Even when you’re lucky enough to be doing a job you love it can be hard to keep focussed. Maintaining productivity is especially hard for freelancers, as you don’t have a structured work environment to concentrate your mind.
When you’re your own boss, who’s there to tell you to stop scrolling through Facebook? Why not take an hour and a half for lunch? Fancy spending your entire morning doing household chores?
Luckily for you, we’ve put together a list of reliable techniques that you can use to challenge these thoughts and habits, to help you improve your productivity.
Sort Out Your Working Environment
First things first: you need to establish a clear distinction between your place of work and your home life. Ideally you should have a separate office, away from home, to meet clients in and to do your design work. Unfortunately, not everyone can afford this. If this is the case for you, find a space within your home that is purely for work. If you put your desk in a room in which you also relax, your brain will associate your location with those relaxed times and you’ll struggle to settle into ‘work-mode’.
You should take time to consider the state of your desk as well as its location. Having clear and tidy surroundings automatically reduces the amount of distractions in your vicinity. It also helps you focus on the few things out in front of you – i.e. what you need to do your job.
Create a Schedule
For all of your well-meant intentions, sometimes motivation alone isn’t enough to drive a successful venture. Instead of just saying that you are going to achieve a goal, establish how you will achieve it.
A study conducted by the British Journal of Health Psychology found that people are significantly more likely to stick to a goal if they create an explicit plan of action. Those who were simply motivated to do well, but who didn’t set out a plan, achieved similar results to the control group, who were not motivated at all. This suggests that motivation doesn’t really have anything to do with how likely we are to reach our targets.
Make Time for Breaks
There’s an unfortunate frame of mind amongst many hard-working people: they believe skipping breaks is a sign of commitment and productivity. Simply put, that mind-set is wrong. True, if you are in ‘the flow’ and ideas are just pouring out of you, breaks may just accidentally pass you by. That kind of skipping breaks is fine. However, if you do reach a block, forcing yourself to stick at it until you break through is not the answer.
Your brain needs respite every now and then to stay healthy, yet it’s been reported that 1 in 10 self-employed people never take a break for lunch. Out of all the breaks, lunch is possibly the most important because food literally fuels your brain -taking mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks is also advised, to help you stay on track throughout the day.
Try to physically get away from your desk during your breaks so that you can completely clear your head. Walking, for example, is a great way to stir up some creative thinking: it’s scientifically proven! Researchers at Stanford University found that people are more creative having been for a walk outside than those who stayed sat indoors.
Split Projects into Smaller Chunks
At times, the reason you haven’t got any work done on a project is down to just how big that project is. If a project is becoming daunting because of how much work has to go into it, take a step back and break it down into manageable sections. Give yourself some milestones to aim for.
Completing several small tasks in a day can be just as fulfilling as signing off an entire project, according to research. Workers were asked how they felt their day had gone, every day for the duration of the study, as well as what had happened that day to make them feel like that. Taking consistent steps forward were found to greatly improve a worker’s perception of how productive their day has been, even if the individual steps taken did not do much towards the overall progress of a project.
Prioritise Your Workload
To help you create your schedule for the day, you should assess which jobs on your list are most urgent and which can be postponed. The Eisenhower Decision Matrix is a useful tool to help you do this. The matrix allows you to discern which tasks need doing according to how urgent (requiring immediate attention) or important (contributing to your long-term plan) they are.
At the end of each day, take some time to prioritise tomorrow’s to-do list. This should help you wind down, as it lets you know how projects are going to move forward, and it should make it easier for you to pick up where you left off when you start work in the morning.
Think in Days
To finish, here’s a very small change that you can make to your routine. When thinking about a deadline, don’t count how many months or weeks you have left, think about how many days you have left. This tricks you into thinking that a deadline is much more imminent than it actually is and so motivates you to work harder.
Even when you implement all these strategies, there are times when you just hit a wall. Creative block can be a real pain when your income depends on you being creative. Take a look over our post, 6 Types of Creative Block and How to Overcome Them, to know what you should do next time inspiration fails you.