Reclaiming My Time, Reclaiming My Time
Ah productivity, that elusive state of mind! If I had a pound for every post I’ve read telling me to get up at 5am and make a to-do list, I could probably pay someone to make me do those things.
Using my time effectively is still a bit of a struggle after four years of freelancing. 2014-2015 was all about me realising that I shouldn’t work from my bedroom and look forward to my daily interaction with the postman. I started going to my co-working space regularly in 2016, but had to adjust and throw myself into new social situations after being away from an office environment for so long.
Now I have a bit of a haphazard routine. I know that I prefer to stick to a normal working day as opposed to starting at 9pm, but I still struggle to get everything done. I’m also prone to a bit of bloggers’ block and procrastinating because I don’t think my work will be good enough. It’s a hoot.
Supal’s productivity post really stuck with me. She’s a lean, mean, blogging machine who’s consistent and also runs a consultancy. What I liked is how she broke down her tips and made them seem achievable. Achievable enough for me to want to challenge myself and change my ways because my business depends on it.
Since it’s World Productivity Day (no, I didn’t just invent this), I wanted to share a few strategies I’ve tried out and what I’ve realised about myself. It’s probably telling that this post has taken me nine months and multiple tweaks, but it’s definitely informed how I’m working this year.
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I Can’t Stop Checking My Emails!
I’m one of those people who turns into an excitable puppy whenever I get an email. Why do I do this? I guess the main reason is FOMO. What if there’s a message from Fenty Beauty asking me to be the face of colour 440 or an all expenses paid trip to Vietnam?
The solution – Try one week of answering emails for 30 minutes, 3 times a day. I must not have keep the Gmail tab open throughout the day and should use Inbox Pause to halt distractions.
How it went – Day 1 is a bit of a write off. I give myself a half day at work (which starts at 2.45pm for some reason) as I’m tired after a trip. Also my emails are still open in the background whilst I’m figuring out the logistics of the challenge. I tell myself that I’ll check them at 3pm and 5.30 and limit myself in terms of time. I start answering a few, then realise that I’ve forgotten to start the timer. This is going to be fun…
Now it’s time for take 2, after abandoning this concept in September and thinking that the fresh start mentality of January may help. Monday 8th is a bit of a fail. I have a late start to the day (3pm) and as per usual I get distracted when one email prompts me to look at my diary. It’s so easy for me to get distracted.
Ok now it’s take 3.2. On a Tuesday. I get an email that prompts me to check Instagram to research an artist, which leads to me dm-ing someone about a shoot. I keep pausing the timer and forgetting to restart it. Again I’m easily distracted, whether it’s by an idea that pops into my head or something I urgently have to tell my Mum.
The Conclusion – Basically this is an ongoing issue I need to manage. I’m now more mindful of how long I’m spending on emails, but a time limit is too restrictive for me. I tend to tackle the most important ones in morning and blitz a few at the end of the day, but sometimes I still forget to close the Tab Of Excitement.
I could also relate to a lot of the feelings mentioned in the ‘How To Break Up With Your Phone’ book and I’m pretty sure that I get a hit of dopamine every time I’m greeted by ‘Inbox (1)’. Apparently if ‘an experience consistently triggers the release of dopamine, our brains remember the cause and effect’ and will eventually start releasing it in anticipation. It can even be soothing and ideal for procrastinators like me.
If you’re struggling, then pausing your inbox can be a good solution, though my willpower needs some work. The Moment app also alerted me to the fact that you can remove ‘Badge App Icon’ notifications on your phone, just in case it stresses you out to see all your unread emails (go to Settings > Notifications if you use an iPhone).
I Want My Weekends Back!
OK, I know that being freelance means you may usually work more hours than most. However most of my late nights aren’t necessarily down to not having enough time, but using it ineffectively. Ideally I’d work from 9-6 most of the week and briefly check in on a Saturday, but it seems to be more like 10.05-10.35, 11.20-13.05, 14.25-18.25, 20.30-21.05….
During one of our monthly meetings, Lucy stressed that I need to get to grips with scheduling. As she works full-time at Boden, every meeting, task and event is in her diary with any preparation planned in. In contrast, I’m used to putting deadlines and events in but I’ve never thought to include starting the task, which usually leads to me panicking at the last minute.
The solution – Start off by putting deadlines into the calendar, then working backwards and planning in blocks of time for when I need to work through specific tasks.
