3 Tricks to Keep on Track When You’re the Boss

As freelancers, we don’t have bosses to check up on us and to make sure that we’re on track to get all of our work done. There are plenty of freelancers for whom that’s never a problem, but, sometimes, some of us need a little help staying focused on our work. Over the years, I’ve found a few different strategies that work for me.

  1. Build in procrastination: Some days, writing is harder than others. On those days where I want to be anywhere but my desk, I break down my assignments into small increments. I’ll tell myself that as soon as I finish the first 250 words, I’ll let myself go spend five or ten minutes on procrastinating — all those things that you suddenly think of to do when the writing isn’t going so well. I set a timer and, when the timer goes off, I go back and write another 250 words. The number is entirely variable, depending on just how much I need to get done in a given day.
  2. Think about where the money is going: I track the time I spend on writing in a spreadsheet, alongside the money that I’m earning for each project. I also keep a few notes on what I’m going to do with the money I’m earning right now, reminding me of why I do all of this. I have a basic number for monthly bills, but I also make a note of anything really exciting that I’ve got coming up, like a vacation. By seeing the number that I’ve got to make is surprisingly useful, especially when I break it down into how much I need to make today.
  3. Create personal incentives: There are pros and cons to creating personal incentives — it’s easy to turn a luxury into a necessity if it’s your standard incentive. But an occasional prize that you can keep your eyes on can make a world of difference on a tough project. Even if it’s something simple, like promising yourself a bowl of ice cream at the end of a particularly long day, sometimes offering yourself a reason to stick to your desk just a little longer can make a world of difference.

These approaches aren’t universal, of course. Everyone has different ways to stay on track and I’d love to hear some of yours. How do you focus on your work without a boss looming over your shoulder?





6 responses
  1. ChinaMatt Avatar

    I like number three. It worked wonders for me when I was writing my dissertation–I made deals that I had to finish so many pages before I could go out for the weekend. It usually worked, and I finished a few days early. Now, I just need to stick to my daily work count goal for my novel.

  2. Aaron Avatar

    Incentives are a great way to push employees to be more productive. They work, and even the simplest incentive can bring dramatic results to an underperforming employee. Thanks for sharing Thursday!

  3. Katherine Swarts Avatar

    Love #1! It reminds me of psychologists’ advice to combat the worry habit by reserving 20 minutes a day or so exclusively for worry. Of course, this approach only works for those whose addiction stops short of the “can’t take just one drink” point.

  4. Jeremy Powers Avatar

    I do some of my best creative work late at night. Honestly, my biggest obstacle is, once the kiddies are in bed, it is hard not to sit down with the wife and watch TV. The recent addition of Netflix to my household has only made it more difficult. I find weekly goals with incentives work well. For example, the motorcycle does not come out of the garage until I have written at least X words this week. (It has always been easier for me to focus when the weather is bad.) 🙂

  5. Issa Avatar

    I can’t help but laugh when I read the words “procrastination.” Nice tips you’ve got here. I’d say when you’re freelancing and there’s no one to boss you around, you can easily slump into activities outside work ( watching TV, parties, etc. ). I also agree with you on personal incentives. Like, if a Macbook pro will help me do my job better, why not? This is where luxury meets necessity.

  6. Tammi Kibler Avatar

    Another tip I picked up from Jack Canfield is setting negative consequences. Making a commitment to contribute to a cause you do not support if you fail to meet your goal, for example, might be the incentive you need to stay on task.

    Of course, you must have the strength of will to follow through with your threat.

    Thanks for the tips. I am done with this morning’s blog surfing and need to get back to writing. 🙂

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