If time is money, freelancers are bleeding cash.
Freelancers generally experience distractions differently than office workers, and with far greater cost. We need to have strategies in place to deal with distractions and head them off at the pass from the moment they enter our atmosphere.
Basex, an IT firm, says that the average knowledge worker loses 2.1 hours out of every workday to distractions and interruptions.
If you’re putting in eight hours a day, five days a week, that means you’re losing over a quarter of your week to stuff that’s keeping you from your primary work.
I don’t know about you, but I really can’t afford to lose a whole day’s worth of work and income every single week.
Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to be a freelancer struggling with time management. These days, we know more about the psychology of productivity and have a wide variety of hacks, tricks, and strategies at our disposal to make the most of our time, energy, and efforts.
In this article, I’ll share with you the most popular tools, apps, and strategies for minimizing distractions and grabbing the reins again, so you can make better decisions about what you do with your time – and make more money.
I’ve also assembled a list of some “top contender” apps, websites, and tools in each of several categories: project/time/task management, social media, and writing.
So take a deep breath, and let’s dive in with a few general tips on managing distractions…
Minding Your Distractions, Making Better Decisions
We all have the same amount of time – 168 hours every week – to do with what we will. But some folks seem to do a whole lot more than the rest of us with their weekly allotment.
You probably know some of these superproducers. And they probably make you weep with envy. (Or maybe that’s just me.)
Here’s what they know that you don’t: It’s not about managing time – it’s about managing ourselves and making better choices, as Laura Vanderkam points out in her book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think
And if you want to do more with your time, you’re going to have to do things differently. Specifically, you’ll have to be:
- Honest with yourself and others
Set Your Boundaries and Defend Them
Before we get to the apps, let’s also briefly acknowledge the elephant in the home office: Distractions don’t distract until and unless we let them in.
So one of the key things to keep in mind is that any tool or app you adopt into your workflow should either help you keep one or more of those distractions from intruding into your airspace, so to speak, or help you manage the intensity or duration of the intrusion.
But no app will help when the distraction comes in human form.
For some reason, a lot of people seem to assume that “working from home” and freelancing means you’re free 24 hours a day, and totally fine with them calling or worse, dropping by unannounced, to ask for a favor or just to chat.
Human distractions require a firm, kind tone of voice and clear communication. Decide upfront what your rules are. Keep them simple and straightforward – say, for instance, “absolutely no dropping by without clearing it ahead of time between the hours of 10 AM and 6 PM” (or whatever suits your personal working style and schedule).
Then have a face-to-face conversation with anyone likely to be a repeat offender to communicate the new rules. You can soften the blow by stressing this is solely to help your business be successful, and isn’t in any way a reflection of how much you value the person or your relationship.
You also need to set boundaries with yourself. Ask yourself what types of distractions are taking you away from your work most often. If they’re fun, schedule them as rewards. If they’re not fun, but necessary (e.g., email), schedule them but put firm time limits on each “session.” This approach works particularly well in conjunction with the Pomodoro™ technique.
Evaluating and Using Apps
Before you try out any app or online tool, make sure you know exactly what need you’re trying to fill before you begin evaluating apps. Then check each app’s features against your list. Also check the pricing for each and cross any app that doesn’t fit your budget off the list.
Next, take a look at screenshots and independent reviews for the top contenders to see if you can tell how easy they are to set up and use. An app that requires you to completely revise some basic part of your work systems won’t give you any net benefit.
Finally, give the top contenders a thorough try-out for as long as possible, but at least a few weeks. That should be enough time for you to evaluate how well it fits into your existing systems and workflow.
With those ground rules in mind, let’s look at a few choice apps in some of the big areas most freelancers could use some help in: project/task management, social media, and writing.
Project & Task Management
The first thing any freelancer needs to institute is a system for planning, scheduling, and tracking work.
That means you need a way to manage your:
Ideally, you want one app that does all of that. And here’s some good news: we freelancers have an embarrassment of project management app riches.
One richly-featured app I particularly like is Asana. It’s free for teams up to fifteen members, which makes it perfect for budget-conscious freelancers. You can use it as an online app or on mobile phones (both iPhone and Android).
Asana seems overwhelming at first – as do most project management platforms – but it’s actually quite simple to set up and use. But if it’s not your cup of tea, move on. You have many other options, such as Trello and the ever-popular Basecamp.
You may also want a time tracker. Toggl is a great choice. It’s free to use and also boasts an insanely useful Chrome extension that integrates into a number of other sites and apps, including Gmail, Google Apps and Asana.
And if you’re using the Pomodoro™ system, you may want to add Focus Booster, which is a timer app specifically designed to work with Pomodoro™.
Is there any bigger time suck in your day than social media?
Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, et al may be occasional fun indulgences for others, but for freelancers they’re an essential part of the work day.
Whether you’re actively marketing yourself on these sites, using them to promote content, or networking with other freelancers and potential clients, you need a system to manage your social media work and make it more efficient.
Since it’s a necessary part of your workflow, and it’s something that needs a bit of attention every day, it lends itself especially well to the adoption of one good tool to control it all.
Ideally, you want an app that can help you manage and schedule shared or curated content for each network on which you’re active, so you have a “one-stop shop” for all your SM content needs.
Also, look for an app with a browser extension that allows you to share content directly from the page in question. That alone can save you significant time and effort.
An increasingly popular choice that fits the bill for many freelancers is Buffer. It integrates with the major SM sites, and offers both a Chrome extension and mobile apps (both iOS and Android).
Another option, equally full-featured, is Hootsuite. It also offers a browser plugin that allows you to curate content straight from the source page. Hootsuite integrates with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Foursquare.
Scoop.it is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a better way to find content to curate and share. You can create subject pages (with topic names or your brand name), and find the most popular fresh content on whatever keywords you select.
Can’t find time to create content? Maybe you have a blog that’s been languishing for weeks, or a book you keep telling yourself you’ll write eventually, but there always seems to be something more important clamoring for your attention.
One problem with writing in the information age is the ready availability of web-based distractions. The siren call of Facebook, Twitter, games, or your favorite news sites is perpetual and strong.
To combat it, you need some powerful allies.
One I can heartily recommend is Writer’s Block. This writing app lets you lock yourself out of every single other program, website, and app on your computer for whatever space of time or target word count you specify.
Another great tool for writers is Scrivener. Available for Mac and Windows, it’s an incredibly full-featured writing platform – so full-featured it can be a tad overwhelming at times. But once you get the hang of its structure, Scrivener can be your best friend.
Distractions and disruptions are a fact of life, whether you’re a freelancer or not – though freelancers definitely face some unique lost opportunity costs when disruptions occur regularly.
Just analyze your specific needs, compare the available options against those needs, and then choose one to try out.
Then check out more advanced hacks for your chosen apps to become a power user.
Do you struggle with distractions and disruptions? Do you have a helpful tip or strategy that I didn’t mention? Share it in the comments below!
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