I often get the question how I get so much shit done and still have time for extensive traveling, seeing my friends, staying up to date on news and pop culture and have time for partying as well. It really comes down to three things; structure, discipline, and focus.
These are not just virtues I put into my professional life. These are virtues I was taught growing up and that I can see the value in. Because contrary to their limiting nature they help me free up a lot of time in my life. Time that I can then spend traveling, seeking new opportunities, learning new skills or simply just relaxing my mind.
I am disciplined about my routines so that I can be completely and utterly undisciplined and spontaneous at other times. I create structures because when life as usual is as unusual and in constant motion as mine it is important to have a foundation to fall back to and to build from. And I have developed tools to be highly focused when I need to because when you have all these opportunities it is easy for a scatterbrain to be all over the place in pure excitement of exploring this world.
When it comes to my professional life, which is deeply intertwined in my personal life, I use these 12 steps to be more efficient:
Find your sweet spot
You chose to be a freelancer. Then why work 8-16 as you did back in the day? You have the opportunity to create your own work week. I get most things done early morning or late at night. That means that I most days will take time off after lunch until before dinner time. Then I check in to see if anything urgent has come up that I need to answer the same day. If not I’ll be off and maybe spend an hour or two after dinner working on a project, fine-tuning something, writing, or preparing for the next day. I like being at work so I’m always reachable – the same goes for when I’m on vacation – because I have found my sweet spot where work is easy and doesn’t feel like work. It is a joyous part of my weekly routine and when I do it at the times a day where I’m most efficient it takes half the time.
Create a daily frame around your work. I’ve noticed, that when I have a clear focus for each day I spend less time and energy on my tasks. It is simple really; when you create a singular frame you get shit done at higher levels of speed and quality leaving more room to do all the other things you also want to do in life!
Create a list
One of my main tools is something as low tech as lists. I make a weekly list of the things I need to be done, from large to small, from work to self-care. I keep track with Google Calendar, and I use Todoist on a weekly basis for bigger things like deadlines and interviews, and smaller daily tasks I will write down on a piece of paper.
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Get the easy shit done first
As they say, dream big, start small – but most importantly start. That’s the way I go about my day. If you start out your day with an accomplishment is it easier to trick your mind into thinking it is already on track, it is already successful. It can be a task as small as making your bed. Make that bed! And then go on to your list. What is easy to cross off – e-mails, a follow-up message, reading the news in your field? Start with that and bask in the glory of crossing off things from your list. It feels great, huh?
Break your tasks into easy steps
It is about the elephant and how to eat it in smaller bites, yadda yadda. You know the story. But do you actually take your time to cut up the animal or do you just stare at it in awe and leave the room paralyzed? If you have a bigger assignment coming up, break it down. Create intermediate aims. People are often the biggest barrier to the end goal since they have calendars and lives, too. Who do you need to get in contact with to make this happen? Reach out to them first. Do you have a plan B, if your first choice is not available? What can you do yourself today to get the snowball rolling?
Learn to procrastinate
The no social media, no checking the fridge every ten minutes, no Imgur have never worked for me. Instead, I embrace procrastination. I call it mental breaks. It is hard for the human brain to stay focused in longer periods so I work in sprints. 25-45 minutes and then a break. Not necessarily a long break, just enough for my mind to get off the task at hand and release the thoughts cluttering up the back of my mind. I will usually get out of the chair, or at least look away from my computer. Then when I start the next sprint my mind is much more ready to work again.
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Plan after level of importance and urgency
Which tasks are key to your business going forward? And are they due today, tomorrow, or next week? Be realistic. You can’t do everything at once so plan out which tasks are the most important ones and which one is due first? Then I make it a competition in my head – how fast can I get this task done at the quality level I am satisfied with? I set a time that day where I want to be done, a time where I should be done, and a time where I absolutely have to be done. Then I try to beat those times.
Make a playlist
I excel at focusing. If I have a goal and I know from my list that it is both important and urgent then I will focus on that and mentally block all other tasks out. They simply have to wait. I turn off my phone, shut down the tabs on my computer, close the door. It can be super hard so I suggest making a sound barrier. I have created several playlists on Spotify and Soundcloud for different work modes. Quiet writing and thinking music, hardcore tunes for typing fast, ethereal sounds for that creative ideation phase and so on. Find something that makes you focus, but not sing along.
If you get stuck; leave.
I often find myself getting stuck in writing an article. Instead of beating myself up over it, I accept that I’m not going anywhere and get going. Physically, I mean. I actually get up and walk out the door. Fresh air and new visual impressions send me right out of the rut and back into business.
Learn how to be satisfied
Accept that you cannot always do everything to perfection. In peak times you will have to sometimes hand in work that is not your best but still lives up to the quality asked for by the client. That’s life. It is not about lowering your standards as a whole, but to be honest and realistic about time.
It is okay to ask for help
If you’re in over your head it is okay to admit it and ask someone for help. Always have a mentor, friend, or ally that you can call and discuss things with. They know of course that you’ll always be there for them, too.
Get it done today!
Stop postponing things to the very last minute. That strategy is so high-school. Be on top of things. If you find yourself finishing a job before time, get started on the next or be proactive and use that extra time to reach out to clients or seek new job opportunities. You cannot wait for things to happen. You have to make it happen. All the time. Every day. You chose the freelance life. Now work it. Live it!