Procrastination, Self Esteem and Freelance Writing

Procrastinating was my biggest problem as an attorney. I never met a deadline I couldn’t miss; even the strictest litigation deadlines were no match for my dedication to putting things off. I lived in a constant state of worry, and although I managed to avoid getting into trouble, I always expected to be called out. I hated myself for it, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t bring myself to get the work done.

 

Over time, I realized that my problem wasn’t so much procrastination as it was self-esteem. I never felt confident as a lawyer. I spent my final year of law school studying overseas, and as a result, I missed a lot of opportunities to intern and take clinical courses. While law school is in many ways unrelated to the practice of law, I did inadvertently miss some good opportunities to gain experience and confidence.

 

After law school, I went straight to the “firm” I had worked at since college. There, I had no opportunity to find a mentor, or to advance. I worked for a stereotypical attorney who expected the largest amount of money for the least amount of work. Of course, everyone wants that to some degree. But as I became more capable with the law, he started taking on clients with cases I didn’t know how to handle. I was expected to do the work on my own, with few resources available. He never took the time to teach me what he knew, and he made it clear I wasn’t to ask for outside help.

 

I muddled through as best I could. But in most areas of law, there is no guidebook, telling a clueless attorney exactly what to do and when to do it. When guidebooks were available, they were priced out of my reach and my employer’s willingness to pay. I researched and observed as much as possible, and I called friends and acquaintances for help far more than I felt comfortable.

 

With several exceptions, I never got used to flying blind. I’d panic before returning phone calls, knowing that I was about to reveal my lack of knowledge. Simple pleadings took hours as I desperately searched for forms. Court was a nightmare of startled comments from judges and mediators wondering how such a clueless lawyer ended up in front of them. I know a lot of it became exaggerated in my mind, because my clients and boss always gave me good feedback, but I was definitely not known for competence.

 

I am not so scared as a writer. There are technical aspects to all writing, and some forms of writing are beyond my skill level simply because I have no experience with them. But I am comfortable with the craft of writing, and with time, I know I can learn any style to at least a basic level. Right now there is plenty of work that suits my level of skill and interest. I may need to research a topic, but once I have the necessary information, I know exactly how to proceed.

 

I suppose I have some fears of rejection, but when it comes to writing, I am confident in my abilities. I fear edits because they are annoying, sometimes pointless, and sometimes embarrassing. But I don’t fear someone saying something negative, because I do know I can write. There may be an occasional spelling or grammatical error, especially in my own blog posts and comments, but I don’t doubt my skills. I have proven, over a lifetime of education, exams and accolades, that I know how to write well. With practice, study and training, I will become even better.

 

But, recently I noticed myself trying to procrastinate. And in analyzing it more, I see that once again, confidence is the culprit. Those old fears are coming back because I’m working again, and my mind somehow expects work to be miserable and scary. I’m not sure what I’m afraid of, but there’s a voice telling me that I don’t know what I’m doing. A voice tells me nobody will like my work, and I might as well not start, because I won’t know what to do.

 

Fortunately, I have enough experience and self-awareness to quiet that voice. I know I can write, and I know most of my clients will be happy with what I produce. If I start to panic, I only have to remind myself that my client is not expecting a dissertation or technical manual. My clients want work in the voice of me, the person they hired.

Once I remind myself of my capabilities, I find all inclination to procrastinate goes out the window. I have turned some assignments in on the due date simply because they took a long time, or the deadline was tight to begin with. But if I have free time, I find myself using it to get my work done. If I turn an article in a week early, the satisfaction of that is rewarding enough that I am motivated to keep working.

 

To me, there is no better feeling than being able to work with a deadline. No longer do I have that dread and shame hanging over my head. Instead, I’m in a career that suits my skills, and I believe in my abilities. I can quiet that voice of doubt because I do know what to do. Just sit down and write, that’s all there is to it.

Nobody is immune from procrastination, of course. This afternoon, I planned to finish editing a piece. But, it looked nice outside so I first went for a walk and then took a shower. Then, I sat down, finished my editing, and submitted the work. Ahead of deadline, again. It feels good.

What do you do to beat procrastination? And, what horrifying mistakes have I made in this post? Please let me know in the comments below.

