Why You Keep Goofing Off Instead of Writing or Marketing

Carol Tice

Bored businessman

Do you find yourself unable to get focused on your writing?

It’s a pretty common problem among writers. Among all freelancers, really.

Let’s face it — distractions are everywhere for the home-based, self-employed person.

There’s laundry to do, neighbors who stop by, and of course online there are distractions our grandparents couldn’t have dreamt of.

We all get distracted sometimes, or just want to goof off — after all, that’s one of the perks of being a freelancer!

But what if you can’t ever seem to focus on writing?

That’s bad news.

When procrastination takes over

Take this question I recently got from a writer and new mom who wanted to know if I’d accept her into my one-on-one mentoring program:

“I have a real issue that I can see killing my career really quickly if I don’t do something about it now. So far, getting gigs has not been a problem at all. I seem to get them with relative ease. My issue is the follow through.

I’m a stay-at-home mom with a 13-month-old, so I have that working against me. The problem is, when I should be working, I end up frittering away my time on Facebook, Twitter, checking email, even lurking around on Freelance Writers Den. The rest of the time, I’ve got my daughter to attend to, and before I know it, the day is over and I’ve done nothing. I’ve tried holding myself accountable to my husband, my mom, an accountability partner from the Den, and motivating myself by dreaming up ways to spend the money. I’ve tried programs that bar you from certain sites, but I always find something else to waste time on. So I think the issue is much deeper.

What I really need is someone to put the fear of God in me, because I’m not able to do that myself. I think my problem is a combination of self-confidence, lack of motivation, and poor productivity. I’m just not sure how great a role each one of those plays or how to get to the root of my problem.

I’d like to discuss the possibilities of mentoring with you as I think you’ll be able to help me out of this rut and get me on my way.–Tiffany

I turned her down for mentoring…because this isn’t the sort of thing that a writing coach or business mentor can really help you with.

In my mentoring, I help writers create goals and a marketing plan for reaching those goals, based on their specific experience and interests…and then if you’re this sort of writer, you’re going to procrastinate and never execute on that plan.

So that’s no help.

How can this writer snap out of her funk and get writing? Here are the possible causes of massive procrastination that I raised with her:

Bone-crushing fear. You may do the less threatening things because you’re scared to turn in that assignment. If you’re circumventing Freedom or whatever social media-blocking site you use and still timewasting, there’s definitely an emotional reason. This is something you really need to talk to a therapist about. Hypnosis, positive affirmations, and other techniques might help you break this fear down.

Not enough drive. At the end of it, being a freelance writer is about you really wanting to DO this. People love to vent and blather all day about their big dream of quitting the boring day job and being their own boss…but in the end, we each make time in our lives for the things we really, truly want to do.

If you’re never making time for it, maybe it isn’t the driving passion you thought it was. Maybe what you really want is to wait until your child goes to preschool to do this. Not a crime to feel that way.

Employee syndrome. Ultimately, we’re our own bosses as freelancers…and I’ve found some people just can’t make that transition. They can’t MAKE themselves hustle the way a boss put the fire under them to get it done. It’s a different mindset. You can help build your “boss” muscle by reading books about entrepreneurship…but ultimately, some people don’t have this muscle.

Need a scene change. Some people are more productive if they can get out of the house — especially writers with young kids underfoot. Consider trying a coffeeshop or coworking place to break your procrastinating routine.

Self-limiting behavior. You say you’re getting clients — are you blowing their deadlines and angering them and failing to turn in your work? Or are you getting it done? If you’re still making the deadlines you have, it’s possible you’re not doing more because you don’t want any more work than this. If you’re blowing deadlines and losing clients, maybe you subconsciously want a lighter workload than you have and more mommy time.

Too much juggling. Are you trying to dabble in several different projects per day, all while also minding a toddler? That’s enough to rip your brain straight in half. Instead, focus on a single client per day — I tried that and found I was way more productive.

Unrealistic goals. You have a 13-month-old at home — do you have any child care, or are you imagining you can somehow magically write articles while you meet the insatiable needs of a toddler?

I think you’re probably doing little timewaster things because you don’t have any ‘heavy lifting’ time, as Mike Vardy would say, when it feels like you have a substantial, viable hunk of time in which to either write, interview, or market your business. So you keep doing a few little low-level tasks and never reach the main event — writing.

