How to Stay Super Productive and Get Stuff Done + Downloadable!
Ever have those days when your motivation is at an all time low? Of course you do! Sometimes it's just really hard to get rid of distractions and focus on the task at hand.
Productivity and drive are awesome attributes and the startup phase of any business brings oodles of this kind of energy. But the tough part is sustaining that momentum day after day, month after month, year after year...
The work involved in running your own business never ends, does it? Especially in this digital age - there’s marketing, accounts, planning, data entry, invoicing, emails, phone calls, invoicing, social media, blogging, designing graphics, website updates, not to mention actual client projects! You’re on a never-ending learning treadmill and your business is changing and growing because of that. It’s exciting but it’s also really hard work.
18 months ago, I decided to expand my business as a freelance feature writer to incorporate web design, content writing and business blogging. It was a huge leap and I loved it but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of work it involved. I rewrote my business plan, doubled my blogging commitments, rebranded my website, developed a new logo, refocused my social media accounts (especially Twitter and Pinterest), and hired my first virtual assistant. At the same time, I was gaining web design clients, and managing content jobs, feature articles, blogging and email newsletters.
I was working all hours and I was exhausted.
Let me spare you that! Today, I want to share with you 4 of the strategies I use to stay productive in my business and get stuff done.
Here we go…
What is a system? A system is simply a series of steps that you follow to complete a task. That doesn’t sound too hard, does it? I’ve developed systems for all of my big work tasks from designing a website to publishing a blog post.
Here’s what I’d like you to do… Pick one of your big, weekly tasks, like writing a blog post, designing a new client logo, sending a project quote, etc. Get a piece of paper and write down every single step of your process. It doesn’t matter if this task takes you 2 hours or 2 weeks. Have a good think and number each and every thing you do to complete the task.
Make sure you include everything from emails, sourcing images, choosing colours, research, drafts, formatting, approvals, invoicing, social media - the works.
Now stick that wonderful system to your wall. This is your new system for completing this task. Breaking down the task into numbered steps makes it more manageable; you can do it bit by bit, and assess your process as you go.
Batching is the buzz word given to doing things in batches. Basically you set aside specific time to do a ‘batch’ of work. Log out of all other programs, email, tabs, etc. Turn off your phone, close the door, and ignore all other distractions while you work solely on your task. If you know in advance that this time is dedicated to one particular task, you learn to anticipate and make the most of it.
It works best if you allot regular days and times to your weekly activities. Use a calendar that’s easily accessible - I have 3 calendars in Microsoft Outlook for work, personal and kids. For example, Monday is my LG blog post day, Tuesday is for my Eat Drink Laos blog, and on Thursdays I write my newsletter email.
There are of course various other tasks on other days but these are my regular activities that I need to block out time for. I know that I need to be disciplined to get this stuff done regularly. And when the batching time is over and the task is done, I always feel a great sense of satisfaction - and I give myself a treat; a nice lunch or an illicit ice cream ;)
Reliable, everyday tools and programs are a huge part of every freelance and small business owner’s productivity arsenal. I wrote a blog post on 10 of my essential business tools which include Buffer, my favourite social media scheduler; Google Drive which I use for all my documents, spreadsheets and for client folders; Squarespace, my website platform; and Wave, the free invoicing and financial management software.
These days, I’m also a regular user of ConvertKit, which is helping to grow my email list, though I’m still figuring out some of its features. And I recently signed up to Board Booster, a pinterest scheduling tool.
Each of these programs are ones that I’ve used daily or weekly for years; they’re tried and true and honestly save me oodles of time and stress.
Finally, planning. Though this should probably be upfront, shouldn’t it? We’ve all got business plans running around in our heads, on random pieces of paper, stuck to Post It notes, on our computers, and in notebooks, if we’re lucky. That’s all good and well - there’s nothing more satisfying than jotting down a sudden inspiration on whatever comes to hand.
But you’ve also got to have a central planning space, probably on your computer so that it’s always secure and close to hand. And in it, you need a...
If you haven’t yet done a business plan, or you have but it’s mostly on scraps of paper and the back of a wine-stained, New Year’s Eve menu, you’re in luck! Check out this business plan that I put together, specifically for freelancers and small business owners.
As I said back at the beginning of this post, I rewrote my business plan 18 months ago to reflect my new direction. I try to go back and review my business plan every 6 months to see how I’m tracking and to tweak things. It’s really useful in keeping your business activities on target.
Another essential planning tool is an editorial calendar, which is basically a blogging calendar. If you write a regular blog for your business, you need one of these. It’s a calendar that tells you which posts you’re writing and when. You can use either paper or digital calendars, there’s all sorts of fancy ones, and if you’re on Wordpress, I believe there’s a plugin too.
Here’s an easy way to make your own editorial calendar: Make a list of every blog post idea you can think of. Some won’t work out but most will. Consider your ideal client or reader and think about what they’d like to read about, what you’d like them to know about your business, and how to showcase your particular specialties. If you’re stuck for ideas, check out my post on 12 easy blog post content ideas for small businesses.
You should come up with at least 30 ideas; if you’ve got more, that’s awesome!
Now slot them into a calendar, either paper or electronic, or simply tag each idea with a date. I usually write them out like this:
blog post title
1-2 line description
This is just to jog my memory when I return to the calendar 1-3 months later. If you want to write more info, your future self will thank you!
Alongside providing your business with at least 3 months worth of posts, another advantage to an editorial calendar is that you can clearly map out the topics you’re engaging with your audiences. And you can plan for and create momentum around product launches, events and other news about your business.
Social media strategy
Finally on your productivity planning phase, you need a social media strategy. Social media, as you’re probably aware, is a massive kettle of fish but it primarily involves zoning in on the social media platforms that work for your business (hint: check out where your competition is at) and focusing on building your engagement and followers.
Each platform works in a slightly different way (yeah, thanks for that!) and so requires a different approach, so it’s important as a freelancer or small business that you focus on what appeals to your audience or client. Business engagement and conversion rates are rapidly growing on social media platforms but a lot of small businesses aren’t aware of this yet so take advantage and get in on the act!
There you have it - harnessing the power of productivity is what will sustain and push your business through the start up hurdles and beyond! Go get 'em!
About the author: Lilani Goonesena is an Australian freelance writer, Squarespace web designer and blogger currently living in Vientiane, Laos. She is passionate about helping freelancers and small businesses get online with web design and content, blogging and her awesome weekly newsletter on digital marketing, social media, content, SEO, web design and "all that online stuff". She also writes food and travel articles for businesses and magazines, and blogs at the delectable Eat Drink Laos, just for fun.