Lots of freelancers talk about their typical day.
Procrastination, you say?
“Never! I sit down at my laptop for 7 hours a day, how is that procrastinating?”
Well, pretty easily, frankly.
Here’s one example for your typical freelancer.
For the sake of this example, let’s call her Liz:
- Wake up around 830am
- Check overflowing inbox
- Put out small fires that need fixing as soon as possible
- Take first look at daily to do list
- Check email again
- Take a look at Twitter
- Reads 4-5 interesting blog posts and articles seen on Twitter
- Open Google Docs to start client work
- Needs coffee
- Check out Facebook while coffee is brewing…clicks one funny link…leads to YouTube rabbit hole…
- Might as well eat lunch
- Ok back at desk to start client work
- But first, check email again
- Respond to a few new emails
- Oops, realizes forgot to do something from last week
- Does overdue task
- Looks at daily to do again
- Stresses about piles of work to be done over the next week
- One more look at Twitter
- Schedules a few posts in Buffer
- Checks affiliate sales income
- Friend texts with happy hour invite
- Opens client work again, jots down quick outline
- Close laptop
- Head to happy hour.
Looking at it from a distance, this is a ‘successful’ day. After all, Liz (the freelancer) woke up early and spent a good 6-7 hours in front of the laptop.
She will cheer her time management skills (most likely in an Instagram post from pub trivia night). Look at everything she was able to do, a long day at work, and now some time off.
At least that’s what Liz (and a lot of us) likes to tell herself.
In reality, though, not much got done. I mean what were the ‘successes’ of the day?
There was a lot of checking various sites around the internet, checking a to-do list, and half-heartedly doing a portion of a client project.
This will probably have to be re-done later. After all, how much concentration do you have right before happy hour?
The only real task accomplished was something that was overdue anyway. Not a great look to say the least.
A lot of freelancers get stuck in this world of being in motion but not doing much of anything. That’s what we want to tackle in the post.
First, I want to cover something I call ‘the procrastination mindset.’ And then, I want to offer some time management tips I’ve used to break out of it and get stuff done.
Ready to take a look?
The Procrastination Mindset
Here’s a cold hard truth: spending time in front of a laptop doesn’t mean you’re doing productive work.
We like to train ourselves laptop open = work. We’re all about productivity! Getting things done!
Unfortunately, I’ve found the productivity mindset can be disguised as a procrastination mindset instead. We procrastinate by doing things that ‘seem’ like work.
After all, reading about how to be a better writer, or how to improve your opt-ins, or the tools that will make your business operate more smoothly are important, right?
In a technical sense, sure.
But ask yourself how often you read a post about ‘how to do XYZ’ and then set aside time to do it? And how often did doing that directly lead to a new client or making more money?
For most people, the answer is zero.
We do things that make us feel like we’re working by convincing ourselves that almost anything can be ‘work.’
Networking on Twitter = work.
Reading blog posts = work.
Watching 4 hours of Gary Vee videos on YouTube = work.
In reality, we’re procrastinating. You know it, and I know it. There is stuff, real stuff that can make us money, we should be doing, but we’re spending time doing this ‘work’ instead.
All that’s happened here is you’ve gotten yourself into the procrastination mindset. It’s a tricky bastard who is pretty convincing too.
To see success, you have to beat procrastination, and the only way you can do that is by taking consistent action.
James Clear calls this motion versus action.
If motion doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it?
Sometimes we do it because we need to plan or learn more. But more often than not, we do it because motion allows us to feel like we’re making progress without running the risk of failure. Most of us are experts at avoiding criticism. It doesn’t feel good to fail or to be judged publicly, so we tend to avoid situations where that might happen.
And that’s the biggest reason why you slip into motion rather than taking action: you want to delay failure.
Thankfully there is a cure: doing stuff.
This is where you have to get yourself out of the procrastination mindset and into the taking action mindset.
Time Management Hacks (That Worked for Me)
How do you get yourself out of the procrastination mindset and start being productive?
I’ve learned a few time management hacks along the way that have created a system. When I stick to the system, I get stuff done. When I don’t, hello YouTube marathon!
I think the most important thing to consider is finding what methods and systems work best for you.
That can start with the right tools.
This list of the best time management apps from Time Doctor has a really nice in depth overview of 18(!) different productivity tools ranging from time tracking apps to file sharing and project management apps. So take a look at that and see which tools jump out. You’ll probably find a few winners there.
So, take from these what you will, and give them a try.
#1. Set a Daily Task List
I’m a huge proponent of working off a daily list. I fight the feeling of overwhelm by not worrying about what tasks I have to do down the road.
This is because I pre-plan all my tasks a week in advance. All I have to do is focus on the day at hand. It might take me 2 hours or 8 hours but once I finish, my day is a success.
