Fight Creative Time Wasting: Tips for Resourceful Time Wasters
Most readers of this blog provide creative services of some kind, largely as designers or as writers. And if you are contemplating a switch to the freelance life, you may be wondering about your own creativity, about your ability to constantly come up with new and better ways to do things for your clients.
While there are many different kinds of freelancers offering many kinds of services, all the freelancers I have known have been able to demonstrate outstanding creativity in at least one aspect of their work:
You’ve Got Mail
When you go freelance, you suddenly discover what is really important.
Like the mailbox next to your front door! If you have left a corporate cubicle for a home office, your sensitivity to the things around you is heightened to the point that you can hear inanimate objects speaking to you. Your mailbox whispers, “come out and look to see if I’ve got something for you,” hour after hour. Even though you know when the post arrives, you can’t resist the call, you “just take a moment” to check it now and then . . and then . . and then. And if you are waiting for a check from a client, forget it. You might as well put a chair next to the mailbox and live out there until the mail arrives.
Naturally, if you are working from home , it would be a shame not to keep up with the laundry, maybe just do up those dishes quickly, and it can’t hurt to vacuum occasionally.
If you are not freelancing yet, those kinds of activities might seem to be boring chores. But once you go out on your own, they become endlessly fascinating. Develop that web form? Write that brochure? Dust?
Pretending to Be Virtuous
Even if you resist tackling these totally irrelevant tasks to avoid your work, you can still waste lots of energy in activities that appear to have something to do with your trade. The trick is simply to move low-priority items you could do anytime up to the top of the list.
Don’t you need a better filing system, so you can be more efficient? Better check your office supplies, perhaps pick up a couple of printer cartridges. Maybe you should catch up on your accounting, so you can get a couple of months’ head start on your taxes.
And those are just the time-wasters you can come up without the aid of modern technology.
Welcome to the Black Hole
If computers can make us more efficient, they are even more powerful tools for inefficiency. You probably learned to check your e-mail way too often long before you went freelance.
Now that your productive time is your source of revenue, it is much easier to be seduced into making little tweaks that might minimally improve your output. Why not defragment your hard drive, update to the latest versions of all your software, search for just the right plug-ins and extensions, and find the perfect way to manage all your files and documents so you can instantly find any item you need?
You also probably don’t have the perfect theme set up in your browser, and you need to customize every menu and tool bar you can find . . . all motivated by your deep desire to get more work done, of course.
What’s the Cure?
Frankly, some people never get past this phase. But while successful freelancers may not be completely free of these afflictions, they eventually learn to manage them, to hold these distractions down to a level where they do a little less damage to their productivity:
- Start with patience. If you are new at freelancing, you are facing a whole new lifestyle and “workstyle.” It takes time to adapt, so don’t expect to apply a heavy dose of “will power” or “self-discipline” and suddenly make everything better.
- Bunch your distractions together. Check mail (e- or other) at specific times, and deal with it in a few set time periods, instead of constantly throughout the day. Get those office supplies, and all those other errands you have discovered, done on a single day in the week, instead of running out the door repeatedly.
- Earn your distractions. Get those software updates only when you complete your work quota for the morning. Recognize these activities as the breaks they are, and use them as rewards.
Generally, outwitting these time wasting maneuvers works better than trying to eliminate them through some kind of brute force effort. And when you have that occasional relapse — as you will – forget all the guilt. Just have a laugh at yourself, and accept time wasters as part of the freelance life.