As a freelancer it’s very easy to fall into bad habits – working from home, lots of different projects and being my own boss means long days of low productivity, and no clear division between work time and free time.
Since I left my “proper” job in 2009 I’ve been trying a host of ways to get things done – these are the things I’ve learnt work for me.
1. Find Your Work Hours
It’s taken me a while but I’ve found I am super productive early in the morning – irrespective of how tired I am. I had several years working on a radio breakfast show so getting up at the crack-of-dawn doesn’t terrify me, but the point is – find your optimum working hours. I know people who prefer to work in the evening or overnight … whatever works for you, make sure you stick to it
2. Go to Work
One of the perks of working in an office is the division between hometime and work time. I miss the walk to work, those few minutes (in my case) to prepare for the day. Even wearing work clothes changes your mindset.
This is lost when you stumble from bed to sofa in your PJ’s.
Eventually I plan to have a home-office, but for now I have a rented desk not far from where I live. I’ve also found co-working spaces, sneaky corners in coffee shops and other locations really handy.
In short, don’t work jn the room where you live.
3. Reboot in-between tasks
This is something I’ve only recently discovered, and is good for both me and my laptop.
I reboot my computer when I change projects. My jobs tend to be very varied, infographic design one minute, and planning social media training the next – so it’s good to have that mental refresh.
Plus. I’m often dealing with big files and my laptops not a robust as it used to be – so a reboot is a useful way to stop it grinding to a halt!
4. Next Task Approach
This is a trick I leaned during my time working for Think Productive. Don’t make endless to-do lists of tasks that can’t be done because they depend on something else happening first. Ie: No point adding Book Plane Tickets to my todo list, when you haven’t Booked Holiday yet.
I only have tasks I can achieve on my list, and replace them with the next doable task when it’s completed!
5. Keep a separate project list
As well as a todo list, I also have a list of all my current projects, and the stage they’re at. I use a great Ipad app for this, called Sticky Notes. It’s essentially a series of pages with digital post-it notes. I have 2 pages:
Page 1 contains post-its of 4 colours
Each post-it contains my Job Code, job title and the price I’ve quoted for it.
- PINK – currently working on
- GREEN – confirmed projects but not currently working on
- YELLOW – awaiting initial meeting
- BLUE – random projects I need to decide on
This page helps me manage my workload – I like to have 4 “currently working on” with between 4 and 8 “confirmed but not currently working on”.
Page 2 contains a host of those projects that I’ve been contacted about, but nothing’s come of them yet. I keep them there to chase up when I get a moment, or can refer to if they do spring back in action.
6. Filter and Auto colour emails
Whilst I use Sparrow on my Iphone, I try to do most of the email management on my PC. where I run Postbox. I have 2 main email addresses, with a few random ones too, so it’s a good place to see everything together.
As with most email systems, you can set up filters. Whilst I heavily use filters for social media notifications (and have a regular email reminder to check the folder every few days) the most useful thing helps me deal with those “bacon” emails that come in, ie software updates, service announcements and other content that isn’t spam, but isn’t vitally important right now
I’ve simply built up a filter that turns the text of these emails (in the inbox) pale grey. They’re still there, and I’ll tend to check and delete a few times a day, but they’re in the background when I’m focusing on work.
7. Turn of notifications
I’m a pretty heavy social media user but only recently have decided to turn off all notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Instead, I allow myself to check these accounts whenever I want, so that Social Media and Email Tension doesn’t build up. I’m getting a lot more done and am more relaxed about having long stints of working, knowing I can check them whenever I want.
8. Check email on the hour every hour
I try (although I do fail at this often) to only check my email every hour, on the hour. It’s an easy time to remember, and means I can focus on work for an hour before it comes round again. I have Postbox open at all times, with notifications turned off, and simply switch to that window to see new messages. It takes a second if there’s nothing in there, and with filtering and colouring (as above) it’s easy to see the important emails first.
9. No meeting days – 3 a week
I’ve learnt that I much prefer having a full day to work, without having to dart out for midday meetings. To this end, I try to keep at least 2/3 days a week free from all meetings. On a Sunday night I’ll check the next 2 weeks and add all-day calendar events to the days with no meetings – with the intention of keeping these free.
Similarly, I prefer meetings first thing in the morning or last thing in the day – it means I still get a good few hours to get stuff done!
10. One collection point – Evernote
I’ve spoken at length about my love for Evernote. It’s getting better with every update. I use it as my central management system – where I send everything.
As emails come in, I’ll smart-grab sections of text (WIN-A) instead of forwarding emails and archive the email.
I go through my RSS feeds twice a day in the Feedly app – and save a bunch of images and articles into Evernote
I store all my briefsheets (single documents I use to store information about individual projects, including those bits of text from emails)
I also send all my draft images there, and email the client from within Evernote.
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