It may be that you’ve never been that good at staying productive, or you may have been like the “little engine that could” in the office, but since you’ve gone freelance, the wheels have come off the train.
Either way, don’t despair. It’s not an uncommon problem to have. Sitting in your home office with no boss looking over your shoulder and many distractions (the kids, sports on TV, digital content on your laptop), it can be difficult to stay focused.
Here are some of the issues that may be getting in the way of your completing your tasks and having a productive work day.
What Are Your Reasons Why Things Are Not Getting Done Faster?
1. No quiet place to work. If you don’t have a quiet office, then you may need to create one. Get the kids to play in their room if you work from the lounge. Try using earphones with film scores or other music without lyrics in order to block out audible distractions.
2. Old equipment. Are you trying to get things done on an old Pentium or with a computer over 3 years’ old with little memory? To be productive on technology, you need a PC no more than 3 years of age, and preferably younger than that. Max out the RAM memory and storage space.
3. Are you clear on what each project needs? If you don’t ask the right questions, you’ll keep working in confusion about what you are supposed to be delivering. Get focused. Get clear. Ask enough clarifying questions to hit the target.
4. Barely use a calendar. A calendar shouldn’t be used for everything, but it should be used for important events that are day or time specific that need to be attended to in order to contribute to your success.
5. Too many lists. If you have many To Do lists on bits of paper all over the place or post-it notes all around your LCD monitor, then you’re not organized. Ideally you need a single list of outstanding tasks, which are labeled with categories so they can be filtered later for specific tasks like phone calls, emails, online, etc. The “Getting Things Done” book by David Allen is an ideal system to follow.
6. No lists. If you are trying to do everything from memory, you’ll forget things. Simple as that. That’s no way to run a business, even a small one.
7. No daily plan. Just like with meetings, you need to start with a plan for the day. Scan your list of tasks (see point 5!) and pick out what you choose to complete today.
8. Not taking regular breaks. If you keep working without taking regular breaks other than a single lunch break, then your mind with wander and you’ll be ineffective after the first hour. It’s important to take a few minutes every hour to stretch your legs, change what you’re looking at and refocus your mind.
9. Skipping breakfast. If you are one of those people that runs on coffee alone in the morning, then you haven’t gotten the message about needing to supply real fuel to your body in the morning. Carbohydrates and to a lesser extent, protein, are needed to get you started. You need real food, not snacks, to give you a decent start to the day.
10. Under eating. Recent research findings have confirmed that the brain works best in the morning (following breakfast) when it has enough glucose to function well. This brain effectiveness dips near lunchtime, rising again after lunch, then drops off all afternoon. Steady meals and healthy snacks during the work day, spaced out, are essential for peak performance.
11. Too many interruptions. If you take too many calls, chat on Skype, email your friends and check messages as soon as they arrive, then you’re allowing yourself to be consistently interrupted. While this may make you feel wanted and busy, it is the opposite of what you need in order to be optimally productive. Isolate yourself. Deliberately avoid interruptions.
12. Poor time keeping. If you aren’t clear how long a work task actually takes you, then you’ll miss deadlines and take on more than you can handle. Estimate how long you think a task will take and then time it. Get a clearer sense of whether you over and underestimate how long each task will take. If you cannot get better in your estimations, then perform your own calculation, and pad it to allow for your usual level of error in order to come up with something realistic for everyone.
13. No set work hours. If you don’t have set work hours, then you’ll end up either working too little or too much. In the former case, you’ll get too little done. In the latter case, you may still get too little done and with more mistakes as you’ll wear yourself out.
14. Lack of goal setting. Goals are important to have something to shoot for. However, a goal is only made real when you break it down into a series of next actions that ultimately will help you to achieve your goal. A goal without a plan is only a dream, not a goal. Also ensure that you are fluid enough in your planning as any plan will not hold up to reality and will need to change on the fly as you progress towards your goal.
15. Feeling negative. There can be many different reasons for feeling blue including having to complete work you don’t enjoy, not liking your clients, income too low, hours too long, etc. It is important to get real about why you are feeling low and to see what you can do about it. If you are working in an area you no longer enjoy, how can you gradually more to a different type of work? If you don’t like your clients, how are you finding them and how can you locate a better quality of client instead? There is always something you can do to improve your situation in life if you are willing to put the work in to create the result you desire.
16. Not enough sleep. If you are not getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night or if you drink heavily which can interrupt the sleep pattern, then this can cause irritability, lack of focus, lack of attention to detail and a bad attitude with clients. It is important to get rest and enough sleep even if you feel that you are not getting enough done. You cannot perform at your best and with a good attitude if you are exhausted all the time.
17. Procrastination. Procrastination is the silent killer of many freelance dreams. Tackle the problem in order to get yourself moving again. Even if you the task is unpleasant or difficult, tell yourself that it’s easy in order to get moving on it. If you are really having trouble, pick up a copy of “The Now Habit” by Neil Fiore, Phd. which has effective techniques for getting moving again if you’re really stuck.
18. Clients too demanding. This is a factor of picking the wrong clients, but also one of not setting expectations and terms of work sufficiently from the outset. We have all had our share of nightmare clients (who never think they’re bad clients just like the bad guy in the film never thinks he’s the bad guy). You have to know when to cut the cord with someone that is taking up far too much time or mental energy for the amount of money they help bring in.