Time Management For The Self-Employed

If you're self-employed and work from home, staying productive can be a huge challenge. When you're home, it's easy to stretch out a cup of coffee with a snack. And then that turns into a quick bite in front of the TV and next thing you know, the morning has disappeared.

When I started freelancing, this was a huge challenge for me so I had to come up with a system that kept me on track.

I've settled on a multi-pronged approach that fits into my work habits and personal preferences that gives me flexibility but the motivation to stay on task.

My main planning tool is my whiteboard. It's low tech but it works. The board is ruled up with a column for each day of the work week. I don't schedule work for weekends unless it's completely unavoidable. Each day is divided in half.

At the end of each week I plan my time in half day blocks for the following week and put them on the board. I tried to doing this with an online calendar but too often it was buried under other windows on my screen. I need to have something I can look up to regularly. And, because it's on a whiteboard, it's easy to add stuff that spans days, I can use different colours and moving things is quick.

The second planning tool I have is my to-do list system. This uses both high and low tech parts.

One the high tech side, I use an electronic to-do app called Producteev [Producteev]. There are so many apps of this type that it doesn't really matter which one you pick as long as it works for you. I like Producteev because it has a multi-platform app, has browser access and lets me email tasks to myself. The key thing is that when a new piece of work comes in or I have something to do I add it to Producteev with a deadline.

That to-do list also holds recurring tasks like monthly bills that can't be automatically paid, upcoming deadlines and things that need to followed up.

Each morning, I look at Producteev and transpose today's tasks to a paper list that sits by my right hand all day. I know that this is double-handling but it solves two problems for me.

It puts today's work within easy reach rather than on an application window that might be hidden behind other work and it gives me the physical sensation of putting a line through a task. It does mean that I have to update my online list as well, but that's a pretty quick and easy task that only takes a few moments.

So, how do you manage you day's work? How do you stay on task when there are a thousand things you'd rather be doing?

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    I don't like double handling if I can help it, so I usually use Outlook, which is synced to my Gmail calendar, that way I've got access to my appoinments etc when I'm out and about. I don't like Outlook's todo list much, even though it's satisfying to cross an item off the list. I usually have a notepad document saved on the desktop and it get's opened first thing in the morning. As I cross things off, I'll either delete the relevant line/s or if I thing the item will be re-visited for some reason, I'll annotate it, and move it down the list. If something on that list becomes critical, I'll paste a copy of it to my appointments in Outlook. For others any type of groupware should do the same sort of job.
    Producteev looks pretty impressive though, might give it a try out! ;)

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