5 Experiments for Rethinking the Link Between Time and Productivity

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Photo by niu niu on Unsplash

As a freelancer, do you charge by the hour or by the project? I’m trying to distance myself from the per hour mindset for the work that I do. I don’t want to sell my time; I want to sell my product.

So I’ve dropped the mention of time in the quotes that I give for my pieces of work. I used to say that something would cost me 6 x my hourly rate for a small piece of work, now I just give the price.

That’s good; that’s given me more ownership over my schedule, but damn, I’m still thinking in blocks of time. I have a few Skype appointments per week with clients, but other than that, I’m pretty fluid in terms of when I do my work. Why do I still see my day in chunks of time?

Friday night is puppy and pub night which gives me a 5 pm deadline which I try not to break. Some things are worth watching the clock; others are not.

I take her for a walk, and I schedule two hours for that, I plan during the walk that I will work on my script for 2 hours in the afternoon and a website after that. Nice. Neat but when I’m back at my desk those walls of time cast a shadow over my work and stop me from achieving true flow.

How can I break this mindset link between time and productivity?

This way of thinking stems from my previous work life. I bet it is a familiar story for you.

My first jobs in pubs and service stations were framed by time. Start at 3 pm, work a 7-hour shift, finish on time and get paid per hour.

Then into more corporate spaces where schedules aren’t as rigid, but still I’m paid by the hour. The focus is still on time. Sure I need to get my stuff done, but I’ve got 8 hours each day and if that doesn’t work there’s usually another day tomorrow.

I’ve worked on busy projects where the days fly by, but I’ve also worked in low pulse places where the company charges you out to the client by the hour, so there’s no incentive to provide maximum value.

Hourly rate, charge by the hour, face time, desk time.

All of these work cultures that filled my pre-freelancer life are haunting my progress now.

I schedule my work for the day in time blocks. The things that are the least satisfying take longer because they involve an extra cup of tea or a cheeky look at Medium. They run late, into the next time block where I either leave the task unfinished or compromise the schedule. Each compromise leads to a feeling that I have lost control of my day — a not so free-lancer.

It must stop.

How?

I’m going to try taking active steps to change my mindset from per hour to per incredible project.

1. Change The Shape of The Schedule

Get out of that habit of looking at your schedule as a bunch of hours. Look beyond the day to the week. What essential things do you need to do that week? While you’re at it look at the next month and the next three.

Let go of the idea of all those hours.

This week I have two website drafts to finish, three blogs to write, a screenplay to make progress on and…the list goes on, but I will stop looking at it from an hourly perspective.

When I view it from a time perspective the visual is a week’s worth of hours, but if I can visualise it in terms of output I see two amazing new websites, three new topics explored by a blog and an award-winning screenplay.

Doesn’t that all seem more appealing? Isn’t it worth getting up earlier or working later when you’re seeing your day in terms of output, not hours?

2. Think Events Not Timeslots

What if on your schedule today you listed events rather than timeslots?

How does that work? Well, an event is something you go to, it has a theme, it’s a journey, and it can have a natural finish point rather than being fixed on time.

What events do you have on today? What are the supporting acts or highlights?

I could see one of my websites as an event. I’ll enjoy it if I’m in the mood rather than enforcing a strict timeslot on myself. Which part of the project am I looking forward to the most? Is it the research, the first draft, the ideation? I can structure my work on the website like an event, or a story would be structured — a supporting act, intermission, the main show, encore, etc.

You’re not giving it the half attention that you allow to the first 15 minutes of your timeslot. You see the value of the event and not just a few hours of labour.

3. Be Less Rigid With Yourself

Schedule in a couple of events per day. You start with the most important, you get to the next one, you walk the dog when it’s not raining, and you get more done because you’re not always stressing about time passing.

Keep a whiteboard or a journal where you can note down thoughts or actions to hit later.

If you need to have done something by the end of the day that’s fine, it’s the thing you schedule in first.

I lose so much momentum by being constantly aware of the time, and I know I can get more done if I schedule less and do more.

4. Remove Time From Your Immediate Vicinity

The loudly ticking clock in your office keeps on reminding you of the time. Familiar?

Can you take it down? Or work in another room? Or turn and face away from it.

The worst one is your phone. I keep mine on silent and without notifications but I still habitually pick it up when my concentration is thinning out. Then, since it’s in my hand, I may as well check my email, check my twitter, medium status etc.

If you’re dividing up your attention between anything and what you should be doing your work isn’t going to be on top form, and it’s going to take longer.

5. Take A Break From Unnecessary Routine

Do you need to be at the gym at 9 am? Or can you consider it alongside the other events in your day?

I try and work on my screenplay first thing every morning because that’s my peak creativity hour, but if I have another deadline that is occupying half my mind during this time, then it’s not going to be a peak experience at all.

If I arrange my day according to urgency rather than sticking doggedly to a timetable, then I’ll give better performance during my screenwriting event because I’ll be more relaxed, and have half a mind on something else.

What do you think? I’m confident that anything is worth a shot if it leads to more quality output and less time wasted.

I’ll be trying this over the next fortnight or so. If you’re interested in hearing how it goes, why not subscribe to my mailing list?

Written by

Storyteller, ex playwright (produced), award winning screenwriter, always writing. Creating story-based content for businesses. London based but heart in Europe

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