Survivial Skills for Freelancers

Driven to distraction? 7 top tips to stop procrastination when working from home

“I never put off till tomorrow what I can possibly do the day after” – Oscar Wilde

Working from home sounds great, doesn’t it? No office politics to worry about or difficult boss to please. Instead, you get to do things your way – working when you want, where you want and how you want, and saving on commuting and travel into the bargain.

What’s not to love?!

But while there are definite advantages of remote working, there are distinct downsides, too.

Working from home comes with a lot of distractions – Netflix, housework, emails, endless notifications and the temptations of social media… not to mention your family or flatmate!

It’s easy to get to 5pm without having achieved a thing and be left wondering where the day went!

Whether you’re an experienced freelancer or new to working from home, here are 7 top tips to stop procrastination sapping your time and to give productivity the upper hand.

  1. Introduce routine

It might be tempting to roll out of bed whenever you feel like it, but if you want to make home working work for you, setting a regular routine is key to staying focused – as well as a great way to set a boundary between work and home life. What’s more, setting your own schedule makes it much easier to focus on the task in hand.

The hours you choose matter less than the regularity – ultimately, your clients don’t care what hours you work, as long as you get the job done on time. Design your routine around your most productive times, whether that means starting and finishing late, or getting up at silly o’clock and being done by lunchtime. Schedule breaks and time for exercise and end your day at a set time.

  1. Prioritise tasks

If you’re struggling to complete anything, you might be suffering from overwhelm. Start the day with a list of everything you need to get done in order of priority, and tick tasks off as you go. If it helps, break each task down into small, manageable chunks. Taking simple steps that are easy to do tricks your brain into focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can’t. As the saying goes, the only way to eat an elephant is in small chunks.

At the end of the day, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve achieved.

  1. Avoid distractions

We’re all different. I know some freelancers who can’t work without the buzz of daytime television and others who need absolute silence to focus. Whichever camp you fall into, schedule time where distractions and interruptions are minimised, and you can focus on the task at hand.

Step away from the TV remote, stay off social media, disable pop-up notifications and resist the temptation to check your email every five minutes. Consider setting an auto responder that lets your clients know you only check your emails a couple of times a day – then stick to it!

  1. Stay focused

Today’s achievement culture implies that we should all be experts at juggling – and I’m not talking about circus skills! Yet far from being a sign of efficiency, too much multitasking actually lowers your productivity and can lead to overwhelm.

Limit your use of social media, avoid multi-screening, and focus on one task until it’s complete, rather than keeping a dozen projects on the go at once. And remember, it’s okay to say ‘no’ to work if you really don’t have the time. Clients will respect you more if you do a consistently good job than if you try to take on too many things and end up lowering your standards.

  1. Manage your time

It’s a lot easier to focus when you feel in control of your time. One tried and tested productivity hack that works for me is the Pomodoro Technique. Start by setting a timer for 25 minutes and focus completely and utterly on the task at hand. When the time is up, take a five-minute break. Step away from your desk, make yourself a drink or do a few simple stretches – whatever helps you relax. You’ll come back to the next part of the task refreshed and ready to refocus.

  1. Minimise cabin fever

Most of us spend way too much time being inactive. It’s easy to spend your day hunched over your laptop when you’re working from home but taking regular breaks can help you stay focused and productive.

Use your lunchbreak to get out on your bike or to go for a walk around the block. Take your laptop to a coffee shop for a change of scene (and a decent flat white). And swap some of those endless Zoom calls for walk and talks. Chances are your client will be equally delighted to leave their desk for a bit, and the fresh air and exercise will give you a mental health boost.

  1. Curb your perfectionism

We all experience imposter syndrome from time to time. Even Tom Hanks, Serena Williams and Maya Angelou have admitted to it! It’s that nagging inner voice that tells us we’ll never be good enough. Don’t listen to it!

Instead of striving for perfection, remember what Sheryl Sandberg said: “Done is better than perfect”. Remember – we fail, we learn, we grow – and the only real failure is failing to try. So, give yourself permission to make mistakes and go for it! You’ve got this!

