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?


  1. says

    One of my blog readers swears by Leechblock, a Firefox add-in that is “designed to block those time-wasting sites that can suck the life out of your working day.” You can set it for the block of time you need. I haven’t used it yet, but I keep telling myself I will soon.

  2. says

    I find that acknowledging Parkinson’s Law (that the time it takes to complete a project will expand based on the amount of time you give yourself to complete it) and giving myself firm (and short) deadlines helps immensely. If you have a really complex or difficult project and only have a few hours to complete it, you WILL focus very, very hard to get it done, and 9 times out of 10, you will. And look at all the time you have saved that you can now spend on side-projects! Yay!

  3. says

    Thank you for this article. I’m an advocate of the 48 / 12 productivity method wherein you do 48 minutes of focused work with absolutely no distractions then 12 minutes to take a break or whatever. It really helped me a lot and realized how much work can be done in just 48 minutes.

  4. says

    In my mind, there’s nothing more important than controlling your distractions. It’s easy to get addicted to the ding of email, but every response is like a reboot to your brain. It’s best to focus on one thing at a time, complete it, take a break, and then move on to something else. Wash, rinse, repeat, etc.

  5. says

    I am one of those people that likes to have the TV running while I work. Without it I just become extremely bored with sitting at the computer for an extended period of time. It’s strange because you would think that the TV would prevent me from getting things done, but it really does help.

  6. Yana says

    Yes, it’s VERY, VERY, VERY difficult not to get distracted. I win with battle with mixed success.
    Recently I Installed the program Rescue Time that tracks the software I use and the sites I visit. I used it for a week and then created the tag ‘personal’ for all the stuff I used for personal (=not working) purpose. When I see how much time it takes… well, I feel shame. :(
    But I’m improving!

  7. Yana says

    Leechblock is usefull when you don,t have Internet Explorer installed on your computer.
    I installed it and blocked the main distracting sites from Mon to Fri from 8 to 18. And I started to use IE to visit them! :(((

  8. says

    Fighting distractions is the greatest difficulty of my business; especially those from my family. “I just needed to ask you one thing…” “Can you look on my desk; I left without my…” “Do you have #’s phone number?” “Thank goodness you’re home! I need you to…” When I turn my phones on silent, I miss calls from my overseas clients!

    Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

  9. says

    My dear husband is the worst! He’ll send me a text; then send me an email asking did I get the text; then call because I didn’t answer the email that referenced the text! And if I don’t answer my personal cell, he calls my business cell to tell me I didn’t answer my personal cell! And the original text referenced a “fun” website that i don’t have time to read anyway!

    I have to keep reminding him that at his job, he gets paid even when he’s twiddling his thumbs! I don’t.

    Pro Writing/Editing Services

  10. says

    Distractions don’t bother me.. Wait what is that shiny object… Ohh look another cup of coffee…

    What was I saying? Oh yeah I’m rarely distract… um oooh a new twitter reply

  11. Rhys says

    I work at home and temp in an office. It’s remarkable how much more I get done in the office than at home. In the office, I’m so focused that I don’t even need to eat lunch. Of course the unlimited coffee there helps. But at home, I’m clicking all over the internet, reading the news, working on other random projects, etc. I just read a book that helped me with distractions when I’m working from home, though I haven’t eliminated the problem entirely. The Power of Small ( ) has some good “inch by inch makes life a cinch”-type suggestions. Focusing on the little details rather than the overall picture can be a big help.

  12. says

    I have a very hard time staying focused and I get too distracted when I should be doing client work. I find when I plug my headphones into my computer’s speakers and listen to music, I can focus better. It eliminates the sounds around me and only focuses on the music and what’s in front of me.

  13. says

    I can say that i waste most of my time because of Internet, but I realized that some days ago soo, now on i’m trying to stay disconect for some hours while I work, and once i’ve finished I can navigate.

    Great post

  14. says

    You can’t start off telling us we need to stay focused – and then taunt us on the immediate left with LEGO!

    @Sean – shiny things are the worst!

