We work online, which means we are bombarded day and night with distractions. Most freelancers, from designers to journalists and book writers for hire, find it difficult to stay on task all the time. And if you’re venturing into this brave new world of freelancing for the first time, it’s often even more difficult to cope. Give yourself a few weeks of no boss to keep you on task, and you’re very likely to develop a nasty case of self-inflicted attention deficit disorder.
Worse, the common advice for freelancers is to put a moratorium on social media and stop checking emails. Writers in particular simply can’t do that. Social media is a vital part of our marketing strategies, and waiting even an hour too long to check your email could mean missing out on the next great gig. So if we can’t follow the usual anti-distraction advice, what are we supposed to do? It turns out that lifestyle modifications – even small ones – bring several benefits to the table, not the least of which is improved focus and the ability to resist those tempting distractions.
The biggest problem with being a freelancer is that the office never truly closes for the day. It’s easy to blow a whole morning on your favorite web comics and then stay up all night to catch up on the work you should have done earlier. At first, it seems sustainable – even refreshing – to work whatever hours you please. In the end, however, it wreaks complete havoc on your sleep schedule. Poor sleeping habits or not enough sleep leads to an inability to pay attention, cognitive decline, difficulty learning new things and memory problems.
The cure is to get between seven and nine hours of solid shut-eye every night – and not whenever you happen to be finished with your work either. The key to improving your sleep cycle, and thus your focus, is to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.
Get More Exercise
Exercise is just as healthy for your brain as it is for your body. For starters, it increases blood flow to your brain, which works wonders for your concentration. Exercise also boosts your energy, improves your mood and makes you more alert and productive. The key benefit to writers is that exercise releases endorphins, which are critical for improving your impulse control.
You don’t need to work out like you’re training for the Olympics, either. A simple walk or short bouts of interval training – anything that boosts your heart rate – will improve your focus for at least a couple of hours. If you really want to train your brain, try exercises like yoga, Pilates or Tai Chi. These kinds of exercises force you to work in a distraction-free zone so that you can really focus on breathing and technique.
A pot of coffee for breakfast, a pot of coffee for lunch, then a not-so-sensible dinner. The unfortunate truth is that my take on the old Slim Fast slogan is a reality for many freelancers. We fuel ourselves with coffee throughout the day, and if the work isn’t done by dinner, it’s takeout night yet again. Fortunately, eating well doesn’t necessarily mean eating things you hate – just limit things like caffeine and sugar and make sure you get plenty of healthy fats, Omega 3s and antioxidants. Here’s a great article from Forbes that details some of the best concentration-boosting foods – including chocolate!
For freelancers, the secret to being healthy, wealthy and wise isn’t to cut out the distracting elements of your job. Instead, try a few lifestyle changes to boost your concentration and willpower. Find a way to stay focused, and you’ll have more time for what really counts – you!
Amber K loves to write about health and wellness – especially the mind-body connection. She is a great researcher, and her work is based entirely on facts and proven science.