Having heard the question raised on @workingoutshow, I thought I’d take some time to share the things that I’ve found have really helped me be productive in my work. These may not work for everyone, but hopefully some points will help for others.
Find a Good Environment
The single biggest change I’ve found which has had a major impact on my work is changing my environment. We’re lucky enough to have a small garden at our house and with the arrival of my daughter back in October, I was quick to realise that working in the open plan lounge in our house just wasn’t a viable option any more. Here in Cardiff, we’ve been lucky enough to have several co-working spaces open locally, but for me I prefer being able to switch off background noise and clear my head when I really need to knuckle down and focus. Around the same time, we made some major changes to the back of our house and garden which meant that there was space enough for a desk in our sunroom which overlooks it. I now spend 90% of my working time looking out over our little green space, which makes for a welcome break from staring at my screen and gives me a self-contained and more importantly, quiet environment in which to think. I also get to enjoy the space more overlooking the various wildlife that visits during the day. It’s funny how good a little bird taking a dust bath every now and again will make you feel.
Organise Your Tasks
I use trello for organising tasks I want to get done, with a board for each project. These are organised in descending priority, using trellos card defaults of “To Do”, “Done” and “Doing” to track what I’ve achieved for a project. If whilst during the course of one task, I realise something needs doing over and above the scope of the task I’m currently working on, I’ll add it to my todo list and work on it when all other tasks with a higher priority have been completed. This strategy works well for me in terms of being able to blast through a whole heap of development tasks without having to think too much about what I need to do next.
Plan Your Next Day Before Leaving Your Desk
I like to end my day at a distinct break between tasks. If my day ends at a point where something is incomplete, I’ll be sure to keep it in my to-do list for the following day, where I can come back to it. Before I leave my desk each day I’ll generally try and plan out what makes sense to cover (given the time I have) in the following working day. This allows me to hit the ground running each day, without any getting up to speed time first thing in the morning.
Track Your Time
Tracking my time is important not only for my client work, but also my own projects. As well as giving me exact totals for invoicing, it allows me to compare estimates against the reality of a project and all the unforeseen problems that may arise during the course of it. My time tracking is a simple project based on/off approach, where I use a custom tool I developed myself.
Although obvious, trying to cut down on distractions pays dividends. Switch off tweetdeck, close skype and either disable notifications on your phone or (my favourite) put it out of your sight completely. I don’t tend to pay any thought to my phone if I can’t see it, and it’s like a nervous twitch to pick it up and check whether anything has happened in the last 5 mins. When not aware it’s an option, I probably get twice as much work done. It’s easy to kid yourself that checking devices like this is part of your work, but when at the detriment of your day’s schedule you need to switch off and focus on the bigger picture.
These are just a few measures I take to be more productive in my day - I’d welcome any tips other freelancers have for their own situations.