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.
LifeTopix is an all-in-one productivity app for iPad and iPhone. We have many customers who follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done® (GTD) method and use LifeTopix to stay organized and productive. Many of these customers ask about the most efficient ways to use LifeTopix for GTD® and our best practices.
GTD, LifeTopix, Reflecting and Weekly Reviews
David Allen rewrote the “Getting Things Done” book for 2015 and beyond, which was originally published in 2001. In addition, LifeTopix has evolved since we first published the popular post, “Best Practices for Getting Things Done – Weekly Review” in 2013. We strive to keep our customers up-to-date and hope you enjoy the new information we’re providing for you today.
We previously published three posts described below. We encourage you to read those posts before diving into this one:
- GTD Basics – Methods for Capturing Items in LifeTopix
- GTD Basics – Methods for Clarifying Actions and To Dos in LifeTopix
- GTD Basics – Methods for Organizing Actions and To Dos in LifeTopix
Master Reflecting and Weekly Reviews
In Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done,” he dedicates a chapter to “Reflecting”. In this chapter, he stresses that you must review your system on a regular basis to ensure it is current and functional. He describes what to look at and when, and he communicates the power of the “Weekly Review.” The video below explains, in detail, how you would use LifeTopix to perform the actions he describes in this chapter of “Getting Things Done.”
Watch the Video
More to Come
In the next few weeks, we’ll be posting more videos and tips to assist you with utilizing LifeTopix for GTD. Please subscribe to the Life Blog to stay up-to-date.
GTD® and Getting Things Done® are registered trademarks of the David Allen Company. LightArrow Apps are not affiliated with or endorsed by the David Allen Company.
Starting and owning a small business can be demanding. At LightArrow, we have first-hand knowledge of the challenges that entrepreneurs, founders and startups face. Today, we’re sharing some of the top 8 problems that small businesses face and tips for overcoming these challenges.
1. Grow On a Shoestring Budget
No matter what type of business you’re in, marketing is essential to grow your business. Plus, having a website and a social media presence is crucial for small business success. A website is the core of your marketing efforts and social media builds credibility, generates leads and improves your website’s rankings.
Many startups and small businesses are on a shoestring budget, but this shouldn’t stop them from effectively marketing their products and services through a website. Building a website without a web developer on staff may seem daunting to non-technical entrepreneurs, but it can be easier than you think.
To get started with a website, research content management systems such as WordPress to find one that’s appropriate for your skill level. Take advantage of resources such as Lynda.com to learn how to properly set up a website. Research effective information architecture techniques to ensure you’re delivering material in a way that’s easy to consume.
Once your website is built, add new content to it regularly through a blog or forum that’s suitable for your audience. Drive traffic to your website through Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and Social Media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Quora and LinkedIn.
Investing time and energy into social media is crucial, but many new business owners believe that it isn’t necessary for success. However, social media is vital for building brand and awareness. And in fact, according to Hubspot, 71% of people are more likely to make a purchase based on social media referrals.
2. Improve Your Working Capital
In order for a business to thrive, it needs working capital and proper money management is among one of the top qualities of successful businesses. It’s important to calculate your working capital needs by finding the difference between current assets and liabilities.
In some cases, you might find your sales are not what you expected and working capital might be an issue in order to keep your business running. Or, your business is able to use cash on hand to fund operations, but it needs more cash to invest in advertising, product development, software, inventory or other resources in order to grow. If working capital is an issue, consider using an online provider of business loans, such as Kabbage to grow your business. They offer loans ranging from $2,000 to $100,000 for small businesses.
3. Build Good Customer Relationships
80% of your company’s future revenue will come from just 20% of your existing customers. -Gartner
Never underestimate the power of your satisfied customers. Happy customers are your best salespeople. And, just like in any type of relationship, communication is the key to success. Timely follow-ups after purchases to check customer satisfaction, to offer free content for customer empowerment and to provide rewards through programs can increase customer satisfaction.
However, managing these types of follow-ups can be difficult so many small businesses use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. If you’re a freelancer, real estate agent, single entrepreneur, or if you run a microbusiness, you can utilize LifeTopix to manage your follow-ups with customers. You can learn more at: Successful CRM Recipes for the Small Business Owner.
If you require an automated and cost-effective way to communicate with existing customers, you can utilize an email marketing platform suitable for small businesses, such as MailChimp, Aweber or Constant Contact.
With email marketing software, you can create personalized welcome programs for new customers and nurture programs for potential customers. If you use Ecommerce, you can automate customer retention programs by integrating your email marketing with your Ecommerce platform.
