Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The breaks system

One of the subjects that I talk about on my blog a lot is time management. I find it can be very difficult sometimes to focus on work without checking email, Facebook, Craigslist, or the blogs I follow. Depending on how motivated I am to work on a certain project, sometimes I get the urge to do this about every five minutes. Resisting can be quite the challenge!

Lately I've been trying to operate on a breaks system. Instead of trying to focus on work for an entire day or a half day, I try to get about an hour's worth of work done — a client's blog post, interviewing a source, outlining an article, or doing some research on a new topic. When the goal is accomplished, I take a short mental break — browse the Internet, get a snack, or even read a little (I've been reading a lot lately). Sometimes (less often) I do some mundane chore, like laundry, just to make me move around a little before I go back to work.

I've also been trying not to work through lunch anymore, something I've done on and off (but primarily on) for years. Instead I try to get some quality work done before and after lunch, but let myself read a book or a couple of blog posts while I eat.

And of course, I've been visiting the barn a lot this summer, usually in the mornings. This is the trickiest to accommodate in my schedule, because it can take up half a day when I have a lesson or go for a trail ride. The end result is that I have to work harder and faster in the afternoon, and maybe even a little into the evening. But on the flip side, I tend to feel more energetic when I start the day with a ride, and less likely to let my attention wander when I get back to work.

I think the issue of breaks can be a challenging one for freelancers. When you work for someone, you guard your breaks jealously, but when you work for yourself — when you don't get paid for that time, and always have some client project to finish before you can invoice them — it's easy to forget.

I think breaks are just as important for freelancers, however — perhaps more so, when you consider that sometime you are your most demanding boss. When I give myself more breaks, I actually find I tend to be more productive.

What about you? Do you find that you do or don't need regular breaks? How do you determine when you take them, and how do you spend them?


Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

This is a timely post since I've been having a HARD time staying focused on work projects these days. This is especially true when I'm editing. Writing isn't quite as problematic. My solution is to turn my modem off. I just keep a dictionary and thesaurus nearby and I'm good to go without Internet access.

Mridu Khullar said...

I've been facing similar problems. One of the methods I used was to write down the tasks I had to do in the day on small pieces of paper, then write down all the little breaks I'd take (read a book, watch the news, etc) on pieces of paper as well, and put them all into a bowl and mix 'em up. Then I'd pick something randomly and do whatever came up.

Katharine Swan said...

Kathy, I've turned my wireless off before and found that it helps, but ONLY if I'm not doing something that requires periodic Internet access, such as research.

Mridu, your method made me laugh, but I couldn't help but think -- if I drew the "read a book" paper, I wouldn't get anything else done for the rest of the day!


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