indie work

More Ideas About Work That Can't be Taken for Granted

Introduction

A while ago I wrote about four ideas about work that are usually taken for granted. As an indie worker, you have the opportunity to ask questions about generally accepted knowledge and to figure out whether it truly applies to you. In this follow up article I'd like to share three more ideas that can help you improve your work.

You can't choose your colleagues

Traditionally, you don't have much of a choice as to who your colleagues are. Luckily, if you're an indie worker you aren't doing much that is traditional. While it is definitely an awesome opportunity to decide who you want to associate with when it comes to work, it can also be tough because by default you probably don't have any colleagues at all. Without concerted effort you can spend your days working in complete isolation.

I've utilized a couple of different strategies to deliberately connect with top-notch people. A couple of my favorites include creating or joining a mastermind group, using Twitter and other social media mindfully, and joining a coworking space. There are undoubtedly countless other things you can do. The common denominator is that you must be deliberate about seeking these people out as they are not simply provided for you.

Career advancement simply requires time

In the past, getting promoted meant putting in enough time and showing enough loyalty to your organization. Obviously, as an indie worker this isn't even an option. You can keep doing the same thing year after year as an indie worker and you won't grow at all. You'll keep getting the same kind of projects, the same kinds of clients, and the same rates. While I'm not a proponent of growing your organization just for the hell of it or in making ever-increasing rates your ultimate goal, I am a proponent of continuing to craft our careers in ways that keep challenging us. Advancing "up the ladder" as an indie worker means having more control over the clients you work with, the type of work you take on, and the freedom to make decisions that use criteria other than money.

The only way you get to do that, though, is by deliberately working to develop yourself. That can take a myriad of different forms but there is certainly not a lack of resources on the internet and elsewhere that can help you move in that direction. Whether it's working with a coach, developing your skills using Lynda, en*theos, iTunes U, or other services like that, or even just setting aside an hour or two every week to practice a skill that will help you do better work in the future -- you have plenty of options. The key point, however, is that nobody else is going to be looking out for you to make sure you're gaining the skills and abilities you need to keep moving forward. It's completely up to you.

The only relevant outcome is money

This is my personal pet peeve. In lots of the organizational research I look at, particularly entrepreneurship research, some of the most common outcomes that scientists look at have to do with economic indicators like income, growth, profit, etc. In many cases they conflate these outcomes with something like "satisfaction." Work can be so much more than an opportunity to make some money. I will never downplay how important it is for us to make a living from the work we do whether as an employee or as an indie worker. Making enough money to support ourselves and our families is vital. However, let's not lose sight of the other outcomes that are equally worth considering. Ideas like job satisfaction, life satisfaction, work-life balance, meaning, passion, and engagement are all worth our attention just as much, if not more, than money.

Conclusion

Over the course of these two articles I've shared six ideas that I think are often taken for granted by most people:

  1. The five day work week
  2. The office
  3. Productivity as best measured by time
  4. Distractions are inevitable
  5. Not being able to choose your colleagues
  6. Career advancement simply requires time
  7. The only relevant outcome is money

As indie workers, we have the awesome opportunity to question accepted logic and figure out for ourselves the best way to conduct our professional lives. What other ideas have you questioned in the way you conduct your life and work? Leave your ideas in the comments below or write your own article and send me the link -- I'd love to see it.


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Photo by FLEE

The Surprising Benefits of Increased Structure for Indie Workers

This article originally appeared on SamSpurlin.com in August 2013. As I continue transitioning to my new home here at TheWorkologist.com, I'm resurfacing some older articles that you may have missed from before. Enjoy!

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Last summer I was involved in a project where we interviewed fourteen individuals working at a coworking space. These people were self-employed, telecommuters, or otherwise working independently and the coworking space was where they came to complete their work. As part of the interview, we asked them if they had worked at a more traditional job before becoming an independent worker and if so, why they had decided to change to what they were doing now. Most of them had experience working in a traditional job and nearly all of them cited some kind of complaint about the structure they had to deal with as part of that job as the reason for their switch. Arrival times, strict rules about how they completed their work, hierarchy and expectations about how long they work were all commonly mentioned. 

