Productivity, the buzzword of the 21st century.
In a world run on push notifications and drip coffee, making sure you get everything done is getting harder and harder to do. Everyone talks about productivity, and yet everyone still struggles with it. All I can do is give you what’s working for me and maybe throw a new tactic or two at you.
We all know that productivity tips and tricks are akin to checking is spaghetti is done by throwing it at a wall to see if it sticks. Let’s be honest: the spaghetti usually flops onto the floor, just like you and I when we overbook ourselves and our to-do list looks like a 5-year-old scribbled all over it.
Everyone is different. If you are really struggling to get stuff done, take a step back and look at what you are doing. Do you even like it? Is it actually contributing to your business? If the answer is no, start figuring out how to cut it out.
For all those things you said yes to though, here are some tactics that have helped me keep my life in check so far.
Skip ahead to what you want:
Phone a friend. Working on your own is all well and good, but you are way more prone to be distracted if you don’t have someone else keeping tabs on you. Sure, I am super good at putting my headphones in and buckling down, but sometimes getting started is wicked hard.
I’ve embarked on my freelance copywriter journey with a dear friend and fellow word-worker Janel Torkington. Although she’s based out of Barcelona (color me uber jealous), we are constantly pinging each other on Google Hangouts, checking in, celebrating wins, calming each other down when we fail. When we’re having a hard time getting focused we give each other time limits. Ok, in 30 minutes we’ll check back in. Sometimes that’s all you need.
If you don’t have a buddy find a group. I’ve joined the Unreal Collective, a mastermind accountability group. My cohort (isn’t that just an excellent word?) meet once a week to check in on progress and the weekly action items we set for ourselves. Think of the Unreal Collective as a group effort, working to uplift everyone in it to succeed in their projects.
Don't lie, you suck at juggling
Juggling is hard. It takes crazy hand-eye coordination and the moment you look away a ball is dropped. Read as: an overtly obvious metaphor for context switching.
Does your typical day look like this:
Check your email
Oh that’s hilarious and a great article, I’ll post it on Twitter
What a sweet idea for a blog post actually- let’s write an outline
Hey, an email!
Shoot I’m supposed to be doing client work. *spins around and starts writing*
Hey, an email!
Whoa whoa whoa that’s an even better idea for a blog post
Hey, an email!
It probably does. This kind of day is going to trip up your productivity before you even begin. The American Psychological Association has found that “even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time.” 40%! That 40% could be spent reading a book for fun, going to the gym, making dinner, or finding more clients!!
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’re awesome at multitasking either. None of us are. If you are doing multiple things at once your attention is split between all of them, which means lower quality work of everything you touch. It's the evil twin of the Midas Touch.
So stop juggling, jester
The question now is: how to combat context switching? Entrepreneur on Fire, a fantastic podcast, did an episode a ways back about theming your days. Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers has adopted this tactic, and pretty much every copywriter knows how successful Joanna is: really successful.
Theming your days is exactly what it sounds like. Take a step back from your crazy schedule and think about the general flow of your week. What sort of tasks do you need (really need, not just want) to accomplish in order to stay sane and move your business forward?
For me, my days look like this:
Mondays are my client nerd day because my brain is at its highest capacity then and can process data and information better. Wednesday is the best day for writing and deliverables because it gives me a buffer day to process all that research so when I sit down and write it’s awesome.
Fridays my brain is pretty shot, so why not meet people then? No reason to force myself unsuccessfully to do client work. Face to face over coffee is better. I’ve built two days of business building for myself to ensure I keep my own writing up and build my authority. That keeps the clients coming in.
The benefit of themed days is clear. The key is organizing your week that works the best for you.
Say, for example, my Monday tasks only take me 4 hours. I can’t then sit down and write a blog for myself, I’m done for the day! Wednesday I might have 10 hours of client work, but Thursday I only have 5 hours of business building to do. In the end, it all evens out to less than 40 hours a week. Glorious, and I’m not spinning my wheels trying to context switch all the time.
Bonus tip: Create a transition ritual
When you do switch between a project or task, come up with a transition ritual that refocuses you. Mine is getting up and washing some dishes or doing some jumping jacks. Yours might be to walk the dog or pour yourself a glass of water. A member of my Unreal Collective cohort, MV, suggested thinking of the transition ritual like the ginger between sushi. You need to cleanse your palate before taking the next bite.
Plan your tasks ahead of time
If you’re waking up in the morning and your brain is already racing about all the things you need to get done, this tip will help stop that spinning. Either the day before or on Friday at the end of the day, take the time to sit down and plan out what you need to do.
I always fill in my tasks for the next week on Friday. Of course, things are subject to change, but it helps me plan and organize so one day isn’t completely project-heavy and overwhelming. This helps you begin your day with a winning mindset.
Find your groove
This is a pretty quick tip. Find music that when your headphones are in your brain zeros in and starts churning. Make thyself a playlist or artist list that’s easy to get to so you don’t waste time trying to decide what tunes to put on that day.
You know it, go get it.
Go to the library
Working at coffee shops is great. You get to be around people, and I work from home so socialization is key to avoiding craziness. But (you knew there was going to be a ‘but’ there) when you need to focus or when your theme day/hours are telling you to sit down, turn off notifications, and get some deliverables done, GO TO THE LIBRARY.
We forget this wonderful place exists. No one will bother you. People have to be quiet. IT’S FREE and you can pick up a book on your way home.
Ok, so a couple tools
This is a shameless tactic to get you to go read another post of mine about the tools I use to keep my life in order. Read Tools To Make Your Freelancing Life Easier now.
In reality, productivity only comes when you allow yourself to settle into whatever natural groove works for you. If you need to wake up slow, do yoga, drink 3 cups of coffee and clean the house before you get any real work done, do that. Do what works but take the time to figure that out.