If you don’t have a sitter, know that a home business does not magically happen while you watch a baby full time. Total myth. If you have a sitter, you likely need more hours. Consider finding a co-op and trading hours with other moms — I did, when my first was a baby.

I know — you don’t want to miss a minute of these precious childhood years! Except that if you want to build a business, you’ll probably have to miss a bit of it. On the other hand, baby won’t be living under a freeway overpass if you can pay the bills, so it can be a positive tradeoff.

No goals. Are you setting goals? If so, then you can break those into smaller goals for this week and this day. Leave the office each day with your top three things you MUST do tomorrow sitting and waiting for you the next day. When you’re sleep fogged half the time with a baby, you need that, or you’ll easily waste the whole day trying to remember your priorities.

Have you got more advice for this procrastinating writer? Leave it in the comments.


  1. Jesse Lanclos

    Hi Carol,

    Great list here. That “one client a day” idea is so simple, yet brilliant. I think you might have answered a prayer of mine with that one.

  2. Brittany Westerberg

    I think everyone faces the debilitating effects of procrastination. I think this post gets it right in the idea that you have to treat it like a business. You have to make time where you really sit down and get things done. The laundry will be there later; Facebook won’t magically disappear later today. What’s really important to you? Do that.

  3. Julia

    Hi Carol,

    Tiffany’s story is familiar to me–both from my own experience and for the experiences of people I know. I think there is something important in it but I don’t want to get personal about Tiffany because I don’t want to judge her life. So my question is broader–are people like Tiffany really doing what is called for in the moment?

    We all have ideas of what we should be doing. We all have ideas of what we want to do. But if we continually do something else, is this sign of weakness in our character, or that what we think and what is true are two different things?

    Maybe the “Tiffany’s” should be just a Mom for the moment. Or maybe the “Tiffany’s” need a different career. Or maybe something I can’t even imagine.

    I homeschooled my kids and I was privileged to watch kids who were relatively free from expectations of what they should do. Over and over, they showed a lot of commitment, initiative, discipline and self-motivation when something was right for them. Over and over it was a battle when it wasn’t or when it was imposed from the outside (mostly from me).

    I’m not saying discipline isn’t good or necessary. What I’m saying is that sometimes, we think we know what we want but in reality, it is just an idea. Maybe when we find ourselves in a position like Tiffany–when we continually don’t meet our own expectations, when we have to force ourselves to do something, when we have tried repeatedly to address any obstacles to our success, maybe after all that work we need to ask if what we want is an idea, or the truth.

    I try to be “in the flow” as much as possible in my life but sometimes, flow goes in a different direction from what I “think” it should. Maybe the flow in “Tiffany’s” life is taking her somewhere different than she thinks.

    • Carrie Schmeck

      Well said, Julia. I had a similar tug-and-pull when my kids were little. I figured I “could” make extra cash by writing but found I never had the drive to maintain the marketing it required. I had to admit I just wasn’t great at (and not motivated enough) to multi-task that way.

      My epiphany: Just because I “could” didn’t mean I “should.”

      At the time, my husband’s salary was enough and I had the freedom to raise and enjoy my three children–a HUGE blessing. I stepped out of freelancing and concentrated on them.

      A few years ago, our income took a nasty turn and my youngest started high school. All of a sudden, I had a big reason to ramp up AND had the time and space to do it.

      I have the heavy-lifting time and enjoy what I do. Though sometimes I think about how much further along I could be if I had stayed with it back then, I only have to look at my kids to know the cost was worth it.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, that’s why I raise the idea that maybe Tiffany wants another year or two before she plunges into serious freelancing…I think that could be a possibility. Sometimes, it’s just not the right time for something, even when it’s something we want.

  4. Emily McIntyre

    Excellent post, Carol. I understand Tiffany’s dilemma–I have an 11-month old toddler myself. While there is always the feeling of being torn, the “Mommy guilt”, I have actually seen that with intention I get more done. I’m definitely seeing my hard work over the past few years paying off increasingly, regardless of whether I’ve got a kid or not. Your suggestions are ones that I have tried, and they are excellent. Particularly the suggestion to find some “heavy lifting time”. It’s easy to stay on the surface and not tackle any of the more challenging tasks associated with a freelancing career when you have only 15-minute blocks which can always be interrupted. I have to get up early and write before little girl wakes, then fill in with tasks like emails later in the day.

