Do you often feel that you are doing everything under the sun but the actual work? You know, the activity that gets you money? Distractions can be a big problem when you work on your own: although you have deadlines and commitments there is nobody breathing down your neck to see what you are actually doing.
You never realize when you stop your work and start playing an online game, chatting with someone you know, reading “interesting” stuff on various blogs and leaving prodigal comments, conversing over the phone, discussing politics with your spouse, or doing any of those hundred things that help you spend your time but don’t give you any real return.
I know a client who until a couple of years ago was running his online business from his basement (now he has an office); most of the time when his wife thought that he was promoting his work or processing client-queries he was playing online games. And he knew he shouldn’t be doing that because he repeatedly used to confess to me whenever we interacted while doing work.
The problem with such distractions is that you don’t even realize that you are wasting your precious time until you notice how much work is still left at the end of the day. Consequently you end up doing your professional work at the time when you could be spending some quality time with your loved ones. In fact this is the biggest casualty of not sticking to your professional work: you are working even during the non-working hours, totally messing up your personal as well as family life.
Here are a few steps you can take to make sure that you minimize the distractions when you are supposed to be working on your projects.
If possible, cut yourself from the online world
Do you really need to be online while working? If your project work simply involves using your desktop application, your imagination and your skill you should completely go offline. This means closing all instant messaging applications, e-mail applications, browsers, and all those interactive tools that keep on fetching things from the Internet and presenting them to you.
Stop attending to the phone
Do you get lots of business queries over your phone? If not, then don’t attend to the phone while you’re working; let someone else in the house pick it up or if you are alone then switch on the answering machine. If you do get lots of business calls then keep a separate phone number for your business so that you only take those calls. Let your friends and relatives know when they can call you; after all they couldn’t have kept calling you had you been going to an office.
You freelance and work under nobody doesn’t mean you are available for social chats all day.
Communicate to your family that you should not be disturbed when you are working
Of course your wife or husband wants you to hold the baby just when you are going to write the most crucial line you have ever written, otherwise it is going to be catastrophic.
If you set some rules then they will grow out of this habit of running to you just because you are there in the next room (OK, I know it is easier said than done). Similarly, don’t let your work space become a playground for your children; you should maintain some sanctity and draw a line that cannot be crossed. This will save you not only your creative moments but also your hardware and software and other paraphernalia present on your working table.
Work in a separate room if possible
Last year I moved to the sitting room to keep an eye on the baby while my wife worked on her computer; this was because the computer could not be moved around and I had a laptop. But soon it became a free for all situation; everybody in the house needed my attention or my counsel for everything.
There were times when I could only achieve three to four hours of professional work during the whole day. And of course the baby always wanted to be on top of my table and bang on my laptop keys. Eventually I had to take a stand and move to a separate — fortunately a spare — room.
Eliminate noises that distract you
Are there lots of noises coming from outside? Are you in the habit of playing music all the time while you’re working? All these things significantly affect your productivity. Make your room as silent as possible, especially when you are a professional writer or a blogger.
Avoid that habit of perpetually testing new software or tools
Unless you write software reviews or your present software really sucks, avoid that overwhelming desire to download some new tool or plugins recommended by that blogger; they can be a big waste of time and you can even end up losing crucial data.
For instance I was recently obsessed with installing Ubuntu (a Linux version); I downloaded it and burned the ISO image on a CD. The installation involved partitioning my current hard disk and taking complete backup, or jeopardize my existing data and other installations. This could mean an involvement of a day or even more.
Besides I was not sure whether the current software and tools I’m using for my professional work will work in Ubuntu or not. On the other hand my current Windows installation is working fine and frankly I don’t need to switch to another operating system and spend days first learning it and then configuring it to my needs. So whenever there is an inclination to try out new software or upgrade the existing one just ask yourself if you really need to do that.
Don’t read too much on the Internet
If you are reading in order to research for your project then it is another thing, but otherwise don’t spend too much time reading all those blogs and websites (make sure you keep reading this one though :) ).
I agree that reading helps you grow and improve your skills but read only when you have no professional work pending.
Get rid of the extra software and files
Do you have lots of extra software and files on your computer or laptop? Extra software and files not only slow down your system they also clutter your navigation and make maintenance and backup needlessly tedious. So dedicate some time to cleaning up your computer, it will be a worthwhile activity.
Keep the necessary stuff handy
Are you constantly searching for a pen, pencil, important papers, and other stuff that you regularly need to work? You end up spending lots of time just trying to find these things; in your drawers, in your room, or in your house.
If you develop the habit of organizing your things and keeping them at their designated spots you will notice how much time you eventually save and how much time you can save.
These are a few things that have helped me sort things out and minimize the distractions around me; I am sure you to have your thoughts to share.