One of the greatest challenges of a freelancer or those who work from home is staying focused, which leads to improved productivity. Many freelancers indicate that technology distractions and boredom are the focus-zapping culprits that plague their days.
Traditional workers might be in disbelief when the freelancer complains that they’re troubled by distractions. In their opinion, the freelancer doesn’t deal with loud office mates, chattering colleagues, persistent pestering from a helicopter boss and the never-ending meetings.
The distractions that freelancers face differ from those of the traditional worker. For example, in our modern environments, we’re bombarded with information that is competing for our attention. Facebook, Twitter and text messages are just to name a few. As marketers get more and more savvy and the messages and information we see become more and more personalized, it’s harder to resist the temptations that are presented – especially when unsupervised and when managing our own deadlines.
For freelancers, increased productivity means a bigger payday so the benefits of increased focus are clear. If you too are plagued by distractions, keep reading to learn a few tricks to increase your focus.
1. Turn Off Notifications
If universities offered Productivity 101 classes, this nugget of advice would be offered on day one. If you haven’t already turned off your visual and audible notifications on your devices from text messages, email, phone, apps and social media, then start today.
If the nature of your work or personal life prevents this strategy, turn off as many notifications as possible or schedule blocks of time or “sprints,” as described in the next section, without distracting notifications.
2. Take a Break Every 90 Minutes
Studies show that our brains can only focus for about 90 to 120 minutes at a time. Working for 90 minutes without interruptions and then taking 10 to 20 minute breaks in between each work sprint can boost focus and productivity.
There’s science that backs up this theory. Nathaniel Kleitman is credited for discovering the “basic rest-activity cycle,” which is described as cyclical sleep stages that start from light sleep and progress to deep sleep. Each cycle takes from 90 to 110 minutes.
What you might not know is that these 90-minute cycles also apply to daytime, which researchers describe as “ultradian rhythms.” Incorporating these cycles into your work pattern can greatly improve focus and productivity. You’ll also feel more refreshed at the end of the day.
An easy way to set 90 or 110-minute time blocks is to use your smartphone. If you’re using an iPhone, use the Timer function in your Clock app.
3. Learn to Focus Through Meditation or Yoga
As mentioned earlier, the messages and information we see on the Internet become more and more personalized and it’s harder to resist the temptations we see. In addition stress builds up as a result of this information overload. Practicing meditation and yoga can train your brain to focus and to make better decisions – thus, not giving in to those distractions.
Skeptical? There’s proven science that backs it up. Some studies show that meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation, decreases the volume of grey matter in the amygdala and increases the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex. The amygdala controls your “flight or fight” responses while the pre-frontal cortex controls planning, emotions and decision-making. Consequently, a regular practice of meditation can increase your power to concentrate and focus.
4. Use a Digital To Do List or Task Manager
When you don’t have a clear plan for the day, you tend to just go with the flow and nasty distractions rear their ugly heads. Before you know it, you’re updating your Facebook status bragging about the five-pound bass you just caught or that your golf score broke 100.
It’s important to build a roadmap for the day. To improve focus, a great use of technology is to use a productivity app with a digital to-do list or task manager, such as LifeTopix. With this all-in-one organizer, you can easily re-prioritize, update, copy and share your to do list and tasks. I suggest that you create a to do list every morning and review what you completed at the end of each day and re-prioritize as necessary.
5. Zap Boredom
Boredom – need I say more? Boredom can destroy your focus and energy before you even know what happened. Have you noticed that when you’re bored every distraction becomes more and more tempting?
Boredom is generally a result of monotonous tasks. I found a great technology solution to this problem – “Automation.” If you automate as many mundane tasks as possible, you can focus on more interesting and lucrative freelance work.
A great tool for automation is IFTTT. Essentially IFTTT is your personal assistant for your social media posts, applications you use and your smart devices. Essentially, you create “recipes” or use others’ published recipes, which are conditional statements triggered by changes that occur on the web. For example, when you create a new blog post, an IFTTT recipe can automatically post it to all your social networks. The good news is that you don’t need to be a programmer to use it.
As a freelancer, do you ever get distracted? What are your methods for staying focused? Please share and comment.