The freelancer’s little helper

As many of you know, I work from home as a freelance copy editor and writer. It is a job that suits me, in a location and format that REALLY suits me: no office politics, no colleagues dropping by to bore me with monologues about the latest exploits of their incredible uniquely named children, no listening to the guy in the next cubicle eating a bag of baby carrots with his mouth open or the perfume-soaked receptionist having another scream-fest with her ex-boyfriend over the phone.

“…and in just a moment, I’m going to enjoy some raw carrots!”

I am by nature a pretty focused and organized person, but every so often, for whatever reason, I have what another freelancing friend of mine calls a “SQUIRREL! day” where for the life of me I can’t keep my mind on my task for more than a second. I am not ADHD, I hasten to add: to paraphrase Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, “I’m not ADHD! My mother had me tested!”

Loss of focus is, of course, one of the primary hazards of working at home — even in a household without kids or pesky spouses, there is nothing more alluring to the bored/restless freelancer than the siren call of a sink full of dirty dishes, a bathtub ring, or an unvacuumed carpet.

This is, of course, great if you’re looking for the Good Housekeeping Award, but not so fantastic if your deadline is tomorrow morning.

A little while ago, however, my friend Karen, who is also a freelancer, told me about a little iPhone app called the Pomodoro (Italian for “tomato”) that helps keep her on track, even on SQUIRREL! days. (Disclaimer: I don’t work for the Pomodoro company, and I don’t get kickbacks for mentioning them on my site.)

Anyway, the concept is simple: it’s a little ticking timer, like one of those little kitchen timers–-not coincidentally, the inventor of the app/concept had a little tomato-shaped timer in his own kitchen that gave him his idea.

Typical freelancer bathroom.

It ticks for exactly 25 minutes, after which it goes silent and counts down another 5 minutes for your break. During those 5 minutes, you’re meant to get your bum out of your seat (ideally) and go do something else, but you can also use it to goof off at your desk, answer emails, check Facebook, play your next move on WordFeud, whatever.

Then the ticking starts again, and you work for another 25 minutes, after which you get another break, and so it goes. After a few rounds of this, you get a longer break–-like, say, lunch.

You can also pause the timer for an interruption like the phone or a pestering cat or a house fire, and stop it when you finish the task at hand. I have the free version, but I understand the paid version has loads more little features, for which I have no use at the moment.

My little ticking office buddy.

At any rate, for people like me, who are very goal driven, this is perfect beyond belief: after just a couple of weeks I now know that the ticking sound means Work. No switching screens to reply to emails, no SQUIRREL!ing whenever I’m notified that it’s my turn on my online game. And the vacuuming just has to wait.

And (just to make you really want to barf) I’m actually using those 5-minute breaks to stretch and do sickening things like sit-ups. I know.

(I jest only a little here: it is really, really, REALLY bad for the human body to sit in a chair for long periods of time. Study after research study has found that getting up for just–surprise!–5 minutes every half hour and moving around greatly reduces your risk of obesity [duh..], blood clots, diabetes, and all those lovely things just waiting to kill us like fish in a barrel.)

Anyway, do give it a whirl if you’re so inclined. Worst to worst, your housework might suffer a little bit, but your bottom line (and, let’s face it, your bottom) will be a lot healthier.

Oops… gotta run. Tick, tick, tick…. bye.

It’s time for your sit-ups, Mr Atlas!

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2 thoughts on “The freelancer’s little helper

  1. I just found one for Android. The sound seems a bit distracting right now, but I am confident that the brains will soon be conditioned to perceive the ticking as the work-sound. Smart principle. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Oh, that’s cool! I know more & more people who are using it on various platforms. Like you said, the ticking takes a bit of getting used to but soon it’s like Pavlov’s dog: ticking = working.
    Incidentally, I stopped using it for a while (telling myself I was too busy to use an app… sigh…whattamaroon…) and my productivity went out the window. Lesson learned. 😛
    Cheers,
    A.G.

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