How to stay in the zone when you’re working from home
When you’re your own boss, number one employee, and right-hand-person, it’s sometimes hard to stay motivated.
It happens. It’s hard to self-motivate constantly, and as freeing as freelancing can be, keeping yourself on task (along with all of the other things you’re doing to run your own business) can be difficult in itself.
Happily, freelancing today is made much easier with apps to keep you on task, strengthen your focus, and keep you accountable. Here are a few apps that will keep that laser-like focus — okay, productive, human focused — while working on your own.
If you haven’t heard of the Pomodoro technique, here’s quick overview: set a 25-minute timer for sprints of work, reward yourself with a quick 5-minute break, then go back to another sprint. Every few sprints, you reward yourself with a longer break. There are lots of ways to do this. You can set your own timer — the name for this technique comes from using a tomato-shaped oven timer — and keep the sprints yourself. You can also use the app Focus Keeper to track your sprints and just tell you when to take your breaks. It’s a good way to get into the groove of a project, especially if you’re having trouble just diving in.
Any project can seem daunting simply by its scope, but the best way to manage any project is to brainstorm all to-do’s you need and to prioritize them sensibly. I like One Big Thing because it allows you to focus on big picture by really taking not of those minute tasks. It also doesn’t overcomplicate the to-do list. You have that one task that needs to be done today and you’re free to add a few reminders for yourself as well.
The beauty of just thinking of it as one thing makes it that much more manageable to accomplish. It helps me work backwards from deadline to present, and I can plan day-by-day so an all-nighter isn’t in my future.
Evernote is a way to keep all of those notes, ideas, and even articles or websites together while you move forward. I find myself stumbling on articles I must read, inspiration I find, or even just have a thought while doing something completely different and I don’t want to lose it so I use Evernote. Someone sent a cool blog post? Put it in Evernote. You got a notification about a cool restaurant opening? Put it in Evernote. You thought of a joke to add to your Twitter? Put that in Evernote. I look through when I need a mental break or at the end of the day. It’s a nice way where you don’t have to lose momentum because you know you won’t revisit it later.
Inboxes can get scary, especially if you’re like me and keep them unread until I take care of that actionable item. It’ll stack up and I used to catch myself spending more time on replies than focusing on my task for the day, which is why Boomerang is such a blessing. Rather than “Mark as Unread” for a few days for me to get back to it, I read the email, determine if I need to address now or if I can wait till a different date. If so, I schedule it to come back to my inbox then. It also helps when I want to send emails out. I’ll draft and schedule emails ahead of time so it sends without needing to set a reminder for me to write them later.
On another note, this is especially helpful if you’re a night owl and prefer working at odd hours but want to send emails during the traditional working day.
Okay, this might sound crazy: stay focused by meeting up with others? That might sound like you’re asking for distractions, but stay with me: coworking with others once or twice a week keeps me on task. Some days, when I work by myself I can give myself excuses to not start certain projects, but when I go to a coworking session or a freelancer working meetup, I find it’s a great way to reward myself with breaks by chit chatting and then staying on task with the other around me.
Sites like Meetup, coworking groups on Facebook, or Slack communities, are a great way to find freelancers in your city wanting some interaction and others to bounce ideas off of. As you probably guessed, this is a great way to keep you accountable too. Someone else knows about your project and might want to know how it turned out.
Working from home sounded nice at the beginning. No commute, no trudging commuters, no commuting charges. But when your day-in and day-out exists within the walls of your apartment, that can get mentally stale and distracting, especially if you have dishes that need doing. Instead, keep your work area separate from where you sleep. Try creating a routine where you work outside of your house a few times a week. Cafes, libraries, and coworking spaces are great option.
You can cowork part-time with apps like Croissant so you don’t commit full time to space. A Croissant membership gives you a stock of hours to use in different spaces around the city. Check-in and check-out as you need, and best of all, you don’t have to fully commit to a space further away. Try a space near you twice a week, and you’ll see that having a separate space for work mode can really make a difference.
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Georgette Eva is the Community & Events Manager of Croissant, the app that gives access to coworking spaces on demand and makes the world your office. Her and her team work remotely, exploring coworking spaces and new cities, but they’ll come together to cowork or even have a book club meeting over Skype.