    • Carol Tice

      For me, my oldest had a ‘power nap’ in the afternoon I could get a lot done on, and then the 8-midnight shift has been a longtime friend, after kids go to bed. But everyone finds their own rhythm to it. For a while my mom came twice a week to play with my son afternoons and then I’d go nuts with work.

  5. Sophie Lizard

    Oops, you caught me goofing off to read your post instead of writing my own. 🙂

    I feel for Tiffany because I’ve been there. You simply can’t write much in the average day if you’re caring for a one-year-old at the same time, so childcare is essential. I couldn’t work more than a couple of hours if I didn’t have my home-studying fiance here to care for our daughter!

    The real issue is deeper, though, as Carol says. I think identifying and resolving resentment is key to a lot of these self-motivation problems.

    For example, if you had a whole afternoon of peace and quiet to work, would you use it or spend it on something else? Because if the answer is “something else”, then maybe you’ve started to resent your work for keeping you away from the something elses of the world. Or, if you’re wasting time on social media, is it because you resent the loss of social interaction that so many people notice when they work from home?

    Resentment is often based on a feeling that you’re missing out on something. So scheduling in the things you *want* to do can work better than scheduling things you *ought* to do and then failing to do them! Carol’s post 7 Productivity Tips From My Vacation That Writers Can Use All Year [https://makealivingwriting.com/2012/08/27/7productivity-tips-from-my-vacation/] gives some great examples of how spending more time on the things you want can make your working hours more productive.

    • Carol Tice

      Ha, you’re reminding me to go turn off the vacation bouncer I think was supposed to go off about last Thursday… 😉

      I think often as a new mom you can get a block of time at last…and just want to collapse. Sometimes you’ve got the energy to write, and sometimes you just won’t. It’s key to forgive yourself if you’re toast, I think, and just look for where you can be productive. For some it’s early morning, others late, or baby’s naptime.

  6. Tony Hastings

    Interesting thoughts Carol and some good analysis of the factors that can stop us from getting down to work.

    For my own part I would add that some form of scheduling might help your blogger. I was always against scheduling (as opposed to automating which I never agree with!) but finding that I was too easily distracted I thought I would give it a try.

    I have been using Buffer for some time now and have found it really beneficial. The advantage to me is that I can set aside an hour every morning to set up my shares for the day, close down all the distractions and then concentrate on achieving my writing goals. I think to make this work it needs to be done with discipline in that it’s not a shortcut in that every post shared still needs to be read and maybe commented on.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post Carol and best wishes for 2013.


    • Carol Tice

      Well, when you’ve got a 13 month old, schedules often go out the window! I think flexibility is the critical skill when you’re balancing a young child and freelancing.

  7. Neil Heater

    I know your blog referred to the LADY that had contacted you and much of your response was focused on the stay at home mom…however, I know you work with a number of gentlemen as well making the freelance lifestyle their career style. I say that because much of what you said, especially the part about “self-limiting behaviour” hits home to all of us. I have greatly improved since my earlier days…a fw months back…in focusing my energy on specifics in writing. Admittedly, I work a couple of part-time delivery jobs to help with daily needs, but the writing has become a priority in what I do through the day. I am marketing more and take the time to do the writing that needs to be done. I will take some time out to do a geocache (my activity of choice that is a break from writing) or a walk with the amazing wife, but I find it easier to get back into the mindset of my career choice freelance writing through the day. Thank you for reminding us what it takes to make this successful.

    • Carol Tice

      Hey, I love geocaching too! Fun hobby.

      I think self-limiting behavior definitely applies to all of us, not just new moms. Sometimes, we don’t drive it harder because we don’t want to…we’re craving more downtime. And sometimes, that’s what we need.

  8. Erica

    Excellent post, Carol. For me, bone-crushing fear and employee syndrome tag team me when I’m not looking. Over the course of my career, I’ve averaged being laid off every 12-18 months. Being an employee in constant survival mode has ingrained in me a deep-rooted fear of “failing” again. Of not being good enough (even though I know that’s total poo.)

    Before I know, I’m focusing on admin busy work and blog-hopping “to learn more.”

    The only answer I’ve found is to fake it ’til I feel it. I keep a short list of blogs to read regularly, and I reserve Fridays for the admin busy work. I’ve also found that going for a 2-mile hike every day helps keep the head clear, the confidence up and the attention more focused.

