If your schedule is anything like mine, summer = all aboard the crazy train, when it comes to time management and getting things done. Between trips, kids out of school, picnics, weeding, making sure that the cat has enough of his favorite food before the house-sitter comes, AND many of my Europe-based clients trying to finish major projects before they take the month of August off, things can start to unravel very quickly.
To add to the fun, time management is a personal journey. Like other things in life–getting in shape or saving money–that seem simple, yet have entire self-help genres devoted to them, managing your time involves self-awareness, self-discipline, clarity about your priorities, and other goals that take a lifetime to master. What’s a frazzled freelancer to do? With no one-size-fits-all solution, my best advice is: Experiment. Take a few simple time management techniques and try them…starting right now. Here are a few that I’ve found helpful and that I’d encourage you to try. Remember that–unlike what self-help gurus preach–you don’t have to commit to this for the rest of your life. Try an hour; I think you can do that, and you’ll feel a lot better.
–The Pomodoro Technique is a simple, sensible time management technique that a lot of people like. Named after the tomato-shaped timer that its founder used, the idea here is to give yourself a chunk of time to work on just one task. The technique boils down to: pick a task, set a timer for 25 minutes, cross the task off and take a short break away from your desk. After four chunks of time (Pomodoros), take a longer break of 20-30 minutes.
–The power hour. I made that name up, but you’ll get the idea. Give yourself an hour to work on your primary project with NO interruptions. I did this when I got to work today; I’m working on a large international development project that has to be done before I leave for vacation on Sunday. I’ll make the deadline, but just. I got to my office, checked e-mail, responded to the urgent ones, and then worked on this translation with zero interruptions for an hour. Bingo: in that hour, one third of what I needed to translate today was done. I think you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in just one hour if you really focus.
–Eat the frog. Just Google that expression and you’ll find an entire self-help genre devoted to it alone! Inspired by Mark Twain’s advice to “Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day,” the idea is to do your most unpleasant tasks first. Let’s say you avoid accounting–not that I’ve ever done that…every single day of my freelance life. You do the accounting tasks immediately upon sitting down at your desk, before you look at e-mail, before you drink coffee, before anything else, and then the worst part of the day is done, right there.
–Bundle your activities. By now, we all know that multitasking doesn’t really work. Instead, try this: think of two activities you can do simultaneously, without impeding your performance in either one. Practice interpreting while you’re walking on the treadmill. Take phone calls while walking laps around your kitchen island. Get together with a friend you haven’t seen in a long time, work for an hour, and then talk for a while. Have your kids ride their bikes next to you while you go jogging. Ride the bus to work instead of driving, so that you can work on the bus.This kind of bundling can feel a little desperate, but falls into the “better than nothing” category.
–Ruthlessly scratch things off the priority list. Let the non-essential things drop, right this red hot second. For example, when I’m in a crunch period, I give myself permission to delete certain types of e-mails (“We think your blog readers would love our infographic on travel writing”) without responding. And I delete the followups without responding. It’s not how I like to operate in the best of times, but I give myself permission to use it as a survival strategy in a pinch.
Whatever your summer plans, I hope these tips help you to carve out some sanity amid the haphazard non-routine of the season. If you have additional suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments!
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