Being a webworker is a fun but challenging task. It calls for dedication, focus and the ability to not get distracted by all of the distracting stuff out there on the web.
Since taking on the challenge of working for myself, I’ve learned a few things about being productive online. If you’re struggling with productivity, or thinking of taking your work online, you might like these tips. If applied correctly, they’ll save you a lot of wasted time. If you’re your own boss, it’s sometimes difficult to keep on track. And more time is what you can get from working for yourself. That time is time spent traveling, or with your spouse or kids, or with your friends.
1. Make a To-Do list Before Using Your Computer
Before even looking at your machine, sit down with an analog piece of paper and write down what you really need to do. Organize these tasks into categories, like “time” or “finance”. Organizing the tasks will allow you to do all of the tasks related to finance at the same time, instead of switching around to different tasks. Do the easiest tasks first, and allow only one or two minutes for each. Tackle the most difficult tasks after taking a short break, or break up the difficult tasks into small pieces and attack those similarly.
2. Set a Time Limit
If you’re jumping on a task, set a time limit for yourself. Say, “I’m going to only work on this for 20 minutes. Let nothing else distract you for those 20 minutes. When the time is up At the end of 20 minutes see how much you’ve accomplished the task.
3. Don’t Try to Do More Than 2-3 Big Things Per Day
When I first considered starting a blog, I wanted to do everything in one day. I later realized that doing small things would be more feasible and stronger. If a beach is made of a trillion particles of sand, then a powerful web presence is the accumulation of millions of tiny actions, slowly building themselves into something over time.
4. Use Paper to Organize Your Thoughts
Before tackling a blog post or E-mail, use paper and pen to organize the main points you want to achieve. It will allow you to understand which pieces you’d like to cover, vs. which pieces are not.
5. Don’t Multitask
This is probably the most difficult piece. Multitasking comes naturally, but at a cost: the more fragmented a task becomes, the longer it takes to get completed. Pick simple tasks and do them in one sitting. Resist the urge to check E-mail. If you get stuck, walk around the room without looking at the screen. Try to keep thought processes in the realm of the mind, instead of externalized in Google. This will help the brain to stay agile when faced with problems that take critical thinking to solve. The activation energy it takes to complete a task is often higher than grabbing a search in Google, or a quick look at news feeds, but keeping that analysis internally will help to complete a task in a short period of time.
6. Don’t Bite off More Than You Can Chew
Many projects seem exciting at first blush, but turn into dull chores when actually tackled. Even the smallest of tasks can balloon into enormous projects if not organized correctly. Simplify and clarify before taking on a new task. Make sure to point out key deliverables and communication points. This keeps information from falling through the cracks. Be wary of clients who do not fully communicate their needs or expect you to do multiple processes you are not comfortable with. Simply your deliverables into a cohesive, actionable timeline, and let the client understand what the touch points are.
7. Turn Off the Internet
Forcing yourself offline will push you to reconsider your task list and what you’re really trying to get done online. Use an offline E-mail app like Outlook for PC, or Mail.app for Mac and compose E-mails and drafts offline. Use a piece of paper or a text document to organize tasks that you plan to do when you go back online. At the end of the offline working period, turn on the Internet and send out E-mails in bulk. Look at your tasklist and begin accomplishing tasks that require Internet access without checking E-mail, Twitter, or news feeds. If you need specific answers, feel free to ask your social network, but do not dwell there reading feeds. This is a goal that requires a lot of restraint. Feeds are created to be addicting, and it is often difficult not to sink into the fast-flowing river of news.
8. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
While looking at what others are doing in your field good for informative or inspirational purposes, don’t dwell on what you’re doing in comparison to them. The Internet is a massive landscape, and it is okay to do things that aren’t as awesome as what other people are doing. If you’re not careful, comparing yourself to others can detract you from focusing on goals at hand. When it seems like every website or project has been completed in one day, reconsider. Success takes a while to accomplish, and the more you focus on your own goals, the more powerful you’ll become.
9. Check Your E-mail Twice a Day
Checking E-mail is one of the worst detractors from productivity.
10. Read the 4-Hour Workweek
Tim Ferriss might not be quite the master of what he preaches (I was told that he definitely works more than 4 hours a week), but he sure knows how to get things done and achieve his goals. If nothing else, his book is a great reference tool as well as an aid in creatively considering new avenues for innovation.
Tim’s ideas explain how to take normal tasks and compress the amount of time and space it takes to accomplish them. Although part of his book talks about outsourcing, the rest has a great deal of sound business advice that has really helped me out. And while it is often difficult not to constantly fragment my tasks and check my E-mail constantly, when I think before I act, the results are generally terrific. I highly recommend it.
Get it: Paper Edition of the 4 Hour Workweek.
Or get this one: Kindle Edition of the 4-Hour Workweek.
Looking for more tips?
Read Lifehacker’s Top 10 Productivity Basics Explained. It’s a great post full of useful tips, including how to employ and develop Ninja-like research skills.
You can find many more here: FutureBuzz – 50 Stunning Creative Commons Flickr Photos.
Amber Case is a Cyborg Anthropologist and New Media Consultant from Portland, Oregon. You can follow her online at @caseorganic