15 Minute Freelancer

79. A productivity hack for busy freelancers (with Bonnie Harrington)

October 07, 2022 Louise Shanahan, Bonnie Harrington Episode 79
15 Minute Freelancer
79. A productivity hack for busy freelancers (with Bonnie Harrington)
Show Notes Transcript

Regular listeners know that I love hearing how other freelancers stay organised – if you do too, I think you'll enjoy this episode.

Bonnie Harrington, freelance writer, host of Tomato Tuesdays, and Pomodoro enthusiast joins me to discuss:

  • The life-changing magic of the Pomodoro technique
  • Using Pomodoros for time tracking so you can charge correctly for future projects
  • Pomodoro co-working for accountability, networking and connection
  • Bonnie's favourite tools and systems for performing at your best when you work alone.

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Find out more:
Tomato Tuesdays: wordsbybonnie.comAM session or PM session

Say hi to Bonnie:
Website: wordsbybonnie.com
LinkedIn: Bonnie Harrington
Twitter: @_wordsbybonnie
Instagram: @wordsbybonnie

Say hi to Louise:

Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.

LinkedIn: Louise Shanahan
Twitter: @LouiseShanahan_
Website: thecopyprescription.com

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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack-sized guide to being your own boss and building a business and life you love. I'm your host Louise Shanahan. My LinkedIn bio says I'm a freelance health copywriter. But for the next 15 minutes, I'll be tickling your ears with practical strategies, behind-the-scenes stories, and nuggets of wisdom so you can create a freelance business that works for you. Whether you're just starting out or you've been self-employed for a while, I'll be right here with you to help you navigate the ups and downs of freelancing life. So grab a coffee relax and join me for 15 minutes of freelancing fun. Don't forget to hit subscribe.

Louise:  Hello, everyone, Louise here, now you know I love a little productivity hack. Well, I don't love the word hack, actually, I should say, but I do love being organised. And I especially love hearing about how other people stay organised and productive and I have a feeling that many listeners do too. So I'm sure you're going to enjoy this episode with my guest today, Bonnie Harrington, who is a freelance writer Pomodoro enthusiast and host of Tomato Tuesdays, which I think will become clearer as our conversation goes on. Hi, Bonnie, welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer.

Bonnie: Hi, Louise, thank you so much for having me.

L: Let's start with Pomodoros, then, I'm sure lots of listeners will have heard of this, but some might not have and may be wondering what tomatoes have to do with productivity and being organised. So could you maybe give us an overview, what's the Pomodoro Technique and why do you love it?

B: Yeah, absolutely. Pomodoro Technique is a system for productivity, but also time management. It was invented by somebody who was Italian, the name Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato, that's why it's called that, because he used a tomato-shaped timer in his kitchen when he invented this technique. The idea is that you work for 25 minutes solidly without any interruptions on one task and then you have a five-minute break. And ideally, you do four Pomodoros in a row.

L: So it's quite simple, really. And I love how basic he is with coming up with the name like it's the timer and it's shaped like a tomato, so there we go.

B: Actually, one of the reasons I absolutely love it is because you don't need any gadgets, you don't need any apps, you just need you and a timer, it doesn't need to be on your smartphone, it could just be a kitchen timer. Actually, I think it was invented in the 80s so there wouldn't have been smartphone apps even when it was invented. So just the most basic equipment you need and then that that’s you, you’re ready to get productive and manage your time.

L: And do you think it matters that it's 25 minutes, could you do longer sessions?

B: Well, one of the reasons it works really well is because you get really focused in the 25 minutes and you really concentrate, and then you do four of those sessions. If you do longer it is exhausting and you get really tired. I would say 25 minutes is probably the max, but maybe you could change it to do only three Pomodoro and make them 35 minutes, for example. I do think it's up to you how you can customise it to fit you and how you work. But yeah, traditionally, it's 25 minutes sprints with a five-minute break.

L: Obviously I love bite-size actions, that’s why I've gone for a 15-minute podcast. I actually really enjoy using Pomodoro timer when I'm doing deep work sessions, because that allows me to kind of break the work down into small chunks, but still have breaks and work for a decent chunk of time overall. I'm wondering what kind of tasks do you use Pomodoro for, what do you think it's most useful for?

B: I mean, honestly, it's limitless. You can use it for so many different things. I personally like to use it to encourage me to do things I don't like to do. I don't like scheduling my content it is something that I will always put off because there’s always much more fun things to do. So I try to use Pomodoro time just focused, and it feels really quick to get those kind of tasks that I don't like doing done. I also like to use it for tasks that seem to drain my time, I can spend ages in my email inbox procrastinating and getting distracted and if I just say no, I've got one Pomo, let's blitz this email inbox and get this task done. It does feel like everything's a lot more manageable and achievable. People use it for so many different reasons. I also use it for time tracking. I know that if I sit down and I'm gonna write a blog that's 1500 words, for example, I can see that that's taken me six Pomodoro so I can get an idea of how long something's taken me.

