Ah, millennials! Ask most people over fifty and they’ll tell you we’re lazy, entitled, and can’t keep a job for the life of us.
I mean, sure, we do five things at any given time and have a slightly *cue eye roll* unhealthy relationship with our phones.
But does this mean we can’t be extremely efficient?
Must we fight our inherent millennial-ness to actually get shit done? Does wanting flexibility, purpose and a bit of fun in your work mean that you can’t be productive? Are we forever condemned to struggle with short attention spans and insatiable appetites for excitement? (Okay, now I’m just being dramatic).
But here’s what I think. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to use your phone less, stop watching TV, or work at a regular 9-5 to start getting shit done.
A millennial-friendly productivity story
I’ve always been pretty terrible at following through with projects.
Starting them? No problem! But actually finishing them…..well, that’s a whole other story.
So you can imagine the dilemma I faced last year when I made the decision to become a freelance writer. I knew that if I wanted to be successful right from my first year (my goal at the time), half-assing it wouldn’t cut it.
But here’s what I also knew. As much as I wanted to become more productive, cutting out all the things I enjoyed would be a surefire ticket to burnout.
So what did I do? I started experimenting with how to use my work time and free time more effectively without feeling like I had turned my new found passion into another ‘job.’
And guess what I discovered? As long as you find a system that works for you and helps you get shit done, use it!
(In the spirit of complete transparency, I would like to say that I now run a newsletter and no longer work as a freelance blogger — long story about following your passions and whatnot — but I still use many of the tips and tricks I picked up along the way.)
Looking back, I can definitely say it’s been a long and sometimes frustrating journey, but one where I’ve learnt so much along the way. So without further ado, here are 6 helpful (and sometimes counterintuitive) things I learnt about productivity that every freelance writer can use:
1: Stay glued to your phone
Research shows that the average American spends at least 5 hours a day on their phone. Considering you probably spend between 12-14 hours awake, that’s almost half of your entire day!
Now, I’m not telling you to use your phone less. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’ve found out that productivity isn’t so much about how long you use your phone but how smart you use it.
Here are 4 of the best tools/apps to boost your productivity (and my favourite hacks for using them).
Research more efficiently with Pocket
The Pocket app is essentially your regular bookmarking tool on steroids. It allows you to not only save pages, but also add tags to each page, and email excerpts from the text to yourself. It even takes it a step further by recommending pages saved by other people who saved the same page as you!
A helpful tip is to try setting aside a specific time of the day solely for researching blog posts. To do this, start by creating an editorial calendar for upcoming client posts with topics and a brief outline. Then during your research time, work your way through your calendar.
You can randomly pick a blog topic or start with the one due the soonest and, using the outline as a guide, start searching for resources online. When you open a page, quickly scan to see if the content is useful — then save with a tag to remind you why you found it useful, e.g. ‘Market Stats’.
By creating a bank of useful resources to consult or cite, you’ll find the process of actually writing blog posts becomes faster and easier.
Focus with Offtime
Instead of completely banishing your phone while you work, try using the Offtime app. It lets you restrict your access to certain features, e.g. text or browser, for a period of time. You can even tell it whose calls or messages you still want to receive while you’re using the app.
It’s great for people trying to kick an addiction to any other app, as it allows you to set hurdles for apps you find particularly distracting. Offtime also provides a cool analytics feature which helps you understand your usage habits by showing what you do, when you do it and for how long.
Try using Offtime during tasks that require your full concentration, like writing. Set the app to allow access to your browser and/or email for work, and only allow calls, texts or notifications from specific people such as family members or clients. This way you can work undistracted on your phone and not have to worry about missing important calls.
Never forget a password with Lastpass
As a freelance blogger you probably have accounts on numerous platforms: job boards, payment platforms, SEO tools, etc. (And if you’re anything like me, you also probably end up changing at least one password a month because you just can’t keep track of them all.)
Well lucky for you, my scatterbrained friend, there’s a solution: Lastpass. This wonderful life-saving app allows you to store your login details for various sites in a ‘vault’ so you never have to bother with remembering them again. You can even generate secure passwords for new accounts and launch all your profiles directly from your dashboard.
