Time, Part 05: “Focus & Motion”

Continued from “Time”, Parts 01, 02, 03 & 04:

Life is easy when you 9-5 it. All you have to do is go where they told you, do what they told you and leave when they told you. Two weeks from now, you get a check and then the cycle starts all over again.

As a freelancer, your time has to be divided amongst several things every day, and it’s up to you to get proficient with selecting what to focus on and how much time to devote to it.

Efficiency

The selection process is actually critically important. I already discussed micromanagement of time, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to minimize the time that you waste DECIDING what to focus on. For instance, it might take you one minute to read someone’s email, but it took you 30 seconds to DECIDE whether you were going to read that email. Perhaps a more efficient style would be to jump right in, start reading and if you realize it’s something you don’t care about, bail.

I know that 10 seconds or 30 seconds doesn’t sound like much, and a year or two ago, it wasn’t much to me either. When you get to the point of receiving 100 emails every day of varying levels of importance, those seconds can add up to a major time sink. Consider the process to respond to a “new Twitter follower” notification (assuming you don’t use a program to auto-follow people who follow you):

  1. Hear the background notification
  2. Take your mind off your current project
  3. “Feel” whether this is a “check the email” moment or not
  4. Type the shortcut to toggle to mail
  5. Read the title
  6. Click on the email
  7. Find and click on the link
  8. Wait for the browser window to open
  9. Check their friend/follower ratio
  10. Check what they’re talking about on Twitter
  11. Decide whether to follow them back or not
  12. Close the window
  13. Toggle back to the program you were originally using
  14. Get your mind wrapped around your project again

So now, because you chose to have your mail client open and polling for mail, however much time was just extracted from your focus on your current project. Sometimes, it’s necessary, like if a client emails you that there’s a change in plans or an unique opportunity comes up that requires your immediate attention. Other times, it can be put off until later (or never), so making that decision quickly is in the best interest of your time, productivity and focus.

Focus

Bill Cammack & Elizabeth Hummer 1999-2000 New York Emmy Award Winners - Outstanding Teen ProgrammingMainly what I do is edit video. If I’m just assembling something, I’ll probably have mail and instant messaging open because I’m really just organizing items and doing quality control. If I’m doing a “real” edit, all of that’s shut off, because I need to live inside my project and be immersed in it in order to provide the eventual viewer with the same level of immersion when they watch the show. I can’t afford these micro-interruptions affecting my focus, flow, disposition, mood…

This is why I can’t understand how some people have literally all day to be on Twitter. They supposedly have jobs and responsibilities, yet you see them on Twitter 24/7. Now, I understand that there’s work that doesn’t require your full attention, like I said about when I’m assembling something… But how much time that you’re supposedly working for a company are you spending passing notes in class? What do those notes have to do with your actual BUSINESS? If your employer checks your Twitter or Friendfeed accounts, are they going to see you engaging in water-cooler drivel banter? How do you reconcile this time? Is it like smoke breaks? Are you addicted to Twitter like other people are addicted to cigarettes and need to be let out of the building for 15 minutes every hour to get their addiction on?

Focus is extremely important, because you can either move forward a little on several projects in a day or you can move forward A LOT in one or two. It might be a good idea to shut it all down and have designated periods where you enjoy “Social Media Time”. Similarly, it might be a good idea to have “email time” and “telephone time” and “respond to inquiries” time. That way, you could have specific segments of your day devoted to ‘distractions’ and the rest of it spent on knocking out the projects you’ve decided are most important or whose deadlines are approaching the soonest.

Motion

The days of meetings are OVER. Period. Over. Done. I noticed this back in my experimental year, 2008, because what people knew me for changed. When I was known for editing, I would get contacted by people who needed editing. Once I became known for Social Media projects, all of a sudden, I had information that lots of people could use for their businesses, and they began contacting me, wanting some of my time.

That’s all well & good, but when I would run through the obvious video chatting options, it was always “well… I don’t have this set up…”, regardless of how large or successful the company was. This was when I realized how far behind most companies really are.

So I went to a few IRL f2f meetings. My take-away was that A LOT OF TIME was being wasted in transit. Granted, this was before I bought my g1, but I’m way faster on my Macbook Pro than I am on my gPhone, so even today, the time is essentially wasted, or at least slowed to a crawl.

The problem with moving is that as soon as you stop thinking about your current project, it’s completely stalled. It’s stalled while you THINK about going to the meeting. It’s stalled while you get dressed. It’s stalled while you head for mass transit. It’s stalled while you wait for mass transit. It’s stalled while you’re ON mass transit (at least in NYC, because you’re not going to have your laptop out on the subway and if you did, you wouldn’t have wifi anyway). If you took the bus or a cab, traffic’s ridiculous and you either wouldn’t get there on time, or you’d spend $20 to slowly get downtown. It’s stalled while you walk to the restaurant. It’s stalled while you meet with your client or potential client. THEN, it’s stalled all the way back in reverse.

So, not only do you ‘lose’ the time that you’re physically meeting with someone, you lose literally hours surrounding that meeting. This is entirely unacceptable, when all you have to do is set a time, remain efficient until you get the chat notification on your computer and click “accept”. When the meeting’s over, you click “end” and go back to what you were doing. During that time, you have the exact same functionality as a face-to-face meeting, except you can’t shake hands when you’re signing off. I’ve had more efficient meetings with people in GREECE and ISRAEL than I’ve had with people in Manhattan, NYC, USA. :/

Bill Cammack World Tour - ChicagoObviously, these issues are multiplied in situations where travel’s required. Entire DAYS can be wasted getting from one state to another. Most of the day can be wasted moving from location to location when filming something.

This is something that needs to be worked into your budgeting. It’s not just the number of hours that you work on the project, but the number of hours that traveling to and from that project remove your ability to focus on OTHER projects.

Solutions

Maximize focus by increasing efficiency and decreasing motion. Accept projects that fit into your flow and reject projects that don’t. Make exceptions for situations that compensate you properly for the entire amount of time that they take away your ability to clear your desk of other projects.

Pay attention to and note all the time that’s devoted to a particular project… Phone time, IM time, email time, video chat time, IRL meeting time, travel time and time that you actually worked on the project. Make sure people know they’re “on the clock” and will be billed for your time before interacting with them. Get your payment up front if you don’t trust them to honor your invoice. If they don’t have your money now, they probably won’t have it later either, so don’t allow people like this to owe you money so you have to waste even MORE of your time trying to get paid.

~Bill Cammack

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