When it comes to productivity, I’ve noticed two things about freelancing. One, there are always, always more tasks for your to-do list. And two, every day is a completely blank slate—there’s no time you have to be at the office in the morning, no meetings, no supervisor to report to.
It can make it hard to be productive, unless you get your systems down.
The difference between getting lost under a mountain of tasks and crossing them off your list is productivity systems.
Here are the top five I’ve found the most useful:
The 45/15 Rule
The 45/15 rule advocates for 45 minute periods of focus on a single creative task, alternating with shorter 15 minute periods to knock off smaller to-dos like responding to emails. The idea is that it gives you enough deep focus time to move a big project forward, but doesn’t make you drop smaller but also critical tasks.
If you have a shorter attention span, or a lot of different kinds of tasks you’re trying to address at once, task circuits may be the answer.
Write a list of the actions you want to knock off your list and prioritize them so you don’t have stop your flow deciding what to do for each circuit. Grab a timer (the one you use for cooking is perfect, or on your smartphone) and set it for 15 minutes.
This is my favorite way to tackle really big projects. In short, phasing down means breaking a large project into smaller tasks that make it easier to manage. I try to make each phase about an hour long.
For example, if your project is to write an ebook, first create an outline, then chapter one, chapter two, etc. Just tackle one task each day until it’s completed.
Eat the Frog
This method, from the book Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, refers to the idea that the task you dread the most on your to-dos (cold calls, anyone?) is the one you should tackle first.
The idea is, once that awful looming task is off your plate, you’ll feel empowered, and those other, not-so-bad things on your list for the day will be a breeze. It’s worked for me every time.
The 1-3-5 List
The 1-3-5 list goes like this: Choose one thing that is the absolute most important thing to accomplish today, three things that are of medium priority, and five things that would be nice “bonus” accomplishments.
I’ve been doing a version of this for years that I call Pick One Thing. Basically, before doing anything else on my list for the day, I do the one thing that is most important. I may give this alternate approach a try.
Find What Works
It can take some experimentation to figure out what works for you. Try a variety of approaches to see what works,a nd feel free to mix and match—don’t limit yourself so a designated system, just pick up the parts you like. Over time, you’ll hone your own systems and maximize your efficiency.
What productivity tricks do you have?