A helpful tip is to use Lastpass as a ‘command centre’ for all your tools and platforms. I usually open my Lastpass vault right after my email and launch all my tools from there, arranged into folders like business, writing tools, etc. This has been a game-changer for me in terms of organization and productivity.
Stop tempting yourself with Buffer
Using social media can be tricky. One minute you’re posting about content marketing, and next thing you know, you’ve been watching cat videos for an hour.
But as a freelance blogger, you can’t afford to ignore social media. You probably get some of your clients from these platforms, network with other freelance bloggers and even promote client work on there.
If you need to be on social media without actually being on social media, try the Buffer app to schedule your social posts in advance, so you don’t need to log on to keep your profiles active. This not only prevents distractions but also helps you to maintain a more consistent social media presence.
Pro tip: download Buffer’s browser extension which allows you to schedule content as you discover it. If you find an interesting piece of content during your research time, simply add it to your queue to share it with your social media followers. You can even take it a step further by mentioning or tagging the person who published the piece, along with some insightful
2: You know that thing called a work-life balance? Destroy it
You’re probably thinking, “But I chose freelance blogging so I can have a better work-life balance!”
Hear me out. It’s 2019 — work doesn’t and SHOULDN’T have to feel like some separate ‘serious’ aspect of your life. I mean, look around you, we live in a time when offices have ping pong tables and x-boxes!
By seamlessly integrating certain aspects of your work into the other areas of your life, you’ll find you:
- Feel less stressed or overworked
- Stop vilifying work time as some unhappy hour of activities you simply cannot avoid
- Breeze through repetitive/boring tasks
- Save time and get more stuff done
Once you start finding creative ways of mixing work and play, you’ll zoom through your to-do list without even realizing it. To get you started, here are 4 helpful hacks you can try:
Work while eating
I’m sure you’ve had days where you’ve skipped meals because you were completely slammed with work. You had a ton of emails to respond to, pitches to send and just an infinite amount of posts to write.
I sympathize, I really do. But here’s the painful truth: by skipping meals you actually make yourself less productive.
Your brain, just like a car, needs fuel to function and focus optimally. When you skip meals, it doesn’t get the fuel it needs, reducing your ability to stay focused and concentrate.
You know what else? If you spent that time replying to emails, or proofreading drafts, odds are you could have grabbed a quick meal while you were working. Eating can be an ideal time to complete less intense tasks and take a break between long periods of work, refueling your body and mind while still getting things done.
Research while traveling
Want (or need) to freelance while you travel? There are a ton of freelance bloggers who travel full-time and have successful careers. If you want to become one of them, make good use of your research time a.k.a. flying or road time.
Research is typically an activity that requires minimal distractions, and you can’t find a place much less distracting than 35,000 feet in the air, or out on the open road. Take advantage of this time to do your research for upcoming blog posts, so you can hit the ground running once you get to your destination.
Read while exercising
Do you like to keep physically fit? There’s a hack for you too. Instead of listening to music when you’re doing light exercises like jogging or walking on a treadmill, try reading a brief or first draft.
If you can’t read while walking, try using the text to speech functionality on your phone or web browser to have pages read aloud to you. (If the built-in function isn’t good, check out dedicated apps like NaturalReader.)
Write while doing absolutely anything
I’m sure, like me, you get some of your best ideas at the weirdest times. Sometimes you’re out with friends, in the shower, or half-asleep on your bed.
At times like these you can’t just pull out your laptop and start typing, so you end up putting it off. But then a few hours or days later, you can’t remember half of what you wanted to write!
Well, I just might have a solution for you: voice typing or dictation apps. You can try free solutions like Apple Dictation and Google Docs Voice Typing, or paid solutions like Dragon Naturally Speaking.
Just pull out your phone (or excuse yourself and go to a quiet room if you don’t want to do it in public) and dictate your idea. Irrespective of where you are — on your bed, at a restaurant, or lounging by the pool — you can begin ‘writing’ a draft the moment inspiration strikes.
3: Indulge your need for instant gratification
We live in an instant economy. Food? You can have it delivered in five minutes. New wristwatch? On your doorstep the next morning.
Freelance blogging success? Well… not so instant.
