12 Plus Ways for Freelancers to Focus and Stay on Task

Most freelancers work from home, where they are often bombarded by distractions. The doorbell rings. The dog barks. The phone rings. The kids scream and fight.

And if all of this background noise weren’t enough, there’s also the distractions inherent to working online: websurfing, social media, email, online games, and so on.

Does all this sound familiar?

It should. This is just a typical day at the office for many freelancers.

With all of these distractions going on, how can a busy freelancer make sure to get everything done?

In this post, I share over twelve easy ways to stay focused and stay on task.

How to Stay on Task

Distraction is the enemy of productivity. If you’ve ever taken a “minute” to surf the web and lost a good part of an entire day, then you know what I mean.

It’s no secret that freelancers battle distractions. Since we don’t have a boss looking over our shoulder and telling us to get back to work, it’s up to us to learn to manage distractions.

Here are thirteen tips you can use to fight distraction.

  1. Use time saving tools. Some apps help you block out online distractions by eliminating your access to certain sites for a specified period of time each day. Rescue Time and Freedom are two such apps. If your main distractions are online, these apps may help you.
  2. Keep regular office hours. It’s hard to stay on task and get things done if you’re never sure when you are actually going to be working. Irregular hours make it too easy to procrastinate. Instead, schedule regular working hours for yourself and keep them. When you are “at work,” don’t let yourself do anything else.
  3. Have a serious talk. If others keep interrupting you with phone calls, text messages, or by dropping by it may be time to have a serious talk. Unfortunately, because many freelancers are at home all day, friends and family tend to think we are available. Sit them down and explain that while you are at home you must work.
  4. Review at your debt. Debt be a huge motivator for getting things done. When the reality of your bills sinks in and you realize that you won’t be able to pay those bills unless you get your work done, it can help you to avoid distractions. Some freelancers keep major bills by their desk for added “inspiration.”
  5. Maintain a separate machine for work and play. In extreme cases of Internet distraction, you may find it helpful to own a work machine that has no access to the Internet. While this method can be expensive, if you can get your daily work done without accessing the Internet, the method can also be effective.
  6. Turn it off. A lot of interruptions come from things that could be turned off. So, turn the ringer on your phone off. Turn off any background distractions such as television or radio. Put your cell phone in another room to keep yourself from checking text messages. Unplug yourself now and check messages later.
  7. Hire a sitter. If noisy kids are your main distraction, try hiring a sitter to keep them occupied during your working hours. You don’t necessarily have to ship them off to day care, you may able to hire someone to watch them in your own home for a few hours each day while you do your work that requires the most concentration.
  8. Avoid too much multi-tasking. We are so proud of our ability to multi-task. But sometimes multi-tasking can backfire and become over scheduling. If you’re a serial multi-tasker, watch out for over scheduling. Learn to say “no” to those tasks that don’t improve your bottom line.
  9. Keep a schedule. Put all of your work on a schedule, so that you don’t forget to do something important. Review and update your schedule on a regular basis. Cross out the tasks that you’ve completed and add any new tasks that have come in since the last time you reviewed your schedule.
  10. Declutter. A messy office or home can be a huge distraction. It can also keep you from finding things that you need to get your work done. Take some time now to establish a system for minimizing the clutter. Find a place for everything and keep your workspace picked up.
  11. Practice healthy habits. It’s hard to focus properly on work if you’re not feeling well. Keep illness at bay by practicing healthy habits on a daily basis. Eat healthy foods. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Visit your doctor regularly for the recommended checkups.
  12. Picture the project completed. If you’re working on a very large project and the end doesn’t seem to be anywhere in sight, imagine what it will be like when you have already completed the project. Picture yourself getting a “thank-you” email from the client or cashing in on your payment for the project.
  13. Bribe yourself. If you really need to stay on task and nothing else seems to work, consider offering yourself a bribe. The bribe could be anything you enjoy but normally wouldn’t get–a special meal, a day off, the purchase of something you’ve wanted to buy for a long time…

How Do You Stay on Task?

Now that I’ve shared my best tips for staying on task, it’s your turn. What works for you? How do you stay on task?

Image by EvelynGiggles

Comments

  1. says

    Good list!

    On top of:

    “Maintain a separate machine for work and play. In extreme cases of Internet distraction, you may find it helpful to own a work machine that has no access to the Internet. While this method can be expensive, if you can get your daily work done without accessing the Internet, the method can also be effective.”

    We actually find it best to maintain separate spaces for work and play – for working out of a home, nothing “work” allowed outside of the office, and nothing “play” or even involving the home life (personal taxes, bills, etc.) allowed into the office.

    The more separation the less of that “grey time” when both work and play try to be accomplished but neither happen.

  2. says

    Thanks Fax Authority!

    I’ve not tried the separate machine for work and play in a strict sense, although I use my iPad mostly for play (but work if I am travelling) and my desktop mostly for work.

  3. says

    gosh I needed this Laura. Thank you. I am a person who always needs constant stimulation and new things and new info to be consumed. It’s a personality trait that works with freelancing…except for this part!

  4. says

    Asoto Adeola–Distraction is a problem mainly if it keeps you from doing what you need to do.

    Hi Allena, I agree with you about the freelancing personality. I think that’s why so many of us battle distraction (to say nothing of the fact that there are so many distractions out there).

  5. says

    “Avoid too much multi-tasking.” This one I can appreciate. I recently began doing things like assigning one day to certain marketing tasks that need to be done consistently. For instance, the vast majority of my (scheduled) tweets are done on one day. I spend another day commenting in my linkedin groups. I have a day for responding in forums, then I have blog day (today), etc. I find it’s easier to focus and stay on task when I don’t have to be all over the place.

  6. says

    Laura- A second THANK YOU from me. I’ve been using Rescue Time for two days and am quite happy with it. Had to come back and thank you personally for the suggestion. :)

  7. says

    Great article, I’m so impressed with the Rescue Time app, it’s important that I have control over blocking the internet out for a period of time, but not blocking it out completely.

  8. says

    Found this article on Stumble! Having worked at home as a freelancer (entrepreneur) I can completely relate to all of the stumbling blocks you have mentioned above about working out of the home. My biggest obstacles are staying on track and not getting distracted! What I find helps, which you’ve discussed, is keeping a schedule and sticking with it! The beauty with working at home is that you can be very flexible and schedule things around your work. Another thing that has helped me immensely is having the family on track with waht you are doing and trying to accomplish!

  9. says

    Interesting article.I am practicing the point “Picture the project completed.” for a while now as I am stuck in similar kind of situation and the points discussed in that bullet are the same as I think often for motivation.

  10. says

    Point 3 rings very true for me. This is something that gets me really frustrated. As much as I love spending time ith my friends and relatives, they just can’t seem to realize that working at home still means I need to work.

  11. Gilber S. says

    Great tips Laura and I indeed agree with #6 and it is one of the great ways to do (avoiding work distractions or turning off your gadgets while working) to keep your focus on tasks just like Airplane mode. It will help freelancers limit wasted time, get more things done and boost productivity. It also helps freelancer to meet deadlines, where most freelancers are working from different clients.

  12. says

    Ahaa, its good dialogue regarding this paragraph at this place at this website, I have
    read all that, so now me also commenting at this place.

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