Last month a friend posted about the 10-year anniversary of quitting his job, and it made me wonder …
How long have I been self-employed?
When I did the math, I realized that I quit in June of 2009.
10. Years. Yo.
I remember when I turned in my notice and started to let people know I was leaving. While lots of people were supportive, I also heard a lot of comments like, “I could never work for myself because I wouldn’t get any work done.”
And now that I’m 10 years into it, I can say yes, temptation abounds.
For example, several years ago, I binge-watched Californication for a month. Productivity score: F.
But clients don’t pay you to find out if Hank and Karen are ever going to make it work. So if you want to make money and NOT wind up back in a cube farm, then yeah, you’re going to get work done on time.
That said, my days of binge watching are loooong gone. I have way too much going on in my business now, and these projects excite me more than anything on Netflix.
So to celebrate my 10 years of freedom, I thought I’d share my top 10 productivity tricks…
These are things I actually do on a daily or at least weekly basis. And they’re things that have made a noticeable difference in how much I can accomplish.
#1 Find your people.
Look, I’m so introverted that when my peers complain about feeling lonely, I’m like, “Whaaaa…? Why?” But finding a peer group (that meets regularly) really boosted my productivity.
After all, I don’t want to be the loser who comes to the meeting without doing anything I said I’d do. That’s literally the reason I’m writing this post right now — I belong to a cutthroat accountability group. They’re lovely people, but they show no mercy.
#2 Have a coach (or two).
You know when you spend 87 hours working on your logo, instead of doing the important stuff you should be doing? That’s the sort of thing that a coach will slap you upside the head for.
Coaches have been one of my best resources for boosting productivity. (More examples of this below…)
#3 Use block scheduling.
One way to really kill your productivity is to have your “deep work” interrupted by phone calls. Each time you’re interrupted, you have to figure out where you left off and get back into that headspace. And that means you lose a lot of time and momentum.
Instead, schedule calls on one day, writing on another, etc. In my case, I like to have calls in the afternoon, because it’s easier for me to write in the morning. And by the way, I learned this block scheduling tip thanks to my membership in The Freelance Co-Op.
#4 Use your own project management software.
My clients have used Asana, Basecamp, you name it. So I’m on a lot of different project management platforms. But only relying on their platforms meant I couldn’t see a full snapshot of everything on my plate.
Now that I use my own project management software, I can plan my time better. I also add my personal business projects to the list, so that those tasks don’t get pushed aside.
#5 Repeat after me: “There are people for that.”
When you’ve been in business for a few years, hire a virtual assistant (VA). I should have done it sooner, because it’s been a game-changer. I now hand off the tasks that someone else can do, which frees up my time to do the tasks that only I can do.
#6 End each day by writing down the top 3-5 tasks you need to work on next.
This idea came from my coach Kevin Rogers (see #2 above). Write down the top tasks at the end of the day, when your head is still in “work mode.” Then, the next morning, you can sit down and get right to work. (Versus wondering what you should do and probably getting distracted for the first hour.)
#7 Meditate every morning.
And when you figure out how, let me know.
Kidding aside, the more I meditate, the more productive I am. I think more clearly, and ideas come more easily. Sometimes I fall off the wagon, but I do try to meditate for at least 10 minutes a day.
If you’ve ever tried to start meditating and couldn’t deal, I recommend this book. It’s a fun read and takes a more pragmatic look at meditation.
Yeah, yeah. More of the mind/body stuff. But doing high intensity strength training each week pays dividends all week long. I just feel more energetic.
#9 Have a baby.
Okay, you don’t have to actually have a baby. But stick with me for a minute…
When I had my daughter, I got productive AF. Why? Because I didn’t have all day long to work anymore. I had to get everything done during the time my nanny (AKA my mom) could be there to watch my daughter. Right now as I type this, I have one hour of work time left.
So if you can restrict your work hours — by joining something, volunteering, taking a class, whatever — you’ll find that you can probably get your work done more efficiently in the shorter time frame. (See also: Parkinson’s Law)
And bonus: you’re spending your “saved time” doing that fun thing you signed up for. Or in my case, I’m spending that time with my favorite tiny human on the planet.
#10 Take a day off. But REALLY take it off.
I used to take time off, but still check email. However, as my mentor Parris Lampropoulos taught me, you have to truly disconnect if you want to relax, recharge, and get new ideas. (I think Parris said he learned this from Dan Kennedy. He’d want me to give credit.)
So now when I take a day off, I’m truly offline. My VA makes this possible, because he’s monitoring email and working on projects while I’m out. And once I’m back in my office, there’s an email waiting for me from my VA, catching me up on anything important that happened while I was out.
So that’s it … my top 10 productivity tips after 10 years of working for myself.
I often drive past the building where I used to work (it’s on a major highway, I’m not driving there just for the fun of it). Sometimes I look at the window that was closest to my cubicle. That’s where I was when I spent all week wishing for Friday afternoon.
And then I think about my work life now, where I don’t need to worry about how to “force” myself to work.
Because when you like what you do, the real problem is figuring out how to take on all of the amazing projects you want to take on!