How to tell if all your research is actually procrastination

Credit: Glen Noble

It’s 2012 and I’m sitting on the polished concrete floor of my journalism school, huddled by an outlet. There are two assignments looming (one for a class, one for the school newspaper) and I’m skipping class to finish them on time. My throat feels constricted, that half of a Red Bull I drank earlier is way too much, and I’m sweating. Both assignments are due in an hour and my computer just froze.

Procrastination is a lovely thing. If you’re a horrible, twisted, masochistic person. For the rest of us, procrastination is a vicious cycle of self-inflicted suffering. Through most of my college career, after every deadline, I’d tell myself I’d do better next time, and at the next deadline, I’d be a twisted, sweaty pile of regret.

Procrastination is just fear or avoidance of something. I’m better at working on schedule than I was in journalism school, but I don’t have it mastered. Last week I realized that I had spent most of my time in January avoiding my work by reading a ton of articles and books (and taking an online personal branding course.)

I didn’t think it was procrastination because all the reading and research fell under the umbrella of “Figuring Out How To Be A Better Freelancer.” Since the end of 2015, I’ve been filled with creative energy…and terrified to move forward. There’s so much to do, so many options…and I’d rather just tuck into another book. If I figure that I read for 30 minutes a day from January 1 to February 12, that’s over 20 hours. One of the books I read said that after about eight hours of research, it starts to turn into procrastination. Oh boy, totally botched that.

After figuring that out, I felt guilty. Then I stopped because swinging to the opposite side isn’t right either. Just as the reading turned into procrastination, the realization could turn into self-pity. I’m not going to punish myself for what has already happened. Maybe I could have used some of those 20 hours to write blog posts. But maybe I wasn’t ready.

Procrastination is vilified to an alarming degree. I believe that in most cases, things get done when they need to get done. (Not that I condone my antics in journalism school. That was willful procrastination.) I work hard every day (I bet you do, too) and yet things don’t always happen on the schedule I envision. Should I hate myself for that? No.

January was a time of great learning, and now it’s time for abundant action. I really did read some inspiring, challenging, informative stuff, though, so I’ll share it with you now.

Social Media

I’m having fun on social media for the first time in a while, and it’s happening on Peach. I don’t have an influencer strategy, so, of course, I was nervously reading about it here and here. The only Twitter chats I’ve participated in have to do with food, maybe I’ll give freelancer/social media oriented chats a try. Do you schedule social media posts? I automate posting articles I write and the rest is organic. If you’re an entrepreneur (or just entrepreneur-curious) here’s a great list of online communities for you.

Freelancing

Starting up as a freelancer shouldn’t mean working for free. I need help figuring out how to find freelance clients. My workspace is currently the kitchen island (so I can survey the room where my son plays) so it’s a very utilitarian space. This article inspires me to upgrade my workspace. At some point, I started reading furiously about tax prep (one, two, three, four) because this is the first time I’ll file as a freelancer. (Eek.) Posting on Medium is something I’ve done sporadically, but I plan to start posting there regularly this week. Two posts about improving the pitches we’re writing: Post one and post two.

Content Creation

Here it is, official permission to not blog every day. The current editorial calendar for my newsletter is a page in my journal — so low tech it hurts. I’m weirdly into workflows for content creation. In fact, I’d rather dream up workflows than actually write the post. Hmm. I disagree with tip #3 in this post. It’s not enough to make something better. “Better” can quickly become boring unless it’s better because it’s different. I love long posts if they’re done right — here are ways to keep your long form content awesome. I got your content marketing trends for 2016 right here. Two posts about creating a blogging checklist in WordPress: How to do it and what to include.

Journalism

I remember reading Tavi Gevinson’s blog back when she was 12 and already more fashionable than I was. Now Gevinson’s Rookie Mag is being profiled in the Columbia Journalism Review. This was a fun (in a doomsday sort of way) review of Scott Timberg’s new book, Culture Crash. Can we please stop droning on about whether or not print is dead or dying? It’s just so boring. And maybe print is dead, but print skills are alive and kicking ass. Neiman Lab’s top trend for 2016 (and the rest of time): It’s called reporting.

Credit: Chris PiascikGiphy

Marketing

Are you a freelancer and an introvert? (Raises hand.) Here are some marketing tips for us introverted folks. (I’m starting to think I might be an ambivert. But ambivert sounds slightly made-up by Buzzfeed.) Backlinko analyzed one million search engine rankings, and as far as SEO goes it’s pretty interesting. Also, read anything and everything Paul Jarvis and Jason Zook have to say about marketing. They’re two people who never give me that slimy, sleazy, used-car-salesman feeling I get with other online personalities.

Productivity / Wellness

Don’t even think about the counter-productivity of reading articles about productivity. Don’t do it. To distract yourself, read Asana’s community-submitted productivity tips. Or figure out how to harness the power of Evernote, Trello and Todoist to make you into a ninja (or something.) The truth is that all the productivity tips in the world can’t prevent feeling completely overwhelmed or burned out. Step back. Do something nice for yourself. I’ve been there.

Books

One day I went on a Kindle buying spree and bought three books. The first one promised to turn my computer into a money machine. The second one promised I could make money from writing non-fiction Kindle books. The third one promised that I could write an Amazon bestseller. I use the term “promised” lightly, but each book was a quick and informative read. My mom gave me Get It Done, How the World Sees You, and Daring Greatly for Christmas and I’ve read the first two. Get It Done inspired this post, and is a refreshing and inspiring read for anyone (like me) who struggles with procrastination. How the World Sees You helped me start thinking about what settings bring out my best work so I can tailor my career around my strengths.

Courses

I also bought the How Dare You personal branding course created by Paul Jarvis and Jason Zook. It was a lovely kick in the pants and serves as a source of information I keep returning to.

If you’ve made it through those 40 links, you really should get a cinnamon roll or something equally yummy. Believe it or not, this list is the curated version. You don’t need to know how many articles I read about editorial calendars.

Now it’s time for abundant action.

Ideas are beautiful things and I love diving deep into research. But at some point, the hours put into work have to outnumber the hours put into research. When it’s a personal project I find it harder to leave the research section behind because, underneath it all, I don’t feel qualified to do my project. But how much research will it take to feel qualified? I’ll always feel a little insecure and nervous. I’ve found that doing the work is the best way to “qualify” myself and strengthen my confidence.

Are you researching something right now? And what tips and tricks have you learned to move from procrastination to action


This post was originally published in Letters from Devin — my twice monthly newsletter that examines how journalism, entrepreneurship, and creativity intertwine to make life grand. Click to join my gang of kindred spirits.