I did a bad thing over Christmas. Something I swore I’d never do. I started playing Candy Crush.
I’m not stupid enough to think that it’s something I can do for long periods, although it did get pretty addictive. Once it was back to work time I placed an embargo on anything computerised and sugary, and left it until after the working day was done (or perhaps a sneaky lunchtime session).
It did get me wondering though… WHY is it so addictive, and how can you utilise this into a freelance reward system?
It’s widely known that reward systems in more traditional employment environments work well, get the staff motivated and enhance productivity, but as a freelance there is no such system. Well… unless you promise yourself a nice chocolatey treat or a day off every now and then. You really aren’t in the position to give yourself a monetary bonus and let’s admit it, setting yourself rewards can feel pretty lame… “just… one… more… paragraph and I will allow myself that last lonely Jaffa Cake”
So back to Candy Crush.
From what I can see it is addictive because of a few simple points:
1. It gets your brain engaged on something other than the work (or other stuff) that you normally do. You move from automatic thought processes and sometimes, to be honest, complacency to a heightened state of concentration.
2. The graphics are shiny and colourful, and we seem programmed to like shiny things.
3. There is a high level of satisfaction, pushing through non-threatening fear of failure to complete a level and move towards another goal.
4. Along the way you gain points, see how well your friends are doing, and glow in the satisfaction of passing them on the way up the levels. You also help your friends out and they help you.
All very well…but how to translate this to a work based reward system for the lonesome freelancer?
1. First we need to make that brain switch from automatic to heightened. So have a ponder about what tasks you really enjoy, those things that either get you concentrating in a different way or use a different way of thinking. This is how you can shake things up in your working day. For example, when my workflow allows I can switch from editing work to genealogical research. I work completely differently on both and like to think that my genealogical work makes me think like Sherlock Holmes. I think in a way that is almost like connecting the dots or doing a jigsaw puzzle when I’m researching, while my editing work is meticulous and straight down the line. If deadlines allow, I can split my day in half, or even into segments, and the change of pace is refreshing, rewarding and productive. Despite what people may think you cannot edit for extended periods of time, that’s when you start to miss things. Mixing things up is great for productivity.
Another way to ring the changes, and make the day more rewarding, is to figure out what time of day you work best… use that time to do the tedious jobs you have to do. Then, you know that you will be rewarded by finishing those tasks when your brain is most receptive, and can happily move on to the more enjoyable aspects of your work.
All well and good… and pretty rewarding so far. But let’s continue.
2. What about the shiny gratification of Candy Crush? Well this one is easy…surround yourself with things you love. Sounds lame I know, but working in a dull atmosphere makes for dull working. Freelance work shouldn’t be dull. If you do a lot of computer work it’s bad for your eyes and your health. Sometimes I work in the kitchen… yes there’s coffee on tap, but I also have a window through which I can watch the birds that come to feed. Momentary looking away from the computer to watch the sparrows lifts my spirits and brings little rewards… I get to watch the progress of the fledglings as the year moves on. Find something that lifts your spirits as you work, be it your very own sparrow hedge, the sight of bright nail polish as you type (fluorescent orange polish will brighten anyone’s day) or a even a jar of candy sitting on a shelf waiting to be opened (the brighter the better).
Onto number three…
3. Pushing through fear of failure towards the attainment of goals. Scary stuff but very rewarding. In Candy Crush you try again and again then relish in the sugary sweetness of level fulfilment. As a freelancer your time is your own. I know, easy to say when you are not up against a deadline, but there are always times when you can sneak a half hour here and there. So, here comes reward time… Take that time, set a goal and go for it. It may be work related or it may be a leisure pursuit, but use free time creatively and reward yourself for jobs well done. Make it your time, but set yourself that goal. It doesn’t need to have a timescale, and if you don’t succeed the first time don’t beat yourself up. Try something that is challenging, that works your brain but is slightly scary. For example, I decided to brush up on my coding via codecademy.com before Christmas. It has levels…you do a little at a time, at a pace you set yourself and passing each exercise is rewarding. Once I’ve brushed up on what I know but rarely use, I’m moving on to other types of coding. All it takes is a spare 15 minutes to fit it into my schedule. If you fancy paying a modest sum for some training visit Lynda.com and see what’s on offer, or look elsewhere. Thanks to the internet, it not only allows us to work for others anywhere in the world, it allows us to learn from others anywhere. The only limit is your imagination. Rewards aplenty!
4. The final reward I’ve noted from our favourite colourful game is the community aspect. You see how well everyone is doing, ask for favours and give them in return. Yes, you get the satisfaction of bettering your peers, if that’s what floats your boat, but the main reward is collaboration. So the final way to gain rewards in work, akin to playing a game of Candy Crush, is to keep your sense of belonging. Join groups and societies and reward your working day by checking in on how everyone is doing. But make sure it’s a group you enjoy and a place where you feel free to express yourself. Life’s too short to listen to people whinging or trolling all the time. There is nothing more rewarding as a freelancer than talking to others and realising that you are not alone, that you are doing well and that you have someone to talk to. Ok, bagging that four figure (or five, or six) commission, being appreciated by your clients and going on a well deserved, no-internet access holiday is probably near the top too.
So there we go. Computer games can be addictive, but when you are able break down the reasons that make you keep going back again and again, you can use the principles to create a more rewarding working life. It’s never going to be foolproof, but if you can put the fun back into work, your productivity will be enhanced and you will be happier.
Or maybe I’ve got it wrong? If you’ve managed to read this whole piece let me know your ideas, don’t be shy… I have candy*
(*three whole levels were smashed while writing this blog)