L: I like that, that's a really good idea. 

B: Yeah, it's good for if you're putting together a proposal or quote, especially if you're somebody really guilty of going, oh, that'll take me half an hour and actually to do it properly, whatever it will be, like admin, I think I'll have to put the quote together, I'll send an invoice quickly, it'll take me 10 minutes, and actually to sit and do it properly, it will take longer. If you give yourself a Pomodoro time you can track how long things really do take you which I love. The other thing is that I can be guilty of, I love journaling, for example, and I can often think I haven't got time for that, even though I know that it's something I enjoy and something is really useful to me, I can think there’s no time in the day. But if I make my mindset to be, I'll do one Pomodoro of journaling. That's only 25 minutes and it feels really achievable and it feels like I have time to fit that in. It's a really limitless tool to use for productivity and time management.

L: That's really clever. I like the idea of using it for time tracking to see how long does it actually take me to do these tasks and then as a way to make time for things that are important to you but you maybe wouldn't think you could squeeze in normally. But this idea of using it to help you break down tasks, and maybe if you feel like you have writer's block or something, sometimes I use it for that. It’s quite helpful if I think I'm not getting on well with an article, I've done the research so there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to do this, let's just set the timer on for 25 minutes, and get the introduction done. Then once you've broken it down, you made it manageable.

B: It's sometimes just the thing that you need to get you started because a task can feel overwhelming, or you can be procrastinating for a bunch of different reasons. But if you just think I'll just do one Pomo, I'll just do this bit in this one Pomo, and suddenly you're going and it all is a lot easier.

L: Yeah, it makes it feel manageable, doesn't it. And I think it's quite nice, because it's giving you permission to have that downtime for five minutes in between. If you're someone who gets distracted easily or you end up scrolling on Twitter when you should be working, that's actually okay, you could still do that, but you've got your little five-minute slot for

B: That happens sometimes in the Pomodoro co-working session that I run. Sometimes we'll come back to talk about in our five-minute break and someone will say, I wasn't very good in that Pomo, I got really distracted and I messed around. And that that's okay, because with the Pomo situation you've only done it for 25 minutes. What I think can be a real-time drain, like Twitter, you can find an hour has just been swallowed up so easily by you not really doing anything. But if you're using the Pomodoro method, even if you've got distracted, that timer is going off in 25 minutes, it's going to jolt you back into what you're supposed to be doing. So it's not ideal, you should be focused ideally, but it means even any distractions are time limited.

L:  These co-working sessions that you mentioned, these are the Tomato Tuesdays, is that right? 

B: That's right. 

L: Tell us a bit more about how you use Pomos in a co-working setting?

B: It's honestly magic, I would be so lost without them. We meet on Zoom, and everyone joins and we chat for the first 10 minutes just while everyone's getting settled. In that first 10 minutes, I will ask people what they're working on today, because I'm nosy, but also because it's for accountability. There's something magic happens when you say I'm going to work on this today and then you just do that, it's great. It's also great for networking, because there'll be all different freelancers in the call, so you know there will be a photographer, there will be a copywriter, there'll be web developers, so we can all hear what we're up to. Then I set the timer, everyone is muted so we work in absolute silence for 25 minutes. Then the timer goes off for me, nobody else hears it, and then I unmute myself, and I've learned very gently to say, we've done our 25 minutes because people get really in the zone and it can like make them jump. Then we chat for five minutes and we discuss how we're getting on and we confess if we got distracted, which doesn't happen very often, but normally they've got loads done but the time has felt like it's gone really quickly. I make sure I put the timer on for the five-minute break so we don't get too distracted with chatting and then we go back into the 25 minutes again, we do that four times in total.

L: I think that's a nice distinction between the benefits of co-working in person versus co-working virtually. Because obviously in person, the advantages are that you're networking, getting out of the house, you might meet some potential clients. But with the virtual one, it's more about, well you still get some of those benefits, obviously, and you're seeing how others work, but it's that accountability, isn't it? Like you have to get some work done, because you're gonna have to report it to someone in 25 minutes. 

B: Exactly. You're not in trouble if you haven't done it, but there is something magic about saying, I only got this much done and next time I'm gonna do this instead, it's a really helpful conversation. And I always find if I'm co-working in person, I love co-working in person, it's really important thing to do, especially for the reasons you said, but I never get as much done as I think I'm going to. Because I will help myself to the free tea and coffee and I will wander around and look out the window and it's much more about meeting people and getting out of the house and it's brilliant. But with the virtual one I tend to get way more done and it's very productive, which is one of the reasons I love it.

L: Do you have any other favourite tools or systems that you would recommend to help freelancers stay organised, stay productive and perform at their best.

