Controlled Connectedness for Creative Freelancers

Most freelancers have the idea that we need to be connected 24/7. The phone, email, social media, IM, Skype — if we believe the media, we can’t abandon any of these channels even for a moment.

Maybe, while you’re in a meeting, you can set your status to Busy or switch your phone to voicemail. But otherwise, you’d better be available. Checking email or tweeting from the delivery suite/island getaway/nursing home? De rigueur.

We explain our desire to be connected in two ways:

  • Clients need to be able to contact us.
  • If we’re not connected, we might miss something important.

With the economy hanging by a thread, the first reason carries some weight. Our clients need to be able to contact us, because if they can’t, there are a zillion other available freelancers lining up for the job. Contactability is the first rule of client service.

The idea of not missing something important — whether it’s the release of that new device or service, an industry development that will affect your clients, or news of a volcanic ash cloud that’ll put paid to your plans to attend next week’s conference — is also pressing for those who work with technology. We’ve been conditioned to expect frequent change. We know we need to ride those waves, and the key is to know about them as soon as possible.

The question is: do these explanations really justify our unceasing connectedness?

Coming in second

The problem I’ve found with both these ideas is that they put us regular human beings second in our own lives. They make the focus of our attentions — the most important things — something uncontrollable, and beyond ourselves.

Both these ideas imply that we come second to companies, to clients, or to a server on the other side of the world. By “we,” I mean our private lives, our psyches, our free time, freedom of choice, health, and so on.

They also imply that any focused brain-work we need to do (and if you’re a developer, designer, or other creative, that’s probably the bulk of your work) comes second to these external whimsies.

Putting connectedness ahead of the quality of your product, or your life? Sounds dubious to me.

Controlled connectedness

By “controlled connectedness”, I’m not talking about allocating half an hour each morning to email, and only checking it again at day’s end. I’m talking about a philosophy of work that restricts connection to certain modes, and certain purposes. Your purposes.

Instead of scheduling “downtime,” schedule “uptime.” Make the creative work the focus, and the communications secondary.

From a creative standpoint, I find it wholly necessary to shut off the chatter of others, and submerge myself in my work — whether it’s a fifteen-minute task, or a five-hour task. Not only does it make for better output, but it makes the process of creation infinitely more enjoyable.

I still use the Web for research during that “downtime”, but I remain disconnected from realtime communications — from interruptions that can throw my creative train of thought off the rails. And I can achieve a level of focus that hitherto was unimaginable. Now it’s the norm — as is better quality output.

Of course, I can reconnect whenever I like. But this approach makes me and my work the priorities of my working life. And my clients? They’re happier with the products they’re getting, too.

What’s your approach to connectedness? Can you let go of your connection to clients, peers, contacts, and colleagues to focus on creative tasks?

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • georgina laidlaw

    Hey Gene,
    I pretty much connect on a needs basis. If I want to chat with someone, I hop on IM, usually with an Invisible status so no one else grabs me; if someone else want to chat with me, we set up a time to do so. If a task involves lots of email, I’m on email; if it doesn’t, I shut it down. If I’m doing something, I let calls go and call people back when I’ve finished the task — which may be in 8 hours’ time.

    I don’t work on many time-critical, next-five-minutes kinds of projects (or have panicky clients). But in such cases, you might be able to segment off those clients — give them an “emergency” contact method that you know you need to respond to. That way, you can avoid being distracted by anything that’s not an actual emergency.

    Hope that helps, Gene?
    :)
    Georgina