Working efficiently on projects is something we can all probably improve on. As someone who struggles to stay focused on tasks, in and out of work, I've found some ways that can help you get the most out of those 24 hours.
Working for yourself, and especially working for yourself from home, a lot of distractions present themselves on a daily basis. There are shows to be watched, chores to be done, snacks to be eaten and cute cats to play with. Not exactly the picture of a distraction-free workspace.
Managing your time as a WFH freelancer, or <Insert your occupation here>, it can be difficult to manage your time efficiently and get projects done on time. As someone who is easily distracted, can’t focus on one project for more than 45 minutes at a time and has had to hack my work schedule to get things done, I know a thing or two when it comes to time management techniques.
Here are five ways to better manage your time. These hacks worked for me and may work for you!
Break Down Projects into Smaller Goals
Take something daunting and turn it into smaller tasks. By checking off a bunch of little to-do’s on your big to-do list, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and may be motivated to do more work.
For example, say you’ve got a major written assignment due for school or for a client, and the overall length and specifics of the paper have you pulling your hair out. Start small. First, outline the article with the major key points you want to include. This can quite simply just be bullet points listed out or titles in place. Next, move on to a first draft. Try to fill out as many of the key points that you listed earlier, but be okay with it being rough. Write in choppy sentences, spell things wrong, it’s going to get edited out later and you’ll probably lose most of what you initially wrote down anyway. Something is always better than nothing.
Finally, after building out as much of the written content as you can, edit it one last time and turn it into where it needs to go. This approach can be done with a variety of larger tasks! Need to clean the house but can’t find the time to do it all at once? Clean throughout the day when you have time. Do the dishes when you wake up, sweep the floors on your lunch break, do the laundry in between your other tasks.
Work things into your day as they fit. Not everything needs to get done in one fell swoop.
There’s no use spending a lot of time on projects that don’t need to be done for two more weeks. This leaves more time-sensitive tasks to be done in a pinch, leaving you more stressed out.
Being the hyper-organized person that I am, I have color-coded my to-do lists in a few different ways. I use colors and symbols that show me what projects should be done when and how important they are.
For work projects, I write out super urgent deadlines in red, followed up by articles that are easy to write and have more flexible deadlines in orange, and finally projects that aren’t due for at least two weeks are written in pink. As time moves forward, I re-color code these tasks so I stay on track and know what my most time-sensitive tasks are. If the deadlines for red-colored tasks get too close, I underline them so they grab my attention when I look at my to-do list.
For my personal life and activities, I use a similar structure and setup. I color code my to-do list by writing out my goals, tasks, chores, and social commitments on a weekly to-do list. Each day gets four open slots that I can fill with housework (red), personal growth goals (blue), or social commitments (yellow).
By only allowing four activity slots per day on my schedule, I almost completely remove the risk of over-booking myself and being spread too thin.
This one sounds like it would decrease overall productivity but it doesn’t. By taking breaks when you need them, you’ll be more productive when you are focused on work. You won’t get more done when you’re frazzled and unfocused on a project. Take a break and come back to it with a fresh mindset.
A schedule I like to do that works for my brain is spending 45 minutes focused on a work project, give or take 15 minutes depending on my motivation level, and then spending 15 minutes doing something unrelated to work. This could be going for a walk around the block or stretching on my yoga mat, eating a snack, or reading a book.
This on and off schedule can be done in various time increments. Work for 3 hours and take a 30-minute break. Work for one hour and take an hour break. Find the rhythm that works for you and what your natural work cycle is and make it work. Believe it or not, some people are more productive in the morning or at night and your ability to flex your time should match that.
Prep for Projects
Set yourself up for success and make sure you have everything ready to go before you dive into a project. Do you have all the necessary tabs and documents open to get started? Do you have a pen and paper or any other note-taking supplies you need? Is your coffee cup full? Get yourself ready first so you don’t have to get up frequently to set yourself up as you go.
Similar to creating a rough draft for a written project, prepping and setting yourself up for success will make things easier in the long run. You have to start somewhere. So...start with some coffee, a motivating playlist, and get into it.
Focus on One Task at a Time
Multi-tasking is a great skill to have but when it comes time to tackle major projects, it’s worth it, in the long run, to put all your attention on one thing at a time.
I’m guilty of not doing this because for me and my brain, if I don’t visually see something, it doesn’t exist to me and it won’t get done. I do this with my work and I do this with my personal life and I’ll be honest, it’s not a great approach. To have post-it notes everywhere and all of my hair and makeup tools out on the counter because, ya know, if that eyebrow gel isn’t in sight, I won’t do my eyebrows that day, is exhausting. Trying to complete six different tasks at the same time by jumping from project to project is not the way, my friends.
This is a classic case of do as I say and not as I do.
When it comes to my workload, I feel the need to open every...single...tab that even slightly pertains to work. Because, If I don’t see it, it won’t exist and I won’t do it. This gets easily overwhelming, and my computer doesn’t love me for it either, and ultimately it’s not a productive way to use my time. By breaking the habit of having every relatable tab open and only focusing on one article or client project at a time, I’m more easily able to complete the project at an efficient pace.
Removing distractions and only having one task up in front of you will help you get it done faster. It’s okay to switch tasks as frequently as every 30 minutes, but by focusing, even if just for a short time, you’ll get more done on the task at hand than trying to juggle it along with a bunch of other projects.
Whether you work from home or have to adhere to a work schedule set by someone else, these time management hacks could save you some headaches in the long run and help you end up being overall more productive at work.
If not, at the very least, your to-do lists will be organized and you may get some extra breaks in your day.