Advice columns and technological solutions for freelancers are everywhere. Time management systems. Project management programs. Productivity apps. Articles about Finding Your Motivation and Tackling Procrastination. In fact, it would be pretty easy to procrastinate full-time by reading all those articles about how not to.
But if the plethora of advice is bewildering and you don’t have time to investigate all those apps and hacks that, er… claim to save you time, I’m here to suggest a simple three-step solution that requires nothing more sophisticated than a pen, a notebook and/or diary, and a little thinking time: Plan, Do, Review.
Plan your week and plan your day. Know your deadlines, break your projects down into a logical sequence of smaller tasks, estimate how long each task will take, and allocate the time needed to complete them.
Yes, you could spend time attaching tags, colours and priority codes as you feed in every detail to a productivity app. But have you ever considered how long it takes to inform your app of what you already know – that the proofreading job for Sally is due in two days time and will take around five hours? I guarantee that inputting that information into your app would have taken longer than typing that sentence, although it contains the same information.
When you plan your work time like this, it should be easy to ensure that each time you sit down to work, you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to achieve in that session – meaning you don’t need to dither about what to do next, and that you’re less likely to procrastinate.
“Try not. Do… or do not. There is no try.”
So said Yoda – and he had a point. How many articles do you need to read about other people’s procrastination problems and how they tackle them? Preferably, not so many that it becomes a form of procrastination in itself!
The chances are that deep down, you know exactly how, why and when you procrastinate – and you’ve read all those great articles with tips on how to overcome it (ahem!). So be a grown-up and get it sorted. You’re running a business here, and you’re the boss. Would you employ someone else if they were lazy, unmotivated and incapable of managing their time and meeting their deadlines? I think not!
You know what needs to be done and you know what your procrastination triggers are. Tackle those triggers – remove the phone from the room, use the Pomodoro Technique, make yourself work ‘office hours’ with standard tea breaks, whatever- and DO your work to the best of your ability when it’s work time. Playtime will be all the more sweet and guilt free if you do so.
Quickly and regularly reviewing your progress is not a waste of time; ultimately, it should save you time. You should review how things are going part way through the working day (lunchtime is usually ideal), at the end of the working day and at the end of your working week.
These reviews give you the chance to revise and adapt your work plan to take any extra tasks or problems into account. Did the research for Sally’s project take twice as long as you expected this morning? Then you need to change your plan now to account for the delay – working extra time or moving another project to ensure that you’re on track to complete Sally’s work.
Sticking slavishly to your original plan in the hope that everything will somehow get done makes no sense, so don’t be afraid to adapt as you go. I use a diary to plan out my work – often weeks or months in advance – but as other short-term tasks or non-work commitments crop up, extra notes and scribbles appear. That’s not a problem, but a sign of a work plan changing organically so that it best meets both my needs and the requirements of the people who hire me.
Remember: Don’t Waste Time on Time-Saving!
If time is of the essence, remember: don’t waste time on complicated methods of saving it! By all means take some leisure time to read articles on time management and try out productivity apps if you really want to, but don’t be fooled into believing you must use them, or be tempted to use your precious work time for these investigations.
If you want to get started right now, simply Plan, Do and Review – and you won’t go far wrong.