4. Use Time Management Techniques
When you become an entrepreneur or run a small business, you say goodbye to the 40-hour work week. You’re on call 24×7 and good time management is vital for success and it also prevents burnout. Goal setting, planning, prioritization, delegation and focus are time management tactics that are vital for a successful small business.
When setting goals, they should be S.M.A.R.T. For example, they should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based. Once you’ve decided on your goals, record them and put an action plan into place.
An action plan or follow-through strategy should include projects, tasks and the necessary resources. Define the work that’s required to reach your goals. Break the work down into tasks and assign those tasks to the resources who are available.
Effective entrepreneurs and small business owners have mastered delegation. They understand that some projects and tasks don’t require their supervision. They’ve learned that they can delegate these tasks to others in order to focus on strategic goals, relationship building and priorities.
Finally, focus is very important for entrepreneurs. Customer requests, advice from investors and advisors, employee demands and changing markets are just a few of the distractions that leaders balance every day. It’s important to stay on a clearly defined path and to avoid running off of course. Take advice from lean startups and get laser-focused your priorities and eliminate what’s not essential.
5. Hire the Right People
Hiring the right people for your small business or startup can be challenging. It takes a unique personality and set of skills to thrive in a lean, small business environment.
Consider that the people you hire will be working close together so they need to fit your company culture like a glove. They need to be willing to push up their sleeves and do the work themselves. It’s best to hire people who know how to do the job, not just how to manage the right people. Generally, they should have a wide variety of skills, rather than to be focused on a specific, niche area.
Startup and small business hires need to know what to do and when to do it without being asked. Hire senior employees and team them up with junior personnel.
Most recruiting firms are cost prohibitive for small businesses. Stay lean by taking advantage of your own informal and formal networks, LinkedIn and local job boards to find employees. Attract new employees by offering incentives that larger companies cannot, such as flexible work schedules, work from home days and stock options.
6. Improve Your Online Reputation
Online ratings can make or break a business. How often do you check Yelp before you visit a restaurant, salon, yoga studio or other business? Do you check the rating of an app or other product before you download or purchase it? Consumers regularly use online reviews to check the quality of a business or product before purchasing it.
The best way to avoid negative ratings and reviews is to have open communication with customers and solve their problems before they write negative comments. You should always provide a way for them to easily get in touch with you and subsequently deliver exemplary customer service.
No matter how wonderful your product or service might be, there will always be someone who won’t like it. It’s just the nature of doing business. When a negative review surfaces, it’s important to do everything possible to win that customer over.
Monitoring and responding to reviews is essential to keep ratings up. For example, I left a 4 star review on Yelp for an establishment that provides food and mentioned that the quality of the food had decreased. The manager contacted me directly and asked me specifically about the issue, provided coupons for free food and his note was friendly and kind. After this, I raised my review to 5 stars.
Check review sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Reviews, and Yahoo Local reviews regularly. Respond to every review for sites that allow it, including both negative and positive reviews. In addition, you can set up Google Alerts to notify you of any online activity about your business.
7. Compete with Larger Companies
Many small businesses are competing against the big guys, who have enormous marketing budgets, connections with top public relations firms and can hire the best talent. Nonetheless, you can still succeed if you maintain focus. Focus on a specialty that the bigger companies are spread too thin to cover. Devote your time and resources to that niche and grow when the timing is right.
As a small company, focus on your pricing models. It’s possible that you can provide better products and services at a lower price than the larger companies if your company is running lean.
Above all, big companies tend to lose touch with their customers. Be a customer-centric company. Go above and beyond to ensure your customers are satisfied. Like I said before, your customers are your best salespeople; therefore, this strategy will pay off.
8. Optimize the Supply Chain
Recently, I discovered the small clothing company, American Giant who became an overnight success when Slate ran the article, “This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made.”
What’s exciting about American Giant is they have redefined the supply chain by selling their products directly from the warehouse to the consumer, thus, investing in the quality of their clothing and passing the savings to their customers. Essentially, they’re shadowing the same model that software manufacturers have followed for years, which is direct-to-customer. They’ve removed unnecessary steps in the supply chain, which eliminates overhead costs associated with most clothing manufacturers.
The lesson learned? Don’t be afraid of creatively solving problems related to your supply chain. For small businesses to thrive, it’s vital to deliver quality products or services to your customers in a timely way. By identifying, reducing or eliminating non-value added activities in the supply chain; you can optimize profits and gain a competitive advantage.
What are the biggest challenges facing your small company? How have you overcome these problems? Please share your story or ideas in the comments below.