Distractions pose an ever-present challenge for freelancers around the globe. While working from the comfort of your own home is often lauded for the flexibility it offers, less discussed is the challenge of managing your time effectively and staying on task.
Some folks out there may thrive on pure freedom on a daily basis, but I am not one of them. Structure and routine help me stay on task and reduce the distractions I would otherwise face. For those of you who are perhaps remote workers or occasionally work from home, this will sound familiar.
Working in-office typically means your average workday is broken up into a series of routines, like breaks, lunches and those pesky recurring meetings. The plus side? It gives your day structure.
Just like in writing, your workday needs a sharp outline and underlying structure to reach peak effectiveness. Learning to manage your time effectively will enable you to complete higher-quality work in less time.
1. Eliminate distractions.
Imagine for a moment that you've taken on a new client and are tasked with writing compelling copy for a sales page. You're in the zone, and the words flow effortlessly. Suddenly, you receive a message notification on the top right of your MacBook's screen. It's your best friend asking if you want to come over later to play the new Super Smash Bros. game. What's this? Nintendo's releasing a new Smash game? Now you're veering onto YouTube to watch gameplay videos.
You've been derailed. The distraction known as YouTube is where productivity goes to die. Perhaps the greatest challenge of working at home is managing or eliminating distractions that compete for your time and focus.
There's always that temptation to steal a glance at your phone or perhaps finish up some chores. If anyone else is at home with you, like a family member or roommate, they can also serve as a problematic distraction to avoid when all you want to do is focus on your work.
My philosophy on handling this is simple:
1. Unplug from all social media (unless your work revolves around social media).
2. Set your team chat, instant messenger or texting app status to "do not disturb," and deliberately avoid them until the task is complete or you're on break.
3. Work somewhere you can focus. Some may need the absolute silence of an empty room, while others might prefer the white noise of a coffee shop.
4. Remember to take breaks regularly. Giving your mind a rest now and then will help prevent you from getting burned out too fast.
Your focus is a valuable commodity. Guard it jealously.
2. Create a schedule.
Your efforts to eliminate distractions are reinforced by scheduling your tasks and workday. A well-structured day allows time for breaks, lunch, and even walking outside to clear your mind. Scheduling can make a significant difference in your productivity and sense of accomplishment for the day.
I know, scheduling doesn't sound fun, but even the best-laid plans can still fall to the wayside without careful self-management. Fortunately, there are several ways you can schedule and structure your workdays:
- Make a list of all of your to-do items for the day. You can do this via computer, an app, or even good ol' pen and paper. Choose whatever is most comfortable and convenient for you.
- Break up your tasks into digestible blocks of time with breaks in between. There's a mindset shift when you realize it's not an impossible task. You only have to focus on each step for a short time.
- Remember your daily routines. Just because you're working at home today doesn't mean you should skip out on brushing your teeth and getting dressed. Trust me – you'll feel a lot better if you take the time to get ready.
- Give yourself wiggle room. When you're planning out your schedule for the week, the key is to balance your tasks. When your calendar is jampacked, you lose the ability to roll with the punches, so be sure to give yourself room to breathe.
Discipline is a practiced skill. The more you strive to complete your tasks according to schedule, the less stressful the process will become.
3. Track your success.
If you can measure it, you can improve it. Each successful job you complete becomes another feather in your cap. Every article you write, every proposal that's accepted, and every other success you score will become the fuel that drives you to keep up the good work.
Keeping track of your progress not only serves as motivation but helps you drown out that inner critic who fills you with apprehension and distracts you from the task at hand.
There are other benefits as well:
- Even smaller accomplishments are worth celebrating. Tracking your progress works hand in hand with breaking up tasks into digestible blocks. As you complete each element of your project, there's a Pavlovian satisfaction that comes from checking off another job on your list.
- It benchmarks your performance. As you rack up successes, you'll quickly discover which tasks are easier or more difficult to focus on. Completing work more effectively will open up time in your schedule for other things, like Super Smash Bros.
- You can focus on what's important. Not every freelance gig is a good use of your time and talents. Sometimes it's the job itself that's the real distraction, and if it's sapping your energy, then that's a sign you should focus more on projects you're passionate about.
I know from firsthand experience that staying on task as a freelancer or remotely can be challenging. With no manager lurking over your shoulder, it places a greater responsibility on you to remain accountable for how you spend your time.
As long as you're conscious of your distractions and can work productively, there's no reason why you can't leave your time management woes in the dust where they belong. Remember to take the time to create a schedule that can support your projects and make the best use of your time, and always recognize when you've done a great job of staying on task.
Learning to manage your time is a skill, and you will continue to improve as you remain mindful of how and where you spend your time. At the end of the day, I promise that the rewards of effectively managing your time are well worth the process.