Over four million people now work from home in the UK, and it’s a safe bet that a significant number are doing so for themselves.
Many believe we’re living in the age of the independent worker, where people swap the traditions of a 9-5, office-based job for something over which they have ultimate control.
Micro businesses of this kind are flourishing, with freelancers taking on everything from business consulting to personal training. It seems that if you have a passion for something and can find a commercial angle, the world is your oyster. If you’ve recently dived into the world of independent working or have been at it for some time, you’ll know the importance of keeping focused, on task and capable of ticking off every item on your to-do list each day.
Unfortunately, modern day life is full of distractions, which is why we’ve put together six invaluable tips that will help keep you on track and highly productive:
1. The obvious (your to-do list!)
This is a no-brainer. Without a to-do list, your working days will quickly fall into disrepair.
Think about life without one. You’d have woken up this morning with only a vague idea about what you need to do today. Sure, you’ve been thinking all weekend about that task, but what about the other stuff you promised people last week?
None of us have superhuman memories. No matter how well you recall stuff, being an independent worker requires oodles of brain power for all manner of different tasks. You’ll be the chief pot washer, as well as head chef, and therefore entirely capable of forgetting what you’ve promised to do for others. Pick your to-do list tool of choice – be it a smartphone app or old-fashioned pen and paper – and stick with it.
2. Choose the right productivity tools
Thankfully, we live in an age that is full of hardware and software designed to benefit our working days.
Take your smartphone; once nothing more than a device on which you could make calls and send text messages, it’s now as powerful as the computer that sits at your desk and capable of virtually any business-related task. Productivity tools can be remarkably simple, too. For instance, if your to-do list is just a pen and paper, that might be the most important tool in your independent worker utility belt.
If you’re more tech-inclined, however, there’s a wealth of apps you can try to help you become more productive. From full-blown task managers to email clients that make managing your inbox a breeze, there’s something our there for everyone (and it’s often free!).
3. Discover your most productive times of the day
The human brain is a funny thing. Regardless of how inspired you may have been yesterday, you might find it incapable of sparking any form of creativity today.
So, what gives?
Our minds and bodies are anything but perfect, but you can second guess them when it comes to being productive. For example, you might find that the early hours of the morning are when you’re at your most useful. Equally, last thing at night could be when your brain is itching to get started on that big project.
The key to being ultra productive as an independent worker lies in finding the times at which you’re most ‘on it’. And because you work in this way, you have one huge advantage: it’s entirely up to you how, when and where you work. Experiment. Try getting up super early or not starting work until midday. If you’ve worked in a traditional office environment for years, this’ll sound odd – dangerous, even – but you’ll soon find your peak productivity time as a result.
4. Take regular breaks
We’ve already established that you’re not superhuman, so stop trying to be the independent working hero and give yourself a break.
Our brains need time to recover, and if you find yourself staring into the abyss of your to-do list and simply can’t see the wood for the trees, it’s time to take some time out. What you do during your breaks is entirely up to you. A thirty minute dog walk, hour-long trip to the gym or twenty minutes in front of the TV may be all you need, but you’ll return refreshed and ready for anything.
The more breaks you take, the more productive you’ll be, therefore if you’re worried about taking too much time out, remember that your ability to get things done will increase the more you give your brain and body a chance to recharge. And that means you won’t have to work quite as many hours!
5. Maintain a tidy workspace
Take a look at your desk. Are there reports, Post It notes and old to-do lists strewn across it? Do you have every device you own placed within tantalising grasp? A tidy workspace will foster a healthy approach to independent working. The more messy your desk, the harder it will be to focus, after all.
To achieve this workspace nirvana, you only need to do one thing; when you’ve finished a task, tidy away everything associated with it. That will ensure you’ll only ever have on your desk the stuff that relates to the job you’re currently working on – no distractions or reminders of what else you have outstanding.
6. Consider using two screens
Having two screens in front of you can raise your productivity levels significantly.
A word of warning, though – if you use two screens for ‘easier’ multitasking, you’re missing the point. Sometimes, multitasking is required, but more often that not, it’s counterproductive.
Let’s say you’re working on an important report for a customer, but you also have a bunch of social media accounts you manage for people. If you have two screens in front of you, it would therefore seem sensible to have both tasks open at the same time. Only, in reality, that’ll leave you adrift productivity-wise, as you sit right in the middle of both tasks. Which one gets the lion’s share of your focus? Mistakes will inevitably creep in.
Instead, use two screens to aid a single task. For instance, if you’re writing a blog post for your website, why not use one screen on which to compose it and the other on which to perform your research? You’ll spend far less time switching screens, and all you need to do when referencing something is swivel your head slightly. Similarly, if you’re a web developer, you could use one screen on which to write your code and another to display the output.
Two screens are great ways to raise productivity levels – just don’t get carried away (the law of diminishing returns certainly applies)!
Make no mistake – being a successful independent worker is incredibly hard. It requires laser focus and the ability to shut out as many distractions as possible. With so many freelancers working from home or co-working spaces, it’s vital a healthy attitude towards productivity is developed. Our tips above should ensure any independent worker – be they experienced or just starting out – has the best chance of making this career choice one that will last a lifetime.
All of us are capable of being ultra productive. We just need the right tools, healthy brain and desire to find the times during which we’re most capable of cracking that to-do list.