Here are the Keys to Getting Focused Amazing Work done for Freelancers

We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about getting your deep, focused work done in the midst of all the distractions that are thrown our way. A friend of mine inspired the series as we looked at his work in the midst of needing to deal with support.

Today, we’ll go over the essential elements you need to focus on if you want to get more work done of quality. At the end, you’ll find some resources if you want to dig deeper into getting focused work done.

Deep Working with Distractions

This is where we started, the question that got the ball rolling. Here we looked at the two modes of work that we all need to deal with.

Sometimes you’re a Maker, and sometimes you’re a Manager. Makers need big chunks of time without interruptions so that they can focus on their work. Managers have an hour here and an hour there. They don’t regularly need large blocks of time without distractions.

If you’re a developer, almost all of your time will need to be spent in Maker Mode. You have code to write so get down to writing and ignore everything else around you. Do the work.

If you’re running a business, you have much more of both in your life. That’s why I use my Mullet Method to get both Maker and Manager time in my day.

If you’re transitioning out of being a developer for someone else into running your own business, then you’ve got to come to terms with the Manager time. It’s going to feel weird at first since much of it won’t feel like your traditional work.

You’re going to have to learn that sales is your work if you run a business.

The Mullet Method of Deep Work

The Mullet Method of Deep Work is how I run my days. Most days of the week I work from 6 am – 9 am and just get focused. My iPad is setup for only focused work and it’s all I use in the mornings alongside a notebook1.

The only things I have on my iPad are the writing apps2 I need and a few research tools.

I have no iMessage on it. There are no notifications of any type. I sit and work with headphones in and some music playing that suits my work.

Then I take a break from around 9 am until 12 pm. I take a walk and make sure I look for something green. This rest is crucial to my afternoon.

My afternoons are where I allow some distractions. I may be coding, but I’ll also have Slack open, and I’ll have 25 minutes for email if there is time. If not, I let email wait until Tuesday or Friday’s.

You’ve only got 100% for a few hours

One of the keys to making this work is the break in the middle. You don’t have 100% energy all day. You’re lucky if you can focus for more than 50 minutes without a break. Even a short break to look up or get a coffee will help recharge you for the next 50-minute cycle. The maximum that most people can keep going like this is around three hours. If you’re in a traditional office, you’re lucky if you have 4 hours of proper work done in a day.

By sticking to two three hour blocks in a day with a significant break in the middle, you can crush the productivity of most people.

My middle rest lets me come back at work fresh. I’ve been away from the screens. I’ve maybe gone for a run or done some school with my oldest daughter3.

I’ve let my brain recharge from all the focused work I put in to start the day.

If my afternoon block is another Maker block, I’m doing it at home, and I still don’t have notifications on my Mac. If Slack is open, then I’m checking it in a block of time that I have scheduled and then I’m shutting it off.

Notifications aren’t important if you want to get work done

You’ll see another key is that I don’t do notifications. In fact, with iOS 11 my 6s Plus turned into a slow device which was perfect for getting more work done. I performed a factory reset and then installed very few applications again.

The only notification capable application on my phone is iMessage and the only person that can send me a text, which I’ll get when the phone is in Do Not Disturb Mode is … no one. Not even my wife can get a text message to me when my phone is in DND mode, and it’s almost always in DND mode.

The only way to get in touch with me when I’m working in the morning is if my wife calls me. That is the only person that is set to get through DND mode and the only mode of communication she can use to get through it.

If you think that knowing when your email comes in is vital to your workday, you’re fooling yourself. The only job that needs to be on that much with something like email is someone doing support. You have to watch your ticket system and deal with support issues as they come in.

If you’re not in support, you’re fooling yourself with the importance of your email on a daily basis4.

Sorting Tasks Based on Energy

One of the final keys is that I sort my tasks based on the energy I have. Being focused on energy is why I leave emails until Tuesday afternoon or Friday. Those are the times I’m in Manager mode. I have coaching calls so my time between calls is never available for long focused work.

Between calls, I get up and walk around. Talk to the kids and deal with admin stuff like email. Those days it doesn’t matter if I scatter myself because I’m in Manager mode and those are manager tasks in my business.

If I have big focused tasks to do, I schedule them first. Email is always at the end of the day if it’s on other days because it’s a scattered task and saps the deep work right out of you.

Make sure you’re planning your day and putting your high energy tasks in the right blocks in your schedule.

How Your Language Makes excuses

One of the biggest ways you can trip yourself up with your quest for more focused work is how you talk about your work.

We say things like “I have to…” but what we mean is that someone else expects this of us and we’re not going to disabuse them of the notion. This lie of language is how you get to letting clients text you at all hours.

It’s your own dumb fault, and the way you talk about it reveals why it happens. I’ve had precisely two clients persist in texting me. That’s two clients in 10 years. They both tried it for around two weeks and then got the hint that I ignored the messages because I never responded.

I never responded via text. I always waited till my next email block and responded via email or put it in our project management system. Then I listened to other consultants whine about their clients texting, but when you respond you train them that it’s okay to text. When you tell yourself that “I have to respond when they text.” You’re telling yourself that you’re not comfortable with my favourite word.

Your New Favourite Word is NO

My favourite word is NO. That’s what you’re saying to clients when you don’t reply to text messages. You’re telling them NO I don’t do communicate that way.

When you ignore their email because all communication is supposed to be in your PM system, you’re telling them NO we don’t email to have a successful project.

If you want to do awesome work, that’s respected in your field and your clients love, you need to guard your time by saying no to distractions.

Make NO your favourite word.

Decide what you’re going to suck at

The final thread that ties large blocks of focused time all together is knowing you’re going to suck at some stuff. In November 2017 I had a video course to do, a bunch of client projects, some writing, a few books to finish off. To say I was busy was an understatement. Every day I asked myself one question:

What is the one thing I can do this week so that all my other tasks become easy or irrelevant?

It wasn’t the client projects or the books. I kept coming back to that video course, so I took a whole week and did nothing but finish the video course. I didn’t answer email or update my PM systems. I only scripted, recorded, did slides for…that video course.

Not one client said a thing. No one said anything about email response times. No one cared about the lack of PM updates.

So my ‘sucking’ amounted to…nothing.

Most of the time the same thing will happen to you. You can decide to suck at something and absolutely nothing bad will happen about it. The only thing that will be an issue is your thoughts on sucking. You’ll feel bad because you’ve convinced yourself that you’re so much more important than you are.

Yes, you do amazing work that’s highly valuable, but the world doesn’t revolve around you. It’s likely that if you decide to suck at something for a week or two, not one person will notice. You’ll get lots of work done and then have a clear schedule to work on other stuff with focus.

Your clients are not sitting there waiting with breath held for your next update.

Further Reading

If you want to dig even deeper than the 10k words I’ve written on focused work, then I have some book recommendations.

Two of those books are going to be covered with the members of the site. Join me by getting The 8 Week Business BootCamp along with a year of membership to the site and you can dig deep into what it means to work deeply.

photo credit: s3a cc


  1. I’m writing a book that will be available free to Members all about how I use a notebook and analogue systems for my project management. 
  2. That’s Ulysses and Scrivener. 
  3. Yes we homeschool our only school-aged kid. 
  4. Yes once in a while you do need to check your email a bit more but that’s like once a month for most people not once a week or worse yet every stupid day.