Distractions are a big problem for the self-employed, self-managing freelancer. Because of distractions, we waste our precious time. Our productivity is diminished. Rushing to meet deadlines means we enjoy life less. Ultimately, distractions reduce our profitability.
We don’t like that. Freelancers want to squeeze the most work from every minute that we’re working.
Therefore, the sooner we can become the bosses of our distractions, the better for us.
Internal vs External Distractions
As we’ve learned from the Pomodoro Technique, there are two main types of distractions: external and internal.
External distractions are pretty much out of our control. They arise from our environment in the form of a person or a situation demanding our attention (such as, in my case, a toddler who wants a snack).
Other examples of external distractions are:
- the phone ringing
- your neighbor coming over unexpectedly
- a package arriving at your door
- a fire suddenly starting in your kitchen
- your dog whining to be let out
External distractions are unexpected and unpredictable, and you have limited control over them. However, you can manage them in a way that causes the least disruption in your work, as you’ll see later on.
Internal distractions arise from our own minds and therefore originate from ourselves. These are thoughts that spring forth while we’re in the middle of typing a sentence.
- “I wonder how many RTs I have now.”
- “I should check my email.”
- “I’m hungry for a snack.”
- “Let’s see what’s on TV.”
In many cases, internal distractions are little ways we sabotage ourselves and keep ourselves from doing our work.
It’s in every freelancer’s best interest to get to the root of his or her internal distractions and learn how to avoid them, minimize them, or eliminate them altogether.
What Internal Distractions Really Mean
I’m no psychologist, but I will venture some theories on why we distract ourselves. All this comes from my experience of battling my inner demons every single day. Read them and see if you agree:
- You’re afraid. You distract yourself because of fear… of failing, of succeeding, of finishing, of moving on. I know that every time I sit down to write a sales letter, I wonder if I’m going to produce a dud. I wonder if my client will really sell stuff with the words I’m writing. I’ve been writing sales letters for two years and I still feel this fear. I hear you never really get over it.
- You’re bored. You distract yourself, because you’re not enjoying what you’re doing anymore. Sure, you started freelancing so you could do what you love, be it writing, designing, coding or whatever else. Honestly, when you’re doing it for somebody else, it can be a drag sometimes. Besides, we’d rather play than work. It’s totally understandable.
- You’re resisting. I’m currently reading The War of Art, and author Steven Pressfield says resistance is a negative force that prevents us from doing anything “that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, healthy, or integrity.” Its only purpose is to keep us from moving to our higher nature.
- You feel inadequate. Another reason you may be sabotaging yourself is because you don’t feel up to the task. Perhaps you think you’re not good enough, you’re ill prepared, or not as good as the others.
- You’re doing the wrong thing. This is where I going to get airy-fairy-woo-woo on you. I can’t really explain it, but sometimes, I believe our intuition is telling us NOT to do something, because it isn’t in our best interest to do it.
Let me give you an example of that last point. I once had a big project for one of my regular clients. For some reason, I was feeling a big resistance to doing it. I wanted to do it. I would sit in front of my computer and try to work on it, but there would always be this block, so that it felt like I was running uphill.
A couple of days later, I get an email from my client telling me he has decided to go in a different direction, and gives me a new set of instructions.
See what I mean? It’s like my subconscious knew what was going to happen and was trying to stop me from pouring work into the project–work that would become useless because of the changes my client wants.
This has happened to me enough times that I believe in it completely. However, you don’t have to. Most importantly, don’t use this thinking as an excuse for not getting your work done.
Now that we have a better idea of where distractions come from, the next question is: what do we do with them?
Managing External Distractions
For external distractions, you have several options:
- Protect yourself from them. You accomplish this by getting your phone off the hook and letting your answering machine take care of your calls. You can also turn off the email notifications on your computer. Shut yourself in your home office, away from other people, the refrigerator, and entertainment devices. You can even use apps to keep external distractions at bay.
- Handle distractions as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. I like the two-minute rule by David Allen of Getting Things Done. If you can do something in two minutes or less, then do it. However, if something comes up that requires more of your time and attention, then simply add it to your to-do list. Include a date and time when it needs to get done. If it’s more urgent and needs your attention now, then you’ll just have to drop what you’re doing and switch to the emergency.
Being the Boss of Your Internal Distractions
Internal distractions are not as easily managed as external ones. But, it is possible. Here are five techniques you can use:
- For fear: Train yourself to forge ahead in spite of your fears. Remind yourself that you will make mistakes, and that you will have duds. So what? Nobody’s perfect. You learn from your mistakes and move on.
- For boredom: Reward yourself. Bribe yourself with a small reward after you complete your work. Or, reward yourself first. Take a break and do something fun for a limited time and then get back to work. (The operational word here is “limited.” Set a timer for your break.)
- For resistance: Act like a professional. According to Pressfield, you just have to treat your work as a job. You know, show up every day, put in the time, and just do it!
- For feeling inadequate: Give it your best shot. What else can you do? Just do your best with the task at hand. And then go out and get better. Get training, seek more opportunities to apply your skills. Remember, the more you do, the better you get.
- For doing the wrong thing: Wait and see. If your deadline permits, just stop and do something else. Sleep on it. Let your subconscious work on the project while you’re asleep.
Maybe something will turn up to let you know that you shouldn’t have done the task in the first place. Maybe not. Either way, leave yourself time to get the task done promptly.
The ultimate distraction buster is to remember your “reasons why.” Why did you become a freelancer? Why did you choose to work at home? Why did you quit your job?
When I don’t feel like working, I just look at my three kids and my hubby, and I remember my Four Reasons Why. It’s all I need to get myself back into action.
How Do You Do It?
What are your biggest distractions? Where do you think they come from? And how do you handle them?
I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Image by Leonid Mamchenkov