As a home-based freelancer, it’s vital to be mindful of the ways in which you can optimize your productivity. I’m a writer, so when I receive an assignment, I list items like transcribing the interview, and creating a first, second, third and final draft. As the story begins to form, I focus on additional research, quote gathering, and cutting word count.
Breaking down large projects into small bites is a great way to reduce the intimidating factor of the mountain ahead of you. Other techniques such as working backwards, finding the one thing, working in chunks, finding your rhythm, realizing ‘no’ is not a bad word, using productive self talk and chewing gum (yes chewing gum) can maximize your productivity.
Begin your work with the end in mind. Working backwards entails scheduling your work day at Gather to help you stay focused and positive while reaching for your goals.
Google Maps and Mapquest have this built in. Have you ever received a notification saying something like, traffic is light now — if you leave at 10:10 you will arrive at 10:55? This message will get you there a little early for your appointment and relieve stress.
Cal Newport, a computer science professor at Georgetown University, uses a time-saver he calls a fixed productivity schedule. He assigns a time allotment for each important task holding himself to a strict schedule for each day. This procedure of working backwards helps maintain focus on his day’s work.
To start working backwards, formulate your end goal: a completed project. Be specific about what you plan to accomplish. Place the desired deadline on your calendar, then begin to fill in a time slot on your calendar for the next to last step you need to achieve to satisfy your deadline. Continue to regress in time on your calendar with each previous step. This way, you’re able to confirm your project’s start time. With larger projects, begin this process days, weeks or months ahead to ensure capacity to meet your deadline.
Find Your One Thing
There are days, especially Mondays, when my work week stretches ahead of me and I can’t see the tree for the forest. In other words, there is SO MUCH to be done that I can’t even start. Do you ever feel that way?
One way to get started is to identify the one specific item on your to-do list to plug in as an action item on your calendar: the one task that will further your goals the most. If that was all you accomplished that day, you would feel a sense of relief and satisfaction to have it behind you. Be sure to write your goal down.
Dr. Gail Matthews of the Dominican University of California found that people who write down their goals are 39.5 percent more likely to achieve them.
Work in Chunks
One productivity-increasing technique I’ve developed over the past few years is grouping similar tasks together in chunks.
In my work world, I may be working on two or three articles at a time, will transcribe each one, then structure each into a first draft, move to second draft per story, etc. For others, try to schedule all your interviews, staff meetings, conference calls, etc. in one day.
Failing to group tasks can be a time-waster with dozens of small, daily actions. Once you’ve completed a task, your mindset is more prepared to tackle the same step on another project.
Michael Hyatt says, “You can build on the gains of single-tasking by […] batching similar tasks. If you need to do a financial task, do several. Why ramp up to do one? Leverage your effort across several like tasks.”
Keeping interviewing, transcribing, and ordering drafts of each project in batches helps me. I can be more consistent in my hours at Gather by being strategic about my time commitments. I set false deadlines or time constraints I put on myself to avoid the panic of deadline days. Try grouping similar tasks together and watch your efficiency grow.
Find Your Rhythm
Encyclopedia Brittanica defines circadian rhythm as, “The cyclical 24-hour period of human biological activity”. After we get our necessary hours of sleep, our wakeful hours ebb and flow with varied levels of mental and physical energy based on our personal circadian rhythm.
One way to determine your up and down circadian cycle is to keep an hourly diary of your energy level on a scale of one (low) to ten (high). Set an alert on your digital calendar to check in two or three times a day and see what you discover.
Once you’ve determined your rhythm, schedule tasks on your to-do list that require the highest level of concentration for your peak rhythm timeframes. I am most productive between 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and that’s when I head to Gather. I know I will be able to work uninterrupted while there and look forward to getting work done in that time frame that would typically take me twice as long working from home. Tasks that require less focus such as responding to emails, setting appointments, invoicing clients or editing can be done at lower peaks on your circadian cycle.
“No” is not a bad word
If you are a people pleaser, telling someone “no” when they ask you to do something is difficult. Personally, I don’t mind saying no when it is appropriate. But when I’m offered additional freelance work that could lead to a great connection for future opportunities - that’s harder.
Sometimes we get so focused on trying to build our freelance business that we feel like ‘no’ is not an option. Trust me, it is always an option. Better to say no than miss a deadline and disappoint a client. Be sure to keep your mind on the big picture and be realistic about your capacity to complete an assignment once you take it on. Think of it as juggling: it’s much simpler to juggle three or four balls than five or more—you risk dropping everything.
Productive Self Talk
Talk to yourself. Did you know this can be a powerful tool to train yourself to put first things first, focus on the task at hand and feel a sense of power over task completion?
Self talk empowers you to instruct and speak positivity into your work. As a habit, it is a powerful tool. Talking to yourself about what needs to be done can become a rehearsal of what our focus should be to have the highest impact for that day, week or month.
According to Dr. Geri Markel of Managing Your Mind Coaching & Seminars, “Self-instruction helps you concentrate on what, when and how to accomplish a task.”
Self-talk maximizes the practitioner’s feeling of control over tasks and aids in dismissing distracting thoughts we may have. Be consistent enough to make this mind-to-mouth-to-calendar connection, because once it becomes a habit, watch out. Gather’s mantra: Let’s Do This! Is a wonderful example of empowering self talk. Positivity and motivational inspiration infuses much of the conversation between coworkers at Gather.
One researcher posted study results to convince us that chewing gum is one way to be more alert and productive. That’s an idea I can get behind.
When you feel a little out of it at your desk or coworking space, grab a piece of gum and WAKE UP! Better yet, offer some to your fellow Gather workers.
- Chewing gum can speed up your rate of performance by as much as 10 percent.
- Chewing gum boosts cognitive abilities, assumedly because the act of chewing arouses our brain to tackle more complex problems.
- Chewing gum can help us be more alert and helps us focus on the task at hand while reducing stress.
Staying productive and motivated as a freelancer can be tough — but remember, you’re the one in charge. Working from Gather allows you to schedule your day without the distractions of working from home. Design your business to be easy to run and design your days to suit your fluctuating levels of energy. If you’re feeling unmotivated or if you’re not as productive as you’d like to be, then look for one practical thing from this list that you can implement this week to turn things around.