Pushing through when freelancing is just another job

News this week in the cycling world is the retirement of former US Champion Timmy Duggan. At 31 Timmy in theory had many years left racing. In they eyes of so many he had a dream job. Get up and ride your bike and get money for it.

But it wasn’t fun anymore. The passion was gone after breaking his leg.

“Despite plenty of support and being surrounded by incredible teammates and team staff at Saxo-Tinkoff, I hated nearly every day of the season, I was miserable and depressed.”

It was just a job.

It’s going to be a job

By all accounts I live a charmed life. I have no commute (unless you count walking down to Starbucks). I get to make my own schedule and only have to take on projects I’m interested in.

More than once I’ve had a friend, who is in the middle of complaining about their job, tell me I just wouldn’t understand. Obviously I love every second and could never complain about anything.

Of course that’s not true. This week I have a job. I’m tired and want to work on some personal projects. I want to sit down and watch all of the Star Trek movies and eat popcorn.

But I’m still putting in the hours I need to so I can complete client work and deliver on time despite my total lack of motivation.

Pushing through

How do I push through then? I have no boss, no real company performance reviews. If I screw up a single client it’s unlikely to affect my long term business viability.

1. Small bites

Most people have huge ambiguous task lists. Stuff like:

  • Build the theme for client A
  • Build the FAQ plugin
  • ….

Each of those items are built out of many many small tasks. When you sit down to build a theme you then have to decide what on earth the first task in building a theme is.

Sure I’ve built lots of them but what is it I do first again?

If I was starting the FAQ plugin my first step is to build a plugin todo list that would look something like:

  • @todo skeleton out the basic plugin
  • @todo are there any dependent plugins that we need to check for activation
  • @todo add the CPT
  • @todo add the custom taxonomy
  • @todo add JS to hide/show individual items
  • @todo style the FAQ to match client design

While my main list is a ‘big’ item I’ve now busted it down in to individual steps. Building a plugin skeleton (which simply activates without errors) is easy and will take 5 – 10 minutes.

Then I’ve got some success to build on.

If you’re stuck on a big item, break it down to small parts and start banging away on them.

2. Planned breaks

The truth is that you can’t keep up motivation for 8 hours a day, day in day out. You need to make sure that you take breaks. That means that weekends should be something ‘fun’ and if that’s a personal project great.

I encourage you to spend some time away from the computer on the weekends though. Spend time with your kids or go to an art gallery. Read a good non-industry book.

Get your mind off what it is that you do.

I take 90% of every Friday off. Morning is my mastermind group and some business admin. Then I spend time riding my bike. Most of the time I’m done everything (including the bike ride) by 2pm. Sometimes I work on personal stuff (like blogging) but just as often I call it a day.

That may mean playing with my daughter or it may mean walking down to the coffee shop and finding a comfortable chair to read a non-industry book in.

I also work in 25 minute bursts, which is typically referred to as a Pomodoro. I use Vitamin-R 2 as my timer because it integrates with OmniFocus but there are a number of options out there to time your work bursts.

The important part of Pomodoro for me is to take the breaks. I get up and fold laundry or look outside or walk around my house. The point is I get up and walk around and give myself a short mental break.

Then I can come back and be ready to dig back in to the project.

3. Accountability

I’ve got an awesome wife who has an idea of what most of my projects are at a given time. When I’m just hanging out downstairs she simply asks me if that’s what I should be doing.

Some days I get to say yes. I’ve got everything done and my next real project doesn’t start for another few days.

Some days I mumble something and head back upstairs.

I’ve also got a great mastermind group and each Friday I give them a set of goals for the coming week. Then I talk about how/if I accomplished the goals. If I missed them then I can get some pretty tough questions about why I didn’t hit the goals for the week.

Without accountability I’m sure that I’d spend more time watching Star Trek on the couch instead of getting client work done.

4. Plan a reward

What on earth are you working towards? Are you just working because you have to pay rent and need to eat?

Those are both worthy reasons to work, but what’s in it for you?

Yeah that sounds selfish, but humans are by and large selfish. We want to see what’s in it for us.

Right now I’m working extra so that I can take most of January and February off to hang with the new baby that’s on the way. Yes I’m tired now but the reward is 6 weeks of ‘rest’ (I’ll be working on a book then but no client work).

Later this year I need a new laptop so I’ll be working for the reward of that purchase. I also want a new nice chair (currently on a $100 Staples special).

I work hard during the week so that I can take a bike ride on Friday. My reward is personal time.

Do you have a planned reward for all your hard work or are you just working to see a ‘full’ bank account. Here’s a secret, bank accounts can’t get full.

Figure out what your rewards are and plan them into your working routine. Make sure you take time to do the things that energize you.

5. Exercise

Yeah I know that some of you are just rolling your eyes at this. Another person saying that you should be doing some exercise.

Well that’s right you should.

I sit at a desk all day and that’s simply not good for my health. It’s likely that you to sit at a desk all day and that’s simply not good for your health.

One way to combat that is to get into a bit of an exercise routine. No you don’t have to go on  6 hour bike rides and 10km runs like it do. What about a 30 minute brisk walk?

Exercise gets your blood flowing and releases endorphins released into your body. Both of those things help you feel energized during the day.

6. Reviews

I’ve already written about how important reviews are and they’re doubly important when you just have a job. It’s likely that if I am not motivated I have no real idea what my most important tasks are for the day.

I didn’t review the week before.

I didn’t stop at the end of the day and decide what my first thing to do tomorrow is.

Instead of starting a day/week with purpose I’m floundering and searching for that purpose.

Before you end your day, decide what the most important task for the next day is. When you get to your desk do it until it’s done.

When it’s Friday, review all open projects. Decide what the first thing for Monday morning is and what your goals are for next week. Come in on Monday and do it.

That’s it

That’s it, when I work a job I stay on track by trying to do the things above. Of course some days I do terrible and it’s an unproductive day.

More often I turn a day of little motivation in to a fairly productive day. String a few productive days together and suddenly the motivation is back.

photo credit: Fujoshi via photopin cc

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