Whether you are self-employed or working ‘for the man’, one thing is sure, you cannot let time pass and not do your job. The problem is that, while we might have some super-productive days, there are times when we just can’t focus enough at our jobs. Here are few ideas for us to get to have a better productivity, even when we don’t really feel like working.
1. The early bird …
I am not an early riser. Never was and will surely not become one overnight. As soon as I finished school and also became a freelancer, my first instinct was to get up at noon and go to bed way after midnight. Which didn’t work. I was tired (weird, as I would have my 9 hour sleep) and couldn’t get my job done properly.
So I moved my waking our at 9 and stopped having any sleepless nights. My productivity increased.
Sure, you can get up at 5 or 7, if you are comfortable with the schedule. I personally hate waking up too early, so I don’t plan on ruining my morning sleep. But surely, being awake at a better hour than before, allows me to accomplish a lot of my daily work till noon.
2. Make sure you are well rested
No matter what time you decide to go to sleep or wake up, it’s important to get a good night sleep. Some freelancers like to work under stress and with imminent deadlines, but overall exhaustion and stress are not good for being productive. That’s why it’s important to have a good night rest and make sure you sleep as much as your body needs it. Some people can sleep onlu 6 hours/night and be rested, others, like me, need 8-9 hours.
3. Being productive is easier when you have a plan
I was never someone who’s well organized, so my first months as a freelancer were hectic. As soon as I started making ‘to do’ lists and trying to work based on a plan, I immediately noticed my productivity is better and so are my business results.
I am currently using a regular agenda to write down my tasks and also have various tools to keep myself in check with the deadlines for all my clients’ projects. When you’re working for 8 hours a day at least and run various sites (not to mention designing for your clients), not being well organized will translate in all kinds of missed deadlines and displeased clients.
Now, as I am better at writing down my tasks and how much I plan on working on each, every day is starting to look better, productivity wise.
4. Who’d have guessed that tomatoes are good for your productivity?
The Pomodoro Technique is another great way for some people to keep in track with their work. If you find it hard to focus (which happens when the task is boring or too difficult), you can break down your hour into 25 minute ‘pomodoros’ and then focus only on your tasks for those 25 minutes. There are many tools and apps that can help you track your progress and it really works in some ‘less productive’ days.
5. Reading blogs is not being productive
I love reading blogs and managing forums. I could waste 24 hours like that (and clearly have wasted a lot of time all these years). Same with emails and other distractions. Don’t waste time with these, especially when starting your work day. You are well rested and full of energy, so it’s advisable to jump directly to your tasks and then, at the end of the work day, handle the tasks that are less important.
6. Multi-tasking is never a productivity solution
I have pretty big problems with being focused on a task. I always feel the need to also manage my sites, read the emails and maybe check my finances, while I also do web design work. And, as you can guess, it takes me longer to finish the tasks and my work has to suffer.
This is why I am using the Pomodoro technique together with focusing on one task only. So, I start the clock and design a theme. Nothing else. After I finish the ‘pomodoro’, I start working at something else and, again, focus only on that exact task.
7. Know your most productive time in a day.
Some people work great early in the morning. Others are better at noon. No matter what your ‘best’ time is, make sure you know it and handle the most important tasks in that exact time ‘zone’. I for instance work great from 9 in the morning. Probably, if I woke up earlier, I wouldn’t be as productive (since I’d still be sleepy). I have also tried working in the evening, but it was really difficult to focus and do a good job.
8. Even steak is impossible to eat all at once
If I have to design a site for a client and don’t break it in more smaller tasks it’s almost impossible to make it work. And it always seems daunting, even if I have over a decade of experience in web design. So, I always break my projects down in small ‘bits’ (mockup design, platform installation, HTML/CSS template coding, tweaks and final touches). And it all makes better sense.
From a project I know will take days to accomplish, I have smaller stages that take few hours each and allow me to focus on each of them at the right time.
9. If it takes 2 minutes, do it now.
I really loved Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (and I recommend you read it). One of the best ideas in the book was that, if your task takes less than 2 minutes to accomplish, you shouldn’t add it to your ‘to do’ list, but do it right now. This way, instead of cluttering the list with all kinds of small tasks (that might take less to do than write down), you can finish them fast and then plan how to tackle the bigger tasks.
10. Stay away from any distractions
When I was a teenager, I’d do my homework while also listening to music. I used to do this years ago, when I started web design, feeling that it relaxed me. The bad thing is that songs with lyrics make me start singing or listen to the ‘verses’, if it has no lyrics, I’ll start listening to how nice the instruments sound. So, instead of it being a sound background, music will distract me from my work.
Close the doors and windows, if needed, don’t listen to music (if you’re like me and it would only ruin your focus), let your family and colleagues know you are working. They might not like your ‘honesty’, but at least they know what needs doing. You should also disable any notifications you might receive and maybe turn off your phone.
11. Schedule some breaks
Ideally we’d work for 20 hours straight, accomplish more than a 10 people team, always be fresh and inspired. In reality we don’t work like that. We get stressed and tired, both keeping us from working to our fullest potential.
This is why I have started taking breaks (some even bigger than few minutes). I either cook something, go to the grocery, visit my family, see a friend. Some of my breaks are 10-20 minutes long, some are maybe 2 hours. But all have the same result: I can rest my eyes and mind, allowing my energy and inspiration to get back to a high level.
12. Do leave for tomorrow what you could do today
There’s a saying in Romania that goes like this “don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today”. And now I come and contradict this. It’s a great idea to leave some work for tomorrow or later. This allows you to pick off from where you left it and, instead of thinking ‘what should I do now’, you just start working, because you know there’s some work left from your previous day.
13. Don’t leave all the work to the last moment.
We all did it. Postponing homework till the last minute, studying one day before a big exam etc. We remember how focused we were and feel like it’s the way to do this. Well, it’s not. Clearly schedule your work and deadlines and make sure you don’t leave it all for the last day/hour. Your work will be sloppy, you’ll be agitated and tired. Why work like this, when you can finish smaller tasks each day and even wrap up the project earlier?
These are my tips for being more productive, please feel free to share yours 😉