We all have the same number of hours in a day, that’s true, but if you’re anything like me you find that you have more to do than time to do it in. Being a freelancer, consultant or owning your own business removes the comfort of passing the hours at work knowing you’ll get paid anyway (and being able to count on having evenings and weekends off), and it also teaches you to maximise your efficiency.
If you’re facing a ridiculous week ahead, try these tips to increase your productivity and improve your focus…
You will need:
3 Books: Diary, Notepad, Goal Book
Highlighters or coloured pens (4-5 different colours)
The diary is for your daily schedule, the notebook is for notes relating to your work and creative ideas, and the goal book is to keep track of your personal and career goals and step-by-step strategies of what you need to do to achieve your goals.
Write all the tasks that you need to get done for the next week on one sheet of paper, under category headings (in my case it would be grouped per client)
Take 4-5 different coloured highlighters (I use pink, orange, yellow, green and blue). Read through each task one by one, and highlight in pink/red only the tasks that are critical/urgent. Use orange for the next level of priority, etc.
Now get your diary ready and assign the pink/red/most critical tasks to the next day or two in your diary, being realistic about how much you think you can do in a day. Don’t worry about assigning times to the tasks – just write the list in for that day (I write it down the righthand side of the page)
Continue with orange and the other colours until all the important tasks have been assigned to a day of the week
Those that are left get written on a post-it note and stored in the diary for next week’s priority list. If you find that you work through more tasks than expected per day, take on one or two extras from the next day’s schedule and near the end of the week you will be able to tackle some on the post-it note
Now, in your diary, look at one day at a time. In pen, circle in the times that are for fixed appointments, eg: doctor, client meeting, or car service
In pencil, estimate how long each task will take you and write that on the righthand side of each task
Then order your list of tasks by writing the priority number on the lefthand side of the task
Based on this, figure out what time you need to start your day to fit all the tasks in and, on the day, start with the highest priority and work your way down the list. Don’t do the easiest or most fun tasks first, stick to the priority list
Keep a small notepad next to your PC or phone. When something comes up during the day that distracts you from your work, decide if it’s urgent or if it can wait until later. If it can wait, write it on the notepad and put it out of your mind until you’ve completed the planned tasks for the day. Then tackle the distractions.
And the Goal Book?
The goal book is where you get real. Dedicate at least one page to each category of goals, and on that page write down (by hand, in full) what your goals are. Next to each goal, or under it, write down what you need to DO to achieve that goal, in very clear, achievable steps. Break it down as far as you can.
On another page, summarize in step-by-step form what you need to do and set a deadline for yourself for achieving each step.
If your goal is to get a degree, you might choose to start by researching universities, or jotting down possible fields that interest you and you might decide that you’re going to dedicate at least 15 minutes a day to working your way through the initial steps to reach your goal. Knowing this, you’re going to set time aside in your diary for this, and possibly set an alarm on your phone.
If your goal is to lose weight, you might decide to start by cutting sugar out of your diet, and then going for a walk in the evening. Find a habit-tracking app for your phone and use it to remind yourself to avoid sugar, and then set time aside in your schedule to go for a walk and set a reminder on your phone.
It’s about being honest about what’s important to you, and then getting down to the specific steps that need to be taken to achieve it. At this level you have no excuses and nobody else to blame, it’s on you to make sure you’re doing what’s important to you. Mine is for personal, career and relationship goals (because that requires effort to succeed too).
More Useful Tips:
The Internet chews up productivity and focus. Choose two half-hour times of the day (eg: 7-7:30am and 3-3:30pm) and limit yourself to ONLY checking your email, social media, news pages and other online distractions at those times. Set an alarm so you limit your time spent.
Drink water often. Keeping hydrated will clear up the “brain fog” that stress tends to cause and it’ll make you feel happier and healthier too.
Move around every 1 or 2 hours. Just move.
Schedule time for exercise. Whether it’s a walk, yoga or sweating at the gym, you’ll find that exercise will improve your mood and focus. Oh, and your health too.
Did you find any of these tips helpful, or do you have other tips that work for you? Let me know! 🙂