Balancing freelancing and full-time work ain’t easy but tricking your mind is
Productivity is getting more and more difficult to master.
Especially considering our ever-increasing obsession with being successful (which often boils down to how much money you make), side hustles and monetizing anything we possibly can.
Truth be told, we are not as good at multi-tasking, as we think we are. Most of us are also quite new to this ‘work any hours from the comfort of your own home’ thing, too.
Here is how I turned the tide around and regained my sanity as a remote worker, freelancer, and content creator.
1. Time blocking my calendar.
Starting with one of the oldest tricks in the book — time blocking.
‘Control your schedule so it doesn’t control you’ — Todoist
If you are someone that needs social validation, then I must preface this section by saying Jack Dorcey uses this technique to juggle his responsibilities. Not convinced yet?
If you (a) have a lot of meetings or interruptions, (b) are prone to being reactive (maintaining synchronous communication with instant replies to emails), (c ) have many different types of projects you need to devote yourself fully to in order to them to be fully successful, then this is totally what you need.
Time blocking is a time management method that requires you to split your day into blocks of time. The caveat is that each block should be sufficient enough for you to accomplish a specific task. The result is a very concrete schedule, which is more forgiving than an open-ended to-do list, as it enables you to put different blocks for doing one task on different days of the week.
To help with prioritization, put all your tasks in a given week in a list. Then estimate how many hours you need to complete each one. Block them out in the calendar. Remember to also include time for mandatory (or at least habitual tasks) like lunch, checking social media, responding to emails, Slack, or Asana.
This method promotes focusing on deep work (such as preparing for an important presentation, programming, or content creation), while assisting to quickly tackle shallow work (email answering, phone calls, status updates).
On a more personal note, this helps with stopping yourself from overcommit, as as the weeks go by, you can actually see how much of the tasks you put in you completed, how long typical tasks from your routine take you to complete, and how you are spending your time in general.
You will, in time, go from guesstimating task completion times to actually knowing not only how long but also when the ideal task completion will take place for each task.
When you focus on completing tasks, instead of doing them perfectly, you will also stop fulfilling your toxic habit of perfectionism, which may be holding you back in life.
So, head over to your Google Calendar and start time blocking.
Bonus Tip: Colour code tasks once you are done in a color that you like.
I also try to go through my calendar at the end of the day and color all completed tasks in green.
This helps me keep myself accountable for the ones I could not complete. I try to take some time for completing them during the ‘emergency tasks/ overspill’ window I have scheduled each day.
2. Exercise to mark the end of the working day.
One thing I really struggle with as a remote employee, a freelancer, and a content creator is moving from work to life. Or simply, knowing when to stop my workday.
At the end of the day, when you work from home and you don’t have a set start or end time of your workday, things can quickly spiral out of control. Setting up this boundary for yourself can be quite a difficult task.
That is why you need something to physically get you out of your seat. What better thing than exercise?
By scheduling exercise sessions at around 6–7 PM each day, I artificially create a barrier between my work and personal life.
I have a no-laptop policy for the rest of the night after, which helps me regain some of the balance I had lost over the past few months and spend some quality time with my partner, my cats, my plants, and on myself.
With this technique I tackle three problems of remote work at once:
- social isolation
- sedentary lifestyle
- lack of work-life balance
By implementing barriers, I feel more empowered and confident, not to mention I tricked myself to actually look forward to and like working out.
Bonus tip: Choose a sport that can transition you to a state of relaxation upon completion.
For me, these two are yoga and swimming.
Both require you to focus on what you are doing at the moment, allowing you to detach your mind from any work-related or other stressful thoughts.
3. Gratitude for productivity boosts.
Following the advice of Olympic runner Deena Kastor, which held an online webinar for the team I work with, I started verbalizing the things I am grateful for every time I feel stuck. Previously, I had implemented other gratitude techniques, but this one really kicked in nicely in terms of my productivity levels.
Gratitude pushes us towards optimism and towards greatness. There are numerous scientific benefits to gratitude, both in the work-life and in personal matters (all of which beautifully explained by Evernote in their article Does Gratitude Make Us More Productive?):
- helps generate positive emotions in ourselves and others
- helps foster a feeling of happiness
- helps improve sleep
- better work productivity when thanks are exchanged within the team
Here is how I do it.
Each time I am stuck, I think of three things that I am grateful for. I try to be as specific as possible, even better if I can relate those three things to the task I am doing. Also, I try to make them unique each time (a tip, Deena specifically highlighted).
This helps by (a) reducing the tension I feel for not being able to complete a task immediately, (b) removing the focus out of being distracted and putting it into good use, (c ) helping me feel more aware of the various privileges I have and successes I encountered so far in life.
4. Focus exercises to regain control over your wandering mind
So, yeah. If you haven’t noticed I have a problem with focus, sometimes. I mean, if I didn’t I probably wouldn’t have tested most of these techniques. My problem really doesn’t work well with my busy schedule, though.
Even if you break your schedule into tasks, regain your work-life balance, start verbalizing your gratitude, your focus can still make or break your productivity.
If you are anything like me, here are the three tips that can help:
- Changing scenery
If you are focusing on your laptop, your eyes likely need a break. Dr. Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist and probably my favorite podcaster suggests taking a short walk or simply looking out of the window. The change of scenery improves your immediate focus by
- Breathing —(but not any type of breathing) 2 quick inhales, 1 exhale
Dr. Huberman also suggests a specific breathing technique to improve focus: two quick inhales, one exhale. It helps to get a better blood flow to the brain.
This technique is also practiced in yoga for improved focus and reducing anxiety.
Here is a tutorial on how to practice this safely and effectively.
Remote work is challenging to say the least. Working on multiple projects at once is even more challenging.
Learning how to manage your mind and body to do the work you need to without burning yourself out can seriously help you in the long term.
Here is my advice to you:
- be mindful of the tasks you have for the week and the time and mental space you need to complete them
- re-introduce and enforce time for the ‘life’ in work-life balance via exercise
- reduce tension in the completion of challenging tasks via gratitude practice
- gain control over your focus strategically via utilizing insights from neuroscience