Running your own business grants you a lot of freedom. At times, you may be given too much freedom. Without a boss, it is up to you to decide when to work. Today’s distractions make it all too easy to forgo work and play on Facebook instead.
I’ve been working for myself for a few years now. If I tell someone I run my own business, the most common response I receive is “I don’t know if I’d have the discipline for that. I’d just sit around in my pajamas and watch TV all day.” Yeah, a 24 hour TV binge sounds great and all, but if you’re not working, you’re not making money.
It does require a bit of discipline to work entirely for yourself. I’ve developed a few personal habits that have helped me stay productive over the years. Some of these are a bit unconventional, but they work for me. Enjoy!
1. Become a Professional Single-Tasker
For a while, it seemed like you had to good at multitasking in order to be a good employee. The more tasks you could do at once, the better. This is the wrong approach. Yeah, you may think you’re getting more work done in less time, but the overall quality of the work will decline, you may be adding unnecessary stress to your life, and you probably aren’t getting all that much done any way.
Human beings aren’t designed to multitask. We’re built to focus on one set of instructions at a time. If you continually switch back and forth between work, there’s going to be an adjustment period where your brain needs to refocus on a new set of instructions. You can switch back and forth between tasks, but you can never really multitask. Stop trying to do it all.
For me, I focus on one-task until completion. I really like to “get in the zone.” If I have more than one project open at a time, my productivity takes a hit. One task. One time. Until completion. It works great.
2. Work at Night
If you work at home for yourself, you have the option to set your own hours. This means you aren’t bound to the traditional 9-5 work schedule.
For the longest time, I forced myself to go to bed so I could be up early and ready to work. I would then spend the next hour or so laying in bed thinking about the work I had to do. Come morning, I’d wake up groggy, miserable, and only interested in work after a few hours and a few cups of coffee.
I finally embraced the idea of staying up late and working on what I needed to. I stopped trying to conform to what should be a “normal” schedule, but instead turned to when I worked best. Turns out, I really hit my stride right around midnight. There are less distractions at night too allowing me to focus entirely on work. My point is, find out when you work best and set your own schedule. The old nine to five doesn’t work for everyone. Don’t force it.
When I sit down to work, I’ll put my phone out of arms reach, exit from any chat programs I have up, close my email, and pretty much seal myself off from the rest of the world until I’m done. Dedicate your full attention to completing the task at hand. That email or text message that just came in isn’t that important and can wait until after you’re done.
I actually use an extension for Google Chrome that monitors my web activity and restricts access to certain site (eg. Facebook, Reddit, any site that has flash games) if I’m not spending enough time working. If I waste too much time browsing the web, this lovely message pops up:
It’s very effective.
4. Overload Yourself
This one may be extremely unconventional. Every Monday, I’ll create a pretty extensive task list and set hard to reach goals I’d like to accomplish throughout the week. I write it on the white board above my desk. It’s always watching me day in and day out.
This helps me in two ways. First, when I’m facing a giant to-do list, there’s nothing else I can do BUT work. The list is giant! It has to get done. I don’t have time to sit around and watch TV (unless it’s on the to-do list, that is) when there’s work to be done. Second, I feel extra productive immediately after I cross off or erase an item on the list. I’m ready to keep going to get this list gone as quickly as possible.
5. Stop Working
Seems a bit counter-intuitive, no? After all, this is a post about how to stay productive. You’d think not working would be the least way to increase productivity possible. We are all human after all, and working non-stop for 8 hours straight is the easiest way to kill your productivity. You’ll burn out fast.
Take breaks. Get away from work. Leave your desk. Go get lunch. Read a chapter of your book. Do some dishes. Anything really. And whatever you do, don’t leave a non-work task unfinished. If there’s a pile of laundry you’ve been meaning to wash or an email you have to answer, get it done before returning to work. It’s only going to constantly nag at you and interrupt your train of thought until you go back and finish it anyway.
Working isn’t always easy, but it doesn’t have to be this grand struggle we so often make it out to be. Above all, minimize your distractions, practice some discipline, and take pride in your accomplishments. That’s how I stay productive. How about you?