Next, we asked them what they found the most difficult component of working on their own and why they decided to work at a coworking space. Almost all of them then mentioned the complete lack of structure that working independently entails as being the hardest thing they had to deal with and working at a coworking space as a way to introduce more structure into their work! 

In trying different work styles over the past couple of weeks I've had my own interesting experience with structure or the lack thereof. The weeks where I introduced the most structure to my work style, namely, the weeks where I used the Pomodoro Technique, I got the most work done and felt most engaged with what I was doing. The Pomodoro Technique strictly regulates how long you work and take breaks for throughout the day. One might think that would be very tiresome for somebody who has completely free reign over how he does his work but it's actually the other way around. A lack of structure is exhausting because you're constantly facing multiple decisions beyond just the execution of the work throughout the day. 

The people in our study and my own experience corroborates what Roy Baumeister and his colleagues have discovered in their research about willpower. In a nutshell, willpower is an exhaustible resource that gets depleted throughout the day every time you have to do something that taps into it. Making decisions, whether important or inane, tap into your store of willpower. When structure is completely removed from the equation, like when somebody switches from a typical white collar job to working for themselves, suddenly many decisions that used to be on autopilot (when should I start working? what should I do first? when do I stop working?) require attention. The result is a willpower reserve that becomes depleted much more readily than it used to. A potential answer? Embrace structure of your own creation.

If you work for yourself, try sitting down and making some rules and some structure to guide how you work. Some worthwhile questions to think through include:

  • When do you start working every day?
  • When do you stop working every day?
  • How do you know when a project is finished?
  • Do you work on the weekends?
  • Do you do personal tasks during the work day? If so, all personal tasks or only specific kinds?
  • When do you check email? All day long or at set times?
  • When do you check other social media? As a break from work, all day long, or at set times?

Additionally, like the individuals we interviewed in our research, it might make sense to buy a membership to a local coworking space for at least a day or two each week to help introduce even more structure into your day.

As independent workers, or even as intelligent white-collar workers at traditional jobs, we may often bristle at the idea of structure. While structure can certainly get out of hand and become bureaucratic, try refining the way you think about it. You may benefit from more of it than you think.

Photo by *Mars

Weekend Reading #6

Please excuse the slight lateness on this edition of Weekend Reading. Fridays are either super chill or super insane for me when it comes to work. I try to get as much work "out the door" and into other people's hands before I wrap up the work week so in the last two hours I've sent out two projects that have represented several hundred hours of work over the past few months.

ANYWAY, you're not here to listen to me ramble about my work. You want links to the best things I read/watched this week. Here ya go!

Thirty years of projects - Seth's Blog

Somehow, I always thought of my career as a series of projects, not jobs. Projects... things to be invented, funded and shipped. Sometimes they take on a life of their own and last, other times, they flare and fade. But projects, one after the other, mark my career. Lucky for me, the world cooperated and our entire culture shifted from one based on long-term affiliations (you know, 'jobs') to projects.

This is almost exactly how I conceptualize my own career. The world is moving away from titles/professions while turning toward the actual verbs of work. "What are you doing?" rather than "What are you?" I love this change in how we think about work.

Aloha from the Hala Kahiki - The Distance

I love this side project from Basecamp. If you aren't familiar with The Distance, the idea is to share stories about businesses and the people behind them who have been around for a long time. In a world where the start-up is glorified it can be easy to look past the less glamorous examples of good business. This issue is about a tiki bar in the suburbs of Chicago that has been open since 1966. The other issues (this is the 3rd) are worth checking out, too.

Divide and Conquer: How the Essence of Mindfulness Parallels the Nuts and Bolts of Science - Google Tech Talks

[youtube=://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XCWP4pODbs&w=640&h=480]

This is a pretty old talk but it's one of the best I've heard in terms of giving a very clear and simple description of why meditation is such a powerful force for people who practice it. I've read quite a few meditation books and have a fledgling meditation practice of my own, but this talk helped me understand why it's so worth doing this incredibly difficult activity.


