Ever have a day where you feel like you were super busy, but didn’t actually get anything done? On your way to complete one task, you were probably distracted by three others. So maybe you started doing them, making a mental note to come back to the first task—but you never do. As a creative business owner, I often feel I’m being pulled in many directions. This type of “task switching” isn’t very productive, though, and as you know, time is money.
Here are five simple tips to stay productive at work: take back your schedule and actually check items off your to-do list!
Block your time.
Set time blocks on your calendar for specific tasks or projects—and honor them. Treat time blocks as mandatory meetings where you’re presenting (not tuning out or multitasking). Focus on only that task at hand—nothing else, no matter how tempting. Stuck on how to schedule time blocks? Structure them around existing timelines, then think about the times of day when you’re most productive.
For example, maybe you feel more patient and focused in the morning—if you’re a photographer, this is the best time to respond to inquiries and emails, and perhaps photo editing (if you’re not outsourcing). Then, later in the afternoon when you’re feeling more creative and intuitive, reserve your time blocks for culling and creating albums. You’ll notice how much more present you are (and therefore, productive) when you’re only focusing on one task at a time.
Blocking your time on your calendar is a start, but what if you’re working from home or on the go where there’s a million distractions within an arm’s reach? Minimize your distractions by taking stock of everything that’s in your working space. Remove the things that draw your attention away from the task at hand—digitally and physically. Flip your phone over or turn it on airplane mode. Have a snack and use the bathroom before you sit down so you don’t feel the urge to get up in the middle of your time block. Traveling? Make sure your work playlist is downloaded and don’t forget to pack your headphones.
Set a timer. Reward yourself.
Sometimes time blocking isn’t enough to keep us on track. That’s where The Pomodoro Technique comes in—or some version of it. Basically, notice how many minutes into a task that your attention starts to slide. Usually, that’s between 15-25 minutes. Next, set a timer for 15-25 minutes and work on the task at hand until the timer is up. Stop the task and reward yourself—it gives you the little boost of dopamine you need to carry out the task in one more sprint.
Start with the hardest task of the day first.
If you find yourself doing a gazillion smaller tasks to avoid doing the one thing you don’t want to, well – stop it. Suck it up and always schedule your hardest task of the day for first thing in the morning. You’ll feel relieved that it’s done, accomplished and better prepared to knock those smaller tasks off the list later in the afternoon when your attention span and energy is waning.
Automation is essentially optimizing tasks to reduce decision fatigue and to increase your available time. For example, setting up an inquiry workflow so clients can view your package information and portfolio before engaging with you directly, saving both of you time. The alternative, manually responding to every inquiry that comes across your desk, is not a wise use of your time. Same with client payments and receipts—programs like Honeybook do this for you so you can focus more on your craft and less on the time-consuming functions of your business.
Optimizing your workflow isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Start by trying one tip at a time, perhaps setting aside an hour per week dedicated to tweaking your work routine, until it works for you.
If you’re looking for other productivity tips for creatives and commercial work I’ve done, you can see it here!