B: Well, I've got two things, and neither of them are very ground-breaking. But the first one is that I would really recommend everyone prioritises rest, I've noticed that if I rest properly, then I am better at my job. But it's taken me a long time to learn that lesson. I think I felt at the beginning of my freelancing career that I had to do everything and I had to be on all the time and actually prioritising rest means you're going to do a better job. Especially because freelancers tend to be creative types and the act of being creative can be exhausting. I read a really good quote the other day from Dolly Alderton, the novelist, and she said writing is really hard, it's like your brain is doing a crossword puzzle every time you write a sentence, so rest. My other non-ground-breaking piece of advice is to definitely outsource what you can outsource. Because if we were traditionally employed, we wouldn't be doing everything ourselves for that whole company, we would be doing our job really, really well. Personally, I use an accountant, and I've got software to help my client onboarding process, I work with a website developer to help me with my website. I think sometimes as freelancers we think that we've got to do everything, and we just don't. Looking after yourself and outsourcing and resting is the best way to do your job properly, I think,

L: That's such an important point. That's where the difference is between working for yourself and working in a more traditional work setting where you wouldn't actually be on all the time doing the concentrating work, you would have meetings, you would be wandering to someone else's desk, or maybe this is just my experience. It's okay if your workday is a little bit shorter as a freelancer because you're probably working more of those hours than if you were in a nine to five job and you've got time to go get coffees in between and things like that, there's a little bit more downtime, I think. One thing that I wanted to bring up with you is when I was looking at your website before we had this conversation, I noticed that you have a section that says I'd love to work with you if, and then you've got this lovely list of descriptions of your ideal client, you know, to do with the work that they do, the type of organisations that they are. But I also really liked that you'd added in there about them being responsive to emails and quick to pay and things like that. It thought that is such a lovely way to set some boundaries, but also set expectations about the way that you like to work. I imagine that helps you to stay organised and productive too, I wonder if you could say a bit more about that?

B: That little section was just because I know that it can be a little bit bewildering when you start working with a freelancer about how it all works, and what am I supposed to do and what do they do, and it can be a bit overwhelming. I thought if I could list things about people that mean that the relationship will work well if this happens, that's kind of the bullet point. I also really care about working with people that work in sustainable industries and work in creative, independent businesses so I wanted to make them feel welcome when they came to my website and that they were mentioned straightaway. And things like responding quickly to emails and paying invoices quickly, these things make relationships better and it means that everything's a lot more positive. I don't think anybody forgets to do those things on purpose, no client is going, oh, I'm just gonna ignore that email just to annoy that copywriter. But they’re definitely thinking, I’ve got loads of things to do, and then not maybe realising the consequences of not getting those feedback edits back to you in time or not getting those things done and sending over the information when they said they were. So those things are just there to prompt people and help people know how the whole thing works, while also making them feel welcome when they come to my website.

L: Yeah, I think it's nice to give people the benefit of the doubt isn't it, I'm sure they’re not trying to be tricky customers. I actually think when it comes to things like feedback, people are thinking, I want to give this the attention that it deserves so I'm going to come back to that later, and then that's what leads to the delay.

B: Exactly that, they're not trying to be difficult or hold up the process, it’s just life gets in the way. It's quite quick to put together and it will hopefully make the boundaries of the relationship very clear, literally from the first moment.

L: And I think the other important thing to remember with all of this is that no two freelancers are the same, no two clients are the same, so understanding how you work best and how your clients work best and setting out the systems and the expectations and communicating all of that from the start is always going to make things run a lot more smoothly, isn't it?

B: Yeah, that's the plan.

L: Thank you so much, Bonnie, that's been really interesting. I always love hearing how other people organise their work. If people want to join in on Tomato Tuesdays, or just come and say hi to you, where can they find you?

B: They can find me on Instagram and on Twitter, Words By Bonnie, can find me on LinkedIn at Bonnie Harrington. My website is where the links are to sign up for Tomato Tuesdays so you can find me at wordsbybonnie.com and there's a little link. Once you sign up, you'll get the Zoom link directly into your emails for every Tuesday morning or Tuesday afternoon, whichever one you pick. It'd be lovely to connect with people.

L: I'm definitely gonna get that in my diary and come along to one soon. 

B: You'd be very welcome. 

L: Thank you, and thank you to all of our listeners. As always, please, like, share, follow, support the podcast if you feel so compelled, it does make such a difference to help get the podcast into more people's ears who might find it useful. Until next time, happy freelancing.


You've been listening to 15 Minute Freelancer with me Louise Shanahan, freelance health copywriter and content marketer at thecopyprescription.com. If you enjoyed this, please hit subscribe, leave a review or share it with a freelance friend. And if you've got a freelancing question you want to be answered on the podcast, find me and say hi on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram. Thanks, and until next time, happy freelancing.