    Honestly, I don’t know how freelancers with children do it. That’s amazing to me.

    • Carol Tice

      Yeah, can’t believe I didn’t put ‘regular exercise’ on the to-do list to solve this. It’s so important. Recently I had a stomach flu and was really wiped out by it and too sick to do my usual morning hike…and man do I miss it when it’s not there! Really helps you get centered, and I get a lot of ideas while I’m working out.

  9. J'aime Wells

    Fear is a big issue any time you are making a change in your life, and sometimes, the more you want the change, the more scary it is!

    A while back I rounded up some links from my two favorite virtual gurus on fear, Barbara Sher and Havi Brooks. If anyone is working with fear, I’d recommend checking them out.


  10. J. Delancy

    Having a full-time job and completing my mortgage has also sapped some of my motivation to earn money on the side as a writer. If she has another person helping with the bills and a little one who needs constant attention then there will not be that pressure to focus on her writing.

    If worse comes to worse and she really needs motivation she can try

    http://www.stickk.com/ where there is a financial cost to not meeting goals.

    Hope this helps.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for adding a resource!

  11. Amandah

    I think Tiffany would benefit from some deep soul searching. A meditation and journaling session will help Tiffany figure out if she wants to focus on being a mom or freelance writer. Perhaps, doing both right now won’t work for her and that’s okay as long as she can accept being a “mom” instead of “Super Freelance Writer Mom.” I believe that if Tiffany is truly passionate about being a freelance writer, she’ll either make it work now, put it on hold for a couple of years, or do something else.

  12. Nicki

    Carol, I’m so glad you wrote this!

    It’s a big “myth” that parents can actually work while watching their children full-time. I’ve been freelancing since my son was 1 ½ years old – and it’s not fair for Tiffany or any other parent to put this pressure on themselves.

    I worked a very limited schedule until my son went to school full-time (during naps and a few evenings when my husband got home from work).

    To any parent in this situation, I’d recommend writing off any time when your kids are awake. In most cases, it won’t happen – so just enjoy them:)

    Then, like Carol talks about, schedule that “heavy lifting” time when you can rely on someone else for childcare (like your spouse, grandparents, ect).

    • Carol Tice

      I so agree. All that happens if you try to write while your kids are standing there is you do a crappy job AND the kids feel neglected…and it takes 3x longer than if you just wait until they’re asleep or at school or a playdate. And you get that great brain-being-torn-in-two feeling like you’re losing your mind along the way!

  13. Judy Cullins

    Carol, as usual you have written another thought-povoking article. Hard to remember when I had a 3 year old-I was one who postponed graduate work and eventual teaching until I got day care. It worked great!

    Since then, as a long time book coach I see how procrastination and doubt stop so many writers for similar reasons as you say here.

    MY BIG TIP is taken from Charles Schwab paying a time management coach $10,000 goes this this.

    1 Get ready, fire, aim! We spend too much vascillating.

    2. Do the most important thing first (deciding on 3 of these in order is esssential) If not important let go of one or two for a while. Writing a book or freeelance work takes time and if you don’t make it 1, 2 or 3, you simply don’t think it’s important enough. We often choose easy–our distractions or even useful work and let the real work that builds our businesses go.

    3. Write down your goals ( 3-5) in your organizer at least the day before you want to work on them. Then, your subconscious works on them all night and you are ready to act as soon as you wake up. If you write too many goals each day, you’ll not finish the important ones and feel bad you didn’t.

    • Carol Tice

      My coaching pal Linda Formichelli is a big fan of your #1. There’s definitely too much dithering and not enough doing, in general, in writers’ lives.

  14. Misti

    Timers can help catch your attention and remind you of what you’re doing.

    In my case, I also try to set low goals, ones I can hit easily—because otherwise, I get overwhelmed—though it does get a bit awkward when I get three days’ to-do list finished in one. Makes me feel like a slacker.

    I’ve recently started trying Stickk. A friend of mine gets $5 each week I write less than 5k words of my own work. (I know I can easily write ≥10k words per week if I actually apply myself, but I also need to account for my shoddy immune system. I’ve been fighting influenza for a good two weeks, for example.) I nearly set a higher goal, so it would hurt more when I failed the first week—but estimated taxes are due, so I thought it prudent to keep it small.

