Every now and then this happens: I’m on the phone with a client or a prospect, the conversation is interesting and…my 8-and-a-half-year-old daughter asks me where the tape is. Or tells me that she can’t find the something-or-other in the crafts box. Or complains of a tummy ache.
I love being an independent writer and website designer. I wake up every morning happy that I get to do what I want and work with some really amazing people. I started out as a writer and when I added website design to my business just over six years ago, I felt complete. Like I was finally doing all of the things I love to do. Using my right and left brain. Writing and designing and getting paid to be creative everyday.
But make no mistake: being an independent contractor is hard. It requires an enormous amount of discipline, a strong work ethic, and outstanding organization. I’m not perfect in any of those areas, and there are definitely days when I wonder where the time went and, how did I possibly not get anything done?
A friend recently asked me how I manage to do it all. And my answer was simple: I don’t.
However, I have found a few things that have helped me get new clients, finish projects, and enjoy life. So here’s what I told this friend, and I hope you can glean something from my approach:
Have a short-term and a long-term to-do list
I started a Bullet Journal a little over a year ago and Hello! this has done wonders for me. Every evening, I write down a list of things I have to do for the next day or two, and check off completed tasks as I go along. It’s amazing how much I finish in a day, even if I am working only half days when I have to pick Mimi up from school and drive her to a ballet or tennis class.
For longer-term projects, appointments and tasks, I note those down in my Bullet Journal, a large wall calendar and my iCal calendar with reminders. This way I’m on track when holidays, closed school days and other events are approaching. This also gives me wiggle room for changing appointments or scheduling, too.
And for me, what makes Bullet Journaling really work? Prioritizing, prioritizing, prioritizing. The most important things always go at the top of a day’s list. And I work my way down to the least urgent tasks.
The Pomodoro Technique
According to the Pomodoro website, studies show that we human beings are wired a certain way and are at our most productive when we do tasks in 25-minute increments. There are plenty of Pomodoro apps out there and all you have to do is set the timer for 25 minutes and in between each 25 minute session you get a 5-minute break. After four rounds you get a 15 or 30-minute break. I get stuff done ahead of deadlines this way with time to spare for edits and reviews. And a walk around the block to clear my head, get some fresh air and sunshine and to get my heart pumping a bit.
Short walks throughout the day
Since I was just talking about walks: I get up about once an hour and walk. A minimum of five minutes and ideally 15. I can’t begin to tell you how good it feels to move, to get my eyes off of a screen. And to return to my desk refreshed, and ready for my next tasks.
I ignore the phone while I’m working
Unless it’s urgent, I usually glance at a text and don’t respond until I’m on one of my breaks. Enough said. The same goes for a phone call. I always take calls from clients during the day, as well as from family. The rest have to wait.
A really good friend and fellow designer told me about the Headspace app about two years ago and although I’ve meditated on and off for years, this app just changed everything for me. Meditation is a practice, and you have to practice regularly to experience its benefits. But they are worth it. I feel genuinely less reactive to everyone and more open to what I’m hearing.
There are many meditation apps out there, and it’s worth trying several before settling on one. I think you can try Headspace out for about two weeks before purchasing it. The annual fee is worth it and the good people at Headspace keep adding new and useful content.
Quarterly reviews of business and life
Part of running a business is making sure you can make a living off of it. At the end of each quarter, I look at the past three months and see if I’ve hit my goals, and how the next three months are looking. The most important part of this process is asking myself what’s working and what isn’t. And what I need to change. There are quarters when I’ve felt that no change was necessary, and there have been times when I’ve wanted to quit. As good or as bad as it gets, I feel it’s important to do these reviews so that I keep going.
Always make time for family and friends
It’s part of being organized and getting things done, I guess, but in order for me to live a happy and fulfilling life, I don’t work on the weekends and I hardly work in the evenings after dinner. Overwork leads to burnout, and burnout leads to anger, resentment and depression. Who wants to live with that? Not my family, not my friends, and not me.
And as for my daughter, the reason why I wrote this post in the first place…
Don’t get angry with kids
Sometimes I have to be firm with my daughter and tell her that I just can’t play with her right now. I see how disappointed she is when I tell her that. But I made a decision a while ago to never show anger when she interrupts me. I try to suggest things she can do like drawing, coloring, reading a book, or making something for a friend or relative. I try not to give her a screen because then I’ll never get her off of it…But getting angry? It just leads to more trouble. I know that whenever she’s around I probably won’t be as productive as I want to be. But I tell myself, “It’s okay. Look at the journal, see what needs to get done ASAP, what can be put off until later or tomorrow, and enjoy this time. She’s never going to be eight years old again…”
About the author
I'm a writer and a web designer. I create one-of-a-kind websites for small businesses and creative entrepreneurs. I help my clients expand their audiences, get more customers and make mo' money. Get my FREE PDF checklist, "Build a Website that Attracts & Converts: The 10 Elements Your Website Needs to be Highly Effective" when you subscribe to my monthly newsletter for industry news, writing and design tips and special offers.