I just started freelancing and I find it incredibly difficult to stay on task during the day. There are so many distractions at home, I find myself always in a state of working and multi-tasking. What is your schedule like? Do you stick to a regular 9-5 schedule or do you work whenever you have time?
Multi-tasking in Montana
Welcome to The World of Freelancing, or as I like to call it “The World of Procrastination.”
I’ve been freelancing for 25 years, and I still battle daily distractions. Some freelancers have amazing will power. (I recommend you avoid those types at all costs. They’ll just make you feel bad about yourself, and who needs that kind of pressure?) (Just kidding.) (Kinda.)
I have a colleague who works from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. I’m simultaneously horrified (getting up at 6 a.m. sounds like the stuff of my worst nightmares) and awed by that (she has her whole day of work finished before I’ve even finished my second cup of coffee!). At the same time, others are horrified by my hours (which, some days, go from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep; other days, not quite so intense). Bottom line: What works for one freelancer doesn’t always work for another.
That said, here are some helpful tips for figuring out what’s best for you:
Take a look at your days.
During what time of day do you have the most energy and feel the most creative? Good! Those are the times when you should aim to do the bulk of your work.
Now, look at the converse: When do you have the least energy and feel the least focused? These are the times when you might want to consider dealing with the “daily distractions” in your life: housework, laundry, and yes, even downtime for Netflix, gaming, reading or other things that are relaxing and/or are not brain-intensive.
Take a look at your surroundings.
In what type of environment do you work best? A home office is a wonderful thing, but not everyone has that luxury. (Full disclosure: I have had a home office for years, and I almost never work in there because I’m most productive typing away on my laptop while sitting on the couch, or even semi-reclined in bed. So a home office isn’t always the answer.)
Do you work better in silence or with ambient noise? Are you easily distracted by your surroundings? Now, what can you do today to create a writing environment that allows your creativity to flourish? (Let’s assume you’re not going to win the lottery today and buy yourself a gorgeous little mountain cabin in the middle of the woods, where the surroundings are so perfect you couldn’t help but bust out the next Great American Novel within a month’s time.)
For example, I cannot work in chaos. For me, “chaos” means a messy room and/or somewhere with too much stimulation. So, I can work in a clean room, with Netflix on in the background if it’s a show I’ve seen 52 times (I’m looking at you, Bones and SVU). I cannot work in a room where there is music, plus the TV is on, and people are talking. Yet, some people thrive in that type of environment.
Take a look at your distractions.
What are your biggest distractions/temptations, aside from the things we talked about in #2? Is it the Ultimate Fodder of Procrastination, the Internet? Is it housework? Shopping? Naps? Candy Crush?
Once you figure out your biggest distractions, you can figure out ways to minimize them. It’s too simplistic to say, “Turn off your Internet,” although surprisingly, that advice is given frequently.
Most freelance writers write non-fiction articles, white papers, e-books and so on; in other words, writing that requires some amount of research. Where do we do much of this research? The Internet, of course! This means you’ll have to figure out a way of using the Internet while not being distracted by it. (If you’re writing an article about life insurance, for example, watching an hour of funny cat videos will not help you with your article—regardless of how much you’d like to claim it will.)
If you’re concerned that your self-control may not be up to the task, you might want to look into trying one of the many apps created to help people avoid funny cat video temptation. Most of these apps limit your ability to waste time on social networking or other time-sucking websites and help you on your way to more work-focused days (prices and terms vary):
- Anti-Social is an app that helps you block any website that distracts you from your work and keep you focused on being productive.
- Rescue Time, which runs in the background on your computer, helps you understand how and where you spend your time, and then helps you find the work-life balance that works for you.
- StayFocused is a free Chrome extension that allows you to block certain websites and/or restrict your ability to browse by time.
- SelfControl is a free, open-source app that works on Macs; it allows you to block your own access to distracting websites, email or other online temptations for specific time periods.
These three steps are just the beginning of getting to know who you are as a freelancer and how to make yourself successful in your freelance career. We’ll be touching on the hot topic of procrastination regularly in this column because it’s unfortunately as interwoven with freelance writing as caffeine is with coffee.
Oh, and by the way, I urge you in the strongest possible terms not to think freelancing means working “whenever you have time,” especially if you want to be successful at it, and you want to avoid homelessness (assuming you’re doing this full-time as your main source of income). If you wait to work until you “have time,” take it from me, you’ll never do it. It’s up to you to make the time.
LaRita Heet has supported herself and her family as a freelance writer, editor and instructional designer for 24 years. She has published more than 1,500 articles, small business guides and instructional design courses. Her experience runs the gamut from personal finance to parenting, from small business guidance to profiles of presidential candidates, authors and C-level executives in the financial services and other industries.
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