As always, I want to know what you've read or watched recently that has had an impact on you. Shoot me a link at @samspurlin on Twitter or email me at sam@theworkologist.com. I also recommend signing up for the Monthly Newsletter in which I share more ideas like you see here on The Workologist and in which you receive a free copy of my e-book, Work Better.

Photo by Neil Conway

Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Integration

Figuring out how to structure and maintain your professional and personal lives is tough. In the days of yore when most of us worked blue collar jobs with clearly delineated tasks and a regular eight hour shift it was a bit easier. That's not to say the work was easy (it usually wasn't) but at least there wasn't much of a question about what to do when you got there or much of an expectation that you'd be taking work home with you. Work has gotten decidedly more complex since that time.

If you're a typical knowledge worker you're likely faced with multiple forces that make your personal and professional lives come into conflict. The ubiquity of the smartphone and the constant stream of information, requests for your attention, and the expectation to be available can make work seem like the primary factor in our lives.

Work-Life Balance

One way to approach this conundrum is through the metaphor of balance. Like a seesaw with Your Professional Life on one end and Your Personal Life on the other, you try to make adjustments to each sector of your life in order to keep the seesaw balanced. This approach, work-life balance, places an emphasis on creating distinct lines between your life and your work and not allowing them to bleed into each other. By keeping them as separate as possible the idea is that you can spend the time away from work fully engaged with your family or hobbies and the time at work completely dialed into your job.

In practice, work-life balance often leaves a lot to be desired. For many, it's a framework for burnout because instead of removing items from both sides of the seesaw in order to keep it level they instead are constantly adding to both sides. The result is an unsustainable pace of life that ultimately leaves one side, work or personal, being overshadowed by the other. Additionally, the increase in remote work, mobile communication technology, and globalization means that work never really has to end. In a world that's constantly "on" it can be tough to keep work and personal life truly balanced.

Work-Life Integration

Another school of thought is that we shouldn't strive for balance between our work and personal lives, but for integration. Work-life integration argues that it's futile to try to separate areas of our lives into separate domains when we only get one life and can only be in one place (physically and mentally) at a time. Instead of trying to respond to others' expectations and balancing out our commitments to work and life, they argue we should start from an internal perspective and identify the values and goals that will allow us to create the type of integrated life we want to live.

In practice, work-life integration often ends up very heavy on the work component of the equation. When there are no lines between professional and personal life it can be a slippery slope toward being chained to your email during vacation, sneaking peeks at your phone during family time, and never creating a chance to rejuvenate. Doing work-life integration well requires an extremely high level of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and a willingness to reflect on how things are going and make changes if problems are beginning to emerge.

Which Is Best?

As an independent worker myself there are elements of both philosophies that I really like. In the work-life balance camp I really try to not let my work interfere with my personal life when it comes to spending time with loved ones and being present with them during non-work time. I like to do a shut down routine at the end of my work day that signifies I'm finished with work for the day, even though my office is in my house and it's easy for me to just bop over to my computer and keep working if I want to. I like creating a clear line between my work day and my free time whenever possible.

On the other hand, there are components of the work-life integration approach that really appeal to me as well. One way I fall into this camp is by keeping only one calendar that mixes personal and professional commitments. Since I can only be in one place at one time I think it makes sense to keep one calendar. If I were to maintain separate Personal and Work calendars I'd be much more likely to schedule conflicting activities. Another work-life integration idea that I fully endorse is the commitment to creating a job for myself where I'm able to utilize my strengths, apply my values, and where I can feel like what I do for a living is directly supportive of what I believe in as a person. With a work-life integration mindset I bring more of myself to my work every day than I might if I was always trying to keep distinct lines between who I am in my personal life and who I am in my professional life.

My experience leaves me with the conclusion that both a strict work-life balance and a strict work-life integration approaches are wrong. Instead, I'm doing my best to figure out which components of each philosophy I can mix together into my own life.


Every month I send out my best ideas to the Workologist Newsletter subscribers. You can sign up for it here and as a thank you you'll receive a copy of my e-book, Work Better.

