If you struggle with productivity – as most freelancers do – the steps laid out here could easily do this for you. Turning you into a productivity machine.
And we don’t want to just throw a whole bunch of lessons at you. Easy-implementation makes change happen. So treat this post as more of a roadmap you can follow to double your productivity over the next few months.
First, what is the key to freelancing super-productivity?
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the job at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus,” ~Alexander Graham Bell
Picture sitting outside on a sunny day, holding a magnifying glass over a piece of paper. You sit still, not moving. Focusing on a singly tiny point. 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds and suddenly that point goes dark and puff, you burn a hole through the paper.
The one key to productivity is focus
Imagine if you had been moving that magnifying glass all over the piece of paper. Nothing would happen! But this is what most freelancers do all day long. Sound familiar?
Focus clears away mental clutter. It creates clarity and simplicity, bringing all your mental energy to bear on one thing and one thing only.
Building a habit of focus is extremely powerful, and breaking focus regularly is destructive and mentally exhausting. Once you break focus it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back to the job at hand – every time you move that magnifying glass. Check out this great LifeHacker post on the many dangers of breaking focus.
Your three key areas to focus for massive productivity
To be a successful freelancer who also has lots of free time, you simply must master this skill. Find focus in your mind and energy, your communications, and your environment.
1. Focus Your Mind, Find Freedom, Swim with the Current
All freelancers have constant distractions. Clients getting in touch, team members with demands, regular distractions not related to work. Things we suddenly remember we have to do. Lots of seemingly urgent things that battle for our attention.
The trick is not to try and resist them and ignore them. Instead give yourself freedom to forget those things just for the moment with a release valve.
You can do this with a timer. If you dedicate 25 minute, or 50 minutes to working on one task, then you have 10 minutes dedicated to relaxing and dealing with distractions – this helps you postpone all distractions until your break. Here are 10 online timers you can use.
When you’re working in your 50-minute window, when something pops up you can say, ‘ok, I’ll deal with that in my break’ make a note, and get back to work. Then when the timer beeps you completely forget about work and do everything else. Just when that timer beeps again, you get right back to it.
You have mental freedom, and can enjoy guilt-free distractions
The best intervals to work in are 25 minutes and 50 minute periods. With short breaks, and every 2 hours a longer one. Why 25 or 50-minute windows? Because of the famous Pomodoro energy-cycle, which is how our minds and bodies concentrate the best.
LifeHack has a few ideas for upgrades to the system here.
Your morning magnifying glass
During your morning focus window, train yourself to keep absolutely concentrated on the one big task that is most important to your freelancing business. If your mind wanders, just bring it back, much like meditation. After a while this becomes habit.
To begin with, perhaps just work for two 25-minute cycles or one 50-minute cycle first thing in the morning. Over time you can build on this until it’s your whole morning, then your whole day.
Right at the start of the day you can help your mind slide into absolute focus by postponing the news until later, and perhaps postpone other distractions like meetings and even dare I say it… messaging or email.
Give yourself the gift of a simple morning, free of clutter. Like Leo Babauta, perhaps with exercise too.
2. Focus in Communications, Simplify, Get Helpers
There are two ways you can focus in your communications.
One is to make it simpler for you. Bring communications into one place, physically. And into one time, during your day.
If you have your communications spread across many different channels, types of email and chat, and also you communicate with people all day long, spread out at any time, then you are making the magnifying glass fly all over the place.
Your communications are lower quality, and your other work is disrupted by this too.
Focus your communication times
Tim Ferriss recommends moving communication times to one or two times of the day. Perhaps 11am and 4pm. And letting people know in a tactful way, perhaps with an autoresponder message.
You could start with simply not checking communications until 10am, when you’ve already begun work on your most productive task. This might be an easier first step.
Focus your communications in one place
Much as Evernote brings all your notes into one place, Fleep channels all your business conversations into one place. It is the most advanced messenger and file sharing service, which can either replace email or work in harmony with it.
Freelancers have to juggle a lot of clients, suppliers and partners – and with them various forms of communication. Fleep enables you to streamline how you do that. It is easy to use and has no impact on your contacts, with zero barriers to entry. So if your clients want to use email, they can, your Fleep messages will be delivered as emails to their inboxes.
This is important, as you need to be realistic and make sure any new productivity systems are as easy as possible to implement and use.
Train people to help you focus
Other people are the biggest obstacle to productivity. If you let them be. They can also be your biggest helpers
As you implement these new habits such as working to 50-minute blocks with no distractions and only messaging once or twice a day, let other people know what you’re doing and why. And politely enforce it when they try to get you distract you.
People will respect you for it. Perhaps even be inspired. Everyone wants to work with freelancers who are productive and take their time seriously. You have just become one of them.
3. Focus in Your Environment, Like Steve, Free Your Mind
Make things easy on yourself. Create an environment in which it is easy to focus, as Paul Boag explains in this great post.
You can do this in your workspace, your digital space and your mental space.
Working remotely? Despite the benefits, you will face some challenges as a remote worker. But don’t fret! There are ways to overcome the challenges of working remotely.
Steve Jobs loved an empty room with no furniture, to sit and think in. Maybe this is going a little far for you. But clutter around us does have a very detrimental effect on our ability to focus. Clean it up, use the ABS method – Always Be Cleaning.
This goes for your digital space too. A minimalist, clean desktop means when you move to your first task in the morning, you have no mental clutter on the way. Both physically and digitally you can have everything within easy reach, just not within line of sight.
Control social media and internet clutter
One of the biggest distractions to freelancers is of course, social media. And the internet in general.
Limit access to sites until later in the day with plugins like some of these, or within a site like Facebook you can stop adverts and the news feed with FB Purify. There are so many great productivity tools for helping control your natural urges to find distraction in the addictive treats that abound online. Make it your business to know them, and to know what works for you, and what doesn’t.
Here is a terrific list of apps to help by Suleiman Leadbitter.
Declutter mentally too
Badly managed to do lists can leave your mind crammed with tasks jostling for your attention. Not a quiet place for powerful focus.
One quick way to declutter your mental space is to go through your lists and strike off anything that isn’t urgent, as Steve Pavlina recommends his productivity hacks. Another great tip is to delegate all you can. And of course, above all, identify the most important tasks to focus on. And do them first.
When you select your number one task, project or unpleasant job (your frog, as Brian Tracy calls it) that will get to furthest towards your goal, then that is all you should focus on, until it is 100% done. Find ways to deal with everything else later – after you’ve ‘eaten your frog.’
A final tip on planning your day. If you plan your day the evening before, even briefly, then your unconscious mind can work away at it all night long. You’ll simply be more focused in the morning. And you’ll reduce worry and sleep better to, because you’ve mentally de-cluttered.
And there you have it. A freelancer’s route to rock-solid productivity. Just remember to take it easy and implement each part slowly. Too much at once won’t help you focus, it might even stress you out and diminish your focus.
But if you aim to have these practices in place three months from today, you’ll be twice as productive, no doubt about it.
Just a final note on your power of focus;
Now you can focus the sun’s rays, time to turn up the energy
All these habits of focus will mean little if you don’t have the energy to make things happen in the first place. Eat healthily, sleep well, exercise. Drink water, breathe.
If you combine strong body and mind with strong productivity habits, you’ll be one unstoppable freelancer.
A few people to follow on productivity for freelancers
This is a guest blog post written by Marek Sanders, who is a copywriter, productivity enthusiast and Fleep evangelist.