Uh Oh! What To Do When Motivation Runs On Empty

Posted: June 18th, 2009

Photo by Semihundido (Flickr)

Photo by Semihundido (Flickr)

Freelance just long enough and you eventually experience cycles of ultimate productivity followed by bouts of ultimate unproductivity. Its actually quite normal and inevitably occurs at some time or another. Our lives are not lived solely as freelancers (most of us anyway) and we have other external forces that affect our work such as sudden events, our general mood and the dreaded summertime distractions.

It is at that point when these forces can affect our motivation to work enough to cause us to get off track, or in the worst case, cease it altogether. This can be despite even having projects to do and upcoming deadlines to meet. Normally this isn’t fatal to a freelance career, though, since we eventually right the ship and move on. This isn’t always an easy task.

Luckily, I’ve been through enough of these cycles to recognize them and take appropriate action to get back on track. The following are steps I’ve used with success and could be adapted in some form should the cycle hit you too.

Go Back To Your Purpose For Freelancing

We obviously became freelancers for certain reasons whether it be flexible hours or being your own boss. It’s very easy to lose sight of these reasons, however, when we’re busy as hell and when we don’t feel like working. So this is the perfect time to dust off your purpose for being a freelancer which will help you focus on the tasks ahead and fulfill that purpose.

Take it a step further and write it down and post it somewhere where you will see it everyday.

Plan

Set up a schedule over the next week of the exact hours you plan on working and the exact work you will be doing during that time. Then here comes the hardest part: commit to the schedule as if your life depended on it. A schedule acts your blueprint to getting back on track schedule but isn’t any good if it is not followed.

It is also important to take it one day at a time. Remember, you are essentially rebuilding the habit of working productively. A good habit takes three weeks to happen but gets easier day by day. A good habit can also be destroyed in a day, too, so keep the focus on your tasks for the day at hand. They eventually will all add up.

A Half Hour of Concentration

When starting your work, focus your attention on the first half hour which will set the tone for the rest of the day. If that time is spent working diligently, then it is easy to continue working that way throughout the day. Conversely, if it is spent being distracted from work, then the rest of the day could become unproductive.

Resist Distractions

It won’t matter how focused you are in your work, there will always be the temptation to give in to whatever distractions, even as small as checking the news update on CNN. The slightest distraction has a tendency to balloon into a bigger one and throw you off for the day.

It helps to think back to the times when you were most productive and worked hours straight without even a potty break. Keep this in the back of your head when resisting the need to wander off from working.

Reward Yourself

If you are finally now able to go back to working a productive day, do yourself a favor and reward it with a Guinness down at the pub or going out for a nice meal. Then reward yourself after a full week back of working hard. Trust me, it works the same as when you were a kid and got ice cream for raking up the leaves in the yard.

What’s Your Story?

Have you ever had to deal with bouts of unproductivity and how did you handle it? If you have a great method, please drop a comment below and explain. I’d love to hear your replies.

A Client A Day Keeps The Poverty Away

Posted: May 11th, 2009

Photo by OTH (Flickr)

Photo by OTH (Flickr)

Last year, given the sudden downturn of the economy, I figured it would be wise to evaluate my own marketing efforts so I’d be able to continue working during what would appear to be rough times. The funny part was that, at the time, I had long term steady work from a couple of clients for a while up to that point and really haven’t looked elsewhere for new clients since I was content with what I had.

Then it finally dawned on me. What if either of my clients suddenly stopped providing work or went belly up? While I’m not quick to panic, it would be unwise to think that these businesses wouldn’t be affected by the economic meltdown. So time for a contingency plan. Pretty easy, though… find more clients, right?

Fast forward to today and I learned the cold reality that this shouldn’t be a contingency plan. Continually looking for clients HAS to be a part of a routine. Plain and simple. Falling into a comfort zone and feeling content with the work you have at the moment can eventually prove fatal to your freelance business.

Why, you ask? It is very common to roll in the work and repeat business and see your freelancing career thriving. Then, BAM, it slaps you upside the face; suddenly no work to do, no income rolling in and you’re out scrambling to find work. What often follows is desperation and taking on work for below your cost. Then the cycle repeats. Welcome to the feast or famine cycle.

Ask any freelancer and for sure they’ll tell you they have been through the cycle at some time or another. All it takes to counter it, though, is one simple step each working day. Just dedicate a half hour or so to searching for just one new project everyday you work. Do the math… if you work 250 days a year, that means you apply to 250 projects. So isn’t it fair to say, you’ll win 10% of them which means you’ll have 25 new clients?

Out of those 25 you may even get a few repeat or long-term clients (if you do your job right of course). The real benefit here, though, is that you greatly lessen the possibility feast or famine cycle and you increase your income in the process. It only costs you a half hour to an hour a workday which we all have, right? OK, so I had to cut down my time spent checking out highlights on the ESPN website but, hey, I’m not regretting it.

And what if you are just too busy with projects to spend that hour looking for new ones? Spend that half hour looking for one anyway. The point is to get into the habit of always looking for clients. Skip a day and you ditch the habit like a New Year’s resolution. You may come to regret it when a big project gets done, no new one is lined up then rent is due in a couple weeks.

Then there is always the issue of happening to win new projects if you are just too busy. Ladies and gentlemen, this is called business growth. Schedule these for way in advance, after current projects are done, or subcontract these projects or even just turn down the project offer.

Believe me, you will rather have the problem of too much work rather than too little.