Photo by takasuii

Harnessing Psychological Capital to Make Work Better

Positive psychology, the science of human flourishing, has a lot of valuable contributions to make to the pursuit of good work. One of the key constructs that has been developed as a result of this focus on the positive end of the psychological continuum is something called Psychological Capital, or PsyCap. It's a construct composed of the synergistic relationship between hope, resilience, optimism, and self-efficacy. The research shows that these four states, when taken together, result in more than just the sum of their parts. The fact that it is state-like means that it isn't fixed like personality but is more variable on a moment to moment basis (but not as transient as something like mood).

I think PsyCap has a myriad of applications in the world of work, particularly for indie workers (in fact, my in progress thesis heavily draws on the research done on PsyCap). Take a moment and think about how each of the four constructs that make up PsyCap impact your work life. Ever have anything terrible happen at work or make a mistake that knocked you on your butt? Your resilience taps into your ability to come back from that setback. Have you ever been given a task to do or taken on a project that seems completely beyond your ability? You were likely feeling the effects of low self-efficacy. Do you go to work each day thinking about your goals and the multiple pathways you could take to achieve them? That's hope. Do you take credit for the good things that happen in your life and don't let the bad things jeopardize your self-concept? You have optimism.

One of the best aspects of PsyCap is that it's developable. This makes it particularly interesting to companies and anybody who is interested in being as happy and productive as possible. Since it is comprised of multiple constructs there are multiple approaches to improving it. Here are a couple ideas:

1. Develop self-efficacy via personal/professional development, mentorship, or seeking other support.

Self-efficacy refers to whether you believe you're capable of achieving something. When you have high self-efficacy you feel like you have the necessary skills and abilities to reach your goal. In the realm of organizational psychology research, self-efficacy has been shown to be one of the best predictors of job performance. Developing your self-efficacy requires constantly striving to take on projects and assignments that are slightly outside your comfort zone. I say slightly outside because it forces you to develop your skills in order to keep up but it also won't crush you. Having mastery experiences, essentially deliberately practicing, is one of the best ways to develop your own self-efficacy. You can also develop it by seeking guidance and assistance from those who have greater experience or skills than you. Supportive mentors and colleagues are great places to turn when looking to increase self-efficacy.

2. Develop hope by setting meaningful goals and brainstorming the potential barriers you'll face in achieving them and multiple ways to overcome those challenges.

Hope colloquially refers to the belief that everything will turn out alright in the end. Academically, it refers to having agency (self-directed behavior) in the pursuit of goals and the ability of generating alternative ways of reaching those goals (pathways). A good way to develop your hope is to spend some time getting extremely clear about what exactly you're trying to accomplish -- your goals. Push yourself to make them specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (commonly known as a SMART goal). Once you've gotten particularly clear about what your goals actually are, then you can begin brainstorming various ways of achieving them. Think about the barriers you're likely to face as you work toward these goals. What can you do to go around or break through these barriers? How will you know when it's time to change paths? Take notes while brainstorming and review these notes at a regular interval as you work toward your goals.

3. Develop optimism by taking a larger perspective when looking at failures and by taking credit for success.

Optimism refers to an explanatory style where you are comfortable ascribing personally relevant reasons for the good things that happen in your life while mitigating the personal impact of negative events. For example, an optimistic explanation for getting a promotion is, "I worked really hard the last six months and I really deserved this," whereas a pessimistic explanation would be, "Wow, I got lucky that my boss didn't notice all the screw ups I've made recently," or, "Everybody else must really suck in order for me to get a promotion." In the case of a negative event like making a major error on an important piece of work optimism is still possible, "I made that error because I've been extremely busy and stressed out for the past few months. I know I'm not always like this and I can make sure it doesn't happen again." It's not about burying your head in the sand and not being accountable for the bad things that inevitably happen in life but explaining them in such a way as to not let them be commentary about who you are as a person.

Look back on 2-3 "good" and "bad" things that happened to you in the past few months. Why did they happen? Practice writing out an optimistic explanation for why these events happened. Try to notice the type of explanation you're using the next time something particularly good or bad happens.