    I know myself, see. I knew I would flunk that first week. That $5 figurative papercut hurt enough to give me incentive last week, and this one (despite my reduced health, these past two weeks), but it hurt little enough that I doubt the incentive will outlast the Stickk setup.

    And there are some other things I’ve set up, to hurt me if I get distracted and hit that goal by working on projects other than the ones I meant it for.

    Dean Wesley Smith has commented on how when he got serious writing short stories, he had an agreement with Nina Kiriki Hoffman (I think it was), wherein for every week he didn’t write (and mailing might’ve also been part of the agreement) a short story, he owed her a steak dinner. He couldn’t afford a steak dinner, so the threat was enough to make him hit his goal.

    Frankly, I think the writer of the e-mail needs to penalize herself. Figure out where it’ll hurt, then have someone enforce that.

    She also should make sure to set realistic goals, based in what you know you’re capable of—and, if she’s the type to forget to schedule illness and such in that, she should halve those goals, so that the goal is something so laughably simple and easy for her that, if she doesn’t hit it, it’s her fault.

    As for me, I usually wouldn’t be writing up a blog comment, but see the aforementioned influenza. This is my permitted procrastination before I dive back into work—because I’m well enough to work, I just need more breaks—and I’ll do another 50 pages, then do permit myself another break.

    This week, I have *counts on fingers* seven items I want to get done—all possible, if I kick this flu and apply myself—two that must get done because they’re due, and the rest that could technically be postponed, but that would ruin my plans for next week. A minimum of four that I should get done. And one other, not-on-my-to-do-list item that’ll probably get done because my attention is ornerly like that.

    Going into this detail because I think that e-mailer sounds kinda like me, so I figure she’ll find it helpful.

    However, I should mention that employee syndrome has never really been a problem of mine. I’ve tried the day job/employee thing, and while I can do it if I have to, I dislike relying on a single paycheck.

    • Carol Tice

      OK, that’s 2 votes for Stikk — now I have to check it out!

  15. Kathleen Curry

    Just some ideas:
    What would it take to make writing as natural a daily task as brushing your teeth, or another “can’t be put off” regular habit?

    Have you read the Artists Way? Julia Cameron suggests waking up and doing a brain dump of at least 3 pages handwritten. Just whatever’s on your mind. It clears your head to make way for bigger things, like a mental exfoliation.

    I’ve noticed grocery stores carry locally produced parenting magazines. Would you contribute to them? A toddler is endless source material, right?

    At least one author who writes about being a writer & mom:
    Christina Katz

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks for adding a great suggestion!

  16. Terri H

    This is the perfect illustration to one of my favorite sayings,

    “If it’s something you want you’ll find a way. If not you’ll find an excuse.”

    Sometimes it really is just a case of not wanting badly enough.

  17. Corinne

    Great post Carol! I fall victim to this way too often. There’s websites to visit, forums to check, dishes to wash, kids to watch…wait! what happened to the time? Setting smaller, easier to reach goals sounds like a great tactic to try.

  18. Rob Schneider

    Hunger is a great motivator. We procrastinate when we can, but when push comes to shove and it’s either work or go hungry or get evicted, we find the time to work. A sense of responsibility helps, too. If you take on an assignment, finish the assignment.

    I really appreciate freelance writers who don’t finish their assignments – more work for those of us who take our work seriously.

  19. Rebecca Garau

    I’ve been freelancing for almost 13 years and some times I’ve been laser-focused, disciplined and motivated … other times more distracted. Probably helped that I started during the days of “dial-up” internet! Ha!

    I found that time was such a premium when the kids were little that I was incredibly efficient and driven … as I gained more time, it was easier to waste time!

    Thinking about how to motivate over a long freelance career …

    Having a personal “why” is so important when it comes to intrinsic motivation. When life is crazy, focus on your reason for juggling/not sleeping/pushing out of your comfort zone.

    When you have an off day — or an off week — be kind to yourself, it’s not the end of the world. Try again tomorrow.

    Celebrate small wins each day — great insights from Teresa Amabile in The Progress Principle.

    • Carol Tice

      It’s true — I used to get more done on my oldest’s monster 3-4 hr afternoon nap back in the day. Of course there wasn’t social media back then.

  20. Darnell Jackson

    Very good practical tips thanks for sharing.

    This is why I say that blogging should be “what” you are doing.

