Self-employment comes with many benefits, and one of the biggest of those is the freedom and flexibility to do what you want when you want. Unfortunately, many people find that this freedom is a double-edged sword, and the lack of rigid schedules and watchful managers can often result in procrastination, missed deadlines, and poor time management. Thankfully, whether you’re a freelancer or the head of a startup, there are proven strategies for improving your productivity and making the most of your work days.
Tackle Important Tasks First
Willpower is like a battery, in the sense that you have a limited supply of it each day that must be “recharged” by getting adequate rest. Because of this, tasks that you put off until the end of the day are the ones you are most likely to procrastinate on or abandon until tomorrow, a problem that is especially important to deal with if you are self-employed and don’t have a boss breathing down your neck. One of the best ways to boost your productivity is to focus on tackling the most critical tasks first so that you get the most value out of your work hours instead of ending the day with only minor tasks completed. Finishing important projects early in the day also gives you a stronger feeling of accomplishment, which can mean more momentum to push through the rest of your to-do list.
Use the “Rest and Peak” Strategy
Research has proven that you can boost productivity and alertness by taking period breaks instead of trying to push straight through an entire workday. While each person’s daily rhythm will be deferent, the important factor is utilizing a “rest and peak” strategy where you break your work into segments of intense focus and productivity, broken up by periodic breaks that help you recharge your mental energy and creativity. Common workflow structures include the Pomodoro technique, characterized by 25-Minute work periods followed by five-minute breaks, and the Basic Rest-Activity Cycle, or BRAC, which recommends 90-minute work sessions broken up by 20-minute rest periods.
Chart Your Progress
The human mind tends to do a poor job of judging just how much work has gotten accomplished in a specific period, which is why creating an accountability chart can help you gauge your progress and optimize your productivity. Write out the work that you have planned for the day, and try to block out how much time you want to spend on each task. Throughout the day, compare your progress against the chart to see if you are beating your estimates or lagging.
Keeping a graph will give you a more accurate sense of how long it takes you to get work done, which is especially useful for specific repetitive tasks that you have to do each day, and being mindful of these times can help you to avoid over-scheduling your days or getting behind on a deadline.
Many people think that multitasking is the key to a more productive workday, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. A study conducted by Stanford University measured subjects ability to filter unnecessary information, switch between tasks, and remember relevant information, and found that people who multitasked measured significantly lower in all three metrics compared to the people who focused on one job at a time.
Block Out Social Media
The average person spends almost two hours each day scrolling through social media platforms, and most of that browsing time occurs during work hours. While some projects may require social media engagement, or being available to answer a customer or client’s questions, it’s a good idea to filter out these sites whenever possible if you want to maintain focus. Consider waiting until your scheduled break times to open up Facebook, and if you find yourself lacking the willpower to avoid checking your feeds, there are various apps and browser extensions available that will temporarily disable access to social media websites while you work.
Be Mindful about Your Environment
People are quite conscious of their surroundings, and the environment you work in can have a significant impact on how focused and productive you can be. A crowded or cluttered workspace can create distractions and make you feel stressed or boxed in, while a streamlined, open office can help you stay laser-focused. Some people find it difficult to work at home, and prefer to head outside to get some fresh air or to enjoy the ambient sounds of a local coffee house, while others get overwhelmed or self-conscious in public places. Wherever you choose to work, you should try to create a peaceful environment, with the appearance, sounds, and even smells that calm you down and make you feel productive. It may take some trial and error, but once you’ve settled on your ideal workspace, you will likely be amazed by how much more productive you become.
Self-employment requires a level of discipline and accountability that many people aren’t fully prepared for when they transition from a more traditional work environment, which can often be a major source of stress and poor productivity. But by using the strategies above, virtually anyone is capable of improving their workflow, streamlining their daily agenda, and boosting the overall efficiency of their work.