You know you can be better. We all can. It’s the reason productivity and personal development has made such a surge in recent years. The time of freelancers, writers, designers and other web workers has exploded, and the need for tools and methods to make them more productive has aligned naturally with that explosion.
Competition is higher than ever for these freelancers, so how do you begin to rise to the top? The filling is thick, but becoming more productive can help give you the edge to rise to the top-crust - and still have time for the rest of your life.
Big Problems, Small Solutions
The repercussions of our productivity problems are huge. Hours of wasted time, less clients and billable hours, not enough time for family and friends - and the list goes on. These are issues that deserve your full attention and action. But as big as the problems are, the solutions can start very small. Find the area you’re lacking in most and implement one solution at a time.
1. Get it all out
Many freelancers tend to try and plan in their heads. Thoughts, to-dos, marketing ideas, goals and dreams end up in a big storm of greatness that almost never gets translated to action. There are so many online tools available today, you really have no reason not to have everything written down, out of your head, so you can become focused on the task at hand.
Mindmeister, my favorite online mind-mapping software, can be easily used to organize all levels of thought and action. Mind-mapping doesn’t work for everyone, but if you haven’t at least tried it, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Evernote, the leader in portable notes, can allow you to record thoughts, plans and even images from anywhere. Available for all operating systems, the web, and iPhone - you no longer have an excuse for forgetting that great idea you had this morning.
A to-do list can be essential for you to stay on task, if you decide to make it part of your method. My two favorites are Remember The Milk (RTM) and Toodledoo. For something very simple (but also very customizable if you choose) try RTM. For something very powerful out of the box, with several levels of items (goals, folders, tasks and sub-tasks), try Toodledoo. Both have free versions that are very capable of getting you organized right out of the gate.
2. Look at each email only once
If you’re one of the many who has hundreds of emails in their inbox, you’re probably losing hours of productive time each week. Our email-obsessed minds tend to look back over each email in the box every time we check email. Each glance adds up to wasted seconds, minutes and hours each week.
Every email system, whether it’s Outlook or a webmail system, has tools you can use to become more productive. I, like many of you, use Gmail. When you check email (hopefully not more than once per hour), make sure you filter or sort each mail immediately. Setup tags or folders for email you need to keep or respond to later. Respond to every email you can right away, then delete or archive it!
If we can reduce the amount of times our eyes and mind need to process a message, your positive productivity will directly be affected.
Setting up automatic filters and sorting can increase your productivity ten-fold. You can make the experience even more productive by adding some Firefox extensions to manage your email.
3. Let calls go to voicemail
Some days, the phone seems to ring endlessly - a constant distraction from the work at hand. I’ve found that people really don’t mind leaving a message, as long as you get back to them in a reasonable amount of time. I’ll typically check and respond to voice mail every 2 hours on a busy day. This gives me good chunks of work-time in between interruptions.
I am currently using Grandcentral for my phone system and voice mail, though I long for the day Google finally updates and improves the system.
4. Focus and organization for writers
Many of us are bloggers or writers on some level. Whether it’s the main part of what we do, or a supplement to our other work, staying focused while writing is key. To block out everything else on my computer while I’m writing I use WriteRoom for Mac, or Q10 (free) for Windows. These programs give you a full-screen text editor to do nothing but write!
For full or part-time writers-for-hire, there are many resources out there to make you more productive. For instance, how do you estimate the words you can write for a project? Are you factoring in research time, etc.? Having a solid method of time/cost calculating can be invaluable for your long-term writing productivity.
5. Go offline
You can’t count on web-apps for everything (yet). If you’re anything like me, writing things in a notebook to review can make productivity go way up. Get yourself a nice Moleskine notebook and spend some time each day exporting your mind. This doesn’t have to be all business - the point here is to clear your head for more great ideas.
6. Keep files and resources at arms-reach
There are dozens of resource files that I refer to every day. Whether it’s a product manual, logo image, or a PHP cheat-sheet, having those files everywhere I work is invaluable. File-syncing apps like Dropbox or Sugarsync, can keep all of your necessary documents current on every computer you use during the day! Microsoft’s Live Mesh is another tool to try, and who knows what might come of Google’s GDrive this year…
Delicious or Diigo bookmarks make a great research treasure chest. We all should be using a social bookmarking service to keep track of useful links. Every computer you’re on can have access to a tagged and searchable list of every website, article, or application you ever found useful.
7. Reflection, then refraction
Most people are able to reflect on the past week and think about the good and bad… but how we refract that (alter slightly) into change for the next week is important as well. During your weekly review, don’t spend too much time fretting over what you could have done differently - slingshot those thoughts into what you are able to change for the week ahead.
It’s YOUR Solution That Matters
Whatever your system ends up being, get it in place and stick with it. If it changes, fine, but try to pick methods and tools that work for you right now and try those with full-commitment for at least 30 days before you change something up. Keep what sticks and lose what doesn’t. You’ll soon have a productivity system that is perfect for you, and only you.
What other productivity problems or solutions do you have? This article is by no means exhaustive, so if you feel strongly about a topic or tool that should’ve been included please let me know in the comments!
Elliott Kosmicki is a web developer and marketing specialist for an Internet Retailer Hot 100 company in Madison, WI. When he’s not absorbing marketing strategy and personal development material, you can find him writing for Good Plum - a productivity and personal development blog focused on the thoughts of home business owners, freelancers, and dreamers. You can also find Elliott on his personal summary page, and on Twitter.
More Productivity resources from Mashable
—Related Articles at Mashable | All That’s New on the Web:VitaminT Becomes DaytipperFuzzy Math: Facebook Costs Australia $4 Billion in Lost ProductivityBest of Mashable: Productivity & OrganizationBuild More Accurate GPS-Aware Android Apps With Skyhookiexpenseonline: Personal Finance with User TipsFreelancers’ Toolbox - 30+ Online Freelance ResourcesYouSendIt Raises $10M
More: continued here