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Where has the day gone? You got up with the best intentions. You made your list of tasks; you had a few interruptions; you spoke with clients; you answered emails; you stopped to eat; you took the dog for a walk.
Now it is almost midnight and only a few things on your “to-do” list have been accomplished. How did 16 hours just disappear?
If this I happening to you more than you would like to admit, you probably have a time management issue. But don’t fret – it’s really common and it’s really fixable.
Here’s 5 strategies that will put you back in control.
Go On a Diet
Gathering information and researching, talking about what must be done, and exploring just “one more source” or “running this by” just one more person may be subconscious activities that you are using to delay actual production.
Put yourself on a severe dietary restriction with the following:
1. Allow only 30-minutes in the morning to check and respond to emails.
That’s it. This will keep you from opening and reading all of those jokes and “spammy” things that keep showing up. Personal email communication should take place during lunch or after work hours.
2. Limit your time browsing the web.
It’s so easy to get caught up in reading just one more news item of interest. You do want to stay informed, after all. Restrict those activities to lunch or evening as well. This may be really hard to do, but if you want to be in control of your work day, you just don’t have a choice.
You can also get too caught up in gathering information and researching for a project you are working on.
If, for example, you are a clothing designer and you are exploring types of fabrics, you could do this all day. At some point you have to make a decision and go with it. Once you have started, you will be focused on finishing, not research.
3. No personal calls during work hours.
Friends and relatives may think that since you work from home, you can talk at any time. No you can’t. Gently tell them when to call. And, if you stop taking their calls, they’ll know you mean it.
You may be losing productivity because you cannot control your appetite for information – go on a diet!
Be a Sprinter
People who have the ability to focus understand this. They get immersed in what they are doing and they produce an amazing amount. And then they stop and breathe.
You can develop this same habit. Shut out everything for 30 minutes and just focus on a project. Force yourself to do this – it will be difficult at first, but soon it will become habitual and your brain will respond accordingly.
These bursts of productivity should occur with no food or drink nearby, with a phone on silent, and with no one else in the room. Set an alarm if necessary, but you do not get up and you do not reach for that coffee until it goes off.
If you do this for an 8-hour period, taking just a very short break between bursts, you will be amazed at what you have accomplished.
It’s easy for others to take advantage of the fact that you work from home – your spouse or partner calls and asks you to run some errands; your kid calls from school and wants you to bring up something s/he forgot; a friend calls with a problem and asks to come over to talk about it.
What would you answer if you were at work in an office downtown? These kinds of calls would not even come in, because the callers would know you could not do these things.
You want to be a nice person, and so the temptation is to say “okay.”
If you do, these interruptions will continue to occur. And each interruption means that focus and productive time is lost. Saying “no” will be difficult at first, but it does get easier. And the people to whom you say “no” will stop calling.
To-Do Lists Become Your “Bible”
You need to “shut down” your office at a reasonable time.
Yes, you can change your workday hours if you want. Lots of freelancers like to start later in the morning and work into the evening, but you do need to have a stop time.
Just before that stop time, however, is the 20-30 minutes you will spend going over your to-do list from that day and creating the new one for tomorrow. And here’s the thing about these lists: They must be in priority order.
Don’t just write down everything you want to do tomorrow. #1 on that list is the most important thing that you must attack at the beginning of your work day, #2 is next, and so on. And at the end of each day? The things that are left not crossed off are those things that were at the bottom of the list.
Key Point: You do not go to #2 on your to-do list until #1 has been accomplished, no matter how distasteful #1 is.
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Your Clients are Not Your Bosses
One of the reasons you left the traditional workplace was that you wanted to be your own boss. Now that you are “living the dream,” however, you somehow begin to feel like you are not your own boss – your clients are your bosses.
They tend to want to dictate how and when you work; they tend to want you available when it’s convenient for them; they tend to set your timelines for you.
You cannot let this happen – the stress and the lack of productivity will kill your success. When you get a new client, take charge.
Tell him/her what your work hours are; tell him/her when you will be available for calls and/or meetings; establish a timeline for project completion and get agreement. You can then control your own schedule.
Tools/Services to Assist Your Time Management
You cannot be everything to your business. You do need help. Fortunately, there are some great tools and services that can help you – here’s 4 of them.
1. Google Calendar: This tool is free as long as you have a Gmail account. Here you can track everything in a single place, such as progress toward projects, and you set up reminders and alerts to be sent to your desktop or email. If you work in more than one place, this is the perfect tool.
2. Lino: This is like a wall of post-it notes. Create your tasks, prioritize them, and then check them off or delete them when done.
3. TrustMyPaper: Contract out some of the business or copywriting tasks that you don’t want to perform. If you have a website and you need blog maintenance; if you need your Facebook and LinkedIn pages updated consistently; if you have marketing materials that you need produced; all of these things can be accomplished reasonably today.
4. Wave Accounting: Most business accounting tools are set up for business with 10 or more employees. This tool is cloud-based and does all of your invoicing, payments, payroll if you have any employees, tracks and categorizes business expenses for tax purposes, and handles personal finance too.
Time management skills can make or break your business. Work with the clock, not against it, and reap the benefits of productivity.
Julie Ellis – experienced freelance writer, marketer and passionate traveler. Follow Julie’s Twitter and Google+ to learn more about academic and business writing skills.