    I like shock therapy:

    If I’m messing around too much at home, I go to a coffee shop.
    If I start daydreaming and people watching, I go home.
    If I can’t stay off Facebook, I go somewhere without wi-fi

    Then again, some days I shrug and figure it’s ok to get distracted. We’re creative types and the work will obviously get done in time…. Sometimes there’s no harm.

  15. says

    Working from a home office just doesn’t work for me. Even on weekends and holidays I’m way more productive when I just take the 10 minutes and drive to my office.

    With noise it’s a bit complicated. I can work in silence. Silce to me means the absence of music or television. But because my office is next to a street with some heavy traffic on weekdays I need music as white noise. If my co-workers get too loud and thereby too distrcting I use headphones / earplugs and loud music.

    In a perfect world there’d be just me and the birds singing..

  16. says

    I need it quiet, and working at home I can have that.

    One thing that’s become a big distraction in the last few months is Tweetdeck, running on my second monitor. This past week I tried leaving it off most of the day and did notice I got more work done (or at least longer distraction-free work sessions).

  17. says

    Good comments!

    I think that social media, although important for promoting your business, can also be a distraction. It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in my social media tools and before I know it an hour or even a morning is gone. . .

  18. says

    Wow! I’ve been following this thread by email…lots of great ideas! If I may comment again: Yes, Laura; I’ve had to turn off Tweetdeck and Twurl, etc.
    My tip for today that I got from someone else here, I think: I am under deadline…I MUST finish several projects by Wed p.m.
    Phones on silent. Social Media off. TV off. Pandora Radio on (Classical/Jazz only–no singing!) Most important: set timer for 50 minutes working straight…then 10 minute break; then another 50 minutes, then 10 minute break, etc. until evening. 8 50-minute sessions…can get a lot done. I hope!

  19. says

    Nice image on this post!

    This issue must be the biggest silent killer of the freelancer, and it’s totally self-inflicted as a sufferer.

    I worked out a technique that helps me avoid procrastination. What I do is this.

    I write the outcomes I want to achieve on a big piece of card in big letters. These are things like ‘Pay Off Mortgage in 12 Months’ and ‘More Time with James (my son)’ and pin that above my workstation where I can see it all the time.

    Each time I look up, I see these outcomes I desire. When I begin to run out of energy or feel the need to find a distraction, I am reminded about why I am working and I get back to work. It doesn’t feel like I am a slave to them, but the constant reminder gives me the mental energy to focus.

    Since doing this, procrastination isn’t an issue. I don’t even need to be at my workstation now as these outcomes are indelible in my head.

    If you’re still procrastinating, give this a try!

  20. says

    I’d be working really hard right now, but, I had to look for a contact on twitter and I came across this link and now, having read about distractions, I must pause long enough to comment, but I have to hurry and get back to work, which is actually searching for a job because I’m laid off, but, before I go I have to remember to click the ‘Notify me of followup comments’ just in case something really important gets said here that I would not want to miss, sorry about the long sentence, but I have to type in a hurry because distractions are time-consuming enough as it is.

    Gotta fly – loved the article. Bye.

  21. says

    What distractions do you face?
    clutter .. clutter … clutter … so i start my day with my vacuum cleaner., clean my flat and boy after watching a dust free home i get so energized……. trust me there is no mood lifter than cleanliness…… my gf always clean the house when she is angry …. :).. wierd

    What tricks and tips do you have for fighting distraction?
    generally work early hours and late nights and i reward my self with 5 days jungle safari if i manage to earn x amount of money in a stipulated time …

  22. says

    Email and Twitter have to be my biggest distractions. I try to only check my email twice during ‘working hours’ (9-5) usually 12 and 4 are good times. And I’ll take breaks throughout the day to check Twitter rather than it popping up every so often. This keeps me focused.

  23. says

    This article is spot on for people who work on a computer solo from home.
    The problem of distraction is worse when there are little children and pets around but no other adult – so one must decide when the best time to work is as well.
    It helps to remain focus on only to one thing at a time and that the aim of the practice of meditation.
    Also having a timer set to alert us every hours on the computer helps as well have the break we need at regular intervals.

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