Welcome to another post made possible with the help of Tanya Marie Porras.
Tanya is an experienced freelancer and a dear friend of mine.
We go way back. As such, she’s one of the first freelancers I reached out to for the “Challenges that Filipino Freelancers Face” series.
In this post, we’ll touch on a very important subject not just for freelancers, but for everyone who works remotely.
The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 gave a lot of people the opportunity to experience working from home.
Understandably, a lot of them had very skewed views of how home-based professionals perform our tasks.
“You’re so lucky, you don’t get to commute to work.”
“You just need to wake up and you’re ready to work.”
(Yes, these sentences are loosely translated from Filipino.)
Translation: “You’re so lucky, you’re always at home.”
Of course, there’s some truth in all that, especially if you’re new to the whole WFH setup.
Trust me. My personal record is 5,000 words in six hours — a feat I’ve yet to replicate.
But several months in, you’ll wish you work out of an office.
We have a lot to cover in this post, so let’s get right to it.
Allow me to kick things off by presenting Tanya’s work:
Challenge #3: The Need to Stay Focused
By Tanya Marie Porras
Working as a home-based freelance writer is a double-edged sword.
True, it’s an upside that some things are within your reach. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want.
Let’s say 50% of your time goes to work and the other 50% is divided into everything else. Here’s a pie chart representing that:
But if you don’t have a handle on your ability to focus, here’s what that representation would look like:
So while it’s satisfying to know you’re free to do whatever you want, this kind of freedom can be problematic. And it affects your ability to focus on the more important task at hand: your work.
Sadly, even after years of working as a home-based writer, I continue to struggle in this department.
So here are things I do:
1. Turn airplane mode on – I cut off my internet connection to avoid the temptation of chatting with friends, watching YouTube videos, etc.
2. Set an hourly deadline – I don’t begin writing a word until I make a schedule of how many words I need to write every hour. Then i stick to it!
3. Follow the Pomodoro Technique – I write in 30 minute blocks.
I also watch out for the latest productivity techniques, too!
Are we being whiny?
I may sound like a whiny brat for saying this, but it needs to be said.
WFH isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Let me tell you why:
1. No boundary between work and home
If you’re in the freelancing business for a while, you know it’s true.
For one, the mental barrier between work and home — well — isn’t there.
It’s hard to feel relaxed if your bedroom is cluttered with work-related stuff. At the same time, our household responsibilities often steal time and focus away from our work.
2. We overestimate our time
Don’t lie: I know you put off work to do whatever it is that keeps you sane.
I was known in EPH for my ability to stick to a schedule. If I said I’ll get something done that day, I will.
Three years later, missing my self-imposed deadlines became a regular thing for me.
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve said this to myself many times:
“I won’t go broke even if I don’t work today.”
I stopped, though. I’ve since developed a plan to fix that for good.
But I digress.
The problem is, freelancers tend to experience a false sense of time abundance.
Why work now when you can work later — perhaps after dinner? Maybe I can stay up until 3AM to get things done?
Yes, we’ve all been there.
3. We’re surrounded by distractions
How many trips to the fridge did you take today?
Are you positively sure you’re working, or are you checking out memes or YouTube videos?
When working from home, distractions are everywhere.
Even if your eyes are glued to your computer screen, you’re not safe. In fact, there’s a good chance that — right now — you can hear the TV or anything going on outside.
Tanya explained this well with the charts above.
There are simply too many fun things to do while at home.
Simple Ways to Sharpen Your Focus
Alright, enough with all the negativity.
It’s time for a solid action plan that will help you get back on the fast track and stay there.
Tanya already shared some great tips in her contribution, so let’s start with those.
1. Shutting down distractions
In some projects, turning on airplane mode is a surefire way to avoid digital distractions.
But if you require browser tabs open for research, cutting off your internet connection isn’t an option.
Instead, I recommend using a tool like StayFocusd — a free website blocker extension.
Here’s how it works.
After installing the extension on your browser, click on the extension icon from the main toolbar.
If you can’t find the icon, click the extensions button and click the ‘Pin extension’ button.
From the extension pop-up, click ‘Settings’ and head to ‘Blocked Sites’ specify the websites you want to avoid.
For example, let’s say you want to avoid YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter while working.
Simply enter their URLs into the input field and click ‘Add Blocked Site(s).’
Some quick reminders:
- Enter only one website per line (press “Enter” or “Return” on your keyboard per website)
- No need to include “http://” or “https://”
- Don’t include “www” to block an entire site, including inner pages
Don’t forget to configure StayFocusd to suit your daily work routine.
For absolute focus, set the “maximum time allowed per day” to 1 minute. You should also specify the extension’s active hours to match your work schedule.
That’s it — you’re free to explore the rest of the extension on your own.