#2. Focus on the Most Important Thing
Sure there are lots of things we have to get done at any given time. But in reality, there are only a handful of tasks that are the super important things that push us forward.
These are the tasks that need to get tackled first.
I figure these out by having a North Star goal that I attack every quarter. Every day, the first task I do is the one that will get me one step closer to my North Star. That way, I always have a focus point.
#3. Plan Ahead
Hand in hand with the daily task list is good planning.
You don’t have to go years down the road, but generally, know what you want to accomplish each month.
Then work backward. I schedule all my tasks this way. I know the deadline and go back from there.
I never start a week without knowing exactly what I have to do every day. And I never start a month without adding my deadlines first.
#4. Include Buffer Days
Sometimes your mojo is going to be all out of whack. No matter what you do, you can’t focus or get anything done.
It happens, it’s life as a freelancer. That’s why I always schedule in a few buffer days.
Yup, it sounds crazy, but I plan for procrastination. I don’t kid myself; I know it’s going to happen.
It lets me have an unexpected day off without blowing up my plans or my deadlines.
#5. Know Your Deadlines
When I worked in an office, I was legendary for being able to keep all sorts of dates and times in my head. I’m lucky to have a good memory for this type of thing.
As I started juggling lots of clients, things would occasionally slip through the cracks.
Now I plug in my deadlines, and where possible, I make them a day or two early. This helps with buffer days, and it’s nice to surprise and delight a client by turning work in ahead of schedule sometimes.
#6. Find the Right Organizational Tool
There are about a million organizational tools out there, I know I’ve tried approximately 500,000 of them.
It wasn’t until I came upon the tool that worked perfectly for me, Lanes, that my time management locked into place.
Spend some time searching tools, play around with them and see how they work for you. Don’t give up until you find your perfect tool. Finding that tool can skyrocket your productivity.
#7. Know Your Schedule
One thing you’ll learn as you work for yourself is your body’s schedule.
Some people can be up at 5 am and power through work until 11 am then call it a day. Others don’t even start working until 11 pm and go till 2 am.
The key is to work around the parts of the day where you’re most alert.
For me, my mind gets super focused between 9 am – 1 pm then again from 7-9pm. So that’s when I do my focused work.
I often save my brain dead hours for either light admin work (invoices, scheduling social media, etc.) or I spend that time reading, relaxing, or meeting a friend for lunch.
#8. Remove Distractions
I can’t shut off the internet when I work since I typically do a bunch of research for my writing. But, I can get rid of social media.
I loooove Twitter and can be trapped on there for hours, so as soon as it’s time to focus, Twitter goes away. I also have a feed blocker on my Facebook.
I need a bit of noise when I work, so I have a soundtrack of movie and tv soundtracks I always listen to. It provides just the right amount of sound with zero distractions.
#9. Release Perfection
You are not perfect and never will be.
As a recovering perfectionist who has wasted a lot of time on the small meaningless things, this is a mantra I have to repeat over and over again.
Do work until it is good enough to go and then release it. Sometimes it will come back to you to do even more, but most of the time it won’t.
#10. Have One Easy Win
Some days there are struggles to get anything done. Sometimes it’s just a sign of a bit of stress or burn out. When that happens, I let myself take a few hours or a day off.
More often than not, all I need to get the ball rolling is to check something off my to-do list. So when this happens, I break my own rule and go for the easiest thing first.
I create one super easy win that I can check off. That simple act is often all it takes for me to move forward.
#11. Create Habits
I’m a big fan of Charles Duhigg’s book The Power of Habit. It’s all about ways you can change ‘bad’ habits into ‘good’ ones.
One way to do that is to create a routine around a good habit. You need to make it easy for you to embrace time management. My productivity tool, Lanes, helps me with this. It operates on Chrome tabs, so every time I open a new tab, boom, there’s my daily task list staring back at me.
Another way to approach this is to start by setting your schedule. Make Sunday night at 9 pm your weekly planning hour. Make 2 pm the time where you check Twitter.
The key is not to deprive yourself but focus on the actions that move your business forward first, then on to the other stuff.
#12. 100% on One is Better than 10% on Ten
Another big lesson I’ve learned is to finish a project before moving on to the next. That’s why I schedule projects over a couple of days.
When I have something to do, especially something that’s related to my north star goal, I do it til completion.
I used to bounce around doing a bit of this, a bit of that, leaving me with lots of work done and nothing completed.
When you know exactly which goals you’re focusing on first, it makes this a lot easier.
Start Taking Action
Those are the main hacks I’ve been using the last year or so to level up my productivity.
Are there days I still fall into the procrastination mindset, sure. But, I know that with the system I’ve set up, I can’t get too far off course. And, I know how to get myself back into work mode.
If you’ve struggled with this stuff yourself, now is the perfect time to start taking action. You’ll be able to push your business forward as we head into the second half the year.