Productivity Techniques for the Creative but Hyperbusy Web Workers

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Productivity is a very popular topic. That’s a problem. There is a lot to read about it. It’s too much. How can you be productive when you are reading about productivity all the time? You can even read contradicting advice quite often.

I do not often write about productivity but when I do I write based on my own experience

while understanding that not everybody can follow in my footsteps. It depends largely on the tasks you have to accomplish throughout the day and week. Also it depends on whether you are an independent consultant, working at an agency or an in-house employee for a larger business. No matter where you are and how you work as a creative web worker you are probably hyperbusy. As a

  1. business blogger
  2. social media power user
  3. and search engine optimizer

working on several projects at once I have a lot to do each day, week and month. Over the years I had to develop some both simple and advanced techniques to cope with that.

As a blogger I need to be able to write daily for an hour or two in a row sometimes.

Despite not being a full time social media consultant I have to take care of my social media presence daily beacuse it’s where my audience resides. Some services of mine require daily social media practice to be able to understand what drives social sites and how people react to certain types of content for example. Last not least the daily progressing SEO industry demands a lot of attention plus constant learning too.

So over the years I had to learn that you need to

  1. minimize interruptions
  2. perform one task at a time
  3. set boundaries for yourself and others
  4. assign the right amount of time for each task
  5. be both flexible and plan well

 

How to minimize interruptions

Social media messages, emails, phone calls are constantly demanding attention. You could take care of them 24h a day and still have to reply to more of them. Why? The more you use them the more demanding they become. It’s like the dragon that grows two new heads for each you cut off. When writing, designing, programming or doing anything else that requires creativity you need to be able to immerse yourself in the task.

Every interruption makes you lose focus for up to 20 minutes researchers have found out.

I have reserved times for social media, usually in the morning and then I don’t look up status updates unless I rest. I don’t read and reply to emails all day, I do it in bulk once a day, in the evening. I schedule phone calls whenever I can and reserve time for them.

 

How to perform one task at a time

Multitasking is probably one of the biggest productivity myths. By now it has been scientifically proven that it doesn’t work. The contrary is the case. Even in case you manage to really perform more than one task a a time you will be slower, more prone to mistakes and the overall quality of your work will deteriorate. You will do many things at once but none of them correctly.

To do quality work you need to focus on one task at a time and forget your surroundings.

Not only you have to minimize interruptions from outside you also have to be able to keep going without losing focus. When writing for example I reserve an hour for it after I have eaten lunch so that I have enough energy to do it or I eat something that can help me maintain the level of energy required while at it, corn flakes sweetened with honey in my case.

When your energy level is too low you get easily distracted by yourself sometimes,

a random thought or a short Internet visit for research can lead you astray until you “wake up” an hour later without having made any progress on your actual task. Nobody can maintain the highest productivity all the time. After an hour you need to get up and move a little for example.

Also drinking a lot helps me personally. Your body metabolism often comes to a standstill when working on the computer all the time. Fluids help to stimulate it when sitting makes you lazy. Water may suffice. I drink Roiboos tea which doesn’t contain the caffeine equivalent of tea but tastes great. Coffee, soft drinks or even energy drinks drain you more than they help so keep off them.

 

How to set boundaries for yourself and others

I tell my clients that I check my emails only once daily and that I plan my tasks for a week in advance so that they know and are prepared to wait. Or in case they are not they understand that they have to call me and interrupt my workflow. On the other hand I often tell them when I will perform the task they asked me for so they don’t have to wonder and become restless.

I had some difficult clients in the past that needed constant attention or required me to do additional unpaid work in-between tasks. I had to end my work relationship with them after they have failed to accept my boundaries repeatedly.

In case someone doesn’t respect your time, that person most probably won’t respect your work and you as whole either.

So in the long run it’s better to part ways even in case it might be painful to lose a client, especially as you feel you failed in such a case. Too demanding clients are often dissatisfied all the time even in case you are the outperforming yourself and the competition. Some people have such a character, there is never enough for them.

 

How to assign the right amount of time for each task

When I was new to freelancing I still had difficulties at charging people money and telling how long I need for a given task. I always felt that I was too slow and expensive. In retrospective I was very cheap and fast then. Also I wanted to be better in a shorter time. I ended up working longer but getting only a part of the work paid. For example I assessed that I need two hours for a task while in reality I need 3 or 4.

It took me some self-discipline and most of all self-confidence to face the truth:

either I needed to write shorter pieces or charge for more hours. Also charging more per hour helped me to find the clients who actually knew how much my work was worth.

These days when I say I need 2h I really need 2h. I still tend to do more and more until something is perfect but I look at the time slot reserved for a task and when the clock says it has be ready in 30 minutes I speed up the process or drop some minor improvements. After all it’s the 80/20 rule, 80% of the effort in most cases suffices. In cases where I actually need more time for a task I tell my clients, so either I get paid more or I work less the next time to maintain some balance.

 

How to be both flexible and plan well

In my early years of “working at home” I have been doing whatever came to my mind. That way many tasks remained undone. Only later I realized that there is not enough time to accomplish all of them and some planning is needed to be able to stuff in as many productive tasks in a day as possible. I would sometimes end up doing social media stuff for hours for example.Then I began to plan using Google Calendar. It didn’t work either.

My plan was too rigid to accommodate the changes daily life requires.

You can’t plan everything and you can not implement your plan completely. So you need some flexibility. You have to plan recurring tasks and the ones specific for a day but you need some room for improvement to be able to adapt to some ad hoc changes.

One day Glen of ViperChill has recommended the simple TeuxDeux todo-list app where you can drag and drop tasks back and forth. I use it ever since. So while I plan every week in advance on Monday I can still move tasks around depending on what the day brings. I always try to do what I have planned but I also acknowledge that only a flexible tree bends with the wind while the rigid one breaks one day.

(Note from editor Scott: I love trello and toodledo for tracking projects and todos. Both have nice free plan options.)

Creati9ve Commons image by Kailash Gyawali