Workers who don’t freelance often have limited control of their workflow; they show up at appointed hours, to a designated workspace, and do their carefully-assigned projects.
As freelancers, however, we often have the luxury of shaping our workday to suit our own parameters. Theoretically, being productive should be a snap!
Ha ha ha ha ha. HA.
Too often, freelancers struggle with finding their Ideal Work Zone – a super-productive state in which time and space seem to warp.
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You know you’re in that zone when you can look up and be genuinely surprised that the hours have flown by; when the work and inspiration flow, with very few snags.
It’s easy to feel like these things are arbitrary; you hear a lot about people hitting nebulously-defined ‘sweet spots’ for creativity and productivity, but very little about how to get in that zone.
But while you can’t control when inspiration strikes, you CAN create a nice, comfy environment to invite those Eureka moments. It’s all about identifying your own tendencies, and creating a workflow that suits you.
The first step to creating your Ideal Work Zone – the perfect mixture of time and place to jumpstart productivity – is starting to notice your own habits.
Start in a place of absolute non-judgment; we all have different work styles, and you don’t necessarily need to ‘improve’ on anything.
First, start thinking about time. When are you most able to produce? Is there any time of day when you feel clear and focused?
This may or may not be when you naturally find yourself most energized – some people work best when they’re full of energy, and some people need restless energy to peak and then decline before they can really work.
When do you feel the most “you” – the most creative, the least blocked?
Second, start thinking about environment. Are you able to do work effectively with people around, or do you need silence? Is any kind of music or controlled noise conducive to your work?
When do you find yourself getting almost uncontrollably irritated – when other people are talking, or when you’re staring at your apartment walls, day after day?
Do you benefit from a social workplace, or isolation?
Then, think about obstacles. What are your biggest time-sucks? What do you feel calling you away from your work, time and again?
Do you lose the most productivity to inanimate forces (the lure of the Internet, TV, chores) or other beings (kids, spouses, chats with colleagues)?
You needn’t dislike your obstacles; in fact, sometimes the most problematic disruptors are the things we love the most.
We don’t want to ELIMINATE the obstacles, but we do want to limit access to them during the times you want to be most productive.
Now that you’ve thought about your existing work routine, it’s easy to start making tiny tweaks to create (and recreate) your Ideal Work Zone. It’s not about completely renovating your life!
Instead, examine what you naturally prefer, and start catering towards those preferences – while reducing exposure to obstacles during your working hours. Creating the Ideal Work Zone is all about experimentation.
For instance, let’s say you notice that you naturally tend to have energy early in the day, but struggle to focus when surrounded by people.
Can you adjust your work routine to get your most focused work done in the morning, before your household wakes up? If you’re a socially-oriented person who struggles with social media distractions, can you arrange to work part-time from cafes or shared space?
Turn off your Wi-Fi for finite periods; you may find that the buzz of the public workspace scratches that itch.
Once you start noting and adjusting your current routines, you can tinker with other aspects of your life, and see how that affects the creation of your work zone.
Does exercising early in the day affect your work later in the afternoon? Does diet have any effect – or caffeine?
Knowing your habits and building your Ideal Work Zone to suit those habits doesn’t guarantee that every day will run smoothly.
Most of us have fluctuating levels of productivity from day-to-day and hour-to-hour. It does, however, increase the probability of an effective workflow!
You can’t control every outcome; you can, however, build your workday around your own needs – considerably heightening your chances of landing in the Zone.
Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.