4. Develop resilience by deliberately practicing the art of "bouncing back."

Resilience refers to the ability of being able to get back to your previous level of well-being or even better after something bad happens. One way to develop your ability to be resilient is to have a plan of action in place and ready to go in case something bad happens. One of my coaching clients developed the excellent strategy of creating an "Emergency Drawer" that she filled with some of her favorite things and she would only open it when something bad happened. This helps because it helps get you thinking more positively in the midst of negativity. In a similar vein, focus on getting the next small "win" after a significant setback. Being resilient doesn't mean you instantly bounce back or that you can't experience negative feelings. Instead, it means you're able to snap yourself out of negativity and turn the tide toward recovery and growth. Getting that first win can help you begin building positive momentum again.


Do you think you're particularly strong in one of the four components of PsyCap? Do you struggle with one of the components? How else might this cornerstone of positive psychology be applied to your life?

Photo by Alex:

The Seven Sins of Independent Work

You may be familiar with the seven deadly sins laid out in the Christian tradition. They are lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Using this framework I thought it might be interesting to propose seven "sins" independent workers must avoid if they want to create sustainable and meaningful indie careers. Here's what I came up with:

1. Obsession

Many indie workers are driven to their work by an intrinsic interest in their specific field. Intrinsic motivation is a great thing but left completely unchecked it can easily bleed into overwork and burnout. As an indie worker you often don't have the clear signals that mark the beginning and end of a work day so the tendency is often to work longer hours than traditional employees. There's an almost constant sense of "there's more work to be done!" when you work for and/or by yourself. You must fight this urge to let work become an obsession. You must allow deliberate restoration to become part of what "working hard" means to you.

2. Envy

If you're the flavor of indie worker who makes his living on the internet then you've likely fallen victim to envy more than once. It's incredibly easy to look around and see other indie workers who have nicer websites, more interesting projects, bigger clients, or some other aspect of their work that can fill you with envy if left unchecked. Comparison is a dangerous game to play when the comparison group consists of the entire internet/rest of the world. To the extent that you can you must use internal metrics of comparison when gauging your level of success. Instead of comparing yourself to someone in your field who seems to be doing better than you try comparing yourself to your past-self. Use whatever metrics you'd like but only use them when comparing where you are now to where you used to be.

3. Formlessness

One of the most beautiful things about being an indie worker is the autonomy to work however you want. One of the most frustrating things about being an indie worker is the autonomy to work however you want. A complete and utter lack of structure almost never works for indie workers. There's obviously a great degree of individual preference at play with how much structure we prefer in how we work but I've never seen anybody who lacks any structure whatsoever being successful. How can you build a little bit more structure into your day without turning your indie work into a regular 9-to-5 job?

4. Busyness

It's easy to equate being busy with being productive. The always busy indie worker is rarely the truly successful indie worker. Being constantly busy means you're having trouble identifying and separating what is actually important to you and the work you do from the rest of the information you're flooded with on a daily basis. Try using the Eisenhower Matrix of Urgent/Not Urgent and Important/Not Important continuums to identify where most of your time is being spent and to ensure you're spending as much time as possible on that Important but Not Urgent work that so often represents the most meaningful and difficult work we can do.

5. Tunnel Vision

Personal and professional development are largely the same thing when you're an indie worker. Whereas a traditional employee may have opportunities to learn new skills via their employer an indie worker does not have anybody telling them what they need to learn next to move forward in their career. Indie workers must cast a wide net in order to read the trends in their specific market and identify which skills will allow them to do the work that's needed in the future. It can be easy to get locked into a tunnel vision situation where the only thing that appears to matter is completing the next project, responding to the next email, and cranking through the to-do list without ever stepping back and assessing the larger situation.

6. Distraction

While indie workers need to make sure they avoid tunnel vision, they also need to know how to block out distraction to truly focus on the task at hand. Distraction robs us of our ability to deliberately practice which is the best way to develop our skills. It prevents us from developing the concentration that allows us to do work that truly creative work that goes beyond the surface level. In a world where your next paycheck isn't guaranteed distraction is more than just an idle waste of time -- it's stealing money from yourself and your family.

