I know it’s not the beginning of the week, but the next Monday will be here in 5, 4, 3…. So here are a few tips* I’d like to share with you that will hopefully help you get (not only) next week off to a great start!
a. Don’t Let Things Pile Up
Although I am a notorious procrastinator, I realize that I only cause more stress when I permit things to pile up. To give myself some traction, I create a “do by” date/time for things I don’t feel I can effectively handle right away.
That “do by” date isn’t just arbitrary, but based on relevant and practical criteria. Example: Do I really need to read a letter from the German IRS on Friday or in the middle of preparing for an important presentation or workshop? I can’t do anything about it right now anyway, and it would certainly overshadow my weekend or distract me from concentrating fully on my preparation. So, instead of just sticking the letter in a drawer for some dubious point in time called “later”, it gets mentally marked as “do by Monday morning” or “handle the day after the workshop”.
That way I can free up my weekend emotionally/concentrate fully on my work, knowing that an important matter won’t just get lost in the maelstrom.
b. Set Realistic Expectations for Others
I used to always fall into the trap of over-promising when people wanted something from me. To hear me tell it, everything could be done “in a minute” or “by tomorrow morning”.
I finally learned my lesson – after pulling many stressful all-nighters to meet near-impossible deadlines I’d set myself – from a former colleagues who is an illustrator. He actually draws rather quickly, so he felt it was ok to tell clients that he would have something finished quickly as well. This obviously also impacted the amount he could invoice.
When he began working with an agent, however, she pointed out to him that his “work time” wasn’t only the time he spent with actual pen-in-hand. He spent a lot of time thinking about the concept, and often also made several drafts before getting to work on the final version. By only reporting/invoicing the time it took to do the final version, he was giving the client a distorted view of his work process and undermining the sense of value of his final product.
Now I fight my own urge to be quick and give more realistic timings to everything. For me it begins with not jumping to answer a client’s email right away (often interrupting my concentration on another task to do so). Not only shouldn’t people get the impression that I’m just sitting by the computer waiting for their email, but by giving myself time to think about their questions or comments I come up with more useful and insightful responses. The same goes for the time it takes for me to prepare everything from a proposal to the finished workshop.
c. Be More Organized
I’m one of those people who has long struggled to find the “perfect” productivity solution. For years my life was a collection of lists and notebooks and Post-It notes stuck to the side of my computer with both personal and business-related reminders. And let’s not forget the numerous things I simply tried to remember not to forget….
Although I have yet to find a fool-proof system (and, let’s face it, a system is only fool-proof if it’s “in your face” enough to actually motivate you to do things!), I think I’m getting closer to something that suits my purposes.
My first “aha moment” regarding personal productivity and organization was “write it down”. You are only wasting precious brain capacity and concentration when you struggle to remember those four things you need from the supermarket or the action steps that you are responsible for from your last meeting. My second realization was that I needed things easily accessible. That means I need an online solution that’s also good offline, as well as mobile. And I needed to keep track of things that I deal with during the day that weren’t on any list, but were urgent enough to take up my time, so I don’t feel unproductive if my to-do list isn’t whittled down as quickly as I believe it should be.
Now I have an online to-do list that not only let’s me prioritize and categorize my different projects and tasks, it also syncs with my Google calendar. For personal tasks and things I think of “on the fly” I use the task manager on my smartphone. And – at the end of each day – I use a simple online program called iDoneThis to let me keep track of my real progress by keeping a record of everything I actually did on any given day.
d. Get Help When You Need It
Coming from a corporate job where I had staff to delegate to, one of the first stark realizations of self-employment was having to do everything myself. The second realization is that doing everything myself also meant spending (too much) time doing things that don’t substantially contribute to making a profit.
Seeking outside support is therefore the logical solution. Whether you can afford to hire (virtual) support, agree to exchange services with a business acquaintance or friend, or make use of the many Web 2.0 support apps out there, realize there is a solution that fits your needs – and your budget.
e. Re-Evaluate the People Around You
Sometimes we allow the people around us to contribute negatively to our daily stress levels. Look at the people you interact with on a regular basis and truthfully identify anyone who brings unneeded stress and negativity into your life. Sometimes an open conversation will help matters. If not, make a conscious effort to avoid that person as often as needed, especially when you are feeling vulnerable to stress and/or concentrating on important projects.
f. Deal with Tensions Right Away
Have you got a personal recipe for de-stessing? If not, you should! For some people it’s sports. For others it’s music. For still others it’s meditation or yoga.
Think about the things that help you relieve tension, and be more conscious of utilizing them whenever stress rears its ugly head in your life. And don’t think you have to wait till your session at the gym after work to de-stress! Find quick fixes that will help you during the day, be it an upbeat playlist on your MP3 player, a mini-meditation or a deep breathing exercise.
g. Don’t Over Stretch Yourself
Since moving to the country I realize just how much I allowed my former corporate/urban lifestyle to cause unnecessary stress. Take a look at your life goals and ask yourself how many of those goals are driven by what you want in life versus what society (incl. extended family and friends) seem to expect of you. Once you’ve weaned yourself from other people’s expectations and concentrate your energy and resources on the things that truly resonate with you, the increase in energy will also neutralize stress in your life.
*This entry is an adaption of one I wrote for my joint project with Lillian Ogbogoh, “Unleashing Your Earning Power”