Do you struggle with finding the energy to complete tasks? Do you tend to procrastinate and put things off until the last possible minute? Does it seem like you don’t have the time to get everything done?
I’ve been there too. I have to admit, I don’t have a lot of willpower.
From the outside, it looks like I’ve accomplished a lot. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree while working as an assistant manager of a clothing store and a writer on my college’s newspaper. I completed an MBA program in the evening while working full-time. I started a business while being a stay-at-home mom and providing 100% of my daughter’s childcare for the last three years.
How could I possibly have a lack of willpower? I get stuff done.
The truth is, I have a very hard time denying myself things. If I want something, whether it be a cookie or a new shirt, I don’t often tell myself no. I’m not great at budgeting and I watch too much TV. I don’t exercise as much as I should and my house is never as clean as I’d like it to be. My library books are frequently turned in late.
I have always struggled with procrastination. I was very disorganized in high school and undergrad. I wrote most of my papers the night before they were due and completed projects by the skin of my teeth.
When I started working for myself, I realized that my previous approach to life would not cut it. As a freelancer, your success depends solely on you. If you’re solopreneur like I am, there isn’t anyone there to keep your feet to the fire.
So, how do you deal with a lack of willpower?
Realize that you are not doomed
Many people struggle with willpower. We don’t always make the best choices or use our time wisely. There wouldn’t be so many jokes about bingeing TV series if so many of us didn’t do it. Almost anyone could find something more productive to do with 10 hours than watching a series, but many of us still indulge ourselves.
Willpower is not something that comes easy for most people. What looks like willpower from the outside is often someone’s meticulous routine. Their success has more to do with momentum than motivation.
For example, if you wake up at 6 am every day for two weeks, the 15th day your alarm goes off, you’re less likely to hit snooze than you were on day one. Once you get on a streak, it’s natural to want to keep it going. That’s how I ended up writing for 30 minutes each day for 60 days. By day 10, no willpower was necessary. I had momentum and I didn’t want to break my streak.
Set yourself up for success
Do your best to avoid decision fatigue. Every time you make a decision, whether it’s as small as what to wear in the morning or as big as what you should do with your life, you deplete your energy.
If you set yourself up to make too many small decision throughout the day, you won’t have the energy to make bigger decisions later.
If you have to choose what clothes to wear, what food to eat for breakfast, what book to read on your commute, which route to take to work, what podcast or radio station or band to listen to, and where to park, you might be drained before you sit down at your desk.
Minimizing the number of pointless decisions you have to make during the day can give your brain a break and save your energy for important work. Have oatmeal every day for breakfast for a week. Put on the same concentration music each day (I use Brain.fm). Try to remove as many of the unimportant decisions that you make from your day. Free up your brain for the work that really matters.
Use a productivity trick
Sometimes you need to trick yourself into getting started. Once you’ve been working for a while, momentum will take over. Try out one of these tricks that I use to get started when I’m feeling unmotivated.
This method suggests doing the biggest, ugliest task first thing (called eating that frog). After you complete your worst task of the day, everything else should feel easy.
Try counting down – 5,4,3,2,1 then go get it. Doing this helps your brain shift gears and awakens your pre-frontal cortex. Once you’re moving, you’ll find it easier to keep going.
The Pomodoro technique requires you to work for 25 minutes before you get a break. You can get a lot done in 25 minutes of focused time. During your break, you may find yourself looking forward to getting back to work.
- Set a timer for 15 minutes
If you’re having a day where the Pomodoro technique seems like too much time, then make it even easier and set a timer for 15 minutes. Spend the entire 15 minutes working on your task without any distractions. The move from inaction to action can be enough to keep you working for hours.
Willpower is an important trait to have as a freelancer, but don’t worry if it doesn’t come naturally to you. If you can make your routine dictate your day instead of your emotions, you’ll be successful. Remember – get up, get ready and get to work, whether you feel like it or not. Good things happen to those who put in the effort.
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