Staying on task can be hard for many freelancers. Here are some strategies that can help you improve your writing focus.
I love working from home as a freelancer, but sometimes the fact that you're home — and have plenty of other things vying for your time — can be a drawback. It's easy to lose focus and head off on a tangent.
As I've experimented over the years, I've come up with a few strategies that might help you improve your writing focus:
1. Get Off the Internet
The Internet is probably the biggest source of distraction for every freelancer. I find that when I turn off the Internet, I'm waaaaaay more productive. I'm always surprised at how much I can get done during a three-hour flight when I have no Internet access as compared to when I labor for five hours with my email inbox sitting open and when I try to find good resources to link to while I'm writing.
While you're writing, get rid of the distraction of the Internet. You can use timer apps that shut out the Internet, or apps like Scrivener and Hemingway that can give you a place to write without being online. There are plenty of blog post editors that can offer the same purpose.
Once you're done with your piece, go ahead and add in relevant links — and do a little surfing (set a timer so you don't go overboard).
2. Edit After the Piece is Finished
Another good way to improve your writing focus is to edit after you are done with the entire piece. Too often, we stop after each sentence or paragraph and look back. This messes up your flow. Rather than risk losing the thread of what you're trying to do, just keep writing until you're done. You can edit later.
3. Work When You Feel Like It
A couple of years ago, I experimented with my freelance work schedule by working in bursts of productivity. I still apply this method today. With this strategy, you work when you feel like it. This can help you improve your writing focus because you actually want to get stuff done.
Part of this move for me is doing my best to shift everything that isn't freelance writing to later in the day. Interviews, exercise and even most of my email and social media are now taken care of after 11 am. That way, I can focus on my writing during times that I'm most alert and feel like writing.
I also apply this to days. If I feel like just going for it on a Saturday, I'll do that. If I don't feel like working on a Thursday, I don't force it. This strategy takes some discipline, though (you have to do as much as you can while you're “in the mood”), and it also helps if you have large blocks of time that you can devote to writing.
4. Single-Task with the Help of the Pomodoro Technique
Multitasking doesn't actually work. When you try to get freelance writing done while you watch TV, participate in a conference call or do something else, you are less effective. Plus, it's easier to be distracted when you attempt to multitask.
The reality is that your brain is still trying to switch back and forth between tasks and you could actually reduce your productivity. Rather than multitask, single-task. Don't try to do other things when you write, and don't try to write while you're doing something else. I like to use the Pomodoro technique to help me put my efforts toward freelance writing.
Any sort of timing technique that requires you to improve your writing focus for a set period can probably help, even if you don't follow the Pomodoro technique exactly. The key is single-tasking instead of trying to do more than one thing. When you're writing, make sure you're not doing anything else.
5. Take a Break
If you feel your brain turning to mush, and when you feel like you're forcing it too much, consider taking a break. One of the things I like about the Pomodoro technique is that breaks are embedded into the system. Being able to take a break in between articles or after things have gone on to the point that I feel fatigued can help you come back and improve your writing focus later.
A break can help you invigorate yourself and come back ready to be more creative and productive. I find that arranging my day so that some sort of exercise breaks up the work routine helps. I also like to meditate partway through my day. However, even just getting up from your desk and stretching can help you get a break from the routine, overcome writer's block and get ready to tackle the next article (or paragraph).
Don't let distractions keep you from getting more done in less time. Learn to improve your writing focus and reap the benefits for your freelance career.