Happy New Tax Year.
For those of us in the unpredictable world of the self-employed, April 6th can be a time for new beginnings; we’re going to be more efficient, aren’t we? 2022/23 will see us filing our accounts like, well, accountants, and everything will be organised, streamlined and neat.
Also, now is the time to work harder to earn more money.
That’ll do it.
Well, that’s the plan, anyway.
Don’t Be a Busy Fool
Yet, working hard doesn’t necessarily make us super-effective, or even translate into more money into our bank accounts. You’re not a productivity Ninja if you’re regularly putting in long hours. You can’t be. Why? Because you’re knackered, that’s why. You may think you’re being productive but somehow finish each day with a feeling of dissatisfaction.
What did you do all day?
Less Really IS More
So, let’s think about the best ways to be productive at work, and get stuff done. Surprisingly, from my research and talking to people who know about these things, productivity often equates to doing fewer things, rather than more.
What follows are seven essential productivity tips; the ones that really do work.
Try putting them into practice and watch your To Do list shrink. Talking of which:
1. Cut your To Do list in half
Firstly, you DO need a list, and to be fair, most of us quite like making them, often instead of actually working – but that’s another article all together. Are you guilty of super-long To Do lists? If so, you’re just going to panic, get stressed and then feel seriously bad when you don’t get everything done in one day.
If you’ve got a lengthy list of projects and tasks, it’s worth spreading them out during the working week, with the higher value ones taking priority.
2. Create Your Work Schedule The Week Before
An extension of the first point, as a self-employed person, you and you alone are responsible for how you work.
So here’s an idea: on a Friday afternoon, when things are starting to become a bit more fluid, shall we say, hoik out your To Do list and turn your important tasks and projects into series of appointments in your calendar for the following week – almost as if they were meetings with clients. For example, what is the most important thing you have to get done, and where will you place it in your diary? What about your other must-dos?
Seeing your week laid out like this is a powerful way to repurpose your time. Also, it means that you can spend the weekend relaxing and not worry so much about your workload for the week to come.
3. Focus on the MOST DIFFICULT tasks first
It’s true that some tasks are more challenging and more important than others. And generally, the harder stuff is more important and tends to earn you more money.
Are we right? Also true is that on the whole, we’re much more on our creativity A-game earlier in the day; we have more intellectual focus, energy and motivation.
Getting going with the more difficult aspects of your work blows away the procrastination monster that’s always trying to creep up behind you. And, that dreadful imposter syndrome that stalks us all. You know, the one that’s best buddies with the do-it-later beastie.
Why do we put things off? For many, it’s a fear of failure, so finishing that tricky piece of work is actually good for your heart and soul.
4. Break Tasks Into Smaller Pieces
Be kind to yourself.
If the task before you is like looking up at a steep mountain, you may be wondering how on earth to begin the climb.
So, break your one large to-do into chunks. Set easier, smaller to-dos and set goals for each task. This series of action points will of course vary, depending on the industry sector in which you work, but it’s infinitely do-able and makes you more dynamic.
For example, in my line of work as an SEO copywriter, I tend to start with a) research and b) keywords, then c) a bullet-pointed content plan, then d) an introduction – and so on.
I can then get through the whole task quicker and easier, which is great.
5. Stop multi-tasking
Here’s some news: we’re all pretty bad at multi-tasking. All of us. Not just men, or women or anyone else. OK, you’re probably fine with pushing a hoover around your flat and listening to Oasis at the same time, but that’s not paid work – unless you’re a cleaner.
You simply cannot do more than one thing at once, and be super-effective at both. Changing the focus of your work several times a day (which is what multi-tasking actually is) diminishes the quality of what you’re doing. It’s overwhelming and it slows us down.
Why do we put things off?
6. Switch Off Your Email
Ah, email. Surely the elephant in the room.
Email is the number one distraction in our working lives – at once essential and disruptive; crucial and annoying. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that emails often just get in the way of a productive day. And yet without them we may not have any work, so I understand.
When you really need to concentrate, you will need to be less available. Try temporarily switching off your email notifications and only check them in the morning, at lunchtime and towards the end of the day. Fear of missing out? Hmmm, maybe, but you’ll get into deep dive working mode and produce higher quality work, more quickly.
Online again? Did the world end? No? Okay, carry on.
By the way, the same goes for your phone.
(If you’re seriously concerned, just let your clients know that you’re working hard on their projects and would they mind, etc etc…)
7. Take More Breaks
Absolutely vital. Your ACTUAL concentration span is shorter than you would like it to be, but you know that, right? No one can work solidly for eight hours.
After a couple of hours, stop. Make a brew. Better still, go for a short walk around the block and do NOT take your phone with you. That brain-ache feeling is your body’s way of telling you that you need to pause.
When you return to the task in hand, you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.
Finally, just to share my personal circumstances, I also have a Distraction List. What’s that, I hear you all cry? Well, if I think of something that’s not related to work but which I need to get done, I write it down in my note book and then just carry on working. It means that I don’t forget this critical, thing of enormous consequence . For example:
Pressure wash the front steps
Sort out spices cupboard
Quite rock and roll, I know. Not.
So, the next time you’re tempted to add another item to your To Do list, or keep going with more caffeine, just one or two of these tips could make all the difference.
What’s your best productivity tip?
Get good at what you do – sharpen the axe.
Written by: Susan Beckingham (Sussex Copywriting Services)
Based at: Yacht Werks, 28-29 Richmond Place, Brighton
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