Like many freelancers I struggle to be productive.
It’s hardly surprising. No fixed timetable, no boss, no office, no hard division between our private time and our work time. I reckon I must spend an average of 9 or 10 hours in front of my computer a day. But I probably do a maximum of four or five hours serious graft in that time.
To a certain extent I am willing to accept that. I like checking my Facebook, commenting on a few photos and maybe toing and froing on one or two message streams. I don’t have any work colleagues after all, so this is part of my day’s social interaction. And as my mind takes a long time to wake up, I am also more than happy to kill the first half or full hour of the day reading Arsenal news, rather than cracking a whip over my own back.
Some light time wasting at the beginning of the day is enjoyable and part of the fun of not having to report to “the man”. Rather it’s the ongoing procrastination, flicking through Facebook photos of people I hardly know, or shamelessly letting myself get click baited by distraction machines like Youtube, Huffpost and gossips rags, that I am resolved to fight against. For me the issue has become more than just not getting as much work done as I should…. it’s that, by wasting as much time as I do, I’m effectively preventing myself from doing lots of cool stuff which I currently feel I don’t have time for. A more productive working day could see me finish at 8pm (I usually start work at 2 or 3pm, having got up between 12 and 2pm!), freeing myself for socialising, eating out, or at least watching a great film online in the evening. Right now my most productive working times tend to be from 10pm to 2am. That’s partly my natural nocturnal-orientated rhythm but it’s also partly because, during the afternoon, I can say to myself “relax, no need to hurry, you’re not going to bed before 2am anyway so you’ve still got hours to get this done… maybe there’s some important Arsenal news since you last checked 45 minutes ago…!?” In other words, because I’ve given myself all day to do things, these things don’t really get started on until night, when I could be at a dinner, concert, dance class etc.
Leaving things until the last minute is a terrible habit (that many suffer from!) which has an additional sting in the tail, at least for me, as doing these last minutes tasks often keeps me awake even longer that I planned. Maybe I wanted to go to bed at 3am, but suddenly it’s 5am and tomorrow’s day will start even later than usual and is likely to be less productive as well.
One remedy that I’ve noticed really works – and therefore one that I want to try to consciously implement much more of in 2015 – is setting deadlines during the middle of my working day. Ie. instead of aiming to complete tasks 1, 2 and 3 before going to bed, it’s much better to give each job an individual deadline so that task 1 needs to be done before lunch, task 2 before dinner and task 3 before bed. This method helps keep me focused throughout the whole day, not just at the end of it. Plus if you have something cool you want to do in the evening then it’s great to commit to that and use that as a final deadline… for example just now, as I was writing this article, my friend called and invited me to the pub at 9pm tonight. Suddenly this blog post, which probably would have got done around midnight is being bashed out at superspeed with a deadline of 8.30pm… whilst I know that a rewarding pint is waiting for me once this is published! Clearly for 2015 then I need to hardcode some of these regular rewards into my agenda, so that both the cool stuff and the work stuff gets done.
Another important tip for productivity I intend to implement in 2015, which comes very much from the Tim Ferriss school of thought, and was also rammed home to me during a recent TBEX talk by Tim Leffel, is the importance of hiring other people to do tasks that a) need doing but are not important / impactful enough for you to waste your own time on and/or b) you don’t have the proper skills for, so end up taking you a wasteful amount of time to achieve. The logic is simple. If for example your time is worth 25 GBP an hour, then you shouldn’t spend an hour doing something that someone else can do (often better) for 10 or 15 GBP an hour. Pay someone to do this work and free yourself up for doing the tasks that bring in the bigger money. (I completely agree with their thinking on this one, but with the caveat that this has to be balanced carefully… I am rubbish at Photoshop tasks for example, but if I have to spend an hour anyway finding someone to do it and then telling them what I need, plus paying them, maybe it is better for me to simply muddle through. If it’s a regular task it becomes different of course).
So far I’ve already found an assistant to help me on one of my projects, Barcelona Life travel guide (a franchise of Local Life), and by letting them take care of some of the basic tasks like keep our news and events calender up to date, and our social media profiles too, then I can spend more time optimising some of our key pages to be friendlier for search engines, or building business relationships. Both of which should add to the site’s revenue. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Right, I feel a bit fraudulent at the moment, because the title of this blog post suggested a long list of useful productivity tips… however maybe it’s best to keep it to two or three really good ones:
1) Set several task deadlines during the day to:
a) stay motivated, and get the important stuff done
b) avoid distractions
c) ensure reward / leisure time happens (after all without that why do we work anyway???)
2) Hire assistants to make sure that simple, routine tasks are handled at a low cost, and your time is spent doing the most impactful things that help achieve your goals.
Should be easy enough right? As I move into 2015, with a lot of potential opportunities in front of me, I also have to decide what I’m going to focus on and what will have the most impact, but I guess that’s a post / problem for another day. Finally do check out the link above to Tim Leffel’s talk as I went through it again last night, and it’s a really good one for keeping things in perspective and helping you achieve your goals. I nearly didn’t attend the talk I must say, but it gave me a very valuable kick of the backside in terms of eliminating bad work practices and hopefully moving forward with my various projects, to bring in more income – and more leisure time! The two don’t have to be incompatible if you are smart.