Secrets to Productivity & Freelancing

This post is a teensy bit longer than usual--and it’s not about writing. If you want writing-related content, perhaps check out this post: The Cure for Crappy Copy. It’s a good one.

Otherwise, settle in and keep reading.

A few weeks ago, I shared a master list of everything that’s helped me freelance and write for the past four years on Twitter.

From software tools to the convertible standing desk I use--it’s all there.

But then I was video chatting with my friend Val Geisler.

I mentioned to her how much I love virtual conversations like the one we were having, and how I had been wrestling with a need to get out of the house and feel more connected lately.

She said something to the extent of how it was funny that even with my ideal workspace setup at home (with everything I need to be highly productive)--I still had this urge to get out of there.

That was a lightbulb moment for me. She had a point.

I realized that even with the best tools, the comfiest chair, and a WHOLE ROOM dedicated to work, there was still a missing piece that was keeping me from being 100% laser focused on my freelance projects.

And it had to do with me.

Not the tools. Not the desk.

I needed to think beyond the tools and resources and address the internal aspects of freelancing and owning a small business to get to a better place.

After some reflection, here are two big takeaways that came from this line of thinking. Maybe (hopefully) they will help you, too.

Number one: It’s important to test what you know about yourself.

We all feel like we generally know ourselves, right? We know what we like, what we don’t like, and what we’re good at.

I felt this way, too--but I wanted to test my assumptions and double-check.

I started with two different personality assessments: The Strengths Finder and the PDP.

These personality tests confirmed a few things for me (like my love for learning and my poor ability to handle criticism.)

But I also learned that I am highly extroverted--which was kind of surprising to me. I spend most of my time working alone--and as a result--I’d started to think of myself as an introvert. Wrong-o.

These findings were a good reminder that I actually thrive when working and interacting with others. It also reminded me I needed to be better about getting out of my home office and scheduling facetime with other human adults. I had let that slip a bit and was quickly sliding into winter hermit mode.

The good news is I’m already taking steps to act on this and am putting myself “out there” more.

- In February, I’ll be doing a test run with a local co-working space. It’s only a few blocks away from me, has huge windows (yay!), and is shared by just a few other female business owners.


- In recent weeks I’ve been going to a new aerial fitness class. So far the class size has been super small (it’s not an easy class!) but I’m hoping that I’ll get to know some of the people there better in the coming months. If nothing else, it gets me out of the house.

- I also reached out to the local library and am leading some free resume-writing classes (in person). I don’t love public speaking, but I wanted to put my writing skills to good use in a way that could help others. The first one went really well last week and there were lots of good questions from attendees.

But that's not all. There was something else I realized...

Number Two: It’s important to gain some mental control.

When you work alone (or when you’re the boss), you spend a lot of time inside your own head.

There’s a lot of responsibility that falls on you on a day-to-day basis, and it can be easy to let your monkey brain take over--constantly hopping from one thought to the next during every waking moment.

It causes a cycle of anxiety and stress that can eat away at your focus during the day and can generally make you an unpleasant person (speaking from first-hand knowledge.)

For a long time, my “monkey brain” was especially bad when I’d lay down and close my eyes to sleep at night. My brain would kick into high gear, cycling through the day’s problems, tomorrow’s to-do list, my anxieties around forward momentum and long-term plans, etc. etc.

But it wasn’t until I stepped back and thought about this that I realized how much damage the never-ending cycle was doing. It was affecting my personal life and my work.

So, again, I’ve been taking steps to work on this. Here’s how:

1. Setting up a good sleep routine.

Brandon, my husband, has to live with me and has seen the effects that poor/no sleep have on me, so he suggested we set up a nightly routine to help me prepare my brain for sleepy time each night.

And guess what? It works.

Here’s what it looks like:

  • Put down the phone (and don’t look at it!) after 9:30 p.m.

  • Prepare the bedroom for sleep. I turn on my white noise machine, close the blinds and curtains, and turn down the sheets so I can basically sleepwalk into bed.

  • Turn off all the lights and put on a “boring” show in the living room. (I’m a big fan of Rick Steves, BBC docs, or ASMR videos for this. I don’t think they’re boring but they’re not character-driven stories you can get wrapped up in, ya know?)

  • Then, when I’m nice and sleepy, I just walk a few steps into the bedroom and basically fall onto the bed.

  • Wake up at the same time each day. My FitBit alarm goes off at 7:30, and I’m out of bed by 8:00 at the very latest.

Following this routine has made major improvements in my sleep quality--and it’s almost completely eliminated my nighttime ruminations. Plus: Better focus during the work day and far fewer problems with chronic migraines.

2. Experimenting with meditation.

I’ve been doing yoga for years, but I’ve never been particularly good at the meditation part.

I mentioned in the last newsletter that I’ve been reading a book on the topic, so now that I understand what meditation is really about, I’ve been giving it a second shot with the help of Headspace. There are lots of apps/tools you can use for guided meditation, and I think having some guidance goes a long way.

I have to say, even as little as 3-5 minutes a day has been helping me get better at observing my thoughts rather than being engulfed by them. I have a lot of work to do, but practice makes perfect, right?

The lesson: Even the best setup won’t fix everything

To summarize: It’s easy to buy the stuff that helps us be more productive and fulfilled during our working hours.

You can set up the ~most baller~ workspace possible, but to be truly focused and productive, there’s still a lot of internal work to do, too.

It’s not easy. It’s not always fun.

There are still days when I have ZERO desire to meditate for even three minutes. There are DEFINITELY days when I don’t want to get out of my pajamas and go meet someone for coffee. At all.

But (for me at least) doing these things is just as important as getting a new computer or finding the perfect workflow for writing. Maybe more so, in fact.

My challenge for you: If you’re not doing any (or at least some) of these things already, make some time this week for it.

This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.