Distraction is the enemy of successful freelancing, but it’s something that happens to many freelancers. It’s all very well to be able to work in your pajamas, set your own schedule and create great designs and content on the move (not to mention keeping up with social media), but those advantages can also be major distractions. How do you create a laser-like focus and get the job done every time? Here are some tips and tools for being a focused freelancer.
The Work Environment
Many freelancers work at home and creating an environment that’s conducive to work is a good first step. Some work best with people present, though having kids or dogs running around may be too much. Other prefer a private workspace with a door they can shut to keep distractions out. Some freelancers like background noise — music, the radio, the washing machine — while others prefer perfect silence. Some people can work well with any kind of music; others (like me) need to hear something classical or instrumental so the lyrics don’t end up in the client’s copy!
Try each option and see which leaves you feeling most creative and allows you to concentrate on the tasks ahead.
Are You Distracted?
If you think you never get distracted, think again. Most freelancers find they spend a lot more time on non-core tasks than they think. The best way to find out is to use a tool like RescueTime, which operates in the background while you are working on your projects. It’s a great way to find out how much of your work time you really spend working — you might be surprised by the results. If you’re a writer, then check out tools like WriteMonkey, Dark Room and Think to create a distraction-free writing environment.
Setting Work Times
To give yourself the best chance of distraction-free success, it’s good to identify the times when you work best. If you don’t, there’s no chance of being focused. You may be a lark and do your best work early in the morning, or a night owl who finds darkness a spur to creativity. Whichever you are, set aside your best working hours for your most creative work and block these out in your schedule.
Having a work schedule is a must so you know what tasks are due for the day, week and month ahead. You can even do quarterly and annual planning, if you feel like it. One of the best ways to map out your schedule on paper is to use the Freelancer Workweek planners from Productive Flourishing. Of course, you can also use Outlook, Thunderbird or Google Calendar and a good to-do list app (Wunderlist, Todoist, Remember the Milk) for the same purpose.
Once you know the best times for creative work, then use your less creative times for the other tasks you need to do to keep your business running, such as updating your freelance portfolio, networking and marketing and promotion.
Schedule Distractions for Better Focus
Here’s another tip: even when you’re being creative you don’t have to do everything at once. Creative work can be like interval training — it’s a good idea to give your brain a chance to focus on something else occasionally. That could mean scheduling your distractions. Try this:
* Instead of having notifications enabled for every email, turn those off and check at set times a day — morning, lunch time and at the end of the work day. That’s one less distraction already.
* Turn off Twitter and Facebook notifications and shut down your preferred social media client. Let checking social media become a reward for completing a task successfully.
* Schedule phone calls and IM chats for your less creative times. Turn down ringers and turn off Skype so they won’t distract you while you are working.
If you need help with breaking up your workday, try the Pomodoro technique, where you take a 5 minute break after every 25 minutes of activity.FocusBooster provides a web and Mac app to help you time the sessions.
Follow these tips and you will minimize distractions and get more done during your most creative periods. What tips would you add to this list?