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. 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…

  2. 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.


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