The freelancer's worst enemy - what's your biggest productivity killer (and solution)?

Updated: Nov 29, 2018

A not entirely serious (but watch out for the genuine research!) look at workplace productivity - outside of the traditional office...

Stock image representing a productive workplace
Gee we'd love to finish this building, but Dave needs to check his notifications. This is going to be a real productivity killer, guys...

I don't know about you, but there's one thing which someone always says when I mention that I'm a freelancer - in my case, a freelance copywriter:

"I don't think I'd have the motivation. How do you make yourself actually do the work?"

I mean, yes. On the up side, you avoid having an office full of noisy co-workers interrupting your train of thought. Or one of those never-ending meetings which seem completely unnecessary to everyone involved. Even to the person who called for it sometimes.

On the down side, there's no-one telling you to keep your nose to the grindstone/ laptop screen. So how do you avoid productivity killers as a freelancer?

The biggest productivity killers

According to most sources, and my personal working week, some of the leading productivity killers are:

#1 Clicking that big blue F

Social media is an epic time sink. Instagram. Twitter. Pinterest. And - though it's verging on ironic for a post I'm going to link to through ye olde Book of Face - of course, Facebook. At any one time your news feed is going to be full of:

  • Bright and flashy pictures

  • Images of people on holiday in sunny, interesting places

  • Attention-grabbing dance videos (well, mine is - it's a hobby…)

In general, about a million things which you'd normally find pretty "meh". But which suddenly seem a million times more interesting, given the alternative is to get back to work…

#2 Checking that text message/ Messenger ping/ WhatsApp flash

I mean, it might be important. Mightn't it? Look at that little attention-grabbing light flashing at you there. Turning the phone over won’t help you. Because now it's buzzing like mad. Of course, it might be an interesting conversation…

But even if it is, it's broken the flow of what you were writing. If you were stuck, this can be a good thing (see below). If not, you need to get back into the swing of work all over again.

#3 Being online

In my line of work - and for anyone who sits in front of a computer - the internet is usually only a click away. This access is vital for me and, I imagine, anyone who works for any kind of content writing agency. I often need to research a company, product or thing and I'd be stuck without being able to get on t'internet.

Unfortunately, I'm then on the internet. A.k.a. a never-ending source of distracting details and information. I was writing a blog article about Vietnamese business etiquette the other day, and before I knew it I was wading hip-deep through web pages about changing attitudes to speaking English in the country. Interesting! But not what you might call immediately vital for the one-sentence mention in the project at hand…

Not that I ever would, but you also might end up Googling that thing everyone was talking about at dinner last night:

What the collective noun for a group of starlings is (it's a murmuration, guys) and where they can be seen, for example. Or whether the same guy played the dad and the hunter in Jumanji and who he is (yes he did, everyone, and the actor's name is - rather aptly - Jonathon Hyde). It’s an endless rabbit hole of intriguing if not-altogether-useful information. Dangerous.

How to boost your productivity - what the research says

Hypothetical image of the complete opposite of a productivity killer
Boost your productivity with little breaks in your local neighbourhood forest.

For creative work like being a freelance content writer or illustrator (I'm guessing at the latter here - my artwork has a "style", a friend once told me. Unfortunately, I suspect that style is "child with only one stubby crayon available"), sometimes you need to let your brain get back into the right space to let the inspiration come.

This means that taking a little break is actually a good thing - in fact check out this Forbes article on taking a break. It talks about research where the most productive people actually take regular breaks to keep their concentration high during working hours. You might try to:

  1. Take a walk - even if it's to the end of the room and back to look out the window. Need to buy a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread? Excellent news! That's a reason right there to go for a very short stroll before you get back to it.

  2. Get a change of scenery - I've got a couple of coffee shops nearby that I like to switch between most days. Any time concentration is slipping, it's time to relocate and knuckle down.

  3. Phone a friend - or a "study-buddy" as one regular working partner and I refer to it. I often bemoan how terrible it must be working in an office from a productivity standpoint. But, occasionally, having one friendly face to exchange a couple of words with makes for a very nice change.