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#1 PsychoCoder  Icon User is offline

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Freelancing : Tips to help you stay focused and on-task

Post icon  Posted 24 June 2010 - 10:36 AM

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I posted this on my blog earlier, and got to thinking that it would a good addition to our Freelancing section here at DIC.

Being a freelance developer, working for yourself, is the dream of many a developer, especially in todayís day and age. You get to work from yourself (well never forget you work for your clients, theyíre the one in charge so donít let that get out of site). You get to work where you want (most, if not all, chose from home), you get to pick your own hours, and what projects you take on and which ones you pass one. Ahh the great life, such as it is.

There is one thing that can be the downfall of your freelancing career, and thatís the inability to stay focused and stay on track. Most everyone thinks as long as you have a plan all is well, and having a plan is very important. But you will soon learn that having a plan and sticking to that plan is a different story altogether (Itís harder than it sounds, and I have learned that the hard way). It really boils down to one thing; staying on track.

As freelancers we donít have a boss hanging over our shoulders making sure weíre staying on task, and arenít straying too far, so we need to learn to do this ourselves, and it can be done (donít think Iím trying to scare you away because Iím not). If you decide to become a freelancer, and I think all programmers should at least try it out once, then this writing is for you.

Believe it or not multitasking isnít always the most efficient use of your time. Iíve seen more than one experienced professional programmer fall flat on their faces when they go into freelancing as a full-time profession. They had the skills as a programmer, hell they could make Javascript tap-dance if you wanted them to, but they learned the hard way that day-to-day habits, such as checking your email (personal), paying bills and the like, are their Kryptonite. All this does is give you more things to juggle, and works against you when it comes to actually completing projects.

So weíre going to look at some tips you can use to help keep you on track, focused and organized. None of these tips are earth shattering concepts, and have been around for ages, but are so often overlooked.

No Social Networks During Business Hours
Twitter, Facebook, MySpace all can become very detrimental to your focus. You may have accounts at one or more of these social networks, and simply do not log on to them during your business hours. You would be surprised how easy it is to lose an hour (or more) reading updates on Facebook or Twitter. Thatís an hour of productivity you just lost, so stop.

Minimize Your Interruptions
Let your family know when your business hours are, and ask them to not be calling and sending important email updates (because you know youíll stop and read them). Let the phone ring, isnít that what voice-mail is for. Minimizing your unneeded interruptions will do nothing but her you get more done in your work day.

Face it; there will always be distractions, thatís just a part of life. But it will be less stressful on you if you work out a system to help avoid the more controllable distractions. Close the door; turn the ringer off, close personal email, all distractions that can be avoided.

Prioritize Tasks
Each day look at what you need to get accomplished that day, and put them in order of priority, then follow that list. If Task D is higher on your list than task A, donít jump to A just because itís simpler. It may be simpler but according to you itís not as important to your current project as Task D.

If you continually go for the easy tasks first you're going to end up with a bunch of complex, time consuming tasks at the end. Going this route will ultimately slow down your production, and can lead to missing deadlines, which will not make your clients happy.


Schedule Your Time

This is an important one, and one that is sorely overlooked by many freelancers (even by those in the corporate world). Set your schedule every day. Set aside time for personal tasks, no need for more than twice a day in my opinion. It is in this time you can check your personal email or checking updates on Facebook. You need your Me time each day (trust me on this one). Once you make your daily schedule stick to it, thatís what itís for.

Make sure to schedule breaks. You will find that not scheduling breaks it gets harder and harder to stay focused and on track. Donít overwork yourself. Yes youíre amount of income is now in your hands, but donít work yourself 7 days a week (Trust me this is easy to forget). Doing this will cause you to become burned out, and being burned out makes it near impossible to be focused and on task.

You would be surprised (now that you are responsible for your own income) how important it becomes to stick to this schedule. Just think of it this way, every time you stray from this schedule youíre costing yourself money.

Organize (de-clutter) Your Work Environment
The old saying ďA cluttered desk leads to a cluttered mindĒ is far more true than you would think. Is your desk a messy pile of personal mail, old coupons, and tons of stuff not related to your current project? If so then clean it. Not only can this be a serious distraction, but it can also be intimidating (i.e.; looking at your overdue phone bill and such every day).

Keeping your work environment clean can have a serious (positive) impact on your productivity. It makes you feel more organized and like youíre more focused because you have everything under control.

Break Projects Up
Looking at the big picture, i.e. a large project at once can be very daunting and overwhelming. Break your larger projects into smaller, more manageable projects. Once you have done this, then set mini-deadlines for these smaller projects (make sure your mini-deadlines are all within the overall deadline for the project).

Get a Whiteboard (mine is an invaluable asset), write these smaller projects on it (with their individual deadlines) and cross them (or mark them) as you get them completed. Going at a large project in this manner will make you fell less overwhelmed and allow you to be more productive on a daily basis.

Reward System
This one is important as well. If you donít reward yourself for a job well done, whoís going to? Meet a deadline; take yourself out to dinner. Finish an important project; Buy yourself a book. Doing this will help you feel more relaxed, so youíre not always just working and putting yourself under pressure, all that will do is cause you to burn out. Itís ok for you to feel proud of yourself.

Remember, youíre not a machine; you need time away from work and a reward system is a great way of providing that to yours

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Replies To: Freelancing : Tips to help you stay focused and on-task

#2 Nykc  Icon User is offline

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Re: Freelancing : Tips to help you stay focused and on-task

Posted 24 June 2010 - 10:45 AM

Nice article, one thing I would also add is

Work Environment Location: Working on the kitchen table with a laptop during the daytime while there is a house full of screaming kids is not going to be as productive as finding a nice dedicated workspace.

I also found I am more productive if I am dressed more appropriately. Underwear and socks is a neat concept for working at home, but wearing a collared shirt/khakis or at least dressing as if you were in the business environment tends to make me more productive.
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Re: Freelancing : Tips to help you stay focused and on-task

Posted 09 December 2010 - 08:19 AM

Not sure why this didnt get more responses when is such a fine post.
Thanks a lot for sharing your info!
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#4 lukas76  Icon User is offline

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Re: Freelancing : Tips to help you stay focused and on-task

Posted 06 April 2012 - 04:28 AM

Great post, I've been having many of these same problems when i started out freelancing! :)
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#5 drayarms  Icon User is offline

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Re: Freelancing : Tips to help you stay focused and on-task

Posted 09 May 2012 - 11:08 AM

One way I reward myself for a job well done, get laid;)
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#6 agbenaza  Icon User is offline

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Re: Freelancing : Tips to help you stay focused and on-task

Posted 06 June 2012 - 08:18 AM

Organisation is key to successful freelancing. Set working hours for yourself and during these hours, turn off your phone and social networking apps. You need to be very disciplined
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#7 melloncollie  Icon User is offline

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Re: Freelancing : Tips to help you stay focused and on-task

Posted 28 March 2014 - 11:48 AM

Thanks for the data. I could add a tool that's useful to track your productivity. It's called Codealike (www.codealike.com) and it generates really accurate metrics about what you do while you code. It gives you graphics that let you see when you reached more focused moments and when you lost focus. Also separates how much time you've spent building, how much debugging, etc.
All of that can be useful to understand what you can do in order to improve your working hours
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#8 Freelance Web Developer  Icon User is offline

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Re: Freelancing : Tips to help you stay focused and on-task

Posted 14 May 2014 - 09:05 AM

These are wonderful tips. Social network tip is excellent and practical.
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