When I started working for myself two and a half years ago, I struggled with productivity.
I was used to a corporate setting: working mostly from a cubicle, surrounded by colleagues. Interruptions were frequent, and often welcome, as a distraction from work. Days were long, but more or less *finished* when I left the office.
When I first began freelancing, however, I didn’t always have enough work to fill up my days. I spent my downtime learning new design programs and pitching potential clients. And I spent twice the amount of time I should have on the work that I did have.
Since those early days, I’ve made gradual adjustments and improvements to my work environment to help me being as productive as possible in the time I allocate to my work.
Here are some of my tips for creating an inspiring work environment.
Keep a daily to-do list.
Perhaps this is obvious, but to me it’s kind of everything. I spend 10 to 20 minutes every morning creating my to-do list for that day. I use the same format, in the same notebook, with the same pencil. I scroll through my communication platforms (email & Slack) and log any open projects that need my attention.
On the right-hand page, I log my action items by client for that day.
On the top left-hand page, I log larger projects that need to be broken down into smaller tasks. The smaller tasks will eventually be distributed into onto the daily “to-do” when the time comes.
On the bottom of left-hand page, I also log personal things that I need to do, like “call accountant” or “pay rent”.
At the beginning of the week, I assess the larger project action items, and log them as needed into a particular day’s “to-do”. (This requires flipping back to those pages throughout the week.)
If something does not get done on the day it’s been assigned, then I re-write it on the next page on the next day. (I’ll tell you what, writing that same task that you’ve been putting off over and over again, page after page, makes you want to just get it over with.)
It’s not a perfect process, but for me, for now, it’s been immensely helpful.
Eat the frog.
"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." [Mark Twain]
I’ve recently come to terms with JUST DOING that(those) one(or two or three) thing(s) that I’ve been procrastinating doing. If it keeps you up at night, PUT IT ON THE LIST, and just freaking do it. Oh! The sense of accomplishment, and weight off your shoulders when you do!
If this means working a few extra hours one day to catch up on all the other stuff, fine. You’ll feel loads lighter (mentally, spiritually, physically, etc.) if you just get it over with. Ideally - do this FIRST THING IN THE MORNING.
“Eat the frog.” It’s a thing.
Create an organization system.
Go PAPERLESS whenever possible.
- Minimize the paper in your life. With online billing, banking, etc. that’s pretty easy to do. Most of the paperwork you used to get in the mail is now available at your fingertips, perfectly organized, anytime you need it…. As long as you know your username and password. (We’ll get to that.)
- Scan it. If it’s not online, download a scanning app on your phone, take a picture which will save your papers as a PDF, which you can save on your computer.
- Organize your personal digital files. I’m talking about those files that are not accessible automatically through a vendor platform (like rent & banking). This is boring as hell, especially if you’re starting from a messy place. But it’s so rewarding to be able to find your files as needed, particularly when it comes to client work. I recently spent several hours doing this on a plane ride that was supposed to have wifi, but alas, did not. And when I got a new computer a few months later, moving my files over was a breeze.
When you can’t go paperless, keep your paper items to ONE file drawer. I have 9 folders in my file drawer:
- Actionable - tasks that I need to take care of in the near future.
- Car - purchase documents, warrantee.
- Finance - a few bank documents, receipts, checkbook
- Home - Lease agreement, renter’s insurance documents
- Health - health coverage terms
- Important Documents - passport, social, birth certificate
- Inspiration - catalogs, mail flyers, pretty postcards from bars & restaurants, etc.
- Sentimental - cards, photos, save the dates, invitations, etc. These eventually get filed into a larger box in closet.
- Closed Projects - paperwork, notes from recently finished projects.
Mail - go paperless if you can. Allocate time to go through it. Sort and throw away or file.
Keep a clean desktop.
Have a place for everything. You don’t need 28 highlighters. You need ONE highlighter. Do you really need a stapler? Probably not, but if you insist, get one of those little baby staplers. If you don’t use it once a week, put it away, in a box in a closet labeled “Extra Office Supplies” and restock as needed.
Keep your wires behind your desk, not under your seat coming up alongside your forearms. I try to stuff most of my wires and chargers in a basket to reduce the amount of wire tangle at my feet.
Clear your food/beverage items away when you’re done.
Or, hey - crazy idea - don’t eat at your desk. Take a screen break, damn it.
Keep papers off your desk unless you are using them. Put them away when you’re done with them. I keep a letter tray on my desk with paperwork that has yet to be sorted.
It’s ok to splurge.
I recently purchased a bunch of new things for my work space. I had been sharing a 72” desk with my boyfriend and was starting to feel cramped. The desk faced a window which was disruptive because the light was shining in my face. I needed my own personal space, surrounded by my pretty, inspiring things. I got my own desk and styled it to my taste, with everything placed just so. I bought a cute acrylic monitor stand and some wall art. It’s a work in progress and I’m always thinking about how I can make my work space more functional and inspiring. Your investing in your productivity, so it should pay for itself.
Keep it comfortable.
Consider things like lighting and seating. I like to sit on an exercise ball, and I can’t be facing into a window because the light affects my ability to see my screen. I also like to have a sweater close by for when air conditioning gets too strong.
Pay attention to the things that arise that cause discomfort and make a note to address them when you have time. Do what works for you!