When I first started working as a freelance software developer, I tracked my development hours. I was really good about it too—I would track myself down to the minute. If I stepped away for a break, I’d stop the timer and then restart it when I sat back down to code.
I did this for a few days and felt really frustrated: I could barely get 8 hours of work in a day. It took me weeks to realize just how crazy I was being. Logging 8 solid hours of *productive* work (especially coding) is a lot to ask of yourself—more so when you’re just starting out.
This misunderstanding of a normal work day pushed me to burn out really fast. Trying to work that much per day resulted in weeks of me not wanting to work at all. My brain was fried, and I was feeling 0 motivation to work at all.
I started thinking about other people who worked at offices, or 'normal' jobs. They would work from 9 to 5 (ish) but the difference was that their day was filled with distractions, interruptions, and breaks. They weren't solidly outputting 8 hours of work while they were in the office. It was probably only 4 or 5. The issue now became: How can I get be the most productive freelancer if I'm only working 4 or 5 hours out of the day? That's when I became obsessed with productivity.
Years later, the biggest lesson I can impart to anyone freelancing or working for yourself is to learn what works for you, and what doesn't. Don't force yourself to fit into some mold that isn't comfortable--despite what hundreds of articles on Inc or Fast Company might tell you.
For example, I know that I love early mornings but I can’t consistently do them. I learned that I hate waking up to an alarm, so I stopped setting one and instead just naturally wake up when the light peeks in. I learned that when I hit a wall, I need to just walk away and do something fun for a while—and not beat myself up over it. Forcing myself to work when I wasn’t “feeling it” just resulted in burn-out (costing me way more time than if I had just given myself the breaks).
It’s now possible for me to have highly productive days because I’m comfortable with my own habits and routines. I still read about other people’s successful habits, and I often try some of them—but I pay attention to what works and what doesn’t, and make adjustments quickly.
I’m not going to kill myself to be like some other human who works 14-18 hours a day and sleeps in 20 minute intervals every few hours (because frankly that sounds insane). Yes, I can always improve (and I do push myself) but I do it in a way that will work for me, and not just burn me out.
All of that to say that I am really interested in the topic of productivity (or even obsessed with productivity). That’s why I started a business surrounding it, and why I love to write about it. I’d love to know more about what makes other freelancers/business professionals feel productive! If that’s something that interests you, then sign up below and join the newsletter!