I did it. I finally did it.
Six months ago, I gave myself a challenge that, with my expertise in procrastination, seemed impossible. As a freelance designer, my goal was to complete 25 design projects without working on the weekends. That’s right. For six months, I had to complete one project each week.
I’m not a productivity wizard. I could never sit down in front of the computer and zero in on my work. In fact, this challenge forced me to focus on how to be more productive and find what works for me.
I truly believe that if I learned how to complete 25 projects in six months, you can as well. Here are different strategies that took me from a common procrastinator to a productivity superstar!
1. Stop Multitasking
Being productive means you get as much work done in as little time as possible, right? So it makes sense to cram in as many projects as possible by doing them all at the same time!
Productivity means you’re getting work done as efficiently as possible. This can be accomplished by focusing on one project at a time. I used to think I could work on one project while researching another project. At the end of the day, I realised that I hadn’t gotten much done for either project.
Your brain performs at its best when you focus on one thing at a time. Set a time period each day where you’ll only focus on one project.
2. Learn to Say No
My goal was 25 projects, and that’s it. Anything else, I had to turn down. This mindset happened to be extremely helpful for my productivity.
Nothing kills productivity more than having too many projects. I know this seems backwards because the more work you’re doing, the more productive you must be. But that’s not the case. Tight deadlines and a laundry list of work create stress and make you lose focus. It’s more difficult to get one thing done when you’re worrying about all the other projects you have to complete for the week.
Create a plan and stick to it. I knew I had to have one project done every week. I said no to anything that took me away from my goal, and it was the best thing I could’ve done.
3. Avoid Meetings
You have a busy day of work ahead of you. You have projects to complete and progress to be made. Then you look at your schedule. Oh no! You’re in meetings or conference calls until 2 PM.
Meetings are absolute time wasters. They take you away from your work, and most of the time, they’re completely unnecessary. Avoid them if you can, especially as freelancers. If you have any power over scheduling meetings, only schedule them when they’re absolutely necessary. Check with your client to see if an issue can be resolved over the phone or video call.
If you can’t avoid meetings, try to make them as efficient as possible. Standing up during meetings increases group performance, therefore boosting the meeting’s overall efficiency.
4. Take Breaks
Another backwards theory that worked great! Take occasional breaks to improve your efficiency when you’re sitting down and working.
We can’t work for days straight without consequences. Humans just aren’t programmed that way. Overworking is a very real thing that negatively impacts your brain’s energy and motivation. It’s beneficial to give your brain a break.
There are many theories that deal with when you should take breaks. You have to find what works for you. I would work for 45 minutes straight and then give myself a five-minute break to get lost in social media or answer any text messages. I would also give myself an hour for lunch, and I wouldn’t work at all on the weekends. Yep, you heard me. I had the weekends off. This may seem like a lot of time is spent not working, but I noticed I was more focused when I worked. This led to me getting a lot more work done.
5. Latest Technology
I used to hold on to older technology. I’m comfortable with what I know, and I had mastered the old software. For this six-month experiment, I upgraded my software and bought another computer screen. It took a few days to get used to, but now I’ll always update to the latest technology.
Newer software is always much faster, and you’ll be getting more work done in no time once you learn all the shortcuts. With the old software, I found myself waiting around for it to load, open documents and perform simple functions. The speed of the new software was in sync with how quickly I was thinking, which created an optimal workflow.
I was sceptical about adding a second screen, but it truly made me more productive. Using two screens boosts productivity by 50%. I no longer had to click a million buttons to go through tabs and files. This new technology certainly helped me work faster, and it was a huge contributor to my goal.
In the course of adapting to latest technology, I discovered a new tool – CanvasFlip. It was recent that my designer friend recommended the tool to me. I tried it out and you SHOULD too! It’s a great tool for those designers and developers who want instant feedback on their prototypes like me. This tool helped me instantly transform my hand drawn sketched design to a functional prototype which I could send to my clients. Early validation is essential to getting instant feedback and allowing the designer to make the appropriate modifications. Using this tool I instantly got feedback about my designs in the form of heat maps and conversion funnel which was so helpful for my design iterations. It really saved a lotttt of my time!
I have no doubt that I would have completed more than 25 projects in 6 months if I had known about CanvasFlip sooner!
6. Get Off Your Phone
Text messages can wait. Emails can wait. Your Facebook status can wait. You have work to do, and your phone can’t help you.
Many people work with their phone at their desk. This is a ticking time bomb of distractions just waiting to blow up. Leave your phone in another room, put it on airplane mode or turn it off completely. Set times throughout the day to check it. I would take five-minute breaks to check my phone and respond to anything urgent.
Your inbox can also be a productivity vacuum. Refrain from checking emails when you’re working, because you could waste all day going through them and responding to people. Don’t even have the mail tab open—it’s not worth the temptation. And when you do respond to people, make the message short and sweet. There’s no need to waste your time or the other person’s time.
7. Find a Work Area
Designers have the luxury of working from their computer, so we have the freedom to choose where we work. Some people work better in office settings, while others work better from home. Find the place you’re most productive.
I work best in my home office with two computer screens set up. If you work on a laptop, then a coffee shop or park might be where you’re most productive. Find these spots and make sure you work there every day. Make it a part of your routine to go to the coffee shop or your personal office.
8. Break Down Projects
I had to get one project done every week. That was my goal. Five days of focus and hard work. The only work I would do on the weekend was, break down my project for the week into smaller tasks and plan when I’d do each one. These smaller tasks were key components to my productivity.
Procrastination feeds on the feeling of being overwhelmed. Looking at a job as a complete project feels overwhelming because you don’t know how you’re going to get to the finished product.
Breaking it into smaller projects makes the process seem simpler. Now every day, you can work hard on these smaller projects and know it’s contributing to the finished project. It also feels good to complete a small goal you set out to do. This makes you motivated for the next day of work.
9. Reward Yourself
It’s the end of the week and you completed a project! Reward yourself over the weekend by watching your favourite show or eating your favourite foods. This will make you motivated for the upcoming week of hard work!
In a nutshell,
Taking on 25 projects may still seem daunting. And that’s okay. It’s a large task and definitely something I didn’t take on lightly. You may want to start with a goal of 10 or 15 projects to start and see if you could eventually work up to 25 projects. Adding even just a few of these suggestions will increase your workflow and help maintain a balance of work and home life.