1. Know your internal clock:
I know I'm at my best in the morning (that's why I get up so early to work on my novel), so I try to schedule as much writing before lunch as possible.
I know I always, always, always feel sleepy and distracted in the afternoon, so that's a better time for me to do my phone interviews. I can't procrastinate them or drag them out -- they're real people! -- and it doesn't matter if I'm alert or sleep, my typing is just as quick.
I also know that I'm TERRIBLE at working after the kids are in bed, although I have to do it sometimes. It takes me much longer so it doesn't make financial sense to do this unless absolutely necessary. My friend K who works at home, though? She excels at night. We're all different.
2. Know your exit cues:
Since a freelancer's work is never done, it sometimes feels like there's not a "clean break" to step out of your work mode. There's no 5 p.m. closing time or crowd of colleagues all walking out together to make you feel like you've done a good day's work and now it's over -- it's just you, feeling like you haven't done enough and maybe you should work tonight after the kids are in bed? Probably?
For me, I hate, hate HATE leaving a story when it's 90 per cent done. It kills me when I absolutely have to walk away at that point because of a bus pick-up or an appointment, because it's ALMOST DONE. But if I can finish and file a story, it feels like a natural quitting point for the "work session" (since it may or may not be an actual full work-day).
I also won't feel "done" working unless my inbox is under control. I use Inbox Zero so everything needs to be pinned for later or snoozed until another point in the future. Ideally, I finish work with the happy spinning sun that means I have ZERO emails in my inbox (hence the name), but that doesn't always happen.
3. Know your quick fixes:
If I'm feeling like a zombie, there are a couple of things I can try to snap myself out of it so I can get back to focusing:
- Chug half a bottle of water (I'm probably thirsty)
- Pop a Lifesaver Wint-o-Green mint thingy in my mouth (they give me a boost)
- Go make a snack
- Fold a load of laundry, clean up the kitchen quickly, etc. for a mental break
- Spend a few minutes cleaning up my office/craft room (which is always messy)
- Literally RUN up and down the stairs a couple of times or run on the spot (I do this in front of a mirror and face a different direction every 60 seconds to mix things up, ha.)
4. Know your triggers:
I know that if I open a nasty email from a source or a reader who's ripping me apart for something I did/said/wrote, I'm going to be pissed off. I know I'm going to want to passive-aggressively tweet something angry, and that I shouldn't. I know it's going to turn me into a pouty little stormcloud. I also know I'm going to get over it.
For me, the best way to handle that is to immediately open a new window and write a blog post I can use in the future. It might be about what's making me angry at that moment -- it's probably a #freelanceproblem or a #journalistproblem or maybe a #selfemploymentproblem. Saving the post to run on a later date is a way to let me get out those unpleasant feelings without running my mouth immediately and making it obvious what it's about.
5. Know your quirks:
I can't stand being interrupted when I'm in the middle of writing, which is hilarious and sad and insane because I work at home and I am interrupted CONSTANTLY. On days that I feel especially irritable (and Darling Husband is around to be with the kids) I will shut AND LOCK my office door so people can't just barge right in when I'm off in La La Writer Land.
Yes, they'll still knock and ask unnecessary questions most of the time, but it cuts down on the visits where someone asks me to come admire the groceries they just bought (yes, really), dress a Polly Pocket or admire their 53rd LEGO robot of the day.