Arguably one of the greatest perks of freelancing is the freedoms it allows. However, those same freedoms can become a curse, especially in the form of distractions.
In a traditional work environment, there is often some sort of built-in accountability to keep you on task. Whether it be the oversight of a supervisor or even daily in-person contact, freelancing often lacks these ever-present reminders to remain focused.
The Common Culprits for Distraction
Even as I write these words, I have distractions coming at me from multiple directions. But as any tried and true freelancer will tell you, learning to gain control of those distractions is one surefire way to set yourself up for success.
To master the diversions, you first need to understand precisely what they are and how to best beat them.
So, before I get distracted again, let’s quickly dive in!
Being as most freelancers work from home, household duties are among the top distractions to contend with. Unlike our commuting counterparts, each quick trip to the bathroom may take us right past that pile of laundry needing to be folded or a sink full of unwashed dishes.
More than once while sitting at my computer, waiting for inspiration to strike have I noticed my furniture could do with a good dusting. Fast forward an hour, and I’ve abandoned my business-related task and am in full-on cleaning mode.
A messy house/workspace can be incredibly distracting in itself. To avoid any stoppages of work, build in some time at the end of your day to tidy up.
Starting an end-of-day routine can be a great way to signify that your workday is over as well as an effortless way to ensure you have a fresh start the following morning.
Because I swear laundry and other household chores multiply the longer they sit, here’s a way to tackle dreaded tasks in a productive and manageable way.
By using the ever-helpful productivity technique, the Pomodoro Method, you can maximize your working time while still attending to your hamper. This method consists of working for a predetermined amount of time followed by a short break. After you’ve completed four working/break sessions (called a Pomodoro), you take a longer break.
For example, if you’re lucky enough to have in-home washing and drying units, use your short break times to start and switch laundry loads and your longer one to fold.
Employing this hack has not only helped me stay on track while working, cut down on longer-than-necessary breaks, (I’ve said buh-bye to long Netflix-while-folding sessions) but also made me quite the efficient laundress.
You can easily switch out “laundry” for any other household task you may need to attend to. I’ve noticed it made bigger cleaning jobs more manageable when they’re broken down into smaller, efficient blocks.
Thanks to streaming services, binge-watching has quickly become a prevalent time-wasting phenomenon. It starts out with a simple thought.
“I’ll just watch one episode to clear my head.”
Cue the auto-play, and somehow you’re half a season in, unable to look away. Unless you’re an entertainment writer where show-watching is your bread and butter, TV watching rarely points to a mega-productive day.
If you’re a bookworm like me, your manta may very well be “Just one more chapter.” I appreciate a good thriller I can’t put down. That is until I’m both on a deadline and mid-book. Talk about a dilemma.
While some say watching the occasional movie or reading a good book can help bust through writer’s block and jog your inspiration, more often than not it just leads to lost time.
If you lack the self-control for “just one episode/chapter,” put a hard and fast no-TV/reading rule in place during working hours, including any break times.
It may also help to frame screen time or reading sessions as an end-of-day reward. If there’s a particular book or program you’re looking forward to, set it as your “I made it through my to-do-list” treat. This way you have some motivation to check things off in earnest and have something to look forward to.
Family and Friends
Freelancing is an appealing career choice, especially for stay-at-home parents. However, for those who think being a work-from-home parent is easy, try telling a toddler ” I’m on a deadline, sweetie. Can we play later?”
Even those without children may find that their families may not fully understand their career path and their limitations. Sure, the freedom that freelancing provides can be a blessing, but not if you haven’t established clear boundaries.
After speaking with a few of my freelancing friends, I found out just how common it is for both family and friends to interpret “working from home” as “having all the free time in the world.”
If you’re a working parent, consider the cost: benefit ratio of hiring some help or getting a family member to lend a hand, even if only for a few hours a week. Just ask any part-time freelancer; you can get a whole lot of work done with a couple of well-planned hours a week.
If a part-time babysitter isn’t in your budget or family help isn’t an option, you still have choices. Check out your local library or community center for free or low-cost classes your child can attend. If you bring along your laptop, you can get an hour or so of distraction-free writing in with ease while your child enjoys a supervised activity.
Additionally, try to schedule your work hours around your kids’ activity, school, and sleeping schedules. If your only distraction-free time happens to be after the kids are in bed for the night, take advantage and log some nighttime office hours.
Setting boundaries as a freelancer should be of utmost importance, not only with your clients but with family members as well.
Vacations and Social Plans
As a freelancer, no one is there checking if you’ve taken an extra long lunch or cut out early for dinner plans. Even further, as a full-time freelance writer, you essentially have an unlimited bank of vacation days at your disposal.
Yet, if you’ve been at it for any length of time, you know that just because you can take time off, doesn’t mean you should.
Indulging in these freedoms of scheduling can many times leave you missing deadlines, rushing work, and possibly even losing clients.
If you’re going on a trip, be sure to plan ahead. If you’re interested in a work-free vacation, be sure to submit any upcoming work ahead of schedule. Communicate your out-of-office dates with clients, and you’re all set for some real R&R!
If you plan on working while away, make your intention known to your travel mates. After all, clear expectations and boundaries make all the difference. Always check for internet connectivity before leaving so you won’t be left in a lurch.
If you’re going to pop out for lunch with friends or cut out early for dinner plans, be sure to adjust your schedule. Say you stop working an hour earlier to make dinner plans, make up for it the following day by starting an hour earlier or working an hour later than usual.
Rather than sticking to a time clock, think of it as owing yourself these working hours. Especially to a freelancer, time is money!
Social media can be an incredibly useful tool in any freelancers’ arsenal but only if used correctly.
If you’re not on social media for business purposes, now is the time to start. On the other hand, if you’re on social media for anything but business during working hours, get off now.
Even when you are using social media to boost your biz, there’s a good chance you can find yourself straying from the task at hand. Without noticing, you can go from work-related tweeting to mindless scrolling of useless, yet entertaining threads and stories.
As part of your workday scheduling, give yourself a time limit for logging onto social media platforms for sharing, promoting, and connecting.
You’ll need to be mindful of using that time solely for business purposes. When you’re time is up, move on to the next task.
The Black Hole Internet
Most freelancing is done online these days. You find and pitch clients online, research is done via the internet, and most submission platforms require a wifi connection.
As you also well know, the internet is also home to ever-present distractions such as online shopping, blogs, and more. It takes a whole lot of self-control to stay on task, but it is doable.
Avoiding internet distractions goes double for your cell phone. Unless you’re on-the-go sans laptop, your phone should be a no-go during working hours.
Start by using a distraction-free writing application such as Calmly Writer or ZenPen. Both use minimalist designs and go full screen to help squash the urge to lurk elsewhere online.
If online shopping is one of your vices, spin it as a way to earn money rather than waste time (and empty your wallet). If there are brands you particularly enjoy, see if they have an affiliate program you can join. Affiliate programs are excellent ways to make passive income by referring potential customers to your preferred companies or brands.
Your phone should be on do-not-disturb or even better, airplane mode. Silencing push notifications on both your laptop and phone can help ease the temptation to check emails or texts as they come in.
Unfortunately, these are just some of the many distractions you may be up against. How and where you work will dictate which distractions will distract you the most.
For example, those working in coworking spaces may have noise or “coworkers” to contend with. Part-time freelancers have fewer hours to work with, making combating diversions all the more critical.
Some of the best advice I can give on distractions is to reframe the way you view them. Rather than getting off task, use your distraction as a reward or simply schedule them into your day, changing them from a distraction to a box you can check off.
After all, the key to being a successful freelancer is not always working harder, just working smarter.