Working for yourself without a boss requires focus and discipline. I don’t think many of us are born with these qualities so we have to find different ways to learn them, ways which suit us as individuals. Here are a few of my favourite ways to Get Things Done.
First off, have a To Do List. Do you favour that way of recording what needs doing? Only a few years back, it would have been an in-tray but now I manage all my tasks on my laptop. I do have a notebook and pen which I use for notes to aid comprehension and retention when talking to clients, but I hardly ever refer back to it. I use Outlook to schedule time in my calendar to take care of all the jobs on my To Do List. If I run out of time on the day they are scheduled, I re-schedule them as deadlines permit.
For other tasks, perhaps projects which have a longer time-frame or no end date, I use the Tasks list in Outlook which I review regularly and I use my inbox for the rest of my work. I clear my inbox every night before bed. I leave in there the two or three emails I either want to think about overnight or haven’t decided yet how to deal with and I get to those tomorrow.
Those are my tools. I’m not recommending you use the same, just that you find equivalent ones you like and which work for you. Email inbox. Task list. To Do List scheduled into your calendar.
If you want something doing, ask a busy person. And a busy person likes a deadline. Find out from your clients when they want you to achieve something by and, if it is something you are doing for yourself, set your own deadline. These deadlines will enable you to prioritise your To Do List and Tasks so that you can schedule them efficiently.
We are learning to manage ourselves and often we bring these skills to self-employment from having worked with them in the day jobs we’ve had before. The only difference is we are accountable to no-one now except ourselves and our clients. So these skills do need to translate to self-employment and improve. Practice makes perfect.
So now we have a numbered/prioritised To Do List with deadlines and tools which help us manage how and when to get them done. If you find that your To Do list is overwhelming, ask a virtual colleague (or your coach) to help you prioritise. If your list remains overwhelming, you have more work to do than you alone can achieve which means you are going to need to learn a new skill, that of outsourcing.
Firstly let me apologise for the jargon-y word – outsourcing just means finding someone else to do some of your tasks for you. The best way to start with outsourcing is from the bottom of your list, the least important jobs with perhaps the longest delivery time. This will enable you to work out how to work well with your new (possibly virtual) colleague and to schedule time to teach and manage that person. Think of the things you can outsource – cleaning, filing, admin, research, shopping – anything which liberates your time. The relief of having a shorter To Do List is likely to make you lighter instantly, freeing up energy and more positivity to get everything done.
I’ve left my two favourites for last. Find out your optimum time of day by observing your working habits and productivity or lack thereof. You might notice a starchy lunch will make you slow and sluggish in the afternoon so a switch from sandwiches to salads or even green juice may be indicated. Or you may know you are a morning person which means it would be efficient to get up a bit earlier. Night owls work well late into the night and may choose late starts in compensation. Observe yourself. Get to know you.
Finally, focus. This is my all-time No 1 top tip for entrepreneurs and self-employed people. Aim to do one thing at a time and notice how soon you are tempted away from that into multi-tasking and how you then become less clear and less efficient. You are hampering your own productivity and slowing yourself down, quite the opposite outcome from what you intended.
To focus effectively means setting aside chunks of time without interruptions by phone, email or social media. Turn them all off. Just say no, all the while noticing how hard that is to do and how bad our addiction has become to being tuned in, turned on and wired 24/7.