December 22, 2015
Let’s face it. As an independent without an assistant or project manager, it’s often hard to maintain your productivity. Besides the usual dstractions of a chirping inbox or the siren’s call of social media, there’s the added layer of often trying to work from home – where there’s always something else vying for your attention.
OK, so we’ve mapped out the challenge.
But how can you actually maintain productivity when working on your own?
It may sound silly, but I’ve got a productivity pie. While it’s not as tasty as my Mom’s pecan pie (mostly because it’s not an actual pie), it keeps me on track most days, at least to the point where I’m not stressed out laying in bed because I didn’t get enough done.
So, here are the nine ingredients that keep me at peak productivity.
- Food. No, really. There are few things as distracting as an empty belly. Set a good foundation by giving your body and your brain what they need – nourishment. It's hard to be productive when everything around you turns into a giant turkey leg like one of those old cartoons. And there’s science to back this up – Inc. magazine even published a piece about it earlier this year.
- Time Management. I like to block time throughout the day for certain tasks. It allows me to focus and minimize distractions because I know that everything has it’s own time slot. I’ve got a M/W/F schedule and a Tu/Th schedule with flexibility built in for meetings and the unexpected. Generally, I’ve settled into a routine of 1 hour of e-mail to start the day, two 30-minute social media sessions (AM and PM), and another hour of dreaded administrative work like invoices and expense reports. With that I’ve already knocked out three critical tasks and still leave myself five hours of time to do my actual creative work.
- Space Management. No, not like Gravity or The Martian (which both managed to crush any lingering astronaut dreams I had), actually managing the space around you. Now I’m not saying to go full-on OCD and have your workspace look like an Ikea showroom, (because messy workspaces may not actually be so bad) but give yourself a good work environment. Have a system for organizing paperwork, keeping separate home and work piles, or at the very least having somewhere confortable to get stuff done.
- Lists. I’ve actually been doing this since I applied to college eons ago. With multiple demands on my time, and tasks that number in the dozens, having a list always helps. And as an independent, I don’t have a project manager or assistant to corral me. Today, I do it with Wunderlist, which syncs between all my devices, allows me to prioritize tasks, keeps multiple lists for home and work, and even enables me to share to-dos lists with family and colleagues. For me, though, there’s also just something satisfying about checking something off and hearing that little “ding!”
- Technology. Speaking of that “ding!,” remember those buzzes and beeps I mentioned before? If you can’t bear to put your phone down, you can actually use them to boost your productivity, as well. You may not have administrative staff, but you’ve got powerful devices. From DropBox and 1Password to 30/30 and OmniFocus, there are a number of apps on every platform to help you get organized, manage your time, or just share and collaborate more efficiently.
- Airplane Mode. I’m not kidding. It’s hard to maintain a rhythm when your devices are beeping and buzzing every 20 seconds. As Lifehacker put it, Notifications are Evil. Shut it all down besides the task in front of you. If you’re blocking time as I mentioned above, you’ve have plenty of time for clearing your inbox or getting your social media fix.
- Solitude. Oh, if there were only an airplane mode for people. Specifically, my kids. I literally had to stop working on this for an hour because my 8-year-old couldn’t find her hair bow and seems to think it’s in my office. As an independent, it’s tough to avoid the unexpected office visit, but if you have a door that can close, close it. If that doesn’t work, consider investing in a “do not disturb” sign (or just take one from the next hotel you stay at).
- The “Walk-Away.” We all get stuck. But at some point, you need to drop it and get to the next task. It’s kinda like when you stare at a word for so long that it doesn't even look like a word anymore. At that point, you’re no longer being productive, so move on. Whether it’s striving for perfection or dealing with writer’s block, sometimes it’s easier to shift gears for a little bit and come back later. If you don’t have another task lined up, take a quick walk, or just get up and have a glass of water before jumping back in.
- Discipline. None of that means anything without the ability to stick to your “recipe.” You’ve just got to remind yourself that it’s all worth it, and you’re getting more done. Make these practices a habit.
So, mix it all up, add seasoning to your liking, and enjoy the taste of time better spent. Got any productivity hacks for independents that you’d like to share? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter!
New and notes for independents and their clients around the web. This is the January 18, 2016 edition.
Sometimes people aren't ready to fully commit to being an independent consultant - find out how moonlight might be a strong alternative.