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:

Blog Topic Challenge: International Boredom Day

Today, a certain friend of mine spotted a three year old entry on my blog named “International Boredom Day” and suggested I should write an update about it. While it’s not a written suggestion, it’s good enough for me today 🙂

Indeed, tomorrow, we shall be celebrating 3 years since I pronounced January 9th International Boredom Day. I suppose that on the day I wrote the entry in question, I could’ve done all sorts of productive things but instead had a nap, read a book, lazed around a little. That’s a luxury I hardly even dream of these days! What I’d give for one day where I have time to be bored.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my fast-paced exciting life and don’t want to give up any of my projects, but there’s a part of me that envies my boss for his two weeks in Sri Lanka spent meditating and doing yoga over Christmas. Sounds like bliss! (Not the yoga part, I would probably break in two if I tried doing yoga, but the meditation, relaxation bit.)

I have a theory that the older you grow, the faster time flies. I call it the Theory of Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey Stuff. (A beer to whoever can place this quote) So in the past 3 years, I’m convinced days have gotten shorter! It’s harder to find time to sleep, and almost impossible to get everything done at work and at home while keeping some sane Me-time every so often for reading an embarrassingly cheesy novel or watching a bad movie like… Robocop or Hackers…

So while I don’t have an answer on how to MAKE time, all I can say is that International Boredom Day is no longer in existence in my mind.

This Blog Topic Challenge is turning out to be harder than I thought – especially with the mad evenings we’ve recently had. But I’m still up for it! Entries still welcome to help me make up a whole month’s worth of suggestions!

Seven years of blogging

I was about to leave a comment on Robert Scoble’s blog when he posted that he was celebrating seven years of blogging, and looking back at what had happened in that time. Having blogged for about the same length of time, I’m also amazed at how much things have changed. Thought I’d write my own entry.

In 2000, I was graduating from High School, starting Uni in Communication. I think that at that stage, I was hoping to be a news researcher for the CBC, or work in media somewhere. I had a severe addiction to the Internet – as confirmed by my parents, who could never receive a phone call due to my hogging of their phone line for dial-up access.

Having created my first website in 1994 during a “Discover the internet” summer course, over the years, writing online came in different incarnations, most too vague in memory and now lost in the ether somewhere on the web.

In the spirit of year-end retrospect life reviews, here’s what’s happened in the past 7 years or so…

In those years, I survived…

  1. Started University in Comm, with no career clearly defined in my mind.
  2. Met a Brit who stole my heart.
  3. Took a year off Uni to go live in England. Loved it and vowed to return.
  4. Finished University, graduating with flying colours and a conviction that I’d work in that wild world of the web, working in marketing, PR, communication or something along those lines.
  5. Moved to the UK permanently, bought a house.
  6. Got married.
  7. Learned to drive and bought my first car.
  8. A dozen jobs of varying level of responsibility, in creating teaching resources, youth care research, publishing (x5 jobs in editorial and marketing), marketing & biz dev in the hotel industry, email marketing, blogging & community evangelism in mobile tech, and thrown somewhere in there, I started my own web dev/marketing agency. Damn, not bad unh?
  9. Joined far too many social networks too.
  10. Tried a dozen GTD apps (yet I’m still as disorganised as I ever was)
  11. Saw my little sister Jo get engaged to her high school sweetheart, to be married a few days from now.
  12. Bought a new house and organised an imminent house move (didn’t know about that one yet, did ya? More on that later!)

There’s probably a lot more stuff I could add, but in this early morning jetlagged haze, I’m realising quite how nice the thought of croissants and jam, sitting at the dining table with my parents for the first time in a year and a half sounds.

I’ll have a drink (of eggnog or coffee) to the next seven years, at the end of which I’ll still be blogging – or publishing my thoughts online in one shape or form, whatever the terminology is then!