Being self employed is never easy, especially for those of us that work at home. One of the main things I really struggle with is keeping focused on the task at hand, it's very easy to feel too comfortable working from home, it's hard to make it feel like 'work'. House work still needs doing, no one will notice if you stay in your onesie all day and it's so much harder when you know the PS4 is just one room away.....
So I thought that it'd be worth writing a little post about what does keep me focused, what I've tried before and what really doesn't keep me focused. There are plenty of lists and articles out there on various websites with suggestions too, but they do pretty much suggest the same sort of solutions, so this is coming from someone who's tried and tested many of these!
Ok, so I'm going to start off with the ones that I've tried that don't work for me, however, after trying some of these I have sort of tweaked some of them so that they do now work for me.
- Listen to music through headphones.
- Turn off the internet.
- Drink coffee.
- Watch netflix/films/documentaries.
Both listening to music through headphones and watching stuff while I'm working really distracts me, purely because I become more focused on the music or visuals than I do my work, it makes me start wanting to look into things to do with what I'm watching/listening to and it's super irritating because I know when I'm doing it that it's just making me procrastinate! I still drink coffee but I drink a lot more water than I do coffee, more about that further down. Turning off the internet is obviously a great idea, the internet is a huge distraction for most freelancers, but at the same time it's a huge resource so it's not really a solid option for me.
Now onto a few things that I introduced into my own routine that I thought might help and completely failed.
- Playing video games on my lunch break.
- Checking emails on my lunch break.
I'm a huge gamer, and if I'm not drawing I'm gaming basically, I play FFXIV online too so when I'm sat working thoughts will start to creep in about that next piece of gear I want or dungeon I want to unlock, so I thought, hmm why not just have a quick hour a day while I eat to have a quick go? It felt awesome at first, of course it did, I was completely lying to myself and would convince myself that it was ok to have an extra 10, 30, 50 minutes playing, it was eating up way too much of my time. Checking emails on lunch works for some, but I just find that it makes me then want to check Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. and in the end I didn't really have any urgent emails to check for anyway.
Now onto the solutions that do actually work for me! I'd recommend trying all of these and the first set of bullet points too, everyone is different and you should never think that someone else's routine will work for you. But the important thing is to start somewhere and work from there.
- Going for a walk - I tried this many times before, but there was no where to really 'walk to' so I just got bored. But luckily there just opened a new small shopping complex a ten minute walk away, and even better my girlfriend works down there. So that means I get to walk her to work, grab a quick costa, sit in there if I feel like I need a new space to work and then head back to my studio. It's really important to make yourself feel like you're 'going to work' when you work from home, and a walk is a great way to do it.
- Drink lots of water - I love a good coffee, but it's so important to keep hydrated. Start your day with a big glass of water and you'll feel much more refreshed and ready for getting your head down. Herbal teas are a great substitute for standard teas and coffees too.
- Spotify! - This goes back to what I previously said about listening to music, because I was struggling so much with headphones I decided to listen without, this helped massively, I also listen to a lot of soundtracks from my favourite films too, not only do they make me feel more motivated but they tend to have no lyrics, which is so much more helpful that you might think. Recently though I discovered spotify, obviously I've always known it was there but I'd just never used it. It's great for finding random music to make you work. You can browse by 'Genres & Moods' which includes a focus section with different types of music so there's something for everyone. Also, I've been using it lately to inspire my work, so recently I've been working with a client on a children's fantasy book, so I just typed in fantasy and there were plenty of awesome playlists for me to listen to!
- Podcasts - I got into podcasts a few months ago now. The main ones I listen to are by the legend that is Chris Oatley (click his name to go to his site where his podcasts are also located), a former Disney employee who offers a great insight into the industry along with artist interviews and character design tips. He works with a great team and they've also just launched a new set of Podcasts called 'Escape from Art Jail' where they offer advice and help on a freelance career. I think you do need to subscribe to the OA backstage pass for this but for £3.50 a month it is more than worth your money and I'll be getting mine this month, there is honestly too much great content to miss out on. You can find tonnes more informative podcasts on the internet or iTunes, the artist interviews are especially good because when you hear other artist's struggles, you just want to keep working harder.
- Filter your internet useage - I don't turn off the internet completely, because I wouldn't be able to research and use Spotify if I did. However I do limit my usage, I check my emails and any websites first thing and then completely shut down my email client, I do get emails to my phone to so I usually put it out of reach and only check it every couple of hours. Something I will be trying soon is the stay focused add-on for Chrome which allows you to block certain sites for certain periods of time throughout the day.
- Clean your workspace - I do this every morning. Although my desk does get messy through the day, I tidy it every night and clean it every morning, there's nothing that throws me off balance more than coming in the studio in a morning and seeing crap everywhere.
- Housework - I now set myself an hour every morning, completely separate from work time to get any housework or errands done, that way it's completely out of my head for the rest of the day.
- Lists - How can you focus if you don't know what you're focusing on? Usually before I leave the studio or at least before I go to sleep I write a list of what I need to do the next day ( I have a bigger goal sheet too, for monthly/quarterly targets but more about that another time). The best way to write a list is to think 'if I were to carry on working now instead of stopping for the night, what would I do?'
- Dress properly - This helps tonnes, dress like you would if you were off to work in a studio, you may think it's fine to work in your onesie, but you won't benefit from it.
- SHOES! - This, although it sounds utterly ridiculous, is by far the biggest one for me as I discovered recently. Even though I try to make sure I dress properly everyday, obviously, being in the house it's our natural instinct to wear just socks or slippers. When I stick a pair of vans on though that's it, I'm in the zone! Seriously though, it does make a huge difference.
Some of these may sound stupid but you really need to find out what works for you, and most importantly, you need to make your body and mind feel like you're 'at work'. Everyone is different, but you have to start somewhere. You could be getting so much more done in a day if your head is in the right place!
As an extra treat, here's a personal piece I just finished up!