    You should be DOING something else and then BLOGGING about that.

    This way blogging will not be seen as a chore but an outlet for your progress.

    • Karen J

      That’s a great insight, Darnell, if you meant to type “…blogging should NOT be “what” you are doing….”

      If that wasn’t a typo, I think I don’t quite ‘get it’ –? 🙂

  21. Barbara

    Hah – I just wrote a blog post on procrastination myself. Like Rebecca mentioned, I found that I became way less of a procrastinator when I became a mom. There was just no time to waste. But now that my kids have started school full-time and I have more freedom, I feel I’m in danger again.

    One of my favorite ways of avoiding procrastinating is having a “15 minute rule.” Whenever there’s some project that I’m dragging my heels on, I say: “Okay: I’ll just work on it for 15 minutes and then I can stop.” And time after time, I’ve found that once I get over the initial hump of putting my mind toward the task, I go way over 15 minutes and get the job done.

    In terms of the big motivating push, though, I keep a 3×5 index card on my desk that has a major financial goal written on it. Like right now, I have a description of the kind of home that we’re seeking to buy. Remembering what I’m working toward helps a lot!

  22. Karen J

    I am so exactly *there* with you, Tiffany, only minus the baby!
    Good call, too, Carol: “I’m not the one you need (right now).”

    That all said, you’ve nailed it with this list of places to look for some of the ‘closer to the core’ issues behind procrastination.

  23. Tiffany

    Thanks for this post Carol, as well as taking the time to respond to my email and saying things I needed to hear. It’s been so interesting reading the feedback on this post. Though much of it doesn’t apply to my situation, there are some amazing takeaways here for all writers out there struggling with procrastination. I just recently wrote a blog post (my first) detailing what I took away from Carol’s email, what I implemented, and the results I’ve gotten thus far. The results have been astounding! http://seetiffwrite.com/2013/01/13/the-work-at-home-supermom-myth/

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Tiffany –

      You’re so cool to come out of the closet. And you’ve written your own post on it! Which everyone should read. I’ve retweeted.

      I’m so happy I was able to bust the supermommy myth and get you on your way with freelancing.

      The thing about trying to freelance with a young child around and no childcare is that you always hate what you’re doing.

      You hate it when you’re trying to work instead of interacting with your baby. And you hate it when you’re playing with baby and work’s not getting done. Once you have childcare blocks for work, you know where to put your attention, and you can be fully present for baby when it’s not work time. Everybody wins, really.

      I can tell you working with the kids there never gets any easier. Mine still don’t get that my little tapping atthe keyboard pays all our bills.

      My 10 yr old daughter will come in while I’m desperately trying to file, sit on my lap, and ask me to print her out a coloring page off the Internet. Of a warrior cat. Just the right one…we need to research this…for a half hour. And so on.

      You either need a door that locks, or to realize that sometimes, work just has to wait. 😉

  24. Joe

    Great Post! I’m a stay at home dad to a 21 month old so I can understand her predicament.

    I also p1ss away the few spare hours I get a day to work. I think a few of the reasons you posted apply to me:
    Bone-crushing fear.
    Employee syndrome.

    Maybe I should try and get a nanny.

    Thanks, Joe

    • Carol Tice

      No — find the other work at home dads and help each other! Do some childcare swaps. Kids have fun with playfriends, and you get work done.

      I think it’s even tougher being a home dad, as there are plenty of mommy networks…but find the guys who need the same help you do, and you’ll start to have the time for freelancing.

      • Joe

        Thanks Carol. I will keep an eye for some other dads in my situation.

        Most stay at home dads here have nannies too so don’t need to worry about getting time off.

        Not that there are many stay at home dads, let alone work at home dads!

  25. Kevin Carlton

    The way I see it is that both procrastinators and workaholics suffer from the same problem – that is the state of inertia.

    For procrastinators, inertia is a problem because they have a tendency to remain stationary and find it difficult to get moving. Clearly this is an unhealthy affliction..

    Workaholics are also in a state of inertia because all they want to do is keep on going and find it very difficult to stop. This is also an unhealthy affliction.

    Carol, you recently covered in one of your recent posts the burnout problem that workaholic writers experience. You also got loads of great suggestions from readers on how people can overcome this.

