Many of my traditionally employed friends are surprised when I tell them that it's challenging to stay productive as a work-at-home freelancer.
They automatically assume that being in control over your schedule is a solution to the productivity dilemma they face in the cubicle world.
Not so. In fact, I'd argue that having more freedom and flexibility can be a curse. Especially when your work is deadline-driven.
In this episode, I talk with , a productivity junkie and host of Beyond the To Do List, a podcast that focuses on productivity. Erik shares some very practical tools and ideas for getting good work done in our deadline-driven world.
The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.
Tell us about yourself
Erik Fisher is host of Beyond the To Do List, a podcast that focuses on productivity. In addition to his podcast, he also does contract work for Social Media Examiner.
While Erik has been self-employed for the past three or four month, before that he was traditionally employed—so he’s experienced both sides.
What are some of the productivity challenges of being self-employed?
When you’re self-employed, no one tells you when to do your work. It’s entirely on your shoulders, and it can be a struggle to get done what needs to get done.
When you work from home, you’re working in a place you normally associate with leisure, and this can make it even more challenging.
How do we create some sanity around our schedules? Where do we start?
Recognize that there is never enough time to do everything. You have to treat your time like money and budget it. And to do that, you have to know where you’re spending your time.
Erik uses Pocket, a free app that allows you to save articles, audio and video for later. Erik combines Pocket with IFTTT (“if this, then that”), an app that allows you to create connections and actions between different channels, with a Gmail account.
Often, when he goes back to review the saved articles, they don’t seem as important or interesting.
You can use RescueTime to track the time you spend on applications and websites.
It’s okay to spend time reading and consuming fun things but not at the expense of getting important things done.
Flow is also important. Multitasking doesn’t work. Switching from task to task fragments your attention and detracts from your productivity.
How should we schedule our day to maximize productivity?
You have to know your rhythm. When are you most productive with different tasks? When do you need to take a break to keep productivity high?
When you leave a task, make it easy for yourself to get back into it. You’re passing a baton from yourself to yourself at different times of the day as well as day-to-day and week-to-week.
There is no right or wrong way to structure your day. Figure out what works best for you.
We’re easily distracted. Sometimes we simply forget what we need to do next. Plan in advance the path you need to follow to get work done.
What are your thoughts on setting work hours?
Erik emphasizes focus over number of work hours. When he works on something, he gives it his full attention.
We have the ability to work anywhere with our cell phones and laptops. It can be very efficient to take a few minutes, wherever you are, and do a quick email triage.
Do you have any tips for managing email?
Erik takes a “blitz” approach to email. When you have 200 emails to process, you work faster and more efficiently. When have only four, you tend to take your time and get distracted.
Email tip: Go into Gmail and search “unsubscribe.” It will pull up all the newsletters you subscribe to. Go through them and decide which ones you want to keep and which ones you want to unsubscribe.
The app Mailbox allows you to quickly triage your email to see what you need to reply to immediately, what you can delete and what you can have return to your mailbox later, automatically.
The Dispatch app makes it easier to take action on your email from your cell phone. It allows you to send email to your to-do lists, calendar and other plugins.
Simply setting a timer can be a huge productivity tool. It helps you regulate the amount of time you spend on a task.
Focus at Will plays music that's scientifically proven to boost focus. It also comes with a timer.
Any parting thoughts?
When you need a break, jump on a Google Hangout to find people who’re doing similar work. It’s like having a digital water cooler.
Where can listeners learn more about you?
Erik’s website is Beyondthetodolist.com. The site has links to Erik’s show and social media accounts.