One of the positive things to come out of COVID is more people have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to work from home. I have worked for myself doing content marketing from home since 2018, so working from home was normal for me by the time 2020 came. I may live in Florida, but I work with clients all over the world, from New York and Austin to San Francisco and Seattle, and even further in South America, Europe, and Australia. One thing I’ve found interesting is how the topic of productivity has come to the forefront as people navigate their working environment. As a freelance writer working from home, I never gave any real active thought to productivity. I simply set monthly earning goals for myself and then meet those goals. Looking back on my working habits, I have developed my own methods for staying focused and productive.
Working From Home Productivity
The biggest pushback I get from people is that there’s no oversight of those working from home. This means you lose productivity, and the company will suffer. It turns out that isn’t exactly true. Many people find home jobs have a more pleasant working environment, leading to a better mental state and more productivity. Even if it’s part-time work from home, getting outside of the office can result in high quality work product.
Reasons Remote Workers Feel More Productive
Listen to Music
I love music. What I listen to depends on my current activity and mood. I have several playlists that help me stay focused and be more productive when I’m in my role as a freelance writer working from home. No, they are not coffee shop jazz or easy listening. I tend to rotate my work soundtrack, but it has included everything from 2000s boy bands to country, reggaeton, soca, movie soundtracks, and pop. I can throw on a playlist, and I find myself typing to the rhythm of the music. The music sounds help my brain stay in the zone, and before I know it, I’ve written all of my articles.
You do not work for eight hours straight when you are in the office. So you cannot expect to work for eight hours straight when working from home. It’s ok to take breaks, and doing so helps you stay better focused and more productive when you are working. Give yourself five to ten minutes to check out social media or your favorite bloggers. Just don’t let yourself get distracted and lose track of time. It helps to set a timer so that you know when your break is up and it’s time to return to work.
The Pomodoro Technique
This is a method for adding structure to your breaks. Many people sing its praises and think it’s fantastic. I hate it. I have tried it a few times, and it doesn’t work for me. I’m not saying that it won’t work for you. I just think that when I’m blog writing or creative writing, if I’m in the zone, I’m not going to stop what I’m writing and break my mental flow just because the clock says to. Sometimes proofreading or copywriting may take longer than I’d like. One of the main reasons I love my career is that I am not controlled by a clock and answering to someone else. The Pomodoro Technique reminds me of being in an office and having someone tap their watch every time I get up from my desk. However, for beginners who are just getting started in their technical writing or graphic design career, having a structure can make the transition easier. If you want to give it a try, follow this routine:
- Choose a task.
- Work on it for 25 minutes.
- Put a checkmark on paper after the 25 minutes.
- Take a five-minute break. (This marks the completion of one “Pomodoro” sprint.)
- After four Pomodoro sprints, take a longer break.
- Continue this throughout your workday
Have a Routine
Now, just because I don’t like living my life by the clock does not mean I don’t follow a routine. I have a routine of tasks that I do every day. This keeps me on schedule and gives some structure to my life. However, I don’t stress about it shifting from day to day. For example, here’s what a typical workday looks like for me.
I typically wake up between 7 and 8:30 am, depending on many other factors. I will get out of bed at some point before 9 am. I get dressed and get ready for the day. I then make breakfast for my husband, who also works from home, and mix up my breakfast smoothie, a large cup of water, and espresso. I feed the pups and let them out to go potty. Once we are all settled, I help the pups get into their snuggle beds and start my workday. Around 10:30, they need to potty, and I’m ready for a mental break, so I let them out. We come back and settle in until lunch. Sometime between 11 am and 1 pm, I make lunch for myself and my husband while the pups go out. I take another break around 2:30 to let them out while checking the mail. Then I work until 4:30 pm when I stop to work out. I then prepare dinner and eat. I possibly finish up any tasks that I didn’t get done during the day after dinner.
As you can see, I have built-in natural breaks throughout my day. If I tried to follow the Pomodoro method, I would have to get those breaks to line up with my Pomodoro breaks, which is more effort and planning than what I’m willing to do. Evaluate your schedule and create a routine that works for your responsibilities and mental health.
Staying organized is crucial for me as a freelance writer working from home. I keep a Google sheet with several tabs to help me stay organized. The first tab is an aggregate of the other tabs, like a big picture view. This is where I track my monthly earning goal and progress towards that goal. I then keep subsequent tabs for each client that I work with. On that sheet, I list out the article, when it’s due, a link to the Google Doc where I’m writing it, the required word count, and the pay rate. Doing this helps me organize my day and prioritize my projects across all of my clients. It also helps me stay on track throughout the month to ensure I meet my personal goals.
Accept That it’s Not Happening
There are some days when I am just not mentally able to focus. It doesn’t matter how hard I try; I simply cannot get my act together to write. I consider these days burn-out days. They are my brain and body’s sign that it’s time to take a day off. You wouldn’t think it, but being a freelance writer working from home takes a lot out of you mentally, and when you do it for hours a day, day after day, your brain gets tired. As a result, you run out of creative juices, and your writing suffers.
When these burnout days happen, the best thing I can do is close the laptop and walk away. I go to the pool, work in my garden, go out on my parents’ boat, ride the motorcycle, or do anything else that is completely unrelated to work. This allows me to reconnect with family and friends, enjoy my favorite activities, and get myself mentally recharged. I come back to work the next day refreshed and motivated. I get more work done and find myself incredibly productive. That time away allows the mental blocks to fall so that can I tackle the search engine optimization (SEO) challenges that my clients face. Perhaps this means crafting several landing pages that have similar topics but need differentiated content.
Stick With What’s Enjoyable
It’s hard to stay focused on the task at hand when you find it mind numbingly boring. I love being a content writer, so I look for freelance writing jobs that require content writing. Sometimes this means I’m ghostwriting, and other times it means I have a bi-line. I avoid writer jobs that don’t interest me, such as technical writer, script writer, copy editor, news writer, or resume writer. I didn’t know in the beginning of my full-time writing career that the type of writing I enjoyed most was creative writer. To figure this out, there was a lot of trial and error. I applied to writing gigs on LinkedIn and other job boards that list remote jobs. For each of the online writing jobs that I applied to, I would prepare submissions that included a writing sample. Not only did this improve my writing skills, but it also helped me narrow my focus in my new freelance career.
Today, I have job alerts set up for new job postings in the most effective marketplaces. This streamlines my job search which allows me to focus on content creation. I submit writing samples to fewer opportunities, but have more conversions for the jobs I apply to.
How Do You Stay Productive?
While I have talked a lot about what makes me productive and focused as a freelance writer working from home, it may not work for everyone else. Just like there are several methods for organization, there are several methods for staying focused. If you’re unsure what works for you, the best approach is to test run a method. If it works, great! If it doesn’t, try another one. You’ll know when you get it right, and when that happens, stick with it.