When it comes to freelance blogging, some activities may take a little longer than expected before you see results (LOIs, anybody?). Sadly, some things will always be a numbers game: the more messages you send out, the more replies you get back.
But that doesn’t mean you want to spend all day emailing LOIs to strangers. So how do you stop yourself from becoming less motivated and less productive over time? I mean, you’ve been sending out tons of emails to your dream, high paying clients every day… for the last three weeks.
I get it — you probably would rather get drinks with friends. So you know what? Maybe you should! But with a twist (and I don’t mean in your drinks).
When you’re working on a long-term task, try breaking the task into milestones and attaching a simple but significant reward. For example, you can set a reward for every 50 LOIs you sent out, like binge-watching a new series you’ve been dying to check out on Netflix. Small treats you can earn almost immediately might prove to be more powerful motivators than, say, a big trip you’ll only finally be able to pay for next summer.
4: Don’t be afraid to rock the boat
Still can’t get yourself excited about your day to day tasks? Come on, you’re a millennial, disruption practically runs in your blood!
If for some reason you can’t get yourself excited about doing something a certain way, it’s okay to change it up. Here are three things you can
change when you feel like you’re stuck in a rut:
Sometimes all it takes is a change of scenery. Try going through your inbox from your favorite coffee shop, or writing drafts in the park. A change of environment can go a long way in changing your perspective and getting you out of a creative rut.
The people you surround yourself with
According to research, we pick up behavior and even emotions from the people around us. This is called emotional contagion. So if you find yourself procrastinating and complaining 90% of the time, and everyone around you is doing the same, it might just be time to look for a new group of people to hang out with.
The way you’re handling a task
Who said all LOIs have to be boring, or first drafts have to be hand-typed? What’s wrong with sleeping until noon if you work better at midnight?
If you’re finding it difficult getting excited about certain unavoidable tasks, it might just be time to try doing them differently. Add multimedia elements to your LOIs (within reason) or use dictation software to write your drafts while you’re in the bath if you want to.
There are no rules to this career (unless you’ve agreed a set of explicitly stated rules with a client, of course) so feel free to switch things up!
5: Put on some gangsta rap and handle your business
The harsh reality of adulting is that no amount of small rewards or changing things up can make certain tasks fun or easy. There will be times when you’re stuck on a project you don’t like, or even just don’t feel like writing anything AT ALL.
In times like these take a deep breath, give yourself a little pep talk if necessary, and just power through it. Sometimes the only thing you can do is put on your big girl/boy pants and do the damn thing.
(For those who would like to literally put on some gangsta rap to catch the business mood, I highly recommend Kendrick Lamar’s DNA. You’re welcome.)
6: Remember to breathe (a.k.a. Don’t have your mid-life crisis early)
A couple of months ago, I had an anxiety episode. I’d been working on a bunch of different projects since the beginning of the year without any real results to show. I started having difficulty sleeping, reading and even just standing still. I was constantly tapping my toes and literally waiting for something to happen.
So how did I get over it? I didn’t get some life-changing client or opportunity (sorry if that was what you were expecting). I just learnt to live, breathe, take a chill pill and really re-assess what I was doing. I learnt that everybody’s pace is different and 90% of the things we stress about really aren’t that important.
One of the most beautiful things about being a millennial is that that you have your whole life ahead of you. Understand that no one moment will ‘make or break’ your career unless you let it.
Getting your pitch rejected or even losing a major client are things all freelance bloggers go through at some point in their career. Besides, you’re never going to get around to sending a new pitch or looking for a new client if you don’t stop freaking out.
So… what now? Well, the productivity system I developed for myself was definitely not perfect, and I’m sure as heck not trying to tell you how you need to structure your life. In fact, if you take away just one point from this post, I hope it’s that you need to find a system that works for YOU.
It’s important to ‘unlearn’ some of the things you’ve learnt growing up. The world isn’t the same way it was when you were little. Heck, it’s not the same it was yesterday!
Define your own success and go at your own pace. Don’t feel like there’s only one definition or one path to productivity. Try some of the tips above — or better still, make your own.
And let me know in the comments below if you have any helpful freelance blogging productivity hacks to share!