Self-employment has an enormous set of benefits, and being able to choose how to spend your time is chief among them. But you may have noticed that this autonomy can be a double-edge sword, as you find yourself reading The Oatmeal or scanning YouTube in the face of an important pending deadline. What’s a freelancer to do? Here are seven tips to keep yourself on track.
1. Ditch email and social media. It’s hard enough to focus on specific tasks even without a constant stream of interruptions.Turn off your email, and sign out of twitter, Quora and facebook. If you must keep your computer on for research purposes, consider using private browsing options (“Private Browsing” in Firefox, “Incognito” in Chrome, or “InPrivate Browsing” if you’re actually still using Internet Explorer.) There are also internet-blocking apps available, including AntiSocial, which locks away social media sites, or Freedom, which locks away the internet entirely. Strict Pomodoro–a Chrome extension–turns off your access to social media and other distracting sites (such as YouTube) for 25 minute increments, with a 5-minute break between sessions.
2. Schedule time for specific activities. Whether you’re blocking a few hours every morning to respond to emails before setting client meetings, sending all of your Freshbooks invoices on Fridays or running your site analytics on Monday afternoons, having time scheduled for these business tasks will keep you from unnecessarily jumping from one activity to the next when you’re trying to finish some writing or coding.
3. Simplify the to-do list. It’s tempting to create overwhelmingly long lists of things to do, it will also lead to a feeling of helplessness that kills productivity. Having a manageable list will not only keep you on track, but also allow you to prioritize time-sensitive projects (I.e. the ones with deadlines) without neglecting ongoing projects. And delegating work you don’t need to do personally to a virtual assistant or other service provider can free up some time to focus on what you do best.
4. Break up your week. Knowing what you need to get done on a daily basis can help keep you on track, and breaking up large tasks into small, manageable chunks will keep you focused. On Monday mornings (or better yet, Friday afternoons), make a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish over the coming week and how long you think they’ll take. Then simply divide the activities by five, and resolve to accomplish a set amount each day. Leave some time, if possible, for any last-minute projects that inevitably creep up, or activities which take longer than you’ve anticipated.
5. Check in with someone. If you’ve followed the list above, then you know exactly what you need to accomplish and when you need to accomplish it by. Find a friend or coworker to check in on with your progress, and watch your productivity skyrocket simply due to the sense of accountability created.
6. Stay healthy. Counterintuitive as it may seem, getting enough sleep, eating properly and exercising has a tremendous effect on productivity. While relying on caffeine and willpower can help you get through a short-term project, it’s not an effective strategy in the long run. It’s extremely challenging to work when you’re starving, and being alert and energized beats falling asleep at your desk, and
7. Go somewhere else. Whether you’re setting up shop in a local cafe, working alongside a friend in their office, or taking advantage of a shared co-working space, sometimes getting out of your office and being in a different environment will help you focus on finishing the task at hand, without taking breaks to water your plants or clean the closet.
About the Author: Yael Grauer is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis, Minn. When she’s not covering health and fitness (or business and tech) for online and print media, Yael can be found working with small business owners and creative entrepreneurs on search engine optimization, copywriting and communications. Yael is a proud member of the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Association of Health Care Journalists and the National Writers Union. Sign up for her newsletter if you’re looking to improve your own written communication or your business’ content strategy.