It’s a popular saying: “Work smarter, not harder.” And in a digital age where separating your work and personal lives can make life challenging, it’s more relevant than ever.
That’s why I was so happy to hear Hectic’s founder (and former workaholic) Darryl Kelly bring up this maxim during his lesson on “Working Smarter, Not Harder” in the Hectic Academy videos.
In Darryl’s words, “Working harder leads to freelance burnout. Working smarter will allow you to leave time and energy for the next day (and the day after that and the day after that).”
Good to know. But how can freelancers maximize their productivity without burning themselves out on all the tasks they need to perform when building their dream freelance career?
Darryl has advice for this too. According to him, planning regular breaks into your day is necessary for productivity. Yes, getting your website set up and reviewing projects with clients is important—but so are all the non-work-related activities that spark creativity and motivation.
What’s remarkable about Darryl’s advice is there are actually formal studies that show cutting back on excessive study and work can make you more productive—if you develop a smart strategy that maximizes both your work and playtime.
If you’re a recent college grad used to pulling all-nighters and late-night cram sessions, you may want to read on. While a good work ethic is essential to build a successful freelancing career, investing more hours into your workday may not be the best strategy for you. Let’s see how strategic breaks factor into your work performance.
In his lecture, “Study Less, Study Smart,” psychology professor and author Marty Lobdell questions whether studying for several hours straight actually helps students learn. According to Lobdell, research shows the average college freshman only focuses for the first 25 or 30 minutes of a lecture or study session.
After that, students can’t process information as efficiently and the benefits of studying go down. In fact, forcing new students to focus through 50-minute college lectures may actually worsen academic performance (as the random doodles that appear halfway through all my freshman notes can attest).
Fortunately, Lobdell has a cool work-around that not only helps you refocus but also increases the amount of time you can study. His advice? Take breaks.
“[After you] study for half an hour, it doesn’t take a half hour break to recharge your batteries,” he says. “For most people, about 5 minutes. This is where you go away and do something fun for 5 minutes. Call a friend, talk to a child, talk to a parent, a roommate, enjoy some music, do something you enjoy and actually say, ‘this is my treat for having studied 30 minutes effectively.’ Go back, and here’s what happens – your efficiency is nearly 100%.”
By taking these breaks in between 30-minute study sessions, a student can absorb and retain more information than the person who tries to “cram” everything into a multi-hour study session.
What’s more, Lobdell urges people to give themselves a big reward after completing their final 30-minute study session—whether that be a nice long bath, a good meal, or a fun movie.
Why? Well, when you associate feel-good rewards with study and work, you condition yourself to keep working that way. And the smarter you study, the more your ability to focus grows. Soon, you’ll be able to study 30, 40, 50 minutes at a time—or several hours—without taking a break. This comes in real handy for students who go on to advanced degrees, medical school or successful freelance careers.
The great thing about the strategies Lobdell describes is that you don’t just use them in college. In fact, you’re probably in a better position to enjoy their benefits now as you start or expand your freelancing career.
“As a freelancer, your time is invaluable,” Darryl reminds us. “It’s critical to make the most of it, so that you can effectively manage client relationships, tackle your to-do list, make money, and still have enough hours in the day to enjoy the benefits of being your own boss.”
So, make sure to insert breaks between all your freelancing tasks. Have a snack, chat with a friend, or watch a short YouTube cat video before you create that new project pitch or sketch a business logo for a client.
Once you begin seeing these activities not as distractions but a necessary part of your overall productivity, you’ll appreciate how they enhance your creativity and make your freelancing life more enjoyable.
<tweet-link>Freelancing may not always be about lounging on a beach and watching the sunset. But guess what? Including moments like this in your workday may very well be what turns you from an average freelancer into an extraordinary one.<tweet-link>
Your college days may be over, but your freelancing education is just beginning! Learn how to increase your productivity, grow your business, earn great clients, and more by joining Hectic Academy. Each micro course is intentionally short and to the point and offers useful exercises and practical assets to help you achieve the career you want. Enroll for free today and learn how to master the freelance mindset!