When your freelancing business keeps you in front of a computer screen for most of your working day, it’s easy to fall victim to some of the time-honored productivity drains that have reduced many an entrepreneurial income. If you’re not careful (and just a little bit vigilant), things that don’t seem like such a big deal can really hose you at the end of the week when you’re under a looming deadline, wondering “Where the hell did all the time go?” Let’s take a quick look at three simple things you might already know about but just aren’t doing – and let’s quit leaving so much money on the table each month.
Hack #1: Create Your Cone of Silence
It goes without saying that when you’re interrupted, your productivity takes a nosedive. You get less done. So simple wisdom would tell you that keeping yourself from interruption is a sure way to improve your time “in the groove” … yet so many times we don’t take this to heart. We let email reminders pop up constantly. Instant messaging windows are up and running without an “away” or “busy” status. We check our stats. Again. Every time you’re interrupted by one of these drive-by communiques, you’re losing momentum. It takes you longer to get things done – and that makes your rate per hour drop through the floor.
The solution is simple – close your virtual door when you need to get down to business. Close your email. Set your IMs to Away (or close them, too). Kill the ringer on your phone. Pop on the noise canceling headphones. Knuckle down, get in the groove, and crank out your best work fast without any interruptions.
I know what some of you may be saying – “Wait a minute, I couldn’t do this – I need constant connectivity to survive in my business!” I understand, and I’m not saying you should cut communication all day (or – gasp – for more than 60 minutes at a time). I know that many people reading this need to be available for immediate back-and-forth with clients, potential clients and other contacts to make deals happen. In fact, some people can handle this effortlessly, and having popups doesn’t slow them down enough to matter. But I’m not speaking to them.
What I am saying is that if you’re falling behind, or working slower than you want to, then you need to grit your teeth and make the call. Assess where you stand – are you letting your productivity suffer too much because of excessive availability? If so, then declare your own personal cone of silence a few times during the day, where you lock off for whatever chunk of time makes sense. Just get honest with yourself and don’t let this be something you know you need to get to “someday.”
Hack #2: Run Like Hell, Then Stop
When you’ve got a lot of work to do, it’s incredible how long you can make each task take. The idea of “getting a bunch done today” and crossing as much as possible off of your to-do list is a common way to start the day … but it may be costing you. If you attack your day without a clear plan, you can spend hours just throwing yourself at the work on your plate without asking yourself if you’re making progress fast enough. If you’ve ever reached the end of the day wondering where the time went and why you didn’t get more done, you know exactly what I mean.
The solution to that is setting clear mini-deadlines for yourself during the day and running like hell to hit those deadlines. Take a handful of tasks that you’re committed to getting done today, block out some time to get each done, and then hammer with all you have to hit each task’s deadline one by one. This seems obvious, but it’s an incredible way to keep your focus. If you’ve got to finish your blog entry by noon, redo your site’s navigation by 3pm, and contact 10 potential clients by 4pm, you’re going to be much more aware of the need to make every minute count than if you just “planned to knock them out one by one.”
Here’s the kicker if you really want to kick your own a$$, productivity-wise – tell yourself if you miss your deadline, you have to stop, then jump onto the next task so you keep your schedule. Anything you miss completing has to be done in overtime after your web-working day is done. Though I know 90% of people will balk at this and never try it, the 10% who do will find that being forced to work overtime does wonders for making you become more focused next time. :-)
Again – this hack doesn’t apply to everyone. Some people naturally work best when they just throw themselves at a bunch of work – but if you’ve had trouble focusing, pushing yourself or hitting personal deadlines, this is a great way to condition yourself for slammin’ action.
Hack #3: Schedule Downtime So You Can Stay Focused
As you may have noticed, all work and no play made Jack a very dull boy. You don’t want to let this happen to you. Productivity isn’t about being a robot or squeezing that last drop of effort out and gaining 1% improvement. Productivity is about doing simple things that make a big difference. And one of those simple things is not to get burned out. Often we find ourselves aimlessly surfing the web, checking email over and over, or feeding our blog addiction … all because we feel a need to take a break and relax. Because we deserve it, right?
Hell yes, we deserve it. But you don’t want to create so much work overload that you’re tempted to distract yourself when you should be getting work done (and we all have this happen, whether we like to admit it or not). That’s why it’s important to fit downtime into your schedule. Time you can cruise blogs just for fun, or catch up on email, or just shoot the breeze with people on IM. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you need it.
But if you look at your work week and see that you’re tapping into escape activities way too often, schedule some downtime so that you get refreshed before you start burning out. That way when you’re running like hell, doing all the kick-a$$ stuff that pays the rent, you won’t feel tempted to distract yourself – you’ll know that downtime is a-comin’ when you get your work done. And that takes the edge off.
What’s Your Hack – How Do You Stay Super-Productive?
The comments box calls to you. Look, it says, you’ve read this far … grace us with your own words of wisdom on how you keep on keepin’ on with all you’ve got. Leave your comment, learn from others, and if you’ve enjoyed your meal, get more great tips at Dave Navarro’s productivity blog (or better yet, subscribe and get it delivered right to your RSS reader).
See you in the comments –