A Handful of Tips for the Self-Employed

Tips for the self-employed have been done to death by every lifehack geek, GTD addict and smart living blogger, but everyone develops their own little system so I thought I’d share mine.

Over the years, I’ve tried every GTD app under the sun, only to discover that the tool/software I used to get stuff done was irrelevant, so I kept it simple this time around. It turns out that the best organisation tools are a single sheet of paper and a calm brain. Ok, I’m oversimplifying a little but here’s my system nowadays.

The writing on the wall

On the wall by my desk, I have a small index card with reminders. It reads:

EVERYDAY: Today's Three Most Important Tasks, 9-11am: No Distractions, Take a break for lunch before 2pm, End of day review, Evening meditation time

Simple, unh?

1. Today’s Three Most Important Tasks

Self-employed or not, we all have an awful lot of responsibilities and tasks in our daily life, and it’s easy to forget which are most important and go for the most urgent one, the one backed by the pushiest client or the easiest one.

Start the day with a defined list of 3 must-do tasks and focus on them first. If you finish all 3, you can either skip off early or get on with some other bits of work feeling saintly for having done your most important work for the day.

2. Distraction-Free Time

In the same vein as the tip above, setting a few hours in the day which are sacred and during which you can focus on the most mentally demanding tasks. For me, it’ll be writing time where I can dive in without distractions.

Mid-morning 9 to 11am works well for me, because it gives me the 8-9am slot to check emails, have a coffee and schedule anything else for the day/week. However, when 9am rolls around, the phone goes onto silent (or out of the room), email, IM and Twitter get closed down and aren’t (usually) reopened til 11am, or later if I find I’m really zoned in.

Everyone’s got a different time of day where they’re most productive – a friend of mine is a night owl and gets that time after the kids are in bed and up until well after midnight!

3. Take a break for lunch before 2pm

I used to think I’d have no problem stopping around 1pm, trotting down to the kitchen and making something healthy to fuel me for the afternoon. As it turns out, I start sitting on the corner of my chair at 1pm thinking I should eat, but found that at 4pm I was still working and the sounds of my stomach were loud enough to scare the cats!

Having food suitable for lunches in the fridge and cupboard like healthy sandwich fillings, salads and soups makes it easier to break for lunch, because I know I won’t have to fiddle around or go out to find something to eat.

4. End of day review

In order to close up shop at the end of the day without that uneasy feeling that there’s more to do, I end the day by double-checking that the Most Important Tasks are done, have a look in Things and picking the next day’s tasks – which may change in the morning, but at least will be there as priority reminders.

5. Evening meditation time

I’ve not done a great job keeping up with this one, but after a long day running at full steam, I find the only way to really wind down and enjoy my evening is to have 10-15 minutes of complete relaxation. Sitting in silence with one of the cats on my lap purring away for a few minutes does wonders to chill me out.

Whatever your trick may be, it’s worth taking those few moments to get out of work mode and into home/family mode, especially if you don’t have the drive/walk home to serve as a forced downtime.

Great posts elsewhere on keeping your sanity when self-employed:

20 responses to “A Handful of Tips for the Self-Employed

  1. Thanks for the Things recommendation. I’m using Remember The Milk at the moment, and I often forget to use it. I’ll give it a go, see how it fits.

    One thing that works for me is to get a decent pair of over-ear headphones and stick some music on. Works wonders for concentration…

  2. Great tips Vero and not just for the self-employed!

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  4. Simon: I completely agree – tuning other people out makes a huge difference if you’re usually easily distracted.

    Martin: Cheers, glad they can be useful to you too. :)

    Scott: Thanks for the mention, glad it inspired!

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  8. Tom

    Hey thanks – that’s helped me! Particularly the 3 things one. And the focus time one. And lunch. OK… it’s all good. Cheers :D

  9. pa

    Tu as de très bonnes idées et je vais en prendre une ( choisir 3 GTDs) , ensuite improviser le reste de la journée. Depuis que je te vois grandir, tu m’impressionnes de plus en plus par ta confiance et ton goût de t’épanouir dans tes projets. Je constate que c’est la route plus que le but qui compte. On n’est jamais rendu au bout, donc on se reprend pour faire de notre mieux, sans oublier la santé (time out for my health – TOFME). Bonne année à ton blog!

  10. Thanks for the post.

    I came here via Scott Berkun’s blog and I just posted a comment there about a new time management system (by Mark Forster) called Autofocus. I wasn’t sure if you would be following that blog post’s comments, so I wanted to post the link ( New Developments: Testers Wanted ) here.

    Since you mentioned giving up on GTD, I thought that you may find the system worth checking out.

  11. Thanks Percy, that’s useful! I’ve signed up to Mark’s newsletter/beta test so there’ll hopefully be an opportunity to have a poke around Autofocus :)

  12. I love your tips, in particular the 9-11 am without interruptions. In my world, that’s less possible because I work in an office and I don’t have a door I can close. However, I start my day by making a list of all the things I’d love to get done. I usually have the 2-3 most important/critical tasks at the top and then a laundry list of minor things all the way down.

    I tried using computerized tasks lists and I found that I deal better with lists written on paper – they register differently in my brain. I also like drawing little square boxes by each task. It’s very rewarding to actually check things off as you get them done. :)

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  19. Stacey

    Great tips…one I need to keep remembering is this…
    “remove bottom off chair, walk around a bit, go for a series of all over body stretches every couple of hours”….I gfind if I don’t I don’t leave my chair for 12 hours then wonder why I’m as stiff as a board all evening!

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Oh hello there!

I'm Véro - a crafty, knitty, spinny gal who enjoys making (and drinking) a cocktail or three. If you've stumbled here, you might enjoy browsing some of my older posts with the tags over to the right or finding out more about me.

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