    I can certainly say I’ve suffered from the procrastination version of the problem myself. How I got over it was by somehow working through the pain barrier (the pain of having to work when you don’t want to). Eventually you get yourself into a better state of inertia where it’s actually more tempting to keep on going and going than actually stop and have a break.

    • Carol Tice

      Cool, Kevin.

      I think the big thing that helped me is that in my 12 years as a staff writer, I mostly worked from home as well. So I developed the discipline of having work hours, ignoring the dishes and other house distractions, and getting things done during the business day. When I was my own boss it wasn’t that big of a transition.

      • Kevin Carlton

        Yep, Carol, self-discipline is just so important in freelance writing. And, as a result of developing far more of this, I now put far more of a shift in than I ever did as an employed person.

        • Carol Tice

          It’s amazing how much you can get done when you don’t have to take company meetings, or stand around the water cooler talking about what happened last night on Grey’s Anatomy or whatever.

    • Karen J

      Ding!Ding!Ding! Kevin: “Procrastination” and “workaholism” as two sides of the same inertia-coin. I’d never seen it like that, before – food for thought, fersure. Thanks!

  26. Peter D. Mallett

    Hi Carol, thanks for taking this letter you recieved and addressing some of these things. It was helpful. I wrote a similar post recently called, How to Eject your Enemies, but you adressed some different things. Doubt was one of the points that I mentioned.

    A few people who are sucessful told me fear and doubt were things that they still wrestled with. As long as we don’t let it hold us back I guess those things are natural. We just need to work through them.

    • Carol Tice

      Peter, I heard Jonathan Fields speak last year about his book, Uncertainty. His study found successful people experience as much fear. It’s just that it doesn’t occur to us to let the fear stop us. We just keep going anyway. That’s the whole difference. We’re more comfortable moving into our discomfort.

  27. LindaH

    I finally took time to read this and it hit home. I’m single with four cats, no kids, but I can relate to Tiffany’s dilemma.

    I’ve struggled with goals — I’d accomplished all mine by age 30 and have drifted along ever since. After my layoff I thought I could go back to being a full-time freelancer like I had been but the market had changed, I had changed, and it took 2 1/2 years for me to realize I didn’t have any goals nor did I truly have a niche market. Major stopping point! That stopped the motivation, an initial lack of self-confidence halted the writing bug, and then feeling like nobody wanted to read what I wrote added flavor to a bland ideal of freelancing for big bucks. Put it all together and I had a similar dilemma like Tiffany only mine wasn’t because of a child, it was because I’d done all I’d wanted to do already and couldn’t focus on anything new to pursue.

    Then I struggled with missing deadlines for whatever reason. I did great for a while, and then for some reason I just started missing them. Not for editors or freelance work–those goals were always met on time, but with other writing goals that did impact clients. And at times I really didn’t care. But my work was decent enough I got by. And I kept pushing through.

    And my marketing never got done although I talked about it all the time. I didn’t restart my blog, but I keep saying … tomorrow! I haven’t written for any magazines… yet. You name it, the procrastination is there.

    So I stopped one day and started soul searching. I focused on some of Carol’s bootcamp classes and Linda F’s writing classes. I’ve started clearing out my Inbox of excessive marketing and social media hype messages and trainings I don’t read and repeatedly say the same stuff. I started focusing on Linda and Carol’s training and our Den forum resources. I’ve spent more time reading, which gives me blogging ideas that I write down. I bought a planner to write in my daily goals in and make a list of what needs doing. And I kept thinking of Carol as a beat writer and having to write articles and meet deadlines regardless….

    Today I focused on being in my office by 7:30 a.m. I focused on one client and completed three assignments. Made a little more than half what I want to make daily, but it’s a start. In between assignments I made another appointment, did some research, thought of a magazine article to write, and made a list for tomorrow’s workload. I also walked away from a bad writing gig that was more stress than success, whew!

    As Tiffany mentioned earlier Carol did give her a kick in the pants and she wrote her first blog. She’s gained tons of feedback and insight. And she’s realized she’s not alone.

    Sometimes getting through these dilemmas take talking to someone else, or having that person tell you “No” and the reason for that answer. Then listening to others, weighing your own options and stopping to take the time to truly look at where you’re at and what you want to do. Confidence is part of it, but mostly I think it’s finding the right place to fit in your life and working it through so you get little victories that lead to success. The rest just seems to fall into place once you hit that one key note that makes music of the rest.

