Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.
Staying focused in a freelance role is no small feat.
If you’re working from home as a freelancer, the number of potential distractions and other things to do is almost limitless, so your ability to focus can be your superpower to higher productivity. On the contrary, your lack of this skill could be your downfall.
Here are five strategies to help you stay focused and be productive as a freelancer.
Put Up Clear Boundaries
Virtual workers whose homes double as offices need a place to do their freelance projects, keeping in mind the importance of boundaries. Plunking yourself down in the middle of the kitchen table, living room, or other central area of your house shared with others is a recipe for constant interruptions.
Having a specific room — or even part of one — that’s designated only as your workspace can help keep your focus corralled.
Once you have a place to call your own within your home, the next step is to protect it from potential focus-busters. Your boundaries should be clear to others to encourage them to think twice before tapping your shoulder or pinging your devices when you’re working.
“When I am working, I am really working, and I limit who and what has access to me during those work hours,” said Jasmine Bloemhof, founder and senior PR strategist of The PR Guild, who has been freelancing as a PR strategist and practitioner for a decade.
Mono-Task, Don’t Multitask
Multitasking is the enemy of focus and productivity. With a plateful of projects and limited working hours, it’s tempting to cram in more than one thing at a time. But doing so has been proven to decrease your productivity by up to 40%, thus minimizing your effectiveness as a freelancer.
The smarter and saner choice that supports better focus is to mono-task, rather than multitask. By putting your attention on one thing after another instead of on several simultaneously, you’ll be able to stay more centered and avoid the feeling of being frazzled and fragmented.
“I turn off all my alerts and I block out periods of time in my calendar for certain types of tasks and I hold myself to that,” explains Bloemhof. “I do not mindlessly scroll on social media or allow myself to get sidetracked from the tasks at hand.”
Another myth about how to get more done as a freelancer is to push through your day cranking out client content and deliverables, not stopping for fear of losing a few minutes here or there that you could be working on something.
Conventional wisdom suggests that working longer hours without pause will help you get more done and that taking breaks will cause you to have less time and energy for your work projects. The opposite, however, is true.
Research shows that the brain tires after 75 to 90 minutes, so it’s important to take regular breaks at least every hour and a half. Breaks help not only with focus but with energy, stress level, optimism, balance, and creativity, so it’s worth taking time for the task of non-tasking.
On your break, you can fuel up with nutritious foods, hydrate to ensure you’re drinking enough water, exercise to stay fit and healthy, meditate to reset your stress levels, or just do something unstructured that you enjoy, like reading a book or listening to music.
Know When You Will Work
Rather than shirking their work duties to play and putter around at home, studies have shown that most freelancers do the opposite and overwork—one study shows that freelancers work more than the average 40-hour-a-week employee, coming closer to 50 hours a week.
Remote workers in general have been shown to work more hours than office workers and are up to 40% more productive than their in-office peers.
With this in mind, it’s crucial for freelancers to designate not only a starting time for their workday, but an ending time. Knowing when you will work — and when you won’t — is the only way to keep from potentially working all the time, on and off, day and night.
By keeping your work hours contained just as traditional employees do, you’ll be able to focus better during the time you’ve allotted to your freelance gigs.
“I write at night, when my house is quiet and my creative juices are flowing,” said Bloemhof. “I limit my time spent in meetings, automate communications wherever possible, and I don’t ‘meet for the sake of meeting.'”
Bloemhof hones her focus not just by when she works, but how she works. For example, since one of her key tasks is pitching journalists with story ideas, she orients her efforts around her target’s optimum review times.
“I know that journalists are most responsive to pitches in the mornings, so I meet them where they are and I pitch only in the mornings so my pitching efforts are as effective as possible,” she said. “I batch work wherever possible, making the most of every minute, every email, every conversation.”
Another way Bloemhof works strategically is by becoming “laser-focused” on her niche. “I don’t try to service everyone under the sun,” she says. “I have learned that the right projects and PR partnerships come my way and that I don’t have to take every project that I come across on every job forum and in every networking group.”
Bloemhof moved away from approaching work from a place of scarcity and no longer applies for jobs or opportunities that don’t allow her to really step in as a senior-level PR professional.
“The whole world is full of people and businesses that need PR, and there is an endless supply of work out there for freelancers,” she concluded. “I keep this in mind when I am prospecting new ventures and opportunities and I am selective in what I ultimately pursue.”
Focus for Freelance Success
In addition to honing your ability to focus, having access to a steady stream of legitimate jobs will also help you maintain a successful freelance business.
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