Using Zen Practices to Increase Your Organization & Productivity

4579229367_6be0cf6741_bThere comes a time in every freelancer’s business that they realize the sad truth–that we spend more time answering emails, talking on the phone, sending estimates and invoices and doing generally everything but what we actually went into business for.

I hate, absolutely hate, the management part of projects and of business in general. If I had my way, projects would beam down from the sky on to my desk with perfect budgets and perfectly detailed specs. I would never again have to answer 100 emails about why you can’t do a full site in Flash or why it’s not OK to hand me 100 mockups when they paid for three.

Unfortunately though, that will never happen. So I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reading up on different practices to decrease the amount of time I spend doing something other than development. I’ve found that you can actually apply the basic principles of Zen living to your office to reduce up your management time.


Less is More

The main principle of Zen living is that less is more. This can apply to our business in several different ways. You should aim to find ways of reducing your management time to increase your productivity. Some things you can do:

  • Find apps that do more than one thing. Aim to find one app that can management your entire client process. I use Billings, but Basecamp is also a great alternative.
  • Reduce the time spent moving files from one computer to another by using Dropbox. It’s free and it syncs automatically.
  • Get rid of all your paper files and keep digital copies. This also helps reduce waste and paper/ink costs.

Tranquility in Folders

Cut your time searching for files by making sure your desktop stays clear of any files. Create a folder for each client inside of a “Business” or “Clients” folder, then create folders for each project under that client. This allows you to find old files quickly and gives you a system for organizing the hundred of projects you’ll work on in your business.

Short Emails

Everyone’s biggest monster is the dreaded email. It seems that after we spend an hour going through 100 emails to finally get a clear inbox–another 100 emails show up! You can either choose to ignore this monster, let it overtake you or choose to conquer it. And conquer it we must!

  • Organize your email like you organize your files–by client.
  • Set up your computers to pull your email via IMAP so your emails and folders are synced together.
  • Aim to respond to each email as you come to it in a few sentences or less.
  • Check your email only during certain time periods everyday (I do first thing in the morning, right before lunch and right before quitting time).

Relax Client Meetings

I’m going to let you on on another secret–90% of all clients that demand to have in person or hour long phone meeting before a project even begins doesn’t end up buying. They’re tire kickers. So aim to weed these people out early and often as time spent in these pointless meetings means time lost for paid work.

I tell all of my local clients up front–I don’t do any in-person meetings. This doesn’t tend to be a problem as most of my clients aren’t local anyways. I also try to discourage phone meetings by asking the client to email me a detailed description of the work they need, or even to IM me instead.

Of course, there are still plenty of clients who prefer to use the phone. Try to keep the conversations short by staying on topic. Of course, be friendly and ask how they’re doing, but don’t get into a 30 minute conversation about baseball either.

Meditation in Work

I am the most relaxed during business when I’m spending 3+ hours coding with some loud music on. Aim to chunk out blocks of time where nothing can interrupt you. Turn off your email, phone and IM programs and do what you do best during that time.

Calendars and To-Dos Fluidity

Calendars and to-dos are awesome for keeping you on track and letting you know what you need to do that day. But don’t let them be too detailed or you’ll lock yourself to it. Instead, aim to make your schedule more general and fluid, so you can change if needed.

For example, when I schedule my clients, I schedule them for the whole week and I don’t put a to-do on certain days for items (like complete homepage on Monday, subs on Tuesday, etc). This allows me to move my time around and stay productive.

Zen-like Offices

I’m a neat freak when it comes to organization and I can’t concentrate if I see stuff all over my desk, clothes on the floor or clutter in general. Aim to keep nothing on your desk but what you need at the moment–and put it away when your finished.

Always Improve

I’m still struggling with freeing up more time. At best I only get one to three hours a day to code! This will always be a work in progress, so make sure you constantly try to improve how you work.

Your Zen Tips

Do you have some organizational or productive tips? Please share them below as I could always use more time! :)

Image by josh.liba