Do you remember the old TV adverts for Mars chocolate bars?
You can tell the adverts brainwashed me. I still remember the slogan today:
I can’t vouch for the qualities of a Mars bar, but I do know that to remain healthy and productive as a freelancer, you need to get the right balance of Work, Rest, and Play.
(Play in this context meaning everything that is non-work related.)
I’ve put together a list of thirteen tips and techniques that you can use to make you more productive.
13 Tips to help you Work, Rest, and Play
1. Build a framework
It’s ironic, isn’t it? You gave up the 9-5 day job because you wanted freedom. And now I’m telling you to build a framework.
But it doesn’t have to be a 9-5 timetable. You can choose the timings to suit your lifestyle and other commitments. What’s important is that you create a framework and then stick to it.
Why? Because you’ll become more productive.
Start off by blocking hours for work, rest and play. Plan a typical week based on your commitments so that you get a balance of work, rest and play.
It might look something like this:
Note: This is a high-level plan. You don’t need to know what Work Task you’ll complete in the Work blocks at the moment. You can plan that on a weekly and daily basis. I use Work 1 for my primary task of the day and leave Work 3 for admin tasks because that’s my least productive part of the day. Build your framework now.
2. The Habit Loop
When you have your structure mapped out, then you can start to build healthy habits into each and every day. Forming healthy habits helps you become more productive.
In his book The Power Of Habit, Charles Duhigg breaks a habit into a three-stage process. I like to refer to these as the three Rs:
• Reminder: Start with a reminder of the task you need to do; e.g. set a reminder in your calendar to work on a particular task at a certain time of day.
• Routine: Follow a routine to complete that task; e.g. make a checklist of the steps you need to complete your task so that you have a consistent approach
• Reward: Give yourself a reward; e.g. have a coffee or spend 5 minutes on social media – whatever floats your boat.
When you start building your daily routine remember that it’s important to get the balance between work and rest. While it’s important to work hard and put in the effort to make your freelance business successful, remember you wanted a life outside work too.
3. Work in your best time of day
What’s your best time of the day? When are you most productive?
Some freelancers like to work early in the morning. Others prefer to burn the midnight oil. One thing for sure is that we’re all different.
If you want to be a productive freelancer, then you’ll have to find your best time for working. That’s the flexible thing about freelancing – you can choose your most productive hours. No more attending meetings or presenting lectures when you feel half asleep.
If you’re not sure when you function best, then monitor yourself for a week. Note down when you were feeling more energised, compared to when you were feeling more sluggish.
4. Focus on one thing – prioritise your tasks
When you start freelancing you soon realise that there is a heap of stuff to do. It’s not just a case of writing or designing or creating. Unfortunately, there’s admin, finances, and marketing to consider too.
• Don’t get overwhelmed.
• Don’t get bogged down with a long list of outstanding tasks.
• Don’t try multitasking.
Focus on one thing at a time. Look at all your tasks and ask yourself, “What is the most important thing I need to do right now?”
There will only be one thing that is the most important. So do that first. You’ll feel empowered when you’ve completed it.
Then, and only then, look at your list of tasks and pick the next most important thing.
5. Eliminate distractions
Once you’ve zoned in on your one thing, working at your best time of the day, then the last thing you need is a distraction.
There’s no point thinking you’re immune. Mr. Distraction will find you.
Whether you’re working from home or working in a shared office, you need to have a ‘Do Not Disturb’ mechanism.
• If that means putting a sign on your door, then do it.
• If that means switching off your phone, then do it.
• If that means closing email and social media, then do it.
When you’re in distraction free mode, then productivity will soar!
6. Set time limits on your tasks
Have you heard of Parkinson’s Law? It states:
“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
It’s crazy, but it’s true. For example:
• If you allow yourself 4 hours to design a logo, then you’ll take 4 hours.
• But if you give yourself 2 hours to design a logo, then you’ll take 2 hours.
When you allocate a specific time to a specific task, then you’ll become more productive.
We’ve all done it. We become totally engrossed in our latest project:
• Crafting some compelling copy.
• Designing a stunning graphic.
• Knitting the perfect hat.
But working non-stop for a prolonged period is bad.
It’s bad for your creativity. And it’s bad for your health.
Furthermore, it has an adverse impact on productivity.
Our brains can only concentrate for so long without taking a break.
Here are three ways you can take a regular break:
7. The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a simple time management method. For each Pomodoro (interval), you work on a task for 25 minutes and then take a break of 3-5 minutes. After four Pomodoros, you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. Whatever work and break interval you choose, make sure you do something different in your break:
• Get up and move around
• Step outside and get some fresh air
• Perhaps even take a quick walk
These simple movements help you to recharge your energy and focus on the next task.
8. The Rule of 52 and 17
A recent study showed that people were most productive when they took regular breaks.
“Concentration is like a muscle: It needs to rest to be able to function, and it shouldn’t be overworked.”
Although the numbers seem a little random, it turns out that working for 52 minutes, then taking a break for 17 minutes, before getting back to work, returned the best results.
9. The Power Nap
Famous people like Albert Einstein and Sir Winston Churchill were fond of taking a nap during the day. Not because they were old-aged. But because they realised they could achieve a lot more in their day by taking time out for a quick nap.
Scientists have proven that taking a 15-20 minute power nap can boost your energy levels. If you find yourself becoming sluggish and unable to think clearly then maybe a power nap will help you.
Consider it a perk of being a freelancer that you can down tools, slip off to the bedroom, shut your eyes and recharge your brain cells.
You may have heard of that other old saying:
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
As a freelancer, it’s easy to be ‘always’ available. It’s that ‘fear of missing out’ nagging in the back of your mind.
But if you don’t have time away from work where you switch off then you’ll burn out.
Playtime doesn’t have to be a rigorous gym session. Any relaxation or hobby to take you away from your work activities is good.
10. Get your sleep
Apart from a power nap, are you getting enough sleep? How much is enough?
We’re all different. Some people need 8 hours sleep each night so that they can function properly throughout the next day. Others can manage on much less.
The key is to make sure your body has the right amount of sleep so you can maintain your energy and concentration levels throughout the day.
11. Maintain a healthy diet
Food plays an important part in maintaining your energy levels. If you eat too much food, then your body has to work harder to digest it, and as a consequence, your energy levels drop. And then you become less productive.
When you start to feel sluggish, it’s easy to think a quick fix of coffee and chocolate is the answer. But there are plenty of other foods which are proven to boost your energy levels (without expanding your waistline).
Other foods like turkey, spinach, and banana can aid the production of serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter most linked to happiness.
And when you’re happy, then you have more energy!
12. Drink plenty of water
Given that our bodies consist of 60% water it seems logical that we need to keep that level maintained.
Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can have have a major effect on energy levels and brain function.
Opinions vary on how much water we should drink each day to stay hydrated. The health authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, which equals about 2 litres, or half a gallon.
Incorporate drink breaks into your routine. It’s better and safer to drink away from your work area. It prevents damaging any tools or work if you happen to spill it.
13. Exercise your body
Exercising little and often can be just as effective as running a marathon.
I’ve found that exercising in the morning before working clears my mind and sets me up for the first work session. Then I take a brisk 30-minute walk in the middle of the day before the second work session.
In short, when we exercise, our brains produce chemicals that make us feel good. And when we feel good our energy levels rocket, which means we become more productive.
Are you getting the right balance of work, rest and play as a freelancer?
If you’re struggling to measure what you’re spending your time on, then consider trying the Time My Life app. It works in the background, tracking your time automatically, so you don’t have to spend ages configuring it.
What are your top productivity tips?
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