While a large portion of being successful as a freelancer is time management and staying motivated, many freelancers overlook one of the most important aspects of being your own boss – taking breaks.
While it might seem a bit counter-intuitive, regular breaks are an important part of staying healthy and productive. They are also the key to preventing the dreaded burn out. Breaks have a number of health benefits as well, including reducing strain on your eyes and helping to ward off repetitive stress injuries.
The Daily Grind
Most freelancers have a daily routine. This often starts with checking communications, such as email, transitions into working and keeps rolling until the work is done or the day is over.
Of course, with a family, this gets changed a bit and includes such fun tidbits as removing waffles from couch cushions, cleaning up random spills, speaking in imaginary languages, intently listening the latest plot synopsis of Dora the Explorer or any number of things.
However, both schedules have one critical thing in common – a lack of breaks. Whether it is just a quick few minutes clearing your head or a designated day of the week, breaks are essential to a healthy, successful freelance career. If you have a friend or family member that claims to work eight-hours solid, raise a family and never take a moment for personal time… they are lying to you.
While I don’t use time blocking or any other tricks to schedule my day, I’m a firm believer in the power of to-do lists. One of the things on this list is break time. By putting it on your task list, schedule or otherwise acknowledging your need for breaks, you create a sense that breaks are as important as any other part of your work day.
This means you can pop out for a snack or pop over to Facebook for a quick game without feeling guilty and return to your work refreshed and ready to roll!
The Challenges of Working at Home
After all, in a ‘normal’ workplace, you would rarely work non-stop for every minute of your shift.
There is walking from one department to another, waiting for calls, walking to the bathroom, office banter and other interruptions. That doesn’t even count the officially–and often legally required–breaks throughout your shift.
When you’re working at home, these aspects of the workplace aren’t always present. You don’t have multiple offices, bathrooms are often just down the hall and lunch happens when the kids are hungry.
Breaks are not just about enjoying a few minutes of time. They give your eyes a rest, allow your mind to soak in the happenings of the day and allow you to come back to your work with a fresh set of eyes. Whether you are writing, performing data entry or working as a virtual assistant, you’ll find that taking a break every hour or two will improve both productivity and your ability to manage your time more effectively.
As a writer, you’d be amazed how many errors you will catch by simply letting the document sit for a few minutes and then coming back to it. If you’ve ever done data entry, I’m sure you can attest to how eventually everything just starts to run together. Breaks can help to segment your workday, increase focus and generally reduce stress and promote well-being.
Integrating Breaks into Your Routine
One method of integrating breaks into your work schedule is to use a timer. Whether you use an egg timer, the timer on your phone or a stopwatch, scheduling regular breaks will help to keep you moving throughout your day.
My favorite way to keep on task and remember my breaks is Toggl. It started off as an easy way to keep track of hours for clients. And then I found the Chrome Extension. Digging around in the options, there’s a setting to enable Pomodoro mode! Now, after 25 minutes of work, Toggl pops up and reminds me to take a short break. I can even click continue in the pop-up when I return to keep tracking the same task or designate a new task without having to flip between a bunch of tabs.
It might take a little time to find your perfect rhythm. Every three 25-minute blocks, I take a slightly extended break. Otherwise, I find a 25-5 routine ideal for staying on task and making the most of the day.
The key to this is to put down your work and take your break, if possible, as soon as the timer goes off.
Sure, you can finish a sentence or find a quick break point. Just make a point to do so quickly. Otherwise, you’ll find another hour has passed and you still have not taken a break. Just step away, grab a drink, play with the kids, read your favorite book for a few minutes and then return to work. Before long, you will find a good rhythm for you and it will become habit.
Do you have a system for taking breaks? How often and how long are your breaks? Do you find you work better without breaks? I want to hear your input! Just leave your comments in the box below!