It’s not unusual to find yourself aimlessly scrolling through Social Media, browsing news sites or feeling overwhelmingly compelled to hoover your keyboard when you are faced with a to-do list half a mile long, or an email in-tray with hundreds of messages demanding your attention – we’ve all been there! I frequently find myself looking at mugs (of all things) when I know there are about 15 things I should be doing instead, so here are my eight top tips for ‘eating the frog’ and finally tackling your to-do list.
1.) Consider chunking – if your to-do list is full of monster projects, why not consider breaking each project down into manageable, bite-size chunks? If you’re preparing someone’s social media content for the next month, for example, why not set one task as creating images/videos, and another as researching relevant news articles that it might be interesting to share with the page’s followers? That way, you can tick each micro task off your to-do list when you’ve completed it and can therefore see the exact progress you are making with the overall task.
2.) Reward yourself with regular micro-breaks – a little bit of distraction every so often can help to motivate you and increase creativity, so if you love a bit of a browse online, why not treat yourself with some browsing for 5 minutes out of every 60? Better still, if you can get up, stretch and move about and drink something, your body (as well as your mind!) will thank you for the break.
3.) Change task if you are losing focus – does your concentration slip a little if you spend multiple hours doing the same repetitive tasks, or tasks requiring unbroken focus? If so, why not break these tasks up a little with some different jobs that require a little less concentration or require you to be creative rather than highly analytical (or vice versa!) – I find that it really helps me to clear my task list more effectively than if I try to complete entire complex jobs one at a time, and invariably lose concentration and end up looking at amusing memes and gifs online instead…
4.) Be realistic with timescales with your customers – if your in-tray is already overwhelming, don’t just add new work to the pile without acknowledging, realistically, how long it is likely to take you to complete the task. If a customer needs a job completing urgently, consider adjusting your to-do list in terms of timescale priorities and also think about whether or not it is fair to charge additionally for work you have to complete at short notice or in the evenings/over weekends if the customer demands a quick turnaround for an important project.
5.) Switch off notifications – turn off those notifications! Platforms like Slack and Asana, and even social media sites like Facebook and Twitter just LOVE to let you know when something has happened on that platform, however minor. By checking these platforms occasionally (even if it is once an hour if you are using a platform like Slack to liaise with a customer) rather than have constant notifications coming through, you will find it easier to focus on the task at hand rather than be distracted by the background chatter on the platform.
6.) Check emails once or twice a day – just like apps and software that send notifications pinging across your screen every three minutes, email notifications popping up left, right and centre can be a hindrance when it comes to productivity. If you are concerned that your customers will be unhappy that you don’t answer their email straight away, consider setting up an auto-responder that highlights the fact that you check emails at 9am and 3pm, for example, so that you are managing your clients expectations when it comes to speed of response.
7.) Get an accountability buddy for the day – desperately need to clear your to-do list in a limited number of hours? Why not ask a fellow freelancer or VA who is working online on the same day to check in with you every couple of hours and hold you accountable and responsible for the work you are doing? For some reason, having someone say ‘Tell me what you have done over the last two hours!’ helps to encourage me to crack on through my task list at an incredibly efficient and productive pace rather than have to admit to someone else that I’ve accidentally found myself caught up in a loop of amusing animal related videos on Facebook.
8.) Celebrate the small wins! I love to make a physical to-do list on a scrap of paper and enthusiastically cross off the tasks that I complete once I have finished them. Getting to the end of the day with visible and tangible evidence of your amazing productivity really helps to ensure that you start the next day on the right foot, keen to continue with your productivity streak
Do you have any tried and tested strategies for improving your productivity and efficiency when you’ve got a mountain of work to complete? I’d love to hear them – feel free to share them in the VIP VA hub!