There’s no doubt about it; the freelance life is hard. And if the freelance writers in your life tell you otherwise, shoot me their emails because they are in the one percent, and I need to pick their brains. Of course, waiting on checks when your bills pile up is difficult, but if you’re like me and have transitioned from a highly structured full-time gig in an office environment to freelancing from the couch, operating at your maximum productivity level can be a tough nut to crack.
Here are a few simple ways I’ve been able to increase output and hone in on my various projects:
1. Get out of the house
Of all the perks freelancers have, working from home is one of them. But just like working in an office gets old, being stuck inside the four walls of your home office also becomes mundane. Before long, you’re getting sucked into your Twitter stream and being distracted by household chores and realize it’s 2:00 and you haven’t done anything of substance. When I have days like this, I throw on some shoes and leave. To a coffee shop, to the library, to someone else’s house. It doesn’t matter where you go, just find some new scenery. Plus, there’s something about being around other people who are quietly and diligently working that forces you to do the same. Freelancing can become lonely at times, and even being in the presence of other humans helps my productivity. It’s a mind trick, but it works every time.
2. Dress yourself well (t-shirts don’t count)
Wearing nicer clothes makes me more productive and helps me to think more clearly. I’m not just making this up: it’s science, according to researchers at Northwestern University. You tend to perform better whenever you’re sitting up straight and donning more professional clothing, even if “professional” is wearing jeans and a polo instead of PJ pants and a tanktop. Put on shoes instead of going barefoot, apply some makeup if you’re a lady, and you’re ready to go. Again, it’s all mental. Let the work flow.
3. Put the StayFocusd app on your browser
I’m bad about getting distracted by the Internet. In fact, I don’t want you to know how long it has taken me to finish this post from start to finish because I stopped for Facebook, checked my email 57 times and had to read today’s top stories from 4 different sources. (It’s not just me; Megan Mcardle for The Atlantic explained why writers really are the worst procrastinators). That’s where the StayFocusd extension comes in handy. Just download the free little gadget onto your browser, and you have the freedom to cut yourself off from websites that waste your valuable time. StayFocusd lets you block/allow entire websites, subdomains, pages or even specific in-page content like videos or games. So block BuzzFeed, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, Etsy, or whatever is stealing your precious time from 9 to 5 each weekday, and you’ll be amazed at how much more you get done. As a freelancer, time is your BIGGEST commodity — you cannot afford to waste it.
4. Use 2Do and cross stuff off your list
If you’re a freelancer you might be a go-getter. A self-starter. A high achiever. That probably means you’re super type-A and that you like lists. To me, making lists is therapeutic and fun, but crossing stuff off my lists is plain ethereal. Paper lists are great, but since I spend my days on the computer, I like 2Do. This app is great because you can set it up on your Mac and cross-use it as an iPhone app, too, so you keep all your tasks straight. 2Do lets you separate your various projects and create tasks and sub-tasks for each of them. And, it allows you to associate the people in your work life to your tasks. 2Do sends reminder notifications, and you can print your lists. If you’re a list person, get 2Do.
5. Take frequent breaks
This is not a license to go to the mall for 3-hour pow-wows. It is, however, permission to stop what you’re doing and let your mind and body rest. It’s simply not true that the longer your rear is in the desk chair every day, the more you will get done. According to scientific research broken down by New York Times writer Phyllis Korkki, “A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.” Every couple of hours or so, I get up, either to walk around a bit outside, sit on the balcony, get in a quick workout, grab the mail or coffee. And when I stop to eat lunch, I watch an episode of “The Office” to laugh and get my mind off work. I find that taking breaks leaves me feeling refreshed and ready to get back to business.
Happy writing! How do you increase your productivity as a freelance writer? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @10000Words.
Photo by Flickr user April Killingsworth and used here with a Creative Commons license.