Time bandits. Those little things around the house that can add up to major time loss over the course of a week. For anyone who freelances or works at home, you know what I mean. Chores, fun distractions, and personal business can all creep in and steal valuable time away from your freelance work.
Here are the top four time bandits in my life, and what I do about them to make sure that I stay on track with my freelance projects.
- The Internet
Oh, the glories that the World Wide Web has to offer. The web is my biggest distraction (aka: time bandit) because it is convenient, entertaining, and offers variety. Online gaming, fun articles, hobby sites, pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, dancing monkey videos on You Tube…and the list goes on. The point is, while browsing a few sites for article inspiration or research is a great idea, it can be pretty easy to get sucked into the wonders of cyberspace.
Before you know it, half of your workday is gone and you have gotten nothing accomplished.
So what do I do about it? Most often, I'll muster up all of the willpower I have, and force myself to stay focused on the writing project. Then, I'll give myself a five minute break each hour to stop working and explore the fun side of the computer. After that break is over it is back to work, with the promise of a fun break during the next hour.
Of course, there are always those days when the Internet is too much of a distraction, and I can't seem to stay focused on work.That is when I break out my notebook and pen, head outside, and finish my writing in longhand. I find that, being away from the computer for a while breaks the cycle, and I am able to put together an article much more efficiently. If I need to do a bit of research, I'll make a note of it and do it later. Or, I will head in, set the timer, and give myself 10 minutes to find what I need. Then I head back outside to enjoy nature and get some work done.
- Household Chores
Working at home can be like working in an obstacle course. You want to finish your work, but see all of these things around the house that you want to get done: a leaky faucet to repair, a shirt to iron, a floor to sweep, etc. It's great to get a jump start on household chores so that you will can enjoy a mop free weekend.
However, writing is your career, and it should be treated the way that you would treat any other job – with dedication and hard work.
Odd but true, I love to iron. So, some days I will give myself a break every few hours, to get some ironing and other household chores done. I'll set the kitchen timer for 10-15 minutes and focus in on a quick chore or two. Then I can get back to work, happy to have taken a break, pleased to have finished a chore that was on my mind, and ready to re-focus on my writing.
- Personal Email and Phone Calls
Nothing is better than getting a hilarious email from an old friend, or talking to one of the people in your life who can make you laugh until you cry. The problem is, if you take every personal call, and read every personal email, that comes in, you will not get any work done. Trust me – this is how I spent the first few months of my writing career, thinking I could multitask. I couldn't, and wound up frustrated and constantly worried about deadlines.
I also knew that if I didn't check my emails and phone messages, they would be on my mind all day. I also didn't want to miss a call from an editor or client. So, I started to plan when I would read my email and listen to phone messages. First thing in the morning, before I get started with my writing, I go through all of my messages. If there is something important that I need to respond to, or if it is a quick email that would take me under 2 minutes to write, I respond then so that it is crossed off of my to-do list.
If it is a friendly, but not urgent, email, I save it until the end of my work day. Then, after I am finished working for the day, I can respond to the email at my leisure and take my time with it.
- Fun Projects
Let's face it, sometimes working on an article about water efficient toilets just doesn't compare to the fun that could be had painting a picture or finishing a scarf. The problem is, projects can be worse than the Internet in terms of time passage. As the old saying goes, "Time flies when you're having fun."
For me, there is no such thing as a "short break from work" to finish a project. I know that I'll get wrapped up in the fun, and before I know it five work-free hours have passed.
So, when it comes to projects, I wait until after work. If it is too tempting to see the unfinished canvas in front of me, I'll move it to another room until after I have finished work for the day. Then, when I am done with the work and goals I needed to accomplish, I'll take some time to paint.
Freelancing is not always easy, but it rewarding. Take the time to learn your personal time bandits, and figure out ways to make yourself more efficient. If all else fails, think of it this way – the faster you get your work done, the more time there is for fun and hobbies!