Let's talk about distractions and productivity. About getting our heads out of our phones and into our work. About how to meet deadlines. When you're launching a business — or even just juggling daily tasks and responsibilities — it's easy to get distracted or lose momentum! But after nearly 10 years of self-employment, I've got my productivity game on lockdown. Here's what I do to stay on task:
1. Remove Distractions
Did you know that the average American checks social media 17 times a day? And did you know that when people get distracted from a detail-oriented task, it usually takes them about 20 minutes to refocus? All this is to say: You'll make your life easier and more productive if you actively remove distractions. Delete social media from your phone. Download an app like Anti-Social or Cold Turkey, and block yourself from time-sucking websites. Clear your work space of the magazines you haven't read and the bills you haven't paid. Unplug the Internet or go work somewhere that doesn't have Wi-Fi. (I'm fairly sure places like that still exist!)
2. Be Realistic About How Long Things Take
"Sure," we tell ourselves, "I can write a 1,000-word blog post in an hour." Three hours later, we're still fiddling with the introduction and looking for the perfect photo, mired in guilt and disappointment. A good rule of thumb: double—at a minimum!—the amount of time you think something will take. If you think you can write a book proposal in a week, block off two weeks in your calendar. If you estimate that it'll take two hours to edit those photos, allot four. If you discover that you're finished earlier than expected, it's a pleasant surprise! And if not, at least you've made space on your calendar. If you're interested in a more systematic (and accountable) approach, download a time-tracking app like Toggl. You can drag it into your menu bar and click it on and off as you work through tasks. When you're finished, it'll tell you how long you spent working; it even makes pie charts!
3. Create or Fine-Tune Your Systems
Here's something I've learned from being self-employed: The actual work you do — the writing, coding, designing, or photographing — is only a small part of your job. There's so, so much more to running your own business. You'll have to send invoices; pay contractors; schedule calls, meetings and consultations; review things; edit things; and coordinate all of your marketing. It can be totally overwhelming. You'll have a lot more time and energy if you create systems for as many things as you can in your life. Write email response templates for your most common inquiries, schedule emails to previous and potential clients, and set up automatic PayPal payments.
4. Figure Out Where Your Traffic/Money/Inquiries Are Coming From
Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your work? This holds true for your marketing and promotional efforts, too! Are most of your clients coming through word-of-mouth referrals? What's your biggest traffic referrer? Do you get lots of responses when you send out your email newsletters? Set aside some time to crack open your analytics, bank account, and emails to find out where your business is coming from. Once you know, you can do more of what's working and less of what's not.
5. Remind Yourself of Your Goals
Working hard toward your dreams can be exhausting, and it's not always easy to maintain your momentum. Stay inspired by making your dreams and goals highly visible. First, get a little cute: Write (or find) a mantra that resonates with you and make it the wallpaper on your phone and laptop. If you're working toward a vacation, a dream home, or a new car, print out a photo of that gorgeous, inspiring thing and hang it near your desk. Making our dreams visible inspires us when we're feeling tired or burned out.
6. When in Doubt, Refer Back to the Plan
Whenever I'm struggling, adrift, or unsure about an opportunity, I weigh it against my 5×5 Plan. I ask myself, Is this contributing to the 25 things I really want to focus on? Is it getting me closer to any of these milestones? If the answer is no, I usually decline the request or opportunity. Productivity is an art, not a science. No matter what, we'll all have days when we fall into a Netflix hole and emerge with a headache and a full inbox. When the inevitable happens, be gentle with yourself, take a look at the list above, and recommit yourself to your dream.
This article originally appeard on Elle.com and is reprinted with permission.
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