Reclaim Your Time: 7 Online Tools to Stop Distractions

When I first quit my job to be a freelancer, I got distracted by the littlest things; the vibration of my phone, email notifications, and social media updates. Everything was vying for my attention. Here are the tools and apps I use to reclaim my time!

Today’s post comes from writer Melanie, who quit her day job to start her own freelance business. She shares more of her journey on her blog, Dear Debt.

When I first quit my job to be my own boss, I was so excited to take back the one thing that I felt was stolen from me: my time.

After all, one of the biggest perks of being a freelancer is that you set your own schedule and work when you want. I was so excited and thrilled with the seemingly endless possibilities.

I was ready to devote an extra eight hours a day to my work and was ready to get down to business.

How to eliminate distractions

But I had a rude awakening when I first quit. I found it hard to focus and stay on task. I loved my work, but was confronted with the endless possibilities, which hampered my focus and creativity.

It was the first time in my life I didn’t have someone watching over me or telling me what to do. I’ve always been self-disciplined and a hard worker, but this was a new challenge.

I got distracted by the littlest things; the vibration of my phone, email notifications, and social media updates. Everything was vying for my attention. I realized that when you work for yourself, alone at home, you need to be incredibly disciplined and structured in order to stay focused and actually get things done.

After months of trial and error, I finally found ways to harness my productivity and reclaim my time. Before, I was wasting hours of time and wondering where the day went.

Now, I get more done in less time and know exactly where I spent my time. As a solopreneur, your currency is time, and time is money. You have the flexibility to do things you want, when you want — but in order to do that, you need to focus and work, before you let the fun stuff in.

If you need to reclaim your time, here are 4 different online tools I use which have helped me:

1. RescueTime app

Have you ever had one of those days where time just seems to waste away and at the end of the day you are left wondering, Where did the time go and what did I do today?. I had plenty of days like that when I first started out.

To help me truly understand where my time is going, I’ve recently started using RescueTime. RescueTime is an online tool that tracks your web activity and provides reports on how much time you spend on certain websites.

So, if you’ve ever wondered how much time you’re “wasting” on social media, this tool will give you an accurate picture. RescueTime also gives you a productivity score and compares your data to your previous work days.

This tool has given me an accurate picture of how I’m spending my time. If I don’t like the results, I know where I need to cut back or spend more time. It’s like Mint.com, but for time.

Screen shot 2015-01-21 at 4.04.39 PM

I believe you should track your time as much as you track your money, and this tool helps me do just that. Their free version works very well, but they have a premium option which helps you block certain sites and set up reminders when you are spending too much time on a certain area.

Like Mint.com, some of your time may be uncategorized. In this case, it’s all my blog commenting and reading! But you can customize your account to make it work for you.

2. Google Calendar time journal

If you’re looking for a low-tech version of RescueTime, or prefer to have more control over your schedule, consider creating your own time journal.

A time journal is when you keep track of exactly how you are spending your day — whether it’s with a digital calendar or paper planner. Moleskins are vary popular options for this too.

By using Google Calendar, you can color code your work activities and see how much time you are spending on certain tasks. This can be helpful if you’re wasting too much time on social media, or if one client’s work is taking up the majority of your time.

You’ll also be able to see which clients and projects are taking up the bulk of your day’s work, and if you’re getting paid enough to properly compensation for those time slots. Like I mentioned, time is money, so you have to make sure you’re spending the correct amount of time on client work in proportion to what you’re charging them.

If you see that a certain project is taking up much more time than it should, it’s time to either raise your rates or talk to your client about working on something else.

3. FocusBooster timer

One of the best things I’ve done for my productivity is to use a timer. A timer helps me stay focused and keeps me on track. Not only that, but a timer can help you increase your pay rate.

Let’s say you get paid $50 for a blog post, but it takes you 4 hours to complete it. At that point, your hourly rate is only $12.50 — which is very low for being self-employed (remember, you’re paying taxes, insurance, and other expenses off the top).

By setting a timer for one or two hours, you can ensure that you’re getting your desired hourly rate, because you understand how long this type of job will take, and have previously quoted a rate based on this information. If I’m spending so much time on one task, I’m missing out on opportunities to complete other projects. Meaning, I’m also missing out on pitching more and seeking higher paying work.

focusbooster app

The best timer I have found is FocusBooster, which uses the Pomodoro technique to enhance productivity. The Pomodoro technique states that we work best in spurts with frequent breaks. FocusBooster’s timer is set for 25 minutes, then calls for a 5-minute break.

I find this helpful to stay on task and to ensure that I take breaks (because let’s be honest, there are days when I realize I haven’t eaten or taken a break in hours.) I love the simplicity of the tool and how it keeps me focused on the work ahead — having a set timer with a limit really urges me to focus.

4. SelfControl app

In the ever-connected digital world we live in, social media has become a part of our daily lives, for better or worse. As a solopreneur, I often login to social media with innocent intentions. I’ll just post a few updates and check out what’s going on, I think, and then 45 minutes later I don’t know what happened with my time.

