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:
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:
- 21 Easy Hacks to Simplify Your Life from Zen Habits
- 5 Techniques for Guarding the Sanctity of the Home Office from FreelanceSwitch
- 12 Ideas for Establishing a Calming Routine from Zen Habits
- Now Do This, and The Single- Tasking Philosophy from Zen Habits
- Time & Attention Presentation "Who Moved My Brain?" from 43 Folders
- 101 Essential Freelancing Resources from FreelanceSwitch