I’m a self employed, single mother. It’s fair to say I have a lot going on in my life, and so I’m having to learn how to manage my time well. I’m working on being as productive as possible, in order to achieve as much as possible. These are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
1. Be Strict on Social Media (and other distractions).
If I have my Facebook and Tweetdeck tabs open in my browser, it’s easy for me to flick back to them when I’m working but feeling a little uninspired. If I close those tabs down – and perhaps my email too – I find that when I go to click them and they’re not there, a little voice inside my head (or perhaps even my normal voice, outside my head) says “just get on with your work!” I get so much more done, if I don’t have social media and email as a welcome distraction. Often a mobile phone can be part of the “distraction” problem too, with constant dings to let you know someone commented on your post or liked your photo. Turn it off, or at the very least switch the sound off – and see how much more you get done!
2. Think About Noise.
When I was a teenager, I remember doing all of my homework with Radio 1 blaring in the background. These days, listening to the radio distracts me. News, adverts with those annoying jingles that get stuck in your head, songs that are just as bad. For a while I retuned to Radio 4 to listen to “more highbrow” stuff but those are the sort of programmes you need to focus on, and so my attention was split between my work and the radio. TV is even worse… but I don’t really like to work in silence – especially in the day, when noise from outside (or downstairs!) can distract me just as easily! I find listening to classical music can help; there are usually videos on YouTube that are a good few hours long, and perfect for having as background noise, without distracting.
3. Make a List.
It sounds simple, but I found I was spending a lot of time thinking “er… what was next?” Make a list of what you need to do, and tick things off as you go. There’s a great sense of achievement to be found in a to-do list with nothing left to do! It also helps you remember from day to day what needs to be done, especially if you’re working on a large project, or loads of smaller ones for different clients.
4. Eat The Frog.
On every to-do list, there is something you don’t want to do. For whatever reason, you don’t want to face it – so you either move it to the bottom and avoid it while it hangs over your day, or you tell yourself you’re going to do it first, and then procrastinate like a pro. Brian Tracy wrote a whole book about this. Basically, if you get on and do that one thing first, just put your head down, grit your teeth and get on with it, you will usually find that everything else goes a lot more smoothly, and you can get a lot more done.
5. Make Use of “Down” Time.
There is no such thing as “down” time in my life at the moment! Once a week, I spend two hours (or more) on trains and train platforms. I bring along my Kindle and my diary, and use that time to: read books I’m reviewing; plan blog posts; research blog posts; read about blogging; research articles for clients; brainstorm ideas. At the moment I’m working two days a week in an office out of town, and so I bring a book or my Kindle on the bus with me. I read my book from the time I arrive at the bus stop, to the time I get off the bus and walk into the office. This is usually a book I’m reviewing, but if not it’ll be something I’m researching for a blog post, or a book about blogging. If I’m walking somewhere, I’ll be composing a blog post or podcast in my head. If you have a commute to work, bring a book with you. If you’re driving and can’t read, bring a podcast (why not listen to mine!) or audiobook with you.
6. Plan Your Day.
Spend a few minutes before you start, making a note of what needs to be done today, and what’s most important. Don’t allow yourself to spend the first hour going through emails or replying to Facebook notifications; get a clear picture in your head of what needs to be done, and don’t deviate from that.
7. Clear the Clutter.
I am one of the messiest people I know. There are piles of crap all over my house, and sometimes it feels like it’s all closing in on me! Just lately I’ve been tackling one pile at a time, and I feel like just having less mess around me is helping with my productivity. When I’m not distracted by where I put that pen, or why that magazine is over there, I get more done. If you can’t clear the clutter from your work space, remove yourself from your work space, and go sit somewhere else. I can get twice as much done if I go and find a cafe with a good wifi connection (harder than you would think, around here). Just not having the washing up taunting me from the kitchen allows me to think more clearly.
8. Avoid Idle Chit Chat.
I have so many conversations about nothing, don’t you? Emails and text messages and WhatsApps where you message saying “hi how are you… yeah good thanks, you?… yeah I’m good thanks…” this takes up valuable time – even if it’s only a couple of minutes, if you have three or four people with whom you do this every day, it soon adds up! Don’t be rude to people, just quietly let them know that you are working between 9 and 3 (for example) and won’t be able to answer messages unless it’s an emergency.
9. Avoid Multitasking.
I know it’s terribly good for your ego to think you can craft an amazing blog post, respond to emails and share lolcats on Facebook all at the same time, but the fact of the matter is that multitasking dilutes our productivity in all areas. Your blog, emails and lolcats would all be best served if you put them on a list and tackled them one at a time.
10. Take Care of Yourself.
Go for a brisk walk or run, drink lots of water and make sure your stomach isn’t grumbling (or struggling to digest a McDonalds). A walk can help to clear your head; ensuring you are hydrated will help you avoid headaches, and the stomach one is just common sense. I read once that hunger helps to focus the mind – but I think that one really only applies to Buddhist monks and anorexics. The rest of us perform better when we’ve eaten a sensible meal.
11. Take a Look at the Pomodoro Technique.
This is the idea of working in 25-minute blocks, with a 5-minute break. Some people work really well with this technique; others prefer to amend their timing, depending on the task in hand. I often find that just setting a timer on a boring task, and giving myself permission to stop it once the timer finishes, means I get it done more quickly. With 25-minute slots I can force my mind into a more productive state, so that by the third time the timer goes off, I’m well into my work zone and happy to continue with whatever I’m doing.
12. Ask for Help.
Why spend three hours doing something that would take someone else twenty minutes? If you can’t afford to pay someone to do the thing you’re struggling with, why not suggest a skill swap with them? You’ll probably find that the person who’s really good at the things you struggle with, is really struggling with something you can help them to do. You won’t know until you ask, and it could turn out to be beneficial for both of you!
13. Have a Social Media Hour.
You can easily waste hours updating your Facebook and Twitter feeds with links to your blog or business, especially if you run more than one Facebook page or Twitter feed. Try and block all of your social media into one hour, where you post updates, schedule posts and briefly interact with others before logging off again. I’m not talking about your personal Facebook (see point 1 above), but rather updates that you are making to promote the thing you’re trying to be more prouctive at!