Boost productivity and save your sanity

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Do you find that there’s a great emphasis these days on being “busy”? Especially if you’re a freelancer or running your own business. But being busy and being productive aren’t necessarily the same thing!

A scary part of working independently is being responsible for your own productivity. When I started out, I was happy to feel the buzz of being busy all the time because I was determined to make a good living, and provide a great, personal service to my clients. It was only after a near burn-out, that I took a step back that I remembered the real reason that I started my own company in the first place.

I opened Claire Creative properly when I was preggers with my first child. I wanted to have my own business so that I could focus on family, travel whenever I wanted and do the work I loved. But as my client base grew, I was actually spending less time with family, working late nights and weekends to keep to other people’s deadlines and staying available to clients, even on holidays. Silly Claire!

So I took that all-important step back. Got a pint of fresh perspective and made some changes so that I could be more productive, less busy, and a lot less stressed!

So here are my 7 sanity-saving productivity tips. (Note, none of them involve installing any apps on your phone.)

  1. Focus
  2. Prioritize
  3. Batch
  4. Get perspective
  5. Say “No”
  6. Invest
  7. Stop

Focus

Quit multitasking and start monotasking… did I just make that word up? Unitasking? Anyway, what I mean is, focus on one thing at a time. When we multitask, we’re actually being less productive. I was totally guilty of this, and still am sometimes.

Apparently, multitasking is a bit of a myth anyway. What we’re actually doing is task-switching—the technical term for moving very quickly and ineffectively between tasks. So both tasks suffer and you’re not being productive at all, you’re just being busy. So, one thing at a time chums! Which brings me to my next point…

Prioritize

If you have a load of things to do, list them, and number them in order of importance. I often start my day with my (hand-written) list while I drink my coffee. Make the list, put each in order of priority then tackle one at a time. Then cross them off as you achieve them (I love that part).

I know a lot of people swear by apps like Evernote, and they are good, but I like to get back to my scribbly roots with pen and paper. I find that simply being on a computer or phone app is a distraction in itself. Firstly because you have to learn how the bloody app works, then, it’s just too easy to jump over to facebook or your inbox or any of the other multitude of distractions online, and your focus flies out the window.

I’m not saying don’t use apps, they’re great for elaborate and detailed lists with reminders. Just don’t start your day there! And be sure to choose one app only and put everything in the one place. The reason I love paper planners is that they give me a screen-break, help me to focus and make me use my brain in a different, often deeper thought process.

Free weekly planners from Claire Creative

So take the time to get off the digital devices and use your noggin. Check out the weekly planners I made for you. Have a think and a scribble.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD YOUR PLANNER

Batch

Oh lawdy has this one worked wonders for me. Batching is all about assigning chunks of time to specific tasks. For me, batching email time is a lifesaver! Instead of constantly having my email inbox open in front of me, I’ve assigned 3 slots of 25 minutes (morning, afternoon and evening) to check and reply to emails. And instead of composing thesis-like emails discussing projects with clients, I pick up the phone and use the 20ish minutes to discuss details like a human being. Seems so obvious now.

Batching is also good for social media. If you allow yourself a proper slot of time for Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook etc…, you’re less inclined to pop in all the time to see what’s going on. I also use batching when working on projects so that I can keep track of my time and stay focused. Check out the Pomodoro Method (Wikipedia explains). It’s a good technique to try.

Get perspective

So far my tips have been about taking control of your day, so now let’s look at the bigger picture.

From time to time, take a step back and think about your long-term goals and consider what you’re actually doing to achieve them. I talk a lot about Goals in my Digital Strategy article here. And I always start new client relationships with my Goals questionnaire.

Take some time away from your normal routine, silence your phone and think some old fashioned thoughts in your good, old-fashioned, analogue head. Take an hour at least or longer if you can. Think about the reason you’re doing what you’re doing and where you want to be this time next year. Now, what are you doing to get there? Write down your goal and the steps you need to take to get there.

An incredibly good way of getting perspective and setting some long term plans in motion is to join (or start) a mastermind group. Meet regularly with your group, bounce ideas, set deadlines, hold each other accountable on plans. Here’s a great description of Mastermind groups from the Shopify blog.

Say “No”

I think that “No” only came into my vocabulary about a year or 2 ago. (It’s a word you can’t avoid when you have a toddler!) But when I discovered it, changes started happening.

You may not know this about me, but I’m a recovering graphic designer. I travelled a good bit in my 20’s and freelanced loads to pay for my next adventure. At that time, I pretty much said yes to every project that came around and it was a habit that was hard to break. In the early days of Claire Creative, I was offering every kind of design service you could think of, which was fine at the beginning, but I was spreading myself too thin as a Jack-of-all-Trades designer. When I started saying No to things and focussing one area of expertise, I fell back in love with my job, and I know that the service that I offer improved because I could zone in on very specific training and research. Voilà, the power of No.

It’s not just specific to graphic designers. Focussing your offer or area of expertise is really a great idea no matter what your business is. Saying No thanks to projects or clients that don’t align with the long-term vision for your business will help you to stay on the right path and develop into the business you wanted in the first place.

Check out my article on the Elevator pitch. Writing my pitch actually helped me define my business offering, target a specific audience and improve my presentation in person and online.

Invest

When we start our own freelance or independent business, there’s often a temptation to do everything yourself in order to keep costs down. But if you’re flapping around on something and not getting anywhere ask for help or pay for support. You definitely won’t regret it.

For example, I’m rubbish at the admin (especially as my admin is all in French. They invented Bureaucracy you know!) so I get help with it. I wanted to get more into consulting rather than designing, so I paid for some training from an expert. And if there’s a really technical problem that I can’t solve myself, I pay a programmer to sort it out so I can focus on my job and on growing my business. Getting help with the tasks you aren’t naturally good at takes the pressure off you and it’s reassuring to know that it’s actually getting done properly.

Stop

Such a common problem with people who work independently is knowing when to stop. I know people who work early morning, til late at night. It’s not healthy! If it was a boss making you do that, you’d hate that that boss! So set your office hours. Leave on time. Take holidays (with an autoresponder on your email saying you’re not around). Have a long lunch with your friend. Go to the cinema, in the daytime! I’m not recommending you endlessly doss your life away, but if you’ve got a slot of extra time, celebrate it. If you’ve come to the end of a big and difficult project, treat yourself to a break and do whatever way you want for a few hours. Have a bun! You’ve earned it!

It can be hard to actually apply these points when you’re up against it on a daily basis and it can take time to form new habits, but every single thing listed here has personally helped me set my business on the right path, helped me to make a living and find time for the important things in life.

As an incentive, rather than recommending a long list of time-saving apps (that you’d ultimately waste time checking out) I made you a week planner to use right now. Try it out. Let me know how you get on.

Do you have any productivity gems? Share them with the rest of us below in the comments.

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