One of the joys of freelancing is the freedom: you can work where you want, and when you want, and there’s no one to tell you what to do. But the flipside of this is the need for focus and self-discipline. Here are some top tips which, if implemented on a daily basis, will help keep you on the straight and narrow.
Keep one (and only one) to-do list
Perhaps you’re someone who habitually keeps to-do lists on scraps of paper in your journal or pocket. Maybe you don’t like lists. But those who do keep lists of important actions often end up with several separate lists: you start one scribbled on the back of a shopping receipt; the next day, you left that list at home but you suddenly remember something you need to do, so you start a new list in the back of your diary.
One key bit of advice is to maintain one (and only one!) carefully organised to-do list. Lots of people like to use a physical paper list, and get satisfaction from crossing items off their list using a pen. Another (and perhaps better) approach is to keep a digital list on your phone or tablet. There are countless list-making and organisational apps to choose from. Many of them will sync between your devices so your list is always available to you.
Keep on top of your inbox
We all receive so many emails. From friends, from colleagues; promotional emails from companies; notification emails from various social networks. Some emails require time and energy to respond to; some can be deleted instantly without a second thought. Regardless of your attitude to email, keeping your inbox clear and empty is much easier and less of a headache if you spend time on it each day.
Make email clearance a part of your daily routine, whether that’s 30 minutes at the beginning of your working day, or the last thing you do before finishing work for the day. If you commute to work, your journey time could be the ideal opportunity to hack away at your inbox.
Maintain a routine
If you’re self-employed or you work from home, it can be very easy to get into bad daily habits. Maybe you start work as soon as you wake, before getting dressed and having breakfast. Maybe you work solidly throughout the day, without stopping for a lunch break, and then find yourself famished and exhausted by mid-afternoon. Whatever your bad habits, try to nip them in the bud when you see them happening. Start your day well, with a shower and breakfast, and try to operate in the same way that you would if you were working in an office with colleagues.
It’s so easy to lose focus on the task at hand. Thanks to the marvels of the internet, we have the world at our fingertips, beckoning us away from important jobs. Whether your guilty pleasure is browsing social media sites, or consuming the latest news, or scouring the celebrity gossip websites, these distractions can quickly eat into our productivity.
If you struggle, there are applications available to help: you could install software on your computer that will disable internet access entirely for a chosen period of time, forcing you to stay on track. But with some practice, it’s possible to develop your focus and mental concentration on your own: remember what’s important to you, and why you’re doing the tasks in the first place.
A messy desk or workspace can eat away at productivity and lead to distraction. If your office is cluttered and untidy, it can be a mental drain as much as a physical distraction. Not only is the clutter nagging at you to be sorted out and organised, but the mess can be psychologically damaging to your work ethic too: it’s easy to lose pride in your work and lose satisfaction from your job if your environment is negative.
If you keep on top of the clutter, you’ll be more organised, happier and more productive. And if your bills are paid on time rather than sitting on your desk, it’s one less thing to worry about!