You’re Batman without all the moody Bat-bullshit.
And there’s always an unlimited amount of work to do. If you’re not busy doing work for your customers then you’re busy finding more of them. And without the strict deadlines and glares from your boss when you’re in employment, it can be tricky to keep your productivity steady without burning out.
Here’s the problem: you need some way to track your tasks so that nothing falls through the gap, but all too often you end up spending more time managing your work than actually doing it.
So try this:
1. Set your goals
These aren’t your five year plans, these are your next business milestones. So it might be ‘increase my customer numbers by 20% in the next 3 months.’
TIP: Remember to keep your goals SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Time-bound). So no wooly guff about being a millionaire at some point by doing something or other.
Write your current goal down and stick it up somewhere. Put it as your computer wallpaper or stick it on your fridge. Force it to stay in the forefront of your mind every day.
Now, whenever new opportunities or tasks come in, you can see if they help you meet that specific goal. If they do, they can go on the list, if they don’t then bin them or add them to a ‘one day’ list away from your more important tasks.
2. Choose a single point of truth
We’re all into tech-supported working now. Apps help us with our superpowers. But they also tempt us into doing far more than we need to. In trying to make their product justify the price, app makers tend to load up with features that you probably don’t really need.
Here’s what’s important:
Use ONE: a single point of truth. Double entry of tasks is a pain and leads to mistakes. Ideally you should be able to keep notes and due dates in the task so you don’t have to remember them with your human brain.
After a lot of philandering with different todo lists, I’ve come back to using Trello (a kanban board app). It’s fast, it’s free and it lets me share boards with my customers so they can see how the work’s coming along.
3. Write a daily list
I’ve found that working straight from my Trello list tends to end with me getting distracted by my other tasks. So every morning I look at my task list and write down (using pen and paper like some sort of caveman) the three vital tasks that I MUST do that day.
This has been far more effective than I expected.
By physically writing down your tasks, you start your brain engaging with them, and you’re left with a distraction-free list of work to do. Only once those vital things have been done do you go back to the master list. Or take a nap. Whatever takes your fancy.
4. Kill the distractions
We can’t multitask.
Really, we can’t. Our brains just won’t work that way. And the nearest we can get — rapidly switching between several tasks — leaves none of them getting done well.
And we can only concentrate for about 25 minutes. Seriously, our brains are rubbish at focussing on lots of things at once AND at focussing on one thing for a long time.
So, we work with what we’ve got, using this variant of the Pomodoro technique:
- Turn off all notifications. We all think we can ignore them but we can’t. Turn them off while you work.
- Work on your task for 25 minutes without switching to anything else. Set a timer until you’re used to it.
- Have a 5 minute breather. Check those notifications that you’ve been desperate to look at, but remember that any new tasks that come from them go into your task list — don’t go off on a tangent.
- Go back to your original task. Do another 25 minutes. Repeat until the task is done.
- Have a longer break between tasks (20 minutes or so).
NOTE: The original Pomodoro technique says to do four 25 minute sessions then take a long break, but I’ve found it easier to concentrate when I take my long breaks between tasks. Your mileage may vary.