One challenge I faced when I turned freelance was learning how to work efficiently without the foundations that come with being an employee. The rhythmic commute, punctuation of meetings and watercooler chat. There have been tons of good productivity blogs as we approach the anniversary of lockdown 1 in the UK.
Personally, I had developed an effective new routine well before the pandemic. One thing that really helped to set limits on my paid working time was voluntary commitments outside of my business. They remain on hiatus and so I have filled that time – and leisure time with more paid work than I would usually take on.
Speaking with other business owners I have realised that others are in this situation too. General economic uncertainty has also meant that some people have event taken on less familiar or motivating work too. I have met several very new business owners who were made redundant from permanent roles during the pandemic.
Here is how I get the most from my day and keep paid working hours reasonable:
I write my to do list the night before. It is often incomplete, but the action helps me to draw a line under today. The omissions tend to pop into my head later when I am relaxing. Since I lock my laptop away when I leave my office for the day, I just email myself. I see the bits that need to be added at the top of my inbox first thing.
I tend to get engrossed in some types of work and despite being very organized meetings can creep up on me. I write them up on the whiteboard above my desk, so I see them when I go into my office. If I need to change clothes for it, I will also get stuff out the night before and hang them in my office.
I also try to stay in firm control of my calendar. Lunch will be booked in to create some down time during the day. I also avoid back-to-back meetings, particularly if they are completely unrelated. My brain needs time to switch, and the next meeting is always more comfortable with a loo break or hot cup of tea.
Notifications are OFF on my phone. I have turned off audio and visual app alerts on my mobile because I only have one device for personal and business. Mostly an alert is personal or business but not urgent. If it is urgent full stop people tend to text or call so I have no FOMO. I have set times to scroll purposefully and aimlessly.
“Pomodoro” does not work for me. Most of my tasks do not fit into such short bursts. Slicing my day like this makes me more anxious than the size of my to do list. I tend to block fairly long periods of time on data analysis or modelling – usually in the afternoon when my brain is well awake. This is my afternoon treat – see below!
I put off doing certain things too, despite the success of most projects being contingent on them. I get stressed because I have not done them, and I will have made next week harder than necessary. I “eat the frog” and do these jobs first thing.
Sometimes work is thought and not execution, which I do not need a desk for. I may combine thinking with walking or doing the dishes. This is a triple whammy benefit: a change of scene is good for the brain, home life gets a look in too, work gets done.
My brain tells my eyes when it has had enough. When I need to zoom in on a spreadsheet to see it or words swim on the screen it is time to call it a day. A few years back I used to push on, not knowing how unproductive that was. Now, going back the next day I find I can power through what I had left much more quickly.
The to do list is both my best friend and worst enemy. The thing is if you place everything that you need to accomplish on one it instils fear which can lead action paralysis and heighten anxiety. I first made this change for my personal life admin.
Take laundry – washing and ironing are never finished, right? They are tasks to be kept on top of by regularly dealing with that has built up. Better to take stuff like this off the to do list, but make sure there is a dedicated time in your week to tackle. That slot can be moved or occasionally skipped. But generally, they are habitual.
The sorts of business tasks that I have put in this bucket are: hard drive backups, business reading, website maintenance, writing stuff like this. There are not any fewer tasks but building in time for some of them and striking them from the list can make it feel like there is less outstanding.
These tips are not hacks about doing less or more. I think the trick is to help your mind to feel that it is in firmer control. If you do that, you cut the stress, procrastination, and faffing. You can get more done in less working time.
Credit for part of the title ‘work well’ goes to the wonderful Leapers community.
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© Jo Gordon Consulting Ltd 2021