The Alchemist's Lair
Thoughts on writing, language, life as a freelancer,
and what comes to mind.
and what comes to mind.
Last post of this mini-series on stress-free productivity ... and today I'd like to share with you the most simple (and most important) piece of advice: to be more productive, you need to take a break every now and then.
I hear you. You didn't really need me to remind you that, right? And yet, this is something all freelancers forget about. Guilty as charged!
Taking short breaks during your workday helps you reduce stress. Plus, it helps you:
When your inner voice keeps squeaking that you're simply too busy to take a break ... ignore it, science is on your side!
… now what? This column goes on a well-deserved break, and will come back in September.
August posts will be fresh and crisp, to keep you cool during the hottest days. See you there!
Missed any posts from the mini-series? Here's a quick recap:
Today's tip is ... a set of three! If you're serious about working smarter, improving your to-do lists is a great start. Try the three super-quick tips below to optimise your daily workflows.
1. Add time estimates to your tasks
The problem with "open" to-do lists is that they can easily become too long in a flash. Including time estimates in your task descriptions mitigates this, because you can easily check how much time is booked already at a glance.
2. Turn each item into an action
This tip comes straight from the late 43folders. To-do lists often turn out to be word lists with little context. Describing each item as a specific action (e.g. translate report for ClientA) helps you visualise the tasks you need to work on. The random "things to do" instantly become more tangible ... and your brain will thank you for that.
3. Divide your to-do list in sections
In the example above (courtesy of my planner), to-do list items are divided into three sections - communication & scheduling, clients' projects, personal projects. Dividing the (usually long) list into section helps me manage workflows easily, as I can easily batch-process similar tasks without having to scroll up and down the list.
Today’s stress-free productivity pill is a must-write. It’s just a small trick, but works miracles when it comes to reducing stress, and improving your workflow.
Use the last 15 minutes of your day to prepare for the next one.
I’ve been using this technique for a few years now – and I’m definitely sticking to it. It’s a great way to wrap up your day, as it helps you clear your head and get in the mood for relaxation.
As an example, my 15-minute routine includes:
Nothing stellar, really. But it helps me “leave work at work” instead of obsessing with it all night long. Plus, the next day starts off the right foot, as you already have a clear overview of your priorities and tasks.
Are you struggling with defining your priorities for the day, week, month?
To get back on track, you can try the Covey matrix (also known as the time management matrix).
The matrix, developed by Stephen Covey in the Eighties, is a practical tool for workflow optimisation. It’s also known as the Eisenhower matrix, because it is based on the same assessment criteria (importance and urgency) deployed in the so-called Eisenhower’s decision-making method.
Managing a solo business is hectic. And that often leads us to consider all urgent activities as important (and vice versa). However:
With the Covey matrix, the importance of urgency of each activity is assessed separately.
As a result, each individual task falls within one of four quadrants.
URGENT+IMPORTANT = QUADRANT 1
This is the quadrant of emergencies: the activities within have to be dealt with as soon as possible. This includes both business-related tasks (i.e. due or overdue projects, contacts with clients) as well as unpredictable emergencies (IT problems, illness etcetera). Your keyword for quadrant 1: manage, quickly. If you don’t, consequences could he harsh.
IMPORTANT+NOT URGENT = QUADRANT 2
This is the quadrant of quality. Here, you can find all activities that contribute to your business success, but don’t require your immediate attention – such as CPD, marketing, networking, planning, and more. Your keyword here: plan. You need to make time for these activities in order to achieve your business goals.
URGENT+NOT IMPORTANT = QUADRANT 3
The third quadrant of the Covey matrix hosts distractions. These often include external stimuli (desktop & mobile notifications, emails, phone calls, …). Interrupting work has a negative impact on your ability to focus, so you should aim at limiting these activities during business hours.
NOT URGENT+NOT IMPORTANT, QUADRANT 4
This is the quadrant of waste. Here, you can find all the activities you should avoid like the plague – random web surfing, leisure phone calls, your Instagram account … you get it.
Using the time management matrix for business-related activities helps you prioritise the tasks that matter the most. More specifically, it helps focusing on the activities of quadrant 2, which are often postponed (or forgotten) due to more pressing - but less relevant - issues.
With the universe of apps available, you don’t need to be a geek to work smarter. Want to choose the best software tools for your business? Before clicking on “Buy/Download”, check the five points below.
What's your take on selecting the right tools for your business? Got any nice tips or thoughts to share? Join the conversation!