As a freelancer who works from home, I’m sometimes asked by my friends with a ‘proper job’ how I stay focussed and on task with so many distractions around me. The truth is – practice. Well, practice plus the fact that I’ve only worked for myself for over ten years, so it’s also a habit.
I’m very aware of when I concentrate best. For some people it’s late at night, for others early in the morning. For me, it’s when it’s quiet. The time of day depends on what work I’ve got on. As I’ve got two kids at home from 3pm on a normal weekday I try to either get up and work early in the morning (4am-ish), and get the bulk of my ‘concentration’ work done before they get up. For me that’s things like quotes, creative proposals, accounts, and study. Then, when they’re off to school, the rest of the world is at work, so that’s when I have meetings, phone calls, emails, etc. That’s when I book my shoots as well.
If I’ve got an edit I need to work on, then my brain shifts a little. I tend to work best on edits in the evening, through to the early morning (depending on whether I’ve got an early start the following morning). So I try to reverse my day – get up to take the kids to school, then do the shoots / meetings / business work, then have a break with them after school, then when they’re in bed I hit the edit suite and don’t look back until I’m done.
Now, this system wouldn’t work for anyone else, I’m sure, but it works for me. I look forward to the edit session, I’ll have spent the whole day with the story or the concept mulling around in my head, so when I sit down to work it’s a matter of laying down what’s in my brain already. That’s why I find it hard to edit first thing in the morning when I’ve just woken up – my brain needs the time to digest and process the video at hand.
Conversely this is why first thing in the morning is the best time for me to do the grunt work of my job – it’s almost as though I can trick it into doing work before it’s properly awake. This is also why first thing in the morning is the best time for me to write pitches and concepts – my analytical brain isn’t yet awake, so my dreamlike creative brain takes over and runs the show (I do let the analytical brain step back in and check my work before I send out any proposals though!).
Every day I try to do some study too. It is usually different week to week as there’s just so much out there to learn! I love to read, so I’ve got (too many) well read books on all kinds of topics. Some of my go-to resources for online learning are MZed, Linkedin Learning, Lowepost, Youtube, and a fantastic editing productivity course called The Editing Chef, run by Piotr Toczynski (Cut to the Point). I always study best just before I go to sleep, so that’s when I do it. Whether reading a book or watching a lesson, it always seems to stick in my brain if I do it just before I sleep.
There are other ways I keep myself on track too. I use an ‘all in one’ communications app called Shift, which allows me to see at a glance my email accounts, WhatsApp, text messages, Facebook Messenger, calendar, accounts portal, and heaps more. This stops me from opening multiple browsers and running the risk of getting distracted. I use a plugin with this called SaneBox which sorts my emails as they arrive into the categories I have set up, which prevents me from missing important messages if I’ve muted them while I’m focussing on something. Having a dedicated time to respond to emails and messages (rather than pinging them off all day) is apparently really important, but definitely not something I’ve mastered yet.
Finally, I use an app called Toggl to track my time throughout the day. It helps me understand how much actual time I’ve spent on something (not how much time I feel like I’ve spent). I don’t use this for direct billing of my clients, but I use it to guide my quoting on future jobs. I know to a pretty high degree of accuracy how long certain things take to do properly – because I’ve timed it! It also has a great function where even if you don’t add any information as to what you’re working on, it can still track your time in various programs and tell you which files were open and when. Having this running all the time while I’m ‘at work’ really helps keep me on track – what would someone else think if they looked at my tracked day? Would they think I was being productive?
Being a freelancer is a real privilege, I mostly get to set my own hours and work when my brain is ‘ready’ for it. I know how lucky I am to be able to work this way, and I’m grateful to all my clients who support me and the business. Every day I try to be better than yesterday (although that also means that today I’m worse than tomorrow…!).
What are your favourite productivity methods and tools? I’m always looking for more! Drop me an email and let me know!
Thanks for reading.