How it went – Day 1 is meant to be a straightforward day, until I get distracted by the chance to test marshmallows at my co-working space. Oops.
It’s also stressful seeing my calendar full. I’m very optimistic when I’m in planning mode, but I never know how I’ll feel on the day and my start times are usually delayed. I also get frustrated if a notification for a new task pops up when I’m in the middle of something else.
The rest of the week – I abandon the schedule. There’s one post I’m still struggling to write and it takes me a while before I decide to ditch it completely and start working on something else. I also feel annoyed at myself, as I really wanted to share my hopes for the blogging industry in 2018 and why diversity is so important, but I just can’t get my words to make sense.
The Conclusion – I definitely needed some time away from the post I was finding it tricky to write. Although it can be painful to stop working on something, I need to remember that the draft is always saved and that the time was not wasted. Case in point, when I was on my flight to Jamaica, a podcast inspired me to write a new post from scratch and I was able to add in a few of the themes from my abandoned draft. It gave me so much confidence and that’s the feeling I need to remember when I’m a bit stuck.
Back to this scheduling malarkey. Lucy definitely helped me realise an important point and I now try to schedule in as much as possible, just so I can visualise how my week is looking. I’m talking Zumba classes, lunch breaks and even brainstorming time for posts.
My calendar is also a bit of a to-do list, as it works better for me than abandoned notebooks, apps or saving tasks on different iPhone notes. You have to really consider where you will instinctively look at and put any tasks there. Even if I don’t manage to finish a task, I can still move it to another day so that it doesn’t get forgotten.
Goals? What are they?
So I’ve finally finished writing my 2018 goals in June. Admittedly it’s a bit of a new concept for me, since ‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’ is the kind of thing I love to dodge. I’ll never forget how I learned the importance of this question the hard way, when I said ‘Marriage and maybe kids?’ at my first design job interview. Oh dear.
My issue is that I’m pretty open minded and don’t like to be tied down to a decision, but also scared of putting my goals down on paper. What if I fail? What if someone sees the piece of paper and says that my dreams are too big? Now I’m realising that this scared feeling is making things that could have been possible, even harder to reach.
The solution – Create a goals document that will inform 2-3 weekly goals and three daily goals. Supal recommends breaking them down into manageable tasks and even ranking them by perceived difficulty.
How it went – After approximately ten days of indecision and endless scrolling, I finally feel ready to tackle the final and most important challenge. I consult the page I printed off (and hid) a month before and start looking at how I can break down things like ‘creating better financial systems’ and ‘more consistent content.’ This intense planning happens at 9pm on a Tuesday but at least it’s finally out of my head.
The following week I break down the two main goals, which includes sorting out a new bank account, finalising my content plan for June-July and contacting new photographers. I just try to channel the spirit I had back in university and tackle as much as possible, starting with the easier tasks that require less thought.
Conclusion – I’m a visual person so in a similar way to the previous task, I need to really consider where I will naturally look every day and put my goals there. It needs to be easily understandable. I’m not crazy about my initial goals document with seven columns and fifteen rows, but it’ll do for now. I will keep it as a working draft until I figure out a better option.
Did Anything Sink In?
The latter point is slightly scary. I was listening to the latest Note To Self podcast and wasn’t even shocked when they mentioned that a masters degree at a ‘Persuasive Technology’ lab exists. There’s a lot of behaviours that I need to change and the programs I use are designed to make that extremely difficult.
The one tip I can give is that you need to be honest with yourself. Know your triggers and avoid them. If you find yourself faffing before a task then build that into your schedule. If I have events in the morning and head home to work, then I will usually get distracted by Twitter for several hours.
To avoid any self-doubt when writing, I try to do as much as possible when the pressure is off. I come up with a rough outline when planning posts and finalise them over 2-5 writing sessions of 2-3 hours each. Usually by the final session, I’m feeling a lot more confident and positive. I also loved Ella’s post about understanding how your menstrual cycle may affect your way of thinking and it perhaps explains the mental meltdown I had a few weeks ago.
Are you the kind of person who can actually follow productivity tips and not get distracted by marshmallows? I’ve accepted that this will be a bit of an X-Factor style journey, but I’m trying to remember the bits of progress I’ve made and why I’m doing all this in the first place. Perhaps it’s time to stick a house in Crystal Palace on my vision board and recite some kind of mantra every day?
Find out the 3 blogging improvements I’ve made for 2018!