Keeping On-task when You’re Not on a Schedule

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Keeping On-task when You’re Not on a Schedule

For many people, one of the hardest aspects of being unemployed is staying focused. Despite our increasingly gig-oriented environment, society consistently trains us to respond to a 9-to-5, time clock mentality. When that suddenly isn’t present, unemployed persons often find them struggling to be productive.

It almost sounds like a contradiction: with so much free time, we should be able to get MORE done–a lot more. So why do we find ourselves struggling to get anything done at all?

Finding Your Motivation

A regular job is often enough to keep us at least functionally motivated: we want the paycheck, we don’t want to be fired, we don’t want our colleagues thinking less of us. It’s not really a good type of motivation, but it works…so when it isn’t there, we truly have to reorient our thinking in order to accomplish anything. Being productive basically comes down to the way a person manages the multitude of small choices that have to be made every day.

Do you get up and dressed every morning, as if you still had a job to go to? Or are you binging on Netflix and playing Candy Crush until all hours? Are you eating regular food on a regular schedule, or noshing on Cheetos and Dr. Pepper for breakfast? Some of the choices are obvious. Some, however, are less cut-and-dried: should go to the networking event or work on your resume? Everything you do presents an opportunity … but it also has a cost.

Focus a Lot, for Just a Little While

It’s not just about putting in the time; it’s also about putting time in the right places.

Again, when we have a job that works on certain hours and deadlines, we at least have some idea of what needs to happen when. Outside of that structure, it’s sometimes hard to find.

Mikael Cho, Founder/CEO of Unsplash, wrote about this very thing in a Quora post:

I used to set aside full days for focused work. The problem was because I had all day, I would relax. This often led to procrastination. Now I use a timer to clock my 1- or 1.5-hour work sessions. If you feel like you have lots of time to do something, you’ll find ways to fill that time. Often by doing easier, less important things. By shortening the time frame, you’re forced to focus.

Cho goes on to tell how researchers at Florida State University looked at elite performers and found the best performers practiced in uninterrupted, 90-minute sessions, rarely working more than four and a half hours in a day. That doesn’t sound like a lot of work, but if it’s all highly focused, you might be amazed at what can accomplish.

Mimic Successful People

Working without a schedule is not only possible, but it can be profitable. Most successful entrepreneurs and award-winning business people work “off the clock” and accomplish great things. Each has his or her own set of rules for staying focused, but we’ve found that all of the best advice can be narrowed down to some overarching rules: Remove the unnecessary. Automate decisions. Maintain good health.

As Cho points out, it may seem boring…but boring is how you clear space to do your best work.