Aren’t we all feeling more than a little distracted at all times right now?
We’re all trying to find a new way of being in the world, from schooling our kids at home to moving our elders out of assisted living and into the spare bedroom to sharing space with a spouse who now works from the kitchen table to juggling three 12s a week with writing assignments in your spare time to keeping one ear cocked for the ring of the grocery delivery person to…
Just typing that felt exhausting. Unsettling. Distracting.
The hard truth is when you’re a self-employed freelance writer, you have to figure out how to focus through millions of distractions. As a nurse-writer who has successfully freelanced for nine years, I’d like to share my best tips with you for cutting through the distractions and finding the focus required to get your writing work done.
The First Step: Acknowledgement
As I write this blog post to you, I’m exhausted. I barely slept last night. For those of you who, like me, wear a Fitbit, my Sleep Score was 70. That’s close to the worst I’ve ever scored.
Nonetheless, I rolled out of bed at the usual time and performed the same morning routine, because I believe in the power of good sleep hygiene to vanquish insomnia. During my morning chat with my bestie, Judy, I said, “I slept terrible last night, which is going to disrupt my work day.”
That’s the first step, I think, in finding some focus no matter the distraction you’re facing: acknowledge it. Try to name it. Say to yourself (or aloud), “The kids are more active than usual today, and that’s going to make it challenging to get any writing work done.”
By naming the distraction (identifying the problem), you can begin to formulate a solution. It’s impossible to solve a problem you don’t believe exists.
Next: Find Mental Focus
Once you’ve identified the distraction that is disrupting your ability to concentrate, then you can try various approaches to get focused on your freelance business tasks.
Tip 1: Set a Timer for 10 Minutes
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. You literally can fake yourself out by telling yourself, “I’ll commit to just 10 minutes.” And, come on, you can focus on anything for 10 minutes! Heck, I use this same Jedi mind trick to get myself to exercise all the time.
It’s that simple: sit down at your desk and set a timer on your phone for 10 minutes. Dive into work. You’ll probably find that when the timer goes off you’re so deep in concentration that you plow ahead for at least another 10 minutes. Before you know it, a half-hour’s gone by. Focus achieved!
Tip 2: Pick an Easy Task
I felt determined to get some work done this morning despite my severe lack of sleep, so I cracked open a pair of detailed spreadsheets a client sent me. Within moments, my head was spinning. No way I was going to be able to comprehend any of that stuff!
In this case, I should have chosen a task better suited to my current cognitive state. In other words: a very simple task. Like writing this blog post.
Don’t feel that prioritizing an easy task over a harder one represents some kind of failing. It doesn’t. All of the tasks have to get done eventually. For me, I now can check this blog post off my list and turn my attention to the client spreadsheets tomorrow, when I’m presumably more rested.
Tip 3: Rejigger Your Task List
Sometimes I literally lose sleep because I’ve cram-packed my next day’s work schedule with an unrealistic number of deadlines, Zoom calls, or what-have-you. And then, in the morning, due to lack of sleep, I feel I can’t focus on any of those things, let alone all of them.
When this sort of thing happens, the first thing I do is evaluate my task list. What items can be pushed back a day or two? How I can smooth this out to get some work done today, if not all of it?
This approach often leads to my employing Tip 2 (pick an easy task), and once I have a small thing accomplished, I find the focus to continue with a productive work day.
Tip 4: Rejigger Your Work Schedule
Sometimes, life throws so many distractions at you that you literally can’t be in the office during your usual hours on a particular day. That’s OK. In fact, that’s the beauty of being self-employed: You have total control of your own schedule.
When this happens, aim for flexibility. Look at your calendar(s) and mark out an hour or two for working outside your normal office hours. You may find you have no trouble finding focus at your desk after the kids have gone to bed and your spouse is comfortably ensconced in front of the TV for the evening.
Tip 5: Give Up and Leave the Office
If you think this tip is a joke, think again.
Sometimes, life becomes so chaotic that any time you spend in the office will be wasted, anyway, because you’ll do such poor work that you have to redo it eventually. That’s not good. Time is money, remember?
On occasion, your best strategy is to give up on the day and forget about finding focus. Turn your attention instead to resolving the distraction or planning ahead for future disruptions. And then go off and do something soothing instead of working.
This is the exact strategy I’ll be following today. Once I’ve finished this blog post and responded to a few emails, I’m outta here. I can’t focus on any meaningful work, so I might as well do something productive around the house instead.
How Do You Find Focus as a Freelance Writer?
What do you do these days to find focus on your writing work (or life, in general!)? Share your best tips in the comments!
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