Writing a to-do list sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? You just put down what you’re supposed to be doing the next day and, voila – let the productivity commence! But if you’ve ever actually tried to write a to-do list, you probably know that it’s harder than it seems.
When I first started out as a freelancer, I figured that my days would be better spent if I had them planned out perfectly. After all, there was no one to force me to do anything – no boss, no manager, no working hours. I was left entirely to myself!
So I started by simply writing down what it is I wanted to (not necessarily what I absolutely had to or could) do the next day. I’m making a distinction here because my to-do list would look a lot like this:
- Big project
- Big project
- Slightly smaller project
- Big project
- Big project
Notice anything strange here? Not only did I have more on my plate than I could handle, but there was no rest on my to-do list whatsoever! Apparently, I had expected myself to turn into a robot whose productivity rate would be 100%.
But as I started working more on my to-do list, it started bringing me more productivity. Nowadays, I’d be lost without it. And not because I manage to do an insane amount of work in a single day – but because I’ve become more realistic and allowed myself to get some rest while working.
Without further ado, here are a few tips that will make a world of difference for your productivity.
1. Use a pen and paper
I promise I’m not a hundred years old, and I’m not an affiliate partner of a pen producing company! The reason I opted for the pen-and-paper method is that most of my life as a freelancer happens on screen.
My documents are there, my work playlist is there, my emails are there. So when I wrote a to-do list in Sticky Notes, the expected happened: I just glanced at it without really noticing what it said.
Not only that, but it was so easy to pretend that a particular project never existed! All it took was one Backspace and – woosh!
Related: Become a Successful Freelancer by Getting Into This Mindset
Trust me, a piece of paper holds you more accountable than an app. There will always be physical proof of something you’ve skipped during the day. Whether you cross it out or throw the entire paper away, it will still be there.
And finally, a pen and paper is something a lot of us don’t use routinely anymore. It’s something different from what we’re used to, and its newness will wake our brains and get them readier to hustle.
2. Make it pretty
Speaking of pen and paper, not just any paper will do. When I first decided that I want to have a to-do list, I would find some old, boring notebook I never used. But apparently, there was a reason I never got to use it! It didn’t inspire me whatsoever, and when I had to open it, I would feel myself almost rolling my eyes.
Instead, I decided to buy a pretty planner and colorful pens. That way, whenever I was ready to start my day, I would feel happy and awake while opening it. You can do with it whatever you want to make it your own. Use different colors, stickers, drawings – just make sure it’s appealing to you!
3. Be realistic
This was perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned that’s helped my productivity immensely. As it turns out, the evening Me and morning Me don’t have a lot in common!
While the evening
Related: What No One Tells You About Being a Freelancer
If you take a look at my made-up to-do list up there, you’ll notice that it’s anything but realistic. As much as I wish I could do all that at once and get the next three days off, it’s certainly better for my mental health to realistically decide what can be done the next day, and what cannot.
If you have a big project at hand, separate it into subtasks and do them one by one. Not only will it be easier for you, but once you see three tasks crossed out instead of a huge one still waiting to be finished, you’ll be feeling much better.
Another thing that will make you feel better?
4. Plan your breaks
One of the biggest issues of us perfectionist freelancers is that we either a) tend to see any second not spent working as a waste, or b) convince ourselves that we need to tackle all the work first, and then we’ll get some rest!
Neither of these is a good idea. Our brains, just like our bodies, work better when refreshed and well-rested. Imagine if you decided to jog for eight hours without stopping. You would end up in the hospital for sure! So why do we treat our brains any differently?
In modern age especially, our focus and attention have been heavily shortened by our use of new technologies. But even if they weren’t, we couldn’t expect them to go on forever! So plan your rests as well, but be realistic.
You know yourself better than anyone, so you’re probably aware of how long your focus lasts before you start making mistakes or working ever so slowly. But don’t push it, either – depending on how long you’ve been working, a third of that time is just about enough to get you refreshed.
For example, if you have been working for an hour, a twenty-minutes break will do. Get some coffee, do some yoga, meditation, or just scroll your social media – but respect the amount of time you’ve allocated for both work and rest!
5. Write down the time, not just the task
Another mistake I’ve found myself doing, in the beginning, was not writing down when each task would begin and end. That allowed me to avoid starting anything. I would keep telling myself – “Oh, it’s only 10 am, I have plenty of time to finish everything!”
But 10 am would soon turn to 3 pm, and I’d find myself still procrastinating. That’s when I would force myself to do one or two easier things and delete the rest from my Sticky Notes.
Related: How to Beat Procrastination Once and For All
Only when I started writing down the time did I become productive. Looking at the clock and knowing
If you’re not sure how much time you’re going to need for something, give it a couple of minutes more in the to-do list, just to be sure you’re not going to feel stressed out for not having enough time. Then, once you finish it earlier, write down the amount of time it took and allocate that much time for the next day.
As for the remaining time, you can either use it for extra rest or start your next task earlier. That way, your entire to-do list will be crossed quicker than you expected!
6. Start small
Finally, your very first task of the day shouldn’t be a project that takes 3 hours to finish. Start by writing down at what time you’re getting up and having breakfast.
If it’s 9 am and you’ve already completed two tasks on your list, no matter how small, you’ll be feeling more energized and motivated to nail the rest of your day, too.
Just don’t go overboard! The number of tasks and breaks should be about equal, so if you’ve planned your breakfast and coffee already, the next thing to do is plan a realistic subtask, and write it down in your pretty day planner.
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