Productivity Tracking: Why I’m Going Freelance

I’m taking the plunge! Starting in 2017, I will be writing fiction full-time.

I’m lucky to have the opportunity. It’s taken me years to find enough freelance gigs to make the budget work. And who knows? Maybe I won’t like being in charge of every aspect of my work life. There are certainly things I enjoy about my office day job. My coworkers, my bosses and mentors, the new and interesting challenges that crop up each day. It’s scary to leave that certainty behind in favor of the uncertain world of freelance.

So why did I decide to take the risk?

Because in the past year, as I’ve juggled my full-time day job alongside my freelance projects, I’ve realized: I don’t work from 9 to 5.

I go in to the office for those hours. But much of that time is spent attending meetings, responding to emails, working on daily maintenance tasks, taking tea breaks, snack breaks, more tea breaks, hunting for communal baked goods in the kitchenette… You get the picture.

By contrast, when I’m freelancing, my only billable hours are the ones I spend with my butt in the chair writing. I have to track those hours meticulously, and in doing so, I started to better understand how I actually work: in sprints.

When I first started recording, my work sprints usually lasted 15-20 minutes. Since I made a note every time I started and stopped writing, I was able to see how long my breaks in between sprints lasted, too. Often when I thought I just took 5 minutes to quickly respond to an email, I’d actually stepped away from my work for 30-40 minutes!

I was surprised how often I interrupted my writing flow. I was also surprised at how much time I wasted, since I like to think of myself as an efficient person.

Thankfully, the first step to changing something is recognizing it. Now that I was tracking my time, I had a baseline to improve upon and a KPI (key performance indicator – as you may have guessed, my day job was in marketing) to track in order to measure said improvement.

Three new habits improved my productivity the most:

    1. Recognizing this pattern. Yep, just knowing that I’d be writing down the timestamp when I started and when I stopped motivated me to stay on task longer.
    2. Pre-planning. Before I started the clock each time, I took 1 minute to jot down a couple sentences about what I was going to work on, be it a rough scene outline or notes on what I needed to edit in this chapter.
    3. Setting goals. For example, when drafting, I told myself I could have a break to make more tea and obsessively refresh my inbox once I wrote 2,000 new words.

Soon, I found myself working for 45-60 minute sprints, with only 5-10 minute breaks in between. By working in longer chunks, I was able to consolidate my workday, finish projects sooner, and have more free time afterwards. In the past, I’d sit at my home office for 8 hours, but only write for 3. Now I can knock out 3 hours of writing in 3.5 hours and give myself the rest of the day off.

Recognizing that gave me the final motivational push to jump into freelancing full-time. It isn’t easy, and this coming year will be a real test of my self-discipline. But I have a feeling I’m going to enjoy it!

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