6 super-simple work from home tips from a veteran homeworker

As a freelance copywriter, I’ve worked from home for over 20 years.

I’ve been there, done that, and got the scars to prove it. And, as a single parent for 12 of those years, I’ve learned to juggle kids, home and work without totally losing control.

Most of the time, at least.

A whole new world…

The world has changed due to COVID-19. Tens of thousands of employees who are used to the accountability, buzz and connection that come with working in an office now find themselves working from home for the foreseeable future.

Where do you even start?!

If you’ve never worked from home before, you may feel out of your depth.

How do you juggle work and home life? What about boundaries? How do you focus? What about dealing with isolation?

The following super simple work from home tips for newbie homeworkers are adapted from my #1 Amazon bestselling book, Survival Skills for Freelancers. I hope you find them helpful.

6 simple work from home tips

1. Claim your space

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a spare room they can use as a home office. Wherever you decide to work from, set some rules around work-free zones for the sake of your family and relationships.

A supportive, adjustable chair, good natural light, a clutter-free table or desk and a door you can close at the end of the day are a bonus.

2. Start your day with purpose

Get up at your usual time. Shower and get dressed, even if you don’t feel like it. Eat a decent breakfast away from your laptop.

Spend the equivalent of your commuting time reading, catching up on inspiring podcasts or listening to music that lifts your mood.

(My 17-year-old son is continuing to get up at 6.30am, and has decided to spend the time he’d have been on the school bus exercising and doing weights in our garage.)

3. Stay connected

If we can’t meet in real life, let’s do it online.

Think about switching your calls to Zoom, Skype or FaceTime. Sure, not everyone is comfortable using video, but if I can get my 73-year-old mum doing it, there’s really no excuse! Let’s make video calls the norm.

Join Facebook groups of likeminded people for support and advice. There are literally hundreds of groups out there, based on geographical location, job type or interest.

Experiment to find one or two groups that feel right. Choose those that focus on the positive, rather than the negative and cynical, which can drag you down.

If you can, set up an accountability group of colleagues or peers for support and to help you stay on track. Use the group chat facility on WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger to keep in touch, and check in once a week/fortnight/month via video call.

Don’t be afraid to admit if you’re finding things hard. To borrow a line from High School Musical, we’re all in this together – and help is out there!

4. Keep on moving

Too much sitting is bad for us – particularly if you’re hunched over a laptop, so build regular stretching, standing and movement into your day.

If you have an activity tracker or smartwatch, set it to give you regular reminders to move.

(My Apple Watch is great for this. It even gives me regular reminders to breathe deeply. Sounds obvious but it really does help me calm down when I’m stressed out.)

If you really can’t make that call via video, take your phone calls standing up. Pace circuits of your home, if you’re lucky enough to have that much space. I walked over 4.5k steps one day last week while on the phone or waiting for the kettle to boil.

Build time into your day for a walk around the block. Fresh air and exercise are good for productivity and wellbeing, and the thinking time away from your desk (or dining room table) can help with problem solving and clearing mental blocks.

5. Avoid distractions

Turn off the TV, switch off pop-up notifications and use an app to stop you checking social media and email every five minutes (you know you do it).

Set an automated message to reply to your emails saying you’ll check them just a couple of times a day. The world won’t end while you’re focusing on the task in hand, whatever that may be.

Do household chores in short bursts, if at all. For example, unload the dishwasher or stick on a wash while you wait for the kettle to boil.

Alternatively, avoid them altogether during working hours, and commit to tackling them once you finish work for the day. Get help from your partner or the rest of the family. Everyone needs to muck in right now, more than ever before.

6. Introduce routine

It’s easy for work and home life to blur if you don’t have clear boundaries. Start and end your day at a set time just as you would if you were going into the office.

Schedule time for lunch, and an outdoor break for fresh air and exercise. Consider using the Pomodoro time management technique, which splits your day into 25-minute blocks of focused activity with five-minute breaks after each burst.

Finally…

I don’t claim these work from home tips will teach you everything you need to know, but use them as a starting point and I hope you’ll find life as a newbie homeworker a lot less daunting.