Working for yourself can be an incredibly rewarding experience. You don’t have anyone breathing down your neck telling you what to do and when, you can choose to work your own hours and you have a say in the direction of where you want to take your business meaning you have a choice in the work you take on and the stuff that you would rather leave to someone else. The disadvantage is however, structuring your time and ensuring you are productive. It can be easy when you are working for yourself to not use your time efficiently, especially if you lack discipline or are unsure of what task to tackle next. Here are some tips you can use to get into the flow and have work days that are far more productive than those who are chained to desk for 8 hours a day…
Make a List
You should never start a day on a whim. You need to know exactly what needs to get done before the day even begins. This will prevent aimlessly clicking around and mind wandering which can shed precious hours off an already short day. While you could write your to-do list out the night before, I always find it is handy to write it out right at the beginning of the day so it is all still fresh in my mind.
The list should then be ordered from highest priority to last. This will be the order in which you complete tasks. If you have something urgent such as responding to a particular email or a small task that is time sensitive, have this complete first. The most important tasks don't have to be the largest but you should always make sure you get those big tasks that will allow you to leap forward sooner rather than later.
You should also mark tasks as primary or secondary. Primary tasks will be those that you must complete on the day, you can’t sleep without finishing it. These are the tasks that will move your business forward while secondary tasks will add value down the line but they don’t necessarily matter whether you have them done today or next week, these you can move to tomorrow's list if you run out of time.
Know When to Take Breaks
Something I had struggled with in my early days of business is knowing when to take your breaks. Without having an hour allocated for lunch each day, it can be difficult to know what is work time and when you can sit back for a bit. One technique I used was the Pomodoro Technique. This is basically working for 25 minutes straight with a five minute break at the end for thirty minute blocks. After four or five of these blocks you can take a much longer break of fifteen to twenty minutes. This helps you keep focused on your tasks and if you want to let your mind wander or tinker on some of those “procrastination tasks” you have the time to do so.
The best way to make this work is to break down your to-do list into thirty minute blocks. This not only makes them far more manageable but also allows you to budget your time in a way that you have an estimation of how long you should be spending on each task and how many tasks you can cram into a day. Keep in mind that you don’t need to use the pomodoro technique for your entire work day. You might prefer to use it for intensive work periods or for those most important tasks to keep you on track. For those lighter days where you might have a few simple tasks to get done, you might find it more flexible to use the unstructured approach.
When I started working for myself, I found that I was the most laidback boss possible. Things would get done when I felt like it and I would use my time freely, taking as long or as little as I wanted for my major tasks. Unfortunately what happens when you have a lazy boss is that the business doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry. I found that with client work and deadlines, I would work much faster to get things done on time and this lead to more productive days. So why not set deadlines for all your work?
When setting deadlines for yourself, you need to be strict. Deadlines for your own work can sometimes feel more like recommendations rather than set in stone completion dates. This can be troublesome because once one deadline is missed they can all go out the window since they lose all meaning. You can allocate yourself bonuses such as leaving early on a friday if you meet all deadlines or longer breaks, whichever helps you stick to your own deadlines.
Try using a calendar and enter the estimation completion of all the major work you have on for the week. If you find that you miss a deadline, try make up for it with a penalty such as staying later and putting in overtime or foregoing your favorite Netflix show because you didn’t make your bonus. As long as you are disciplined with yourself and stick to your deadlines, they will serve you well. If you are too flexible or too strict the point you are stressed out, they are not doing what they were intended to and might need a rethink.