7. Isolation

Despite the moniker of "indie worker" it's impossible to be 100% independent at all times. You still have colleagues even if you don't work in the same physical location or even in the same industry. Part of the reason for the popularity of coworking spaces is the fact that indie workers have been craving a way to connect with like-minded colleagues since there's only so much work you can do in your home office before the social isolation becomes too much to handle. Social isolation can stunt your professional and personal development and make what seemed like a great idea at the time (becoming an indie worker) seem depressingly masochistic in retrospect.


What else keeps you from doing your best work as an indie worker? What should we add to the list?

Photo by See-Ming Lee

Four Ideas We Must Not Take For Granted as Indie Workers

Check out Part 2 here.

As independent workers we often have a great amount of control over how we work. We usually don't have to commute to an office, there's no boss peering over our shoulder, and we have nearly full discretion over the myriad of little decisions that make up our day-to-day work lives. However, sometimes I'll talk to an indie worker who has been doing it for awhile I'm surprised by how much it sounds like they work a normal 9-to-5 office job. Or, more commonly, I'll talk to a brand new indie worker and the only difference I'll hear between how they work and a traditional employee is that pajamas and slippers are part of the equation. How can both examples of indie work gone wrong be improved by thinking more carefully about what they're taking for granted?

It's up to you as an indie worker to craft the career and work style that fits you and your inclinations the best. A good place to start in this crafting process is rethinking these six taken for granted components of "normal" work.

The Five Day Work Week

A great article from Slate was making the rounds last week about why we should abolish the five day work week. Granted, I don't see society making any wholesale shifts to another model any time soon, but that's not to say you can't experiment with different formats a little bit, right?

What if you tried utilizing a work schedule that fits better with how you like to work and your natural cycles of productivity? What if you did a two days on, one day off, model? Or three days on, one day off? Or ten days on and three days off? Or literally any other configuration you can think of? If you have the flexibility to do so, why not try a different mode each month for the rest of the summer and then make an informed decision about what works best for you?

One thing I've been doing recently is moving one of my off/weekend days into the middle of the week when I'm planning on doing some kind of leisure activity that involves going somewhere. Going to the beach, camping, or visiting a museum are all likely to be much less crowded on a Tuesday afternoon than a Saturday afternoon.

Obviously, the thing that makes the five day workweek unlikely to disappear is also what makes it hard to follow any other kind of model -- particularly if you have a family or interact with non-indie workers on any kind of regular basis. Your kids' school isn't going to drop the five day week any time soon so changing your own work week may not make a ton of sense. If you have the autonomy, though, I recommend at least playing around with some other ways of working to see what works best for you.

The Office

Traditional employees generally have an office where they go every day to complete their work. Most indie workers, at least indie workers that work from home, also have a single office where they complete all their work. Chances are you're doing lots of different types of work throughout the day -- brainstorming, writing, responding to email, taking a break, focusing deeply, doing creative work, doing detail-oriented work -- so why would one location with unchanging attributes be the ideal place to do all this work?

I've experimented with having different places in my home be reserved for specific kinds of work. For example, when I'm reading I try to move away from my main desk and sit in one of the chairs in my living room. Another thing I'll do is take my iPad and a notebook to a local café (within walking distance which is part of the reason why I think this works) when I need to do some high level brainstorming or planning. Something about changing my environment and getting a little bit of exercise seems to be conducive to that type of work. A local coworking space could also fill this role if you purchased a membership where you only come in a couple times a week or only for a few hours at a time.

The basic idea is that as indie workers we generally have a lot of control over where we work and I don't think most of us takes advantage of this. Joel Runyon shared a method of utilizing different locations to stay productive by actually planning out his days around commuting to various locations. According to him, moving locations a couple times a day helps him focus and get more work done in less time.

There's one big caveat to this idea I have to share, though. I actually really like the idea of cultivating the ability to work in any location regardless of its characteristics to hurt or help my work. I'm wary of becoming so persnickety about my work location that I feel like I have to be in the "right environment" in order to do good work. To fight that I'll occasionally work in annoying conditions just to cultivate my ability to do so. Maybe I'm just weird?

