Ever since jumping back into the freelancing game full-time in January of 2016, I’ve been experimenting with different ways to stay productive and motivate myself on a day-to-day basis. After looking up a bunch of time management tips, I decided to implement a few and see where they took me.
The thing is, I used to be very productive in college and the few years afterwards, but I’ve been… drifting from that discipline recently. I know you’ve probably felt the same way. So I wanted to share with you the tips that have worked for me in my business, to see if they’ll help you stay on track, as well!
Here are the main techniques I use which clearly made a difference in my productivity, energy levels, and overall success:
Implementing Mode-Based Days
Mode-based scheduling, also known as batching, is where you assign particular themes to each day you work, and you focus only on tasks related to those themes. For example, I save Mondays for client projects and writing; I assign every 60-90 minutes to a particular project, give myself a 5-10 minute break, and then move on to the next chunk of writing time. This strategy was crucial to my improved productivity at work, and it’s one of the best time management tips I can ever give you.
Even if I have to swap the blocks of time around within a day (or even swap entire days/themes), mode-based scheduling provides a consistent format each week so I know exactly what I’ll be working on and how much mental energy will be needed each day. If I know Friday will just be taking care of administrative needs, for example, I know I can stay up later gaming on Thursday and not suffer consequences like I would if I had to focus on writing the next day.
Measuring My Efforts
Most the time, entrepreneurs are plagued with this idea that we must judge our success based on accomplishments alone, but this overlooks the often extreme efforts we put into actually doing something. As such, I’ve made sure to judge my actual efforts along with my accomplishments by auditing myself with questions like “Did I really give my all to this project?” and “What held me back here and how can I do better next time?”
While this is more of a motivational hack than a time management one, I have found that it helps me to ask myself in-the-moment if I should truly be working on something if I’m not putting my efforts into it. If the answer is no, I switch to a task I know I’ll get done, improving my productivity at work overall.
Out of all the time management tips I’ve ever picked up in my career, this one from Ash Ambirge of The Middle Finger Project has been one of the best. In a blog post, she says if you’re scared to start work on something, 90% of the time it’s because there are unknowables involved, so reducing them is the way to move forward and not procrastinate.
I’ve consistently found this to be true in my business. Anytime I didn’t want to start something, I’d ask myself “Why? What’s one variable I can remove right now” and then I made sure to move forward one step/variable at a time.
Shortening My To-Do List
This idea seems kind of counter-intuitive, but it’s another one of those brilliant tips from Ash Ambirge’s blog post that I’ve applied to my business and has worked wonders. Every day, I try to make a list of things I think I can accomplish or should do, then shorten it by a few tasks per day.
I inevitably end up getting almost all of my to-do list done now, which leaves me the freedom to move ahead on the next day’s tasks. Apparently, even though she was referencing fashion choices, the great Coco Chanel knew what she was talking about when she said, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take at least one thing off.”
While I’ve yet to delve into things like setting up an automated system for capturing leads within my freelance business, I have started using tools like Boomerang for Gmail and a “send + archive” Gmail Labs feature to help me pre-schedule and automatically send and remove emails from my inbox. This latter feature is particularly beneficial in reducing my stress at looking at a full inbox, and being stressed always kills my productivity.
I also use Unroll.me to send all my subscriptions to one, rolled-up summary email I receive in the afternoon, which means I’m less distracted during the day. It’s a joy to not have an interruption every single time I get a new email.
So there you have it: five time management tips I found actually worked and weren’t just a bunch of lies or temporary fixes. I can’t say they 100% fixed my laziness and lack of discipline, but they certainly helped me start to address those problems and set up a structure to combat them. And isn’t that essentially the goal of properly managing your time, anyway?
Which of these time management tips will you challenge yourself with this week?