The human mind has an infinite capacity for distraction. Even the most committed freelancer / small business owner is less productive in a day than they might otherwise be if they could focus properly. That’s ok. Because after all, we’re human and not mindless drones.
While the human mind’s capacity for procrastination is infinite, there is one other thing that holds back our businesses. It’s called fake work and it’s become a problem for freelancers as much as it is for people working in “regular” jobs.
What is fake work when it’s at home?
I’m glad you asked because the chances are you’ve done it at least once today. Fake work is any task that we do related to our business with little benefit to the business. We think we are being productive. We think we’re helping ourselves work smarter, get more done, find more clients, or otherwise stay organised.
But they achieve very little while making us feel we achieved a lot today. We make time for them and sometimes they need to be done, but far too often they suck our energy and our time and reduce productivity. They also – and this is critical for freelancers – cost us money.
Fake work is not the same as procrastination which is task avoidance, allowing other things to distract us from difficult or dull tasks, and those we don’t really want to do because they cause us stress. No, fake work has a veneer of productivity that procrastination does not.
Freelancer Fake Work Examples
Conference calls / meetings
Every time you set up a meeting with a client, ask whether it is really necessary. A couple of years ago, I had a client who wanted me to check in 2-3 times per week. Completely unnecessary when writing a single 1,000 word article each week. They also did not want to pay for this time.
We eventually parted ways because I felt micromanaged by a client who never knew what they wanted. The brief would change halfway through or worse – once I’d completed the work as set in their defined-to-every-last-detail brief. The most common response I had to their feedback of my work was “it would have been good to know that before I started the work” as I stared at the brief, exasperated that they left out key details while covering all the tiny stuff.
Would it surprise you to know they spent a lot of time chatting to each other through Slack and planning, scheduling and collaborating on work through Trello? All this time they spent communicating, they could have used far more productively than they had. Another thing I hadn’t pointed out was how the first time they had me in a remote meeting, I sat at my laptop, arms folded, sighing in frustration as they argued among themselves.
Meetings and conference calls should set out to achieve something. But their time spent communicating was useless. Without an end goal, meetings for the sake of meetings, where nothing is decided and nobody is any the wiser at the end than they were at the beginning is one the most obvious fake work.
Reading Every Email
Are you going to buy that 3-day course in Dormouse conservation? What about learning to become a top level forex trader when you’re a social media marketer? Do you want a VR enabled video camera for your social media promotion? No? So why are you reading those emails? Emails are a drain on our time and we spend too much time reading and responding to them. This is now epidemic level in the world of employment. As a freelancer, all sorts of people are going to want you to sign up for their newsletter to try to sell you their stuff.
Nor is it just selling. If you’ve read 5 articles this week on how to increase your social media outreach (and the promise of a magic formula) and discovered you’re already doing all the tips, chances are email number 6 offering another magic formula isn’t going to tell you anything new.
There is nothing wrong with deleting an email unread. Nor is there anything wrong with unsubscribing. Tidy desk, tidy inbox makes a more productive you.
I’ve been guilty of this in the past. For the first few weeks of my SmugMug photography archive, I was checking stats several times per day. I’m going to excuse myself and say I was trying to figure out what measures could/would increase the traffic and see if there are any patterns. It seems not. Hits aren’t necessarily higher at the weekends although I do appear to receive a boost every evening UK time and overnight (presumably American audiences).
I’m out of the habit now that I’m finally happy with the site and the number of hits. I don’t want checking traffic to distract me from what I want to achieve – selling my photos as art prints, canvases, and gift products. That’s time I could have spent on Pinterest uploading mock ups or other images for people to see my work. Hits are nice, but finding people who will buy my photos are even better.
Is Social Media Fake Work?
I feel torn on this one. Every business needs social media. Now we’re into 2019 where customers in both B2C and B2B expect soft selling, engagement, and useful information along with genuine connection (called social selling) it’s more important than ever to use your social media wisely. Depending on what your business sells, you need any or maybe even all of the following: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, SnapChat, YouTube, Vimeo, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Vibr, and others that escape my memory now.
Social media becomes fake work when you spend too much time on sites that achieve nothing for your business. Social media becomes fake work when you’re pouring proportionally too much time into a site for very little outreach. Social media becomes fake work when you’re not reaching out to the right people in the right ways at the right times. Too many spend time growing their audience with little regard for whether they are attracting the right audience.
This is your chance to tell me: what fake work has held you back? What did you do to stop yourself going down the rabbit hole?