I used to think I was fairly productive. That was before I worked for myself.
It’s true what they say; you never truly know yourself until you’re boss of your own time.
It has taken me two years (and a scary amount of procrastination) to get to grips with how I can become the most productive version of myself.
In the early days, it wasn’t unusual for me to procrastinate all afternoon, then have to get up at 5am to finish my work and meet deadlines. Or I’d waste time with non-essential tasks in the week, meaning I’d have to work through the weekend to get the real work done.
Now I’ve realized that getting on with the work means I can go for that walk at lunchtime, take the weekends off guilt-free and generally live a less-stressed existence. All of which makes me even more productive, go figure! Saying that, I’m certainly not immune to procrastination, and I have to admit there’s still the occasional 5am start and weekend work, but it’s much more balanced than it used to be. Here’s what worked for me…
1. Take Breaks
It sounds counter-intuitive but the more breaks you take, the more you get done.
When I previously worked in an office, I didn’t tend to take many conscious breaks. Most likely, you’ll get interrupted all the time anyway. When you’re working alone, it’s much easier to work for hours on end without stopping.
I’ve experimented with different time frames and I’ve found 45 mins work followed by 10 – 15 mins break works best for me. Any longer working and I start to get less productive, much longer on a break and it’s tough to get back into work after.
These are two really good apps for a structured break:
2. Track Time
Being conscious of what you’re doing and how you’re spending your time is helpful for stopping yourself falling into procrastination traps.
It’s not for everyone, but I find using a time tracker really helps keep me accountable and on task.
3. Do the Right Work at the Right Time
When I first started working for myself, I scheduled eight hours of client work a day – mistake!
Not only did I have no margin for error (say if I fell ill or the work took longer than I thought it would), I also didn’t realize that I wasn’t doing things at the right time of day.
Over time (and with help from the book Productivity Ninja) I’ve realized that I should do high-concentration tasks like writing blog posts and client work in the morning. After lunch I can do stuff like admin and social media marketing that requires less brain power.
4. Break Down Work into Chunks
A major source of procrastination for me is worrying that I have too much to do.
Breaking it all down into manageable chunks helps me to actually DO the work, rather than wasting time stressing about it.
5. Turn Off Distractions
I can’t turn off the internet, my work *is* the internet. But I can close my email and social media and concentrate for 45 minutes at a time. Most emails can wait 45 minutes and Twitter will carry on fine without me.
If you lack willpower, you can block certain sites while you’re working with Cold Turkey.