Traditional workers report for duty at 9 A.M. sharp each morning, but freelancers don’t have a boss checking their time sheet at the end of the day. For the most part, this is a great benefit of working as a solopreneur, but a structured workday does have its perks.
Without a game plan in place, I quickly find myself distracted by the great number of different things vying for my attention at any given time. I will often sit down at my desk at 8 A.M., hoping to get an early start on the responsibilities of my day, only to find I’m stuck in a YouTube rut an hour later and haven’t accomplished anything!
If you struggle to tune out the distraction, I feel your pain. I use the following tips to keep myself on track throughout the workday:
Create a Detailed Agenda for the Day
Some people are naturally organizers, but I’m fortunately not a member of that camp. I tend to flourish in the midst of chaos, with endless tabs open in my browser and a huge assortment of emails in my inbox. And yet, structuring my day in advance is an absolute must for me! Without a clear game plan for the day ahead, I get sidetracked by the latest viral video or find myself absentmindedly flipping through Twitter.
I like to use digital notifications that let me know it’s time to move on to the next thing. You can use your Google Calendar for this functionality, but I prefer a free iOS app called 30/30. It’s loosely based on the Pomodoro system and lets me create tasks with a certain amount of time allotted to each item on my todo list. I use this app because it’s not specifically tied to real-time—in other words, I can pause the task I’m working on to answer the phone or put lunch in the microwave without disrupting the schedule.
Block Social Networking Sites—Literally!
So, you’ve got the self-discipline of a tibetan monk, good for you. Fortunately for the rest of us, there are technological tools available to keep us restrained. Many employers use a firewall to keep their workers from spending hours on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ve simply taken a page from their books. I rely on a little tool called Anti-Social ($15). This application allows you to block yourself from accessing distracting sites on the web.
When I first started using Anti-Social, I was shocked by how frequently my fingers typed in the URLs of my favorite websites—I found myself navigating to these websites without thinking about it, only to be hit with the blocked message. It’s a great way to break the habit of checking social media incessantly.
If you find yourself browsing Buzzfeed during every fit of boredom during your day, Anti-Social is a great way to force yourself to behave. (There are free tools that provide this functionality too, including StayFocusd, a Chrome extension.)
Reward Yourself for Mini Victories
Let’s be honest—sometimes working is a drag. If you find yourself feeling sluggish as the day goes on, why not try rewarding yourself for accomplishing various items on your todo list? Save an enticing article in another tab to read on your break or enjoy a piece of chocolate after getting all of your writing done for the day. If I know I’m working toward an appealing reward, I often find I’m better able to stay focused.
Browse Through the Latest Job Ads
If worse comes to worst, take a few moments to look through the latest administrative job postings on Craigslist or Indeed. This is admittedly a funny trick, but I will often peruse job ads to convince myself to give my work my all. I don’t want to be a cubicle warrior! Sometimes reading through the “real world” job listings is more than enough motivation to get my butt in gear for the day.
Your turn! What do you do to keep yourself motivated when you’re having trouble focusing? Any tips you can offer?