Not to lose focus being a freelancer may be quite a challenge. In my experience, I can tell you that getting distracted may be really easy if you work in front of your computer all day long and you have internet access.
However, focus for us freelancers is the key to success or to disaster. With clear ideas and your mind set on daily tasks, we can achieve the long-pursued productivity of our assignments.
The term “productivity”, though, might also become our enemy. It usually conveys some concern or pressure on our to-dos. And that’s because we tend to have a wrong vision of what staying focused actually means.
In general, we associate productivity levels with the amount of work that can be covered within a time frame. The more goals we achieve, the more productive we are.
Nothing could be further from reality.
Actually, as a psychologist I can tell you that our brain is not designed for long, exhausting working hours. It’s not a machine that has to work for many consecutive hours, solving problems.
For this reason, the more and longer you demand from it, the less productive you might get. For our brain, productivity translates into a balance between better time use and quality of final product.
Researcher Andrew Smart commented for BBC World, “The idea that you can indefinitely extend the time of your concentration and productivity to those arbitrary limits is wrong. It’s self-destructive”.
In conclusion, focusing to be successful has to do with being aware of your limits, and knowing that longer working hours do not necessarily mean better productivity. Instead, there are other factors that we freelancers should consider in order to boost our attention focus, make meaningful working hours and take our productivity to the 100%.
Today I’ll share with you some key factors that have allowed me as a freelancer, as a psychologist and also as a person, to meet all my objectives timely and in due form.
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To be productive, you must rest
Productivity also involves having a proper rest. In my own experience, I can only be productive when I’ve rested well enough.
Science says so. We need at least 8 hours of real rest to have our cognitive functions reactivated and be in conditions to offer a good service.
Actually, sleeping less than necessary impacts significantly on different areas of your life. Not only does it affect your performance at work, but it also becomes a health issue.
For more information, check the online article on Harvard Health Publishing, about the impact that resting has on our mental health.
Writing to create focus
As freelancers, we’re really used to digital tools, which have become our main work assistants.
However, our brain works quite well with handwritten information ―pen and paper are a good idea. Handwriting forces our brain to concentrate much more on the information.
That’s why , when I organize my list of to-dos I try to write them down, preferably with a blue ink pen.
Stay away from distractions and take good care of your working area
We work really close to distractions. After all, many of them come from the internet: social networks, YouTube videos, online games.
As freelancers, our challenge is to stay away from those distractions. However, not everything is in our computers.There’s scientific evidence that environmental elements play an important role in our performance. For instance, a noisy area is not the best to help our brain stay focused. Likewise, other things such as room temperature might also be adverse. That’s why I’m really careful with where and when I settle down to work.
For once, I can tell you that working from bed is the worst thing you can do. I tried to do it myself but it lead nowhere!
Having a working schedule is essential
Freelancing is usually associated with lack of working schedules. People believe that we work when we want or at any time.
And although it is partly true, the point is we do have a working schedule ―and the freedom to choose which that working schedule will be.
A rookie mistake is to think you can do your work at any time of the day, whenever you have some availability or after completing other chores. This freelance world is your work, as much as an office might be. Then, you need to have a routine and that conveys having a schedule. You need to know how many hours a day you’ll be working, and which time of the day you’re better at it.
For instance, I really enjoy working at night, after completing other tasks. This doesn’t mean however that I trade sleep time for work time. I just rest in other moment of the day.
You need to find your own working pace, where you feel your productivity improves. We all have that moment along our day 🙂
Create a habit
Psychologically speaking, our brain needs 21 days to create a habit. These have to be days of the deepest commitment and self-discipline.
Working from home, it’s tempting to manage your working schedule and shift it at your convenience, sometimes even skipping some resting hours to catch up with pending work.
At the very beginning as a freelancer, I used to be a chaos of pending work and to take too long to catch up. This was due to the fact that I had not created a habit in a specific schedule or time frame.
Basically, every day I would come up with different ways of dealing with my work and professional training. But at some point this improvisation method didn’t work any more for me.
As I was getting a better positioning and my work became increasingly demanding, I found it necessary to create a work habit, and I started by pulling away from distractions and being more determinate with my routine.
In order to create habits, you should read this article on Forbes, about The Science Behind Adopting New Habits (And Making Them Stick).
Not everything is work
An important part of having routines and schedules is leaving time for something else besides work.
Although sometimes the workload might be exhausting and it seems we’ll need longer hours a day, the truth is that working overtime won’t get you closer to productivity.
Our brain needs time for leisure. Actually, I can tell you that your focus span on the same task is, at the most, around 90 minutes. After this period, it’s advisable to have a break. In fact, the best you can do to make the most of your time is allow yourself some 10 to 20 minutes rest (every 90 minutes work), where you do something completely different from work.
Every person picks a different activity. Some like to take a nap, others prefer to play some game, and others just go for a walk.
If you don’t believe me, I’ll bring up the cases of Facebook or Google which, aware of the resting and recreational needs of their employees, have created areas to sleep for a while, or to simply lay down.
Don’t sacrifice your body
As a freelancer I can tell you that one of the first things I neglected when I started to gain new projects was my body. I didn’t have a routine or a schedule, least of all had I any time left for exercising or eating healthily.
I skipped my mealtime over and over, putting it off until I “had the time to”. However, that sometimes meant I had just one meal a day.
This is not translated into more productivity, it just wears you out, to the point that those activities done with an empty stomach or after a long day sitting non-stop in front of the computer result in poor quality.
Actually, the food we intake are key to keep our brain at its best. A diet rich in certain vitamins helps drive up our cognitive functions and become more productive.
Along the freelancing path, we need to face lots of challenges. One of the biggest is adapting our life to this world, which even with no fixed schedule, demands high discipline and responsibility from us.
It’s just like any other job, but here it’s us who have to manage our own assignments, and we need to have a good command of several tools to achieve the long-awaited productivity.
Finally, as a psychologist and a freelancer, I keep working because I get more and more productive. To do that, I’ve had to train my attention focus.
If you want to find out more about the topic, I suggest you read the article from Entrepreneur, with many tips to improve your productivity.
Lots of success in this world!