Freelancers’ Guilt, and what we can do about it.

This week’s post is addressing something I think a lot of freelancers feel.  That is the guilty feeling hanging over us, telling us we’re not doing enough, should do more.  

I hate the word should, I should get up earlier, I should be doing this or that, I shouldn’t go out because I should be being productive, eugh, it’s awful.  It SHOULD be banned from our internal monologue (I know we all have one).  

I have some theories as to why we feel this (I’m assuming I’m not the only one).  Here they are:

  • We often work from home, so there is little work/home separation.
  • There are no immediate negative consequences for getting up late/having an unproductive day.

Obviously long term there are consequences for lack of productivity – but there is a time delay – we pay for laziness later in ways we often can’t predict.

  • There is never a point that we can say ‘I have finished everything I have to do!’  There is an infinite amount to be done, freelancers are never finished, sometimes it can feel like a huge mountain to climb each day.
  • If there is nothing set in the diary, it’s easy to feel we can start later and before we know it, the day has gone.
  • With constant interruptions from phone calls/emails/technology/social media – it’s very easy to get distracted and not realise how much time is passing.  

What can we do about this?  Now I’m no expert, I only graduated a couple of years ago but I’m learning a few tricks that help my productivity immensely.  This is obviously written from the perspective of a musician.  These tips may work for you or they may not, but when it’s really important that I get as much as I can done, here’s what I do:

  • Write a schedule for the day, the night before.  Begin by listing everything that needs doing (I include things like ‘pay electicity bill’ and ‘laundry’ as well as ’emails’, and ‘admin’).  Decide when to get up and what is going to be done each hour.  For musicians – don’t just write ‘Practice’ actually write what is going to be practised, be specific.  This helps because if you have scheduled 3 hours for practice, it doesn’t seem to matter so much if you miss one.  But, if each session has a specific purpose, you’re more likely to get it done, as it might be the only chance you get that day to look at that certain piece/section/excerpt.
  • Set an alarm and put it far away from your bed!  This helps so much I’d actually say it’s the most effective way to increase productivity.  When the alarm is right next to the bed, it is too easy to snooze, then before you know it hours have passed and you’re still in bed.  Great.  This has another advantage as well, for most of us, our smartphone is our alarm – by placing it on the other side of the room it means we don’t google/facebook/tweet away half the night and can actually get to sleep a lot quicker.  I am a real sleepaholic (sleepophile?) so this one is difficult for me but it is so worth it!
  • Actually stick to your schedule.  Hopefully you’ve made it realistic and given yourself plenty of time to do what you wanted to.  Tick things off as you do them, and if you get ahead of schedule – great!  Time to chill later.  I generally do mine in hour blocks but half an hour can work too.
  • (This may be controversial) Keep your phone on ‘Do Not Disturb’ during working hours and set a time in your schedule to ring/text people back or listen to voicemails (put your email address in your voicemail greeting so people have another way of contacting you).  This also has the added bonus of stopping your phone going off every time something happens on Facebook – a potentially huge time-sap.  If you need to – schedule an hour at the end of the day purely for social media – particularly for freelancers who are trying to build an online presence.  
  • Try and get up at the same time each weekday.  For those of us who work from home (can be a blessing or a curse) it’s good to have a routine.  For example, you could get up at 8am every weekday, 9am on Saturdays and whenever you fancy on a Sunday… that way the weekend still feels like the weekend rather than each day feeling exactly the same.
  • If you can work somewhere else, do.  It is one of my dreams to have a separate bedroom, office and music room.  Three rooms.  Or maybe even an out-house where I can go specifically to do admin or practice.  Unfortunately this is the real world and I live in a small flat.  My bedroom has my harp and all my music in one corner and my desk and laptop in another.  It takes self-discipline to go to one zone and not get distracted when everything is just there – being all distracting.  You just sit down to practice but oh! laundry needs doing, ooh so does this morning’s washing up – ahh while I’m here I may as well tidy the kitchen… you can lose days like this so we must be strong and do one thing at a time.  Schedule a time for housework and do it later.

*My mum will be reading this and realise that I am in fact, turning into my father – I’m so sorry*

So these are the things I try to do, but I also try and remember the following:

  • Nobody is perfect.  We’re all just trying to make a living.  Let’s all just do the best we can, get stuff done then get on with enjoying ourselves.  None of this ‘should’ nonsense.  No more guilt.  You Only Live Once.
  • Mealtimes are rest times – no emails/phone calls during mealtimes.  It seems like ages but I always try to give myself an hour for each meal – it spreads the day out and gives time to prepare something vaguely healthy.
  • All hail wondrous coffee – there’s nothing like it to regain focus if you’re flagging mid-afternoon – or just struggling to wake up mid-morning.  I bought my first coffee machine a few weeks ago and have been more or less wired ever since.

So there we have it – freelancers, how do you increase/maintain productivity?  Please share tips & tricks in the comments!  

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