It’s the lifestyle we all dream about: we can say goodbye to the corporate rat-race and use our unique skills to start up a web-based business at home. We decide the hours, we decide who to take on as clients, and we decide how to do our projects – without the fear of having to deal with an interfering micro-managing boss.
However, as many of us already know, “living the dream” of working from home as a freelance web designer or other type of web worker can be stressful, especially at the start. Will we get enough clients to become profitable? Can we get all the work done by the client’s deadline? What happens if we just can’t get into creative mode? What happens if we get writer’s block? These are just some of the things that can cause our blood pressure to rise and worries to deepen.
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“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King, on writing
The way to reduce a lot of the stress caused by our work is to simply become more productive. And being “more productive” doesn’t mean working more hours – it means using a set amount of time in the most efficient way possible. This way, you can get your best work done and still live your life – giving yourself the rest and “down time” you need in order to optimize your creative output.
Get rid of the distractions
When you’re doing creative-type work, any distraction such as a knock on the door or noise from a family member can mean you’ll lose your focus and it can take a few minutes up to a few hours to get it back. Working from home requires a lot of discipline; there will always be the temptation to chat with room-mates, watch TV, or play games. Try to set up your workspace in a place that’s away from the television and game consoles. If you’re living with other people, work in an area of the residence where you are least likely to be disturbed.
“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work in hand. The Sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” – Alexander Graham Bell
But this is just part of the distractions battle! To avoid time-consuming distractions, you’ll also need to avoid social media while you’re working; while nobody denies it’s fun looking at your friends’ holiday snapshots, you shouldn’t be looking at them and chatting while you’ve got a project on the go.
You might also want to download some email apps that will filter your email for you. Email notifications are big productivity killers, and most of the time the emails are spam or are not related to your specific work. Awayfind is a service which allows you to decide which topics and people you get instant notifications from.
Get rid of old or slow technology
One of the most frustrating things that occurs while working as a freelance web designer or web worker is to be in “the zone” where creativity is flying and a project is coming together, only to find that the computer is slowing down, causing delays of a few seconds up to a few minutes. Over the course of a day, those minutes can turn into an hour, and over a week, the amount of time wasted waiting for the computer or program to accomplish its tasks can be equivalent to eight hours. That is an entire day of productivity lost, and over the course of a few months, that can result in you losing out on a serious sum of money. Buy the best technology you can afford so you’re not wasting precious time and precious cash!
Establish work hours, set your priorities and make your to-do list
While working from home gives you a lot of freedom when it comes to hours, it can become all too easy to procrastinate, so it is essential to establish a set amount of hours per day for work – and those hours should be times when you’re least likely to experience distractions. For example, if your home resembles a zoo from 9 AM to 2 PM, you may want to schedule your work for 3 to 9 PM.
You will also want to plan your day by setting your priorities: take a few minutes to determine how many tasks needs to be taken care of. Then divide those tasks into the following groups: very important and urgent, important and not so urgent, and not-so important and not-so urgent.
Once your tasks have been divided, decide how time-consuming each task will be; then based on that, get your to-do list written up. For example, if your not-so-urgent and not-so important tasks will only take five minutes to complete, then put them on your to-do list first. Then work on completing your very important and urgent tasks, followed by important and not-so-urgent tasks. Cross off each task as you complete them, and you’ll notice your productivity increasing because you won’t be wasting time fiddling around with unimportant tasks.
Sitting down is actually pretty stressful on the body and looking at a computer screen can be very taxing on your eyes. There is also the possibility of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. And that’s not all! If you don’t take breaks every so often, the ideas tend to dry up and everything can become a blur. You’ll also lose productivity – your brain is a little bit burnt out. Get up, take a quick walk, take a little nap, or just get away from your work for a few minutes. You will come back feeling refreshed, your brain will feel rejuvenated and your productivity levels will be high again.
A five minute break after every solid 25 minutes of work seems to be the magic number for most freelance workers to maintain optimal levels of productivity and creativity; but some require more breaks and some require fewer. It’s like Pareto’s 80/20 rule: work solidly for 80% of the time with no interruptions, and then use 20% of the time to stretch, take breaks and give your mind a rest.
A quick stress-buster
Breaks are essential to maintain your health, and are necessary to reduce productivity-killing stress. One of the things you should do during mini-breaks is abdominal breathing. Long used as a relaxing exercise in the yoga world, abdominal breathing works perfectly in a work setting as well, and will get you relaxed in seconds and feeling refreshed within a few short minutes.
Simply sit up straight, close your eyes, and take slow deep breaths, taking care to expand your abdomen outwards while inhaling. Imagine oxygen entering your lungs and your entire abdominal area, and exhale slowly, allowing your abdomen to return to its normal position. While this may feel strange at first, you’ll get the hang of it after a couple of practice sessions and you’ll find that your mind will remain sharp for the entire day.
Take time off
One mistake new freelancers make is not taking enough time off; when you work too many days in a row or when you bring your laptop with you to sneak in some work when you should be getting some well-deserved rest, you won’t be working efficiently. In fact, you might be unnecessarily be spending hours to do a task that you’d be able to do in a few minutes if you had taken the time to get refreshed.
Take one or two days off a week to do other things and let your mind rejuvenate; failing to do so will result in you getting burnt out and churning out work that’s mediocre at best and sub-standard at worst. Don’t just spin your wheels; rest, get enough sleep, and you’ll find you’re much more efficient and effective.
Exercise and eat right
Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence all point to the fact that the most productive people are those who make time to exercise.
“Mens sana in corpore sano.” – famous latin proverb that means “a sound mind in a healthy body”
So while you might think you’re accomplishing more work by sitting at your desk and ignoring your body, the truth is a half an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise per day will make your body and mind work more effectively.
Furthermore, what you eat will directly affect your work productivity; if you eat a grilled cheese sandwich, a donut and drink some soda at lunch-time, you’ll probably feel tired and sleepy within twenty minutes. Eat something healthy like some grilled fish and salad, or a nutrition-packed soup because these foods are proven to keep the mind alert and the body in tip-top shape.
Being a freelance web designer is hard work, but hard work doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be successful. The trick to increasing productivity and giving clients a stellar product or service isn’t about increasing the amount of time you slog away at the computer; it’s about making the hours you set aside for work effective and efficient. Eliminating distractions and slow technology are one part of the productivity game, and taking mini-breaks and sufficient time off from work are the other. Don’t forget to exercise, and make sure you’re eating nutritious food as well. You’ll find that your increased productivity will be a real stress-buster and you’ll be a healthier, happier, more successful web worker.
What do you think? How do you increase your productivity? Does your method reduce your stress levels? Let us know in the comments section below.