The Freelancer’s Battle: Fighting Distractions and Staying Productive

The Freelancer\'s BattleWhether you’ve been freelancing for two months or two years, it’s likely that you fight an ongoing battle with distractions. To succeed as a freelancer, it’s vital that you gain control over those distractions.

I think that freelancers face a particularly difficult battle against distractions because we often work independently. If we get off track, there is no one there to notice or to remind us to get back on task.

Working from home, while having many advantages, can also lead to distractions. If you work from home, how many times have you started the day focused on work projects and sort of drifted into doing errands instead? (If you can relate to this scenario, you’re not alone.)

Winning the fight against distractions can keep you from missing deadlines, having to rush to keep up, or making mistakes due to your own procrastination.

Fortunately, there are some simple steps that you can take today to overcome your distractions.

Control Your Environment

The first step in fighting distractions is to gain control over your environment.

Every freelancer has an ideal working environment. Two things to examine in your own working environment are:

  • Noise – Some freelancers need absolute silence to get their work done. Others thrive when there is background noise. Still other freelancers need “white noise” to block out the sounds around them.
  • Clutter – How cluttered is your office space? Some freelancers can’t even begin to think clearly until every last item is in its proper place. Others can reach maximum productivity even in the midst of a chaotic office.

Figure out what type of environment is best for your freelancing style and adapt your workspace meets your specific needs.

If you need noise to work, try turning on a television or radio. You could even spend the day at an Internet café. If you really need quiet, try to find a space where noise is minimal (even if it’s a closet).

Control Your Time

The next step in fighting distractions is to make sure that you are in control of how you spend your time.

Too often freelancers lose track of how they spend their time. It’s easy to break away from a project for “just a moment or two” and find that you’ve lost hours of working time (or even an entire day) without realizing it.

You can’t really control your time unless you know how it is being spent. That’s why I recommend keeping a log or using timesheets to track how you really use your time. If you work online, you may be able to use online time tracking tools as well.

I’d recommend tracking your time over at least a week. Once you’ve tracked your time for a while, take a look at your records. Where do you really spend most of your time? The answer might surprise you.

Once you realize where you really spend your time, you can take steps to eliminate or cut back on unproductive activities.

Control Your Interruptions

The final step in overcoming distractions is to control your interruptions.

We live in a time where instant communication is the norm. There are cell phones, instant messaging, e-mail, and social media sites such as Twitter to help us stay in touch with each other. In general, these are good things. However, all of these useful communication tools can also become a distraction to your work if you are constantly checking them for new messages.

Ask yourself if you really need to be available 100% of the time. If the answer is “no,” then set aside specific times during the day when you will check for messages and ONLY check for messages during those times.

Likewise, if the doorbell rings and you are not expecting a package or a person, it’s probably okay to ignore it.

You should also notify friends and family of your working hours and make it clear that, except for true emergencies, you are not available during those times.

How Do You Fight Distractions?

Strange as it may seem, I sometimes fight distractions by giving myself an incentive to get a project done. I’ll tell myself that if I finish this project on time I can have x. (For me, x is often a piece of chocolate.)

These little “rewards” usually are enough to help me stay focused and keep me from wasting my work time on something that won’t help my freelance business.

What distractions do you face?

What tricks and tips do you have for fighting distraction?