Of course, try not to cheat the system by using another browser or keeping your phone nearby. At the very least, put your phone on mute to avoid getting distracted with notifications.
To be extra safe, install StayFocusd on all web browsers found in your system.
2. Track your productivity
In a previous post, I mentioned that I organize outlines using a task management tool called Trello.
That should be a great first step for you to take control of your time and productivity.
You can push yourself further with a time-tracking tool like Clockify.me.
It’s a simple but powerful tool that can track where every second of your day goes.
One of the reasons why I chose Clockify is its flexibility.
You can use it as a browser extension, mobile app, or desktop app.
I personally use the desktop app for macOS. It’s lightweight, easy to use, and
You could even use Clockify to specify whether or not a task has billable hours.
How do time trackers affect productivity?
If you’re really serious about freelancing, you need to be prudent with your time.
With a tracker, you can easily identify habits that eat up your productive hours. I, myself, track everything I do — from taking coffee breaks and having lunch.
By identifying your biggest time wasters, it’s easier to make a conscious effort to avoid them.
Time trackers like Clockify can also serve as a visual reminder that you can do better.
For example, let’s say you completed a 1,500-word article in 8 hours yesterday.
Why not shoot for 7, 6, or even 5 hours today?
I’m sure you can do a lot better than that.
Believe it, own it.
3. Use Noisli
This third tip is completely optional, but it definitely helps if you work in a noisy environment.
Noisli is a free, browser-based background noise generator that can drown out external sounds. I’m talking about loud children, pets, and the rumbling noises of vehicles passing by.
Using Noisli is as easy as it gets.
Just log in to your account and click on the sounds you want to play.
Some of your options are rain, flowing water, wind, fire, and the background noise in a café.
You can choose multiple sounds to simulate your ideal work environment. Alternatively, you can choose an existing playlist designed to help you with productivity, relaxation, and more.
If, however, you already have a phone and is used to working with music on full blast, skip this app.
I don’t want you to overcomplicate your work routine by loading up on tools. Using Trello and Clockify should be enough to help you pull through an average workday.
4. Get an accountability partner
As a freelancer, you are your own boss.
That’s not always a good thing.
It’s true that freelancers are entitled to work at their own pace. But if that pace translates to several hours of procrastination and missed deadlines, then you have a problem.
An accountability partner will help you turn things around. It can be anyone, from a fellow freelancer to your high school classmate.
What exactly does an accountability partner do?
The role of an accountability partner is quite simple.
They’ll make sure you live up to your word and stick to your commitments.
Of course, accountability partnership is a two-way relationship. That means you should do the same for the other person.
For example, me and my accountability partner talk about our accomplishments from the past week and goals for the next.
We also offer whatever advice we can give to help each other achieve better results.
Here’s a snapshot of my last message to my accountability partner:
That’s pretty much it.
If you don’t know what “lead behaviors” mean, I’ll tell you all about it in a future post.
In any case, go and get yourself an accountability partner. They could be on your Facebook friends list right now.
5. Work for 90 solid minutes, then take a 30-minute break
I don’t want to go all scientific on you, but you really need to know this.
The “ultradian rhythm” is the non-stop rest-activity cycle of the human brain.
Put simply, our brain is only capable of intense, uninterrupted focus for 90-120 minutes tops. Push any longer than that and you’re more likely to experience creative burnout.
My personal work pattern is to write for 90 solid minutes and then take a 30-minute break. I’ll be done with a 1,500-word article after just three cycles.
There’s no need to do anything fancy to implement this strategy. You can use the built-in timer app on your smartphone or build a weekly schedule and manually track your time.
Tanya mentioned the “Pomodoro” technique, which is a different time management technique.
Instead of working in 90-minute bursts, the Pomodoro technique only requires you to work for at least 25 minutes. And just like the 90/30 rule, you also need to take short breaks in between.
6. Work somewhere else
One of the things I miss in the pre-lockdown world is the option to work somewhere else.
If you haven’t tried working remotely in a coffee shop, you should definitely try it.
For some reason, I find it much easier to focus on work while surrounded by people I know nothing about.
Of course, the coffee helps too.
Just try doing it alone so you can funnel 100% of your focus into your work.
Another idea is to look for a coworking space near you.
Here’s a photo taken in Cofficina Café — a coworking and café hybrid space in Marikina.
I mentioned this last because none of us can go to the nearest coworking space as of writing this post.
Once we’re through the lockdown, you can find a suitable coworking space on Facebook or through Google.
Just use a query similar to the one below.
Working from home doesn’t have to be stressful.
You’re already working AT home for crying out loud — get it together.
With the tips above, I promise you that your productivity will reach a new high in the following days.
If not, come talk to me and maybe we can figure something out.
Leave a comment below or shoot me an email.