The Internet black hole. Some hints for freelance creatives on using your time more effectively.

Never more than today has it been easier to make amazing creative work a reality – the computer has revolutionised the worlds of all creative industries. graphic design, fashion, illustration, film and media, web development – the list goes on. In particular, the Internet has opened up a whole world for creative people to source, create and share their work and thoughts.

On the face of it, this is a great thing. We are exposed to a vast array of brilliant, thought provoking work at the click of a button. But it comes at a price – we are often overwhelmed with our online world of so much to see, so much to do – the pressures of this online ‘presence’ can create a massive hole that our time slips into.

Social media while undeniably useful both personally and professionally, creates a whole new job to fulfil, often with only fleeting success. More often it’s a black hole of time we’re never going to see the benefit from. So, how can we balance the hours we spend being creative and financially successful versus the time we put into being socially accepted?

I’m as guilty as the next man when it comes to wasting hours of time floating from website to website, tweeting other people’s work, updating my Facebook to let everyone know that my puppy’s just crapped on the floor. It’s great for a while, but if you find yourself unable to step away and get on with your work then you’re in a spot of trouble. I have finally managed to find a good balance. I spend a good amount of time being social, but have grown to understand the need for balance and sometimes the hard-nosed reality that the time I waste farting about on Facebook has a direct correlation with my dwindling bank balance. Here are a few things I do on a regular basis that help me work, rather than play, which in the end means more money for most freelancers like myself.

There’s a time to be social
Generally speaking, between 9-10am and 5-6pm is the time I use and abuse social media. I’ll spend an hour in the morning being banally social before work begins. This includes: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, all the usual suspects… It also includes answering any outstanding emails, having my breakfast taking a shower and watching a bit of trash TV. It’s amazing what you can fit in when you know there’s a cut off point.

Ready to go
Once you’re ready to go, turn off all distractions. This includes instant update type software on your computer – while the likes of TweetDeck, Skype and Facebook updater are very useful – they’re also like a small dog yapping at your feet for attention. Sooner or later you’ll cave and be swept into cyberspace, never to be seen again. I know people who use software that actually bans you from the Internet. Personally I think this is like a fad diet. You’ll find ways of exploiting it – and ALL you’ll think about is “how long before I can get back online.” It’s pointless – just leave Facebook alone. Do it.

Make research useful
By all means research online, but give yourself a set time. Don’t let yourself wander, otherwise it’ll be lunchtime before you know it and you’ll have not a lot to show for it.

Sit down, stay down
Once you’ve started work, Stay put until you’re happy with your progress (at least 2 hours). It sounds pretty dumb, but I know a lot of people who cannot stay in their seat for more than two minutes at a time. This is not time effective. Sit down and get on with it.

Ignore emails
It can generally wait. Quite often I’ll receive emails linking out to my favourite sites, informing me of updates to Social site all my new Twitter followers and the like. While tempting to ‘sort out’ immediately you’ll undoubtedly end up pulled into the black hole – only to resurface a few hours later, and annoyed at yourself. Similarly if you have a demanding client who needs your full attention, only answer with one email stating you’ll look into whatever they’re after as soon as you can – give them a realistic deadline then cut the cord. Ignore them. Politely obviously. Build time into your day to do this extra work!

Ignore your phone
Unless it’s directly relating to what you’re working on, it can wait. Especially if you have a smartphone – they are mini transporters into the black hole. Again, build some time later in the day to follow up with client calls. Don’t deviate from that time.

They suck the time and life out of people. Meetings are mostly a complete waste of time. Only attend when absolutely essential. The likes of Skype are a great alternative – build it into your diary too so that your other work won’t suffer. And charge you client for them – this may stop them having them in first place. This is a good thing.

Take a break
Take some time AWAY from your technology once every 3-4 hours – leave your computer, phone and tablet. Get fresh air in the real world. Take a nap. Eat something. Be careful to not make your break time simply a time to update your social media. Time away will freshen your head, and you’ll work more quickly as a result.

Promoting yourself
Allocate a couple hours a WEEK on updating your business promotion activities. Unless you’re a full time blogger, who earns money from their blog, it should be secondary to the time you spend on actual paying work. If you’re quiet work wise, this part should become your ‘work’ ie. your priority. But keep the time you spend updating and refining to a moderate level. Spend more time drumming up real work opportunities.

Billing and paperwork.
Don’t get caught up organising your finances on a daily basis. Allocate a morning once a week where you do it all in one sitting. It’s vital you keep on top of it, but like all other distractions, it’ll consume you if you let it.

The thing to remember is that while it’s a brilliant place to be at times, the Internet is also evil. It will literally steal your time and money from you. Be strong and consistent with your usage and it’ll become a routine.The most important thing to take out of this article is to look at the clock right now (do it, right now) and deciding whether you should be reading this article or whether you should really just be getting on with your work.

I think we both know the answer.

© 2012.
Follow me on Twitter @heymrleej and Facebook (between 9-10am, 5-6pm!!)

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