Thought Catalog
May 12, 2017

8 Habits Of Unproductive Freelancers

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What is the issue?
Bonnie Kittle

I often find myself researching things I don’t have time to be researching. Like how to be a highly successful freelancer. Or the number of billable hours I need to work in order to stay alive (lots of Redditors are saying five per day… but I think they’re syphoning off time for Redditing).

I’m constantly trying to absorb information. I seek out the advice of the seasoned professionals who understand their value in this ever-evolving industry. The ones whose websites will eat my website out of sheer boredom. The ones who scoff at anything less than $150 an hour and the ones who turn down clients left and right.

Teach me. Guide me. Show me how to be a shrewd businesswoman. Inspire me to be a better, more productive writer (or at least get out of my bathrobe).

Since I’m not one of those gurus (yet), I’m not going to sit here and offer you Six Tips for Creating a Killer Self Marketing Plan or The Five Best Freelance Job Boards of 2017. Although, I can say for certain, closing this article will make you immediately more productive in your quest for actionable insight.

What I will illuminate for you is as follows:

Here are 8 Habits of Unproductive Freelancers (as observed by one futile writer):

1. Researching Things You Don’t Have Time to be Researching
Any good freelancer knows the infinite value of research. When we land an assignment to write a manual about a product we can’t even pronounce, what do we do? We research it. We study it and breathe it in. This form of research is linked to a bottom line. That bottom line is linked to a payment.

When we spend valuable time researching things like “Growing your Freelancing Empire” or “How to Get Published in National Geographic,” we take time away from the job we don’t feel like starting or the marketing we don’t feel like doing. It’s easy to get distracted by a trillion articles just like this one. Although please do carry on reading…

The point is… it’s wise to set a time limit on how many minutes per day you’re allowed to Google recreationally. I am gold medalist in the Olympic sport of Nonsensical Research, and it has often made me unproductive.

2. Maintaining the Perfect Workspace

There is a difference between keeping a tidy workspace and obsessively procrastinating the day away. A part of me feels like having complete control of my work experience grants me the authority to celebrate it a little too hard. Instead of sticking to my office, I’m vacuuming the hallway that leads to it. Rather than wiping the crumbs off my desk, I’m polishing it with lemon oil. I’m pulling all kinds of tricks I wouldn’t be bothered to pull in a 9-5 office, but I’m making excuses because I work inside my home.

To some degree, the rules that applied to your corporate office will serve you well in the one at home. While there needs to be order, there also needs to be work. And a general sense of apathy toward the state of cleanliness during work hours. It’s one thing to spend a Sunday squeegeeing the windows. It’s another thing to be tackling them at 10AM on a Monday. You’ve gotta get messy to get creative.

3. Acing Your Personal Life
It’s amazing how easy it is to fire up the laptop, set down that steaming first-cup-of-the-morning coffee and feel like I’m doing it all. Next thing I know it’s noon. My eyes are burning and my brain is fuzzy. I’ve temporarily zapped my mental energy. It’s time for a pat on the back and some lunch.

Except I’ve done absolutely nothing that resembles work. Sure, I’m all stocked up on almond milk from Amazon, my electric and gas bills are paid, I’m the soon-to-be recipient of a nifty new padfolio and I can officially file my taxes. But I haven’t done any work. Actually… I’ve spent money.

Does this ring any bells?

I’m a chronic offender of kicking ass in my personal life and letting my billable hours suffer in spite. Structure your day/ week/ month in a way that avoids this altogether. Trust me.

4. Overcaffeinating

I have five different coffee-producing vessels in my home and I experiment with them throughout the day like the Mad Hatter did his tea. When I worked in an office, I had access to a variety of lesser quality vessels, but they never tempted me the way my babies do. Coffee just tastes better from one’s own kitchen.

It also makes you strung out and stir crazy.

Keep your coffee intake at a reasonable rate (for you) and refrain from that 5pm “just because I can” cup for good measure. Once you throw off your sleep cycle, it’s a hop skip and a jump away from mania. And there’s nothing less productive than mania.

5. Making Midday Appointments

Ah the fine art of scheduling. I was an executive assistant in another life, so I know how intricately one’s schedule is tied to one’s productivity. There’s no easier way to be unproductive than booking a meeting in the middle of the day. I generally have creative bursts of 3 or so hours, so a 12pm meeting is sensible if and only if I can muster up the strength to rise by 7am, avoid any pointless research or acing of my personal life (as referenced above), beautify efficiently and find parking that costs less than $20 in Downtown Boston. Otherwise I’m left to public transportation and, well, that’s a whole other article.

Had I not scheduled that noon appointment, I could have worked during my peak productivity window of 9am – 12pm, eaten lunch, gotten ready and really shined at a meeting in the late afternoon.

Everybody’s creative timing is different, but keeping meetings and appointments out of those predictive bursts of productivity ensures you won’t be stuck in traffic when you could be editing a manuscript. Or editing a manuscript when you should be in your weekly gym class.

6. Naps, Baths and Fine Cuisine

Same coin different side. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you should be making yourself comfortable. It’s tempting to take a bath, tuck in for a nap and spend the afternoon chopping vegetables for the roast that’s brining away in your stockpot, but it’ll cost ya.

7. Keeping the Hook on Dry Land

There are so many things that need to be done that aren’t tied to a paycheck. Updating your website and social media, perusing job boards, attending networking events and webinars, learning new technology, getting the opinions of those gurus I mentioned above and countless other crucial activities I should be completing.

It’s important to dedicate at least a few hours a week to fishing these things out of the water. We can’t rely on one client, one Tweet, one lead or one software tool to be successful. There’s an arsenal of upkeep to be done. Keep baiting those clients and constructing those viral posts. Fit them in when you can. They make a difference.

Or don’t. It’s a lot easier to let that stale tweet hang in the Twittersphere and hope for the stork to deliver a new client to your doorstep. A girl can dream.

8. Spiraling Thoughts of Self-Doubt

The thing about freelancing that makes it so great is the same thing that makes it so frightening: anything can happen. You have no income ceiling. You have no boss. You also have no steady paycheck. Or health insurance. And if you allow yourself to sit and dwell on that…. for hours at a time…. (who me?)…. Then you’re setting yourself up to fail.

The noontime shower is a wonderful time to rehash these negative thoughts over and over again as the shampoo drips into your eyes. I like to envision the absolute worst-case scenario, which almost always ends in homelessness and major disease.

It’s a proven fact that visualization leads to success. Or failure, for that matter. Giving power to negative thoughts is not only a waste of time but a waste of talent. If the best you can do is channel them into your passion, you’re already on the right track.

Today, I am going to envision myself changing out of my bathrobe. It hasn’t happened yet… but I’m getting there. TC mark