Productivity as Best Measured by Time

"I had a pretty good day -- worked around nine hours or so."

I find myself saying things like this far more often than I'd like. Why? Because I think one of the ultimate perks of being an indie worker is liberating ourselves from the clock when it comes to thinking about our productivity (I recently wrote about my struggles with time as an indie worker so if you want a more in depth look at my thoughts on the matter I recommend checking it out.). When we have so much autonomy and voice in how we think about and do our work why do we constantly fall back to measuring ourselves by how much time we spent "at work"? It's easy. It's simple. It's what everyone else in the world does. And we must break ourselves of this habit.

Cal Newport shared an excellent equation to explain how work is accomplished; work = time spent x intensity. Most of us just hammer away on the "time spent" portion of the equation. If we just put in more hours we'll get more done. And we do get more done, to a point. However, we could be so much more effective by amplifying our intensity. Most of us have a ton of space to grow in this domain and we are leaving productivity, and more importantly hours that could be spent with our families or hobbies, on the table by not working more intensely. Tony Schwartz argues we should be thinking about how we work in terms of energy management and not time management. I couldn't agree more. By cycling between short but very intense bouts of work followed by highly effective recovery we will be able to accomplish much more in much less time.

Distractions As Inevitable

This is a slightly misleading header because distractions are a part of life. However, they don't have to be nearly as large a part of life as most of us allow them to be. One of the biggest sappers of intensity (remember, work = time spent x intensity) are all the interruptions and distractions that are constantly competing for our extremely limited attention. When you're an employee there is a certain amount of distraction you may be expected to put up with such as someone coming into your office or leaning over the cubicle to ask a question. As an indie worker you have much more control over this than the typical employee -- so use it!

A good starting point is to turn off almost all of the notifications that come in via your mobile and computing devices. There is very little you need to know the moment it happens. Twitter mentions, Facebook comments, and Instagram likes do not happen to fall into that category (and if you disagree you might need to rethink the seriousness of which you take your work...). Every notification that tears your attention away from the task at hand is like a tiny needle poking a hole in your inflatable raft. By itself it's probably not enough to make you sink but over time enough pokes will result in you treading water.

To give you a sense to the extent I go to eliminate distractions before getting to work I'll share my basic routine below (remember, I'm trying to create the environment for a high intensity and fairly short bout of focused work). I'll turn on the app called Self Control on my computer which blocks me from all distracting websites for a set amount of time. I'll turn off the wireless connection on my computer, iPad, and iPhone (my music playlist is accessible offline). I'll set a timer for ten minutes before the next thing I have to do, or if there's nothing on my calendar I'll set it for an hour or so. I'll open the program I need to complete my work, in this case Write Room, and make it fullscreen. If a thought comes to mind or I feel like I should do something else during the work session I'll hit the keyboard shortcut to bring up the Quick Entry input box for Things and add it to my inbox. The rest of the time I'll just work as quickly and intensely as possible without looking at the clock or checking social media or checking my inbox or really anything else until the timer goes off. Is this too intense? Too weird? If your ability to support yourself and your family depends on your ability to complete great work as quickly as possible then I don't think anything is too weird or intense.

Distractions become much more meaningful and worth eliminating when you've made a commitment to finishing a certain amount of work in a day, not just "working" eight hours. In the former case, every distraction is pushing the end of your day further away. In the latter, a distraction (that friend from high school liking the photo of you fake kissing the fish you caught) is at the same level of everything else you're trying to accomplish (like the work you've invested years of your life into learning how to do in order to create a meaningful career).

Those don't seem very equal to me.


It can be easy to lapse into treating your indie career like a traditional 9-to-5 office job -- especially if you have experience as an employee. It's what everyone else does and maybe even what you've done for years of your professional life. Remember, as an indie worker you likely have to deal with a lot more uncertainty and stress than the typical employee so make sure you're utilizing the advantages that come with this style of work, too.

What else do we need to rethink about work as indie workers? I'd like to write a Part Two to this article and would love to include some of your ideas.


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Photo by Mark Hunter