Sound familiar? As useful as social media can be for propelling our businesses, it can also be a rabbit hole that steals your time. If you find yourself constantly being tempted to check social media, and it’s hindering your productivity, consider getting an app that blocks those sites for a certain period of time.

I personally use the SelfControl app, which lets me block whatever sites I want for a specific duration. Usually when I want to really focus and get to writing, I block Twitter and Facebook for three hours.

Unfortunately, SelfControl app is only for Mac users. So if you don’t have a Mac, and are a Google Chrome user, consider getting the Chrome extension, StayFocused, which can accomplish similar things.

5. Focus@will music app

Another tool that helps keep me focused, is the music library from focus@will. It’s a service that’s backed by science to help you make the most of your time, be more productive, reduce distractions, and retain more information while you’re working or studying.

They offer around 10 different “stations” of music, from acoustic, to upbeat, to sounds from a coffee house. The productivity tracker allows you to view your productivity levels for the past week, along with matching your energy level to the right kind of music.

focus@will

You can start out by trying their 15-day free trial, with an extra 10% off as a referral bonus from Careful Cents! Once you see how much it helps you focus, you’ll want to upgrade to the premium version (which is only $49 per year, or $5.99 per month).

It’s a favorite here at Careful Cents, and Carrie has written about using as part of her daily routine.

6. Asana task management

I would be lost without Asana! In fact, one of the reasons I messed up with a client recently was because I didn’t put the assigned task into Asana to remind me.

It’s something all of the Careful Cents team members use too (Carrie requires it!) and I use it everyday to manage freelance gigs, assignments, deadlines, ideas, and even notes on certain projects.

Nothing derails your productivity and focus more than constantly being in your inbox, and Asana allows you to interact with everyone via the same thread (so there’s no back-and-forth), and it keeps your email inbox clear for the important things.

What I like most is that you can attach Word or Google docs, PDFs, images, and any other type of file, to a specific project thread. Set recurring or one-time project deadlines, and check off the tasks as you complete them.

The service is free for up to 5 team members, and then costs $21 a month and continues going up as you add people to your projects.

track time quote

How to reclaim your time

As a solopreneur, you wear many different hats and there are so many things vying for your precious attention. It’s easier than ever to get distracted, but time is money, and when you work for yourself, this fact is especially true.

By reclaiming your time and being your most productive self, you can effectively increase your pay rate and open up yourself to new opportunities.

Conversely, by wasting time, you are lowering your pay, and diminishing your creative energy. Use these tips to get started and learn how to be the boss of your own time.

What other tools or tips do you have for reclaiming your time? Have you used these tools?

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10 comments

  1. Jacqueline says:

    Love this information; downloading SelfControl right now.

    The biggest boost to my productivity has been implementing the 90-minute block rule. I schedule my day in 90-minute work blocks, and during that time don’t allow myself to access social media or jump on email or skip from one task to another. Then I take significant breaks – maybe 30 minutes or so – in between.

    By mapping my day that way, I’m both making myself focus on the task at hand (and being aware of how much time I’m spending on each piece I’m writing) as well as making sure I do things that are healthful, like eating meals (!), walking outside with my dog or, if I need it (I have a health condition), just lying in bed for 30 minutes and watching something on the DVR. That way my 8-10 hour days has 6 solid hours of production. I set the timer and it gives me realistic goals with rewards.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/opinion/sunday/relax-youll-be-more-productive.html?pagewanted=all

  2. Ashleigh says:

    Focus@will looks pretty awesome. I’ve been using Noisli (which is free), so at first I wasn’t even going to look into focus@will since that costs money. But now that I’ve explored their site, I see that focus@will seems to be more science-backed, tailored to your needs, and less random than Noisli. Thanks for sharing this resource!

  3. Kayla says:

    Great tips! I think I’m going to check out RescueTime and the timer too. I do find myself getting distracted by social media sometimes, but my biggest distraction is reading other blogs when I should be working or writing. Opps!!

    • Melanie says:

      RescueTime has been so helpful. For example, I now know I logged 52 hours on the computer last week, and spent 11 hours on email! 8 on social media. I don’t like those numbers (even though there was a ton of work in there), so I want to be more mindful and spend time where it matters (making me money!).

  4. Ramona says:

    I love the idea of using productivity tools, even if I ignored them for many years. They allow me to make the most of my working hours (which are pretty few as a new mom). Thanks for sharing these, they are all worth checking out.

  5. Steph says:

    These tips are awesome, thanks for sharing!

    I’ve read quite a few good things about the Pomodoro technique. I currently use toggl as a timer to help with my productivity – but focus booster looks pretty interesting so I think I’ll give it a try.

    I love using music to focus too! I usually listen to music with binaural beats (mostly via youtube) and I find this helps a great deal. Never heard of focus@will before reading this post – again something I’ll definitely have to try!

  6. Mollie says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! I just finished my third week in solopreneurship, and it’s comforting to know that a) feeling a lack of self-discipline in the beginning is 100% normal and not just me; and b) there are ways to tackle that problem. I will start looking into these suggestions right away, thank you!

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