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Procrastination, Self Esteem and Freelance Writing

Freelance writing and the importance of time management

This past week was a disaster. There was enough success to keep me motivated, but I also had a lot of struggles. Fortunately, most of the issues were problems of my making, and everything ended up okay. If nothing else, I’ve learned that time management is key. Even the best plans can fall apart when something unexpected happens. And in my case, the unexpected seems to happen quite frequently.

I started writing when I couldn’t wait any longer to go back to work. I had been unemployed for about 30 months, and towards the end of that period, I felt desperate. I hated sitting around doing nothing, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to go to an office at the same time every day. I looked for various office jobs, but every time I decided to submit an application, something happened to remind me that I wasn’t ready.

Freelance writing is the perfect solution for my situation. I love what I do, and I can work the hours that fit my schedule rather than having to work when someone else expects it. If I need an hour or two to nap or to fight off nausea or pain, there’s nobody to stop me. If I want to start writing late in the afternoon and write through the night, I don’t have to check with anyone.

This week, though, I had an enormous workload. I knew how important time management was going to be, so I carefully planned my schedule. My biggest project was due on Friday; I figured I would be ok, and even get a day off on the weekend, if I worked on it for about 6 hours a day, every day. The smaller projects were all due the following Monday, and I left myself enough time to work on them, too, as long as I got the big project done on time

Unfortunately, I didn’t count on life getting in the way. First, my husband wouldn’t leave me alone. He has trouble coping when we are apart, even if we are just in different rooms, and for two days at the beginning of the week, he interrupted me three or four times an hour. Unsurprisingly, that led to a lot of aggravation and a couple of fights, and I ended up a day behind schedule.

Even then, I expected to get my large project done on time. I believed I could push through the last couple of days to catch up. But, then my health gave out me. Thursday, I was exhausted and needed to go back to sleep for three hours in the early afternoon, and the rest of the day went by in a barely-productive fog. Friday, I was gripped with nausea, and the thought of sitting in front of the computer for 12 hours was almost unbearable, although I did manage to do it.

On Thursday morning, my largest client told me it would be ok if I needed to work into the weekend. Even at the beginning of the day, I believed I would finish before the original deadline, but by Thursday afternoon, I knew I was going to need the extra time. I let him know, and of course, he was all right with it, but I was embarrassed and felt I looked unprofessional.

I pushed through all the nausea and lingering exhaustion, and finally finished the big project on Saturday evening, about 24 hours after I originally planned to submit it. My client was happy, and I’ll be entering the next phase of that work soon.

Originally, my plan was to take Saturday off to relax, and to get all my smaller projects done on Sunday. After the delay, I decided instead to rest on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning before getting back to work around noon. But, things changed once again on Sunday when I got out of bed feeling unwell. I spent the morning throwing up and then collapsed in bed until 5:00 P.M.

By Sunday evening, I was feeling better, and I got back to work. I had managed to research during the week and had all the material I needed for the projects due on Monday. By midnight, I had written, edited and submitted everything that was due.

Early last week, I knew my deadlines would be difficult to manage. So, I put all the due dates in my calendar and set up reminders so I would be sure not to overlook anything. However, I pushed all the due dates ahead by five days, so what was due on Friday showed as due on Monday. Then, in the midst of everything else going on, I completely forgot what I had done.

So, when I was submitting my projects on Sunday night, I glanced at the due date, and, of course, realized I had tricked myself. That tactic has never worked for me in the past, but for some reason, it worked nicely this time. Instead of getting things submitted just a few hours before the deadline, I got everything in at least five days early. I am slightly ashamed to admit I forgot, but pleased that I accidentally made myself look responsible.

This week, I am going to relax a bit. I don’t know if stress caused the increase in nausea and vomiting, but I do know I’m not 100% ready to work just yet. I still have a few short articles to finish up, and my big project will soon enter a second, easier phase. Instead of bidding on new gigs, I’m going to focus on the work I already have and give myself time to relax. It’s better to do that than to burn out when I’ve just barely begun.

Some of my hours this week will be spent looking for a few good time management programs. Right now, I’m using Wunderlist and Outlook. The combination works well enough, but I want something more robust. And I know I need to put more effort into planning out each day, so I don’t find out at the last minute that I can’t meet a deadline. While I always knew time management was critical, this past week illustrated it for me in a way I’ve never experienced before.

How do you manage your time as a freelance writer? What do you do when the unexpected happens in the middle of your busiest weeks or months?

Freelance writing and the importance of time management