    Great post Carol and I’m glad Tiffany worked her way through most of it. Cool!

  28. LindaH

    PS: I looked at stickK too, and think I’ll use it. I can use some help with goals right now. Might just do the trick!!!

    Thanks to those who mentioned it.

  29. Tracy Derrell

    This was a great post, with really helpful comments. I definitely relate to Tiffany’s struggles, though I have the benefit of a child in half-day kindergarten. But using those four hours wisely has been a huge struggle. Fear definitely has me in its grip, no question. And I have the advantage of having a part-time consulting/writing job with an education non-profit, so I have some work to do and some money coming in. But I’ve really had trouble with my other goals. I find I click around to my email, facebook, Amazon, Google news almost on autopilot. So for the heck of it, on my to-do list I wrote, “No Facebook or mindless clicking,” and it actually did help.

    I read a great book recently- The Power of Habit by John Duhigg. And it was really helpful- for one thing, you can’t break a bad habit, you have to replace it with something else. I’m working on finding those replacement habits, which are especially necessary when I hit a block.

  30. Myra

    I thought it would get easier as my son got older but it hasn’t. He’s now 12 and although he’s in school it’s still difficult for me to get as much work done in a day as I would like. And once he gets home, he often has so much homework and projects I have to supervise I don’t have those few evening hours to work. And now that he’s going to bed later (10), I have even less time to work. I try to take weekends off but I generally end up working weekends and some holidays just to get everything done!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Myra —

      I hear you…my youngest are 10 and 11 now and we’re confronting the bedtime slide and wondering how to get it all done now that they stay up later!

      I find it best to give up on work during kid hours, or to have them in activities until later in the day…my sister’s kids never get home before 5, because she’s just realistic about how many work hours she needs. Then I give them my full attention until they go to sleep. These younger two still don’t get the connection between what I do on computer and the bills getting paid…all they get is that you’re not paying attention to them.

  31. Fran Severn

    What perfect timing! I just signed up for the course starting in February in large part because although I’ve been writing “for a living” for over 20 years, I have rarely made sales to the big guys. I know a lot of it is lack of self-confidence (who am *I* to write for Saveur?) and a lot of it is Employee Syndrome — something that I never really thought about before. After years of working in “management through intimidation” settings, the freedom to do things at “my” pace and “my” way is a seductive technique to blow off everything instead of developing a sense of wholesome discipline. Lack of setting goals and managing my time well are the results.
    Oddly, I got a lot more done when my son was small, I had a full-time job, I was living overseas in the days before internet and had to contact editors and do research by mail and library. Procrastination was not an option!
    I also think — and I’m not trying to use this as an excuse — the learning curve for understanding and setting up within the new media is often overwhelming and saps my energy for actually *doing* anything with it, once I learn how!

    • Carol Tice

      Welcome to the Blast Off, Fran!

      I have a post coming up about the employee mentality problem, so stay tuned for that…


  1. Friday Finds for Writers - [...] Sometimes, the truth hurts. Consider yourself forewarned before you read Carol Tice’s take on “why you keep goofing off…
  2. The truth about WAHMs « See Tiff Write - [...] I sent her a lengthy email explaining my situation, and do you know what she told me? (I’m majorly…
  3. The truth about WAHMs - [...] I sent her a lengthy email explaining my situation, and do you know what she told me? (I’m majorly…
  4. 31 foolproof ways to reclaiming your writing mojo - [...] was a babysitter and a few strategies for killin’ it as a work-at-home-mom. However, it took a cry for help…
  5. Reading List: Guest Blogging, Goofing Off and the Death of the Corporate Website - The Sourcing Pen - […] #5. Make a Living Writing’s Why You Keep Goofing Off Instead of Writing or Marketing […]

Related Posts

LinkedIn Round-Up

LinkedIn Round-Up

Successful freelancers use LinkedIn daily. After all, it's the only social media where it's socially acceptable to talk about work. In honor of our upcoming bootcamp, LinkedIn Profile Mastery, we wanted to give you a round-up of all our posts on the topic of LinkedIn....

9 Journalist Interview Tips from a Successful Freelance Writer

9 Journalist Interview Tips from a Successful Freelance Writer

Have you been struggling to interview sources for your freelance articles? Then these 9 interview tips are for you. These journalist interview tips will help boost your interviewing confidence and make you better prepared to take your freelance article to the next...