lot of your work is that it lacks personal meaning, it might be time to rethink your business idea or direction.

Alternatively, success can also be overwhelming for a freelancer building their business. You’ll find out more about dealing with success in the next section.