When busy isn’t productive

When busy isn’t productive

Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive.

As freelancers or small business owners, we work flexibly, so that it fits in with our lives, but it can be hard to get all the work done.

You’re busy, I get it. Aren’t we all?

So busy. Our heads swimming with what needs to get done. Lists on our desks, lists on Asana. Workflows. Calendars. Reminders. But yet somehow there are some days when we can’t focus or settle down to what needs to get done. Those days when you get to the end of the day and you’re not even sure what you’ve achieved.

Stop.

Take a deep breath.

Stand up. Stretch.

Ahhh, that’s better.

There are a few simple things you can do that might help.

First, find out how you spend your time

Take a look at how you spend your time each day and each week. Look at your usual work patterns. Do you know when you’re at your most productive, how many breaks you need or when you’re likely to have a slump? I’m a morning person, so I know I’m much better at tackling anything tricky that needs my full concentration first thing in the morning rather than burning the midnight oil.

Part of investigating and plotting how you spend your time means taking a good hard look at how long things take you. Be realistic here. Those five-minute jobs never take five minutes – fact. You could even start to track your time. You might be really surprised. I’m a big fan of time-tracking, here’s why.

Once you have the info, you can make informed decisions about how much time you need to allow for different aspects of each bit of work or project or your own admin.

Then prioritise your work and make a plan

Write everything down that needs doing, either on paper or an online tool. I do both, mostly, as I find the act of writing something down helps me to make sense of it and lodge it in my head. You might need to do this daily or a weekly basis. But make sure you prioritise the work based on deadlines and not your personal preference. It’s so easy to do the work you enjoy first rather than the tasks you don’t.

Make a plan that is realistic and achievable. A plan that takes into account any other commitments on your time. Make a note of the days that you know will be difficult to knuckle down. Maybe you’ll be distracted because something else needs your attention. Maybe you’ll have your kids around playing their music loudly or popping into your office every five minutes. Maybe you’ll have to stop early because of that thing you need to do.

Whatever puts demands on your time, plan your work around those things each week and schedule in some wriggle room. Leave some white space on your calendar so things can move around – like one of those Mystic Square Puzzles – if something unexpected comes up or something takes longer than you thought.

Block out your time, set that Pomodoro, go!

Once you’ve made your plan, you can time block for each task. Not everyone can multi-task. I can’t. I think it’s impossible to do two things well at the same time. But I can flit between different tasks very quickly.

Blocking out sections of time to work on set tasks means you can focus well on one thing at a time. Grouping tasks together makes this even better. For example, you might set aside a block of time for all your invoicing each week or write all your social media posts, or set times each day to look at your inbox rather than being a slave to emails all day.

If you find it hard to stay focused, try setting a Pomodoro timer. It doesn’t have to be as little as 25 minutes. I find 50-55 minutes works well, then I treat myself to a little five-minute break such as making a cup of coffee or cuddling my dog (simple things). It can be anything as long as it breaks your focus before you get your head down again. If you still find it hard to find your focus, a walk outside works wonders.

One last thing, don’t be hard on yourself. If you’re struggling to get things done, you might genuinely need a break or you’ve got too much on your plate.

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About the Author

Hi, I’m the owner of WriteCloud, a virtual assistant and freelance copywriter based in Kent. I help consultants, small businesses and organisations make the most of their time by taking care of their admin and online content.

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