A recent study of U.S. professionals found that 96% of people want more flexibility in how and when they work. And I understand why. Being accountable only to yourself is one of the best feelings in the world. Yet flexibility and personal autonomy come at a price.
Without discipline, that same “personal accountability” can be a lot like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.
When I first transitioned into copywriting full-time I knew there would be challenges ahead. What I didn’t know was that the biggest challenges would come from my own bad habits.
Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of my life surrounded by parents, professors, and managers. Whether in the classroom or the office, there was always someone around to keep me accountable to deadlines and tasks.
But now, that person was me. And I quickly discovered just how poor of a job I was doing.
Days slipped by. Deadlines started to stack. And my client list stagnated. My business was turning into a sinking ship. And there was no one to blame but myself.
How I discovered all the bad habits stealing my time and killing my business
I first came across RescueTime when I was looking for a way to keep better track of my work hours. Specifically, I wanted to categorize and quantify the time I was spending on work-related calls and emails versus time spent on actual copywriting.
But once I started to dig into my personal data, it was clear my issues went beyond just spending too much time in my inbox. My RescueTime dashboard painted a picture of a whole slew of issues I was completely unaware of, such as:
- I had become an incorrigible perfectionist and was taking forever to do simple tasks. Left unrestrained, I tended to sit around endlessly pondering alternatives to words like “incorrigible” or “pondering”. Even simple emails were taking me forever to write.
- I’d become a victim of “distraction culture”. I worked on many devices, and each device had its own system of notifications that peppered away at my concentration. Worse, I sometimes never got back into a flow after an interruption.
- I’d built a bad habit of taking “5-minute breaks” to check messages or read the news. These breaks would happen much too regularly and were almost always longer than 5 minutes, turning my day (and focus) into Swiss cheese.
- My daily schedule and my actual energy levels weren’t aligned. I wasn’t scheduling my day very efficiently. There were “peaks and valleys” in my productivity that I hadn’t been aware of until I started seeing them—or their effects—in my productivity reports. The longer I used RescueTime, the more obvious they became.
In short, a literal boatload of time was being “killed” each day for no reason. As a freelancer or a business owner, time is money. Marketing is very much a numbers game. Yet here I was throwing my time to the wolves!
I needed to take drastic action.
Knowledge is power (but it’s still painful to see how you’re wasting time)
With a clear albeit quite distressing picture of how I was spending my time, I decided to take action. First on the chopping block were the distractions that provide zero value but still seem to take up time.
Most of us have guilty pleasure sites (especially certain social sites that will go unnamed). I’m no different. But every time I saw them taking up space on my RescueTime dashboard, I winced.
All of a sudden I had a “Social Media Category” highlighting the 30 minutes I spent reading a friend’s lengthy status update in bright red. Having time-sinks like this visualized for you will really make you rethink your priorities!
So I started using FocusTime to block them entirely during the workday. Whenever I’d mindlessly browse to those pages, I was immediately blocked and reminded of why I didn’t want to spend my time there.
Eventually, I almost forgot those distracting sites existed. “Out of sight, out of mind,” as they say.
Next, I made an action plan for the other sites I wanted to keep around, but only in moderation. For example, I use LinkedIn for outreach and networking. However, it can still be a distraction when you get sucked into the main feed.
So I set up a RescueTime Alert to send me a notification whenever I spent too much time on LinkedIn. I also set up a RescueTime Goal to track my progress and provide little psychological rewards (or kicks) whenever I met (or missed) my standards.
The longer I used RescueTime to guide my behavior, the more I saw clear patterns emerging in my productivity reports.
There’s a feature that lets you isolate your data by “Time of Day” to see your (usually unconscious) patterns over a period of weeks or months. When I looked into this I learned many things I hadn’t known about myself:
1. Apparently, I was a morning person
My daily patterns showed productivity spikes at 8am if (and only if) I started by 7am or earlier. That didn’t always happen, so I rearranged my entire daily routine to make sure it did.
The most dramatic change was abandoning breakfast entirely! Maybe for other people, it’s “the most important meal of the day,” but it only gets in my way
2. Getting momentum early on boosts my productivity throughout the day
To make the most of my early morning energy, I started putting away the noise-making gadgets the night before and scheduling an all-day FocusTime session first thing in the morning to block online distractions that threatened my concentration.
3. Absolutely nothing productive ever happens at 2pm
My “Time of Day” patterns were demonstrating regular productivity collapses at 2pm. No amount of coffee in the world could counter the slump, so I learned to treat 2pm like the black hole of the workday. Why fight your natural tendencies?
Yes, I might have learned all these things about my work habits if I’d spent time observing myself for a few weeks (assuming I observed “honestly”). But would I have done it in time to help my business?
The results: Better routines. Stronger work habits. And a thriving business.
What I thought would be a simple exercise in understanding how much time I was spending on email ended up completely rearranging my workday.
In the end, RescueTime became so much more than just time tracking software.
It became my accountability partner and personal trainer, highlighting where I was being inefficient with my day and steering me back towards productivity.
But more than that, it empowered me to take back control of my time and energy and be my own supervisor. In just a few weeks, I had built entirely new routines and habits that helped me find, protect, and effectively use the most important “superpower” of the internet age: pure concentration.
This led to not just more productive days, but also helped me find the type of client work I needed to transform my copywriting business from sinking ship to self-sufficient.
RescueTime was a big part of this process, which is why I’m always quick to recommend it to friends and colleagues. It turns out that “rescuing time” also has a way of rescuing money, energy, and a lot of other things that we have a way of leaving lying around that we maybe shouldn’t.
Xavier Galindo is a Los Angeles-based freelance copywriter (and avid RescueTime user) who specializes in B2B healthcare marketing. Get in touch with him here.