Almost every freelancer struggles with productivity, time management and process. We’re all asking how we can get more done without going more crazy. So let’s share. What works for you?
We’ve been learning about productivity from WordPress pros. Today we talk with Jennifer Bourn. She’s the founder of Bourn Creative and has been doing web work since 1997. She also likes Legos, so what more do you need to know?
The conversation covers shutting out distractions, the power of highly focused sprints and sending quick replies to emails.
What’s the most effective thing freelancers can do to be more productive?
Close Slack. Close email. Close social media. Leave the phone on silent or in another room. The rise of social media and online communities has made many people feel like they need to be plugged in and tuned in constantly, but doing so simply invites hundreds of small distractions into every single workday.
Stopping to respond to that tweet, or looking at that Slack push notification, or glancing at a text or phone notification pulls your mind away from the work that needs your focus and energy. And, every time your mind is pulled in a different direction, it takes even longer to get back into a deep focus on what actually needs to get done.
Simply by closing Slack and social media, and by leaving my phone in a separate room during work sprints, I am more productive than ever, getting more done in less time—which means more time for fun.
How do you stay focused and productive throughout the day?
I work in highly focused, uninterrupted, mini sprints. Sometimes the sprints are an hour long, sometimes they are three hours long. The length of time doesn’t matter. What does matter is that for specific blocks of time throughout the day, I close Slack, I close email, I close social media, I leave my phone in the kitchen, I put on headphones, and I work completely focused on the task at hand with no interruptions.
Between sprints, I get up, stretch my legs, check in with my business partner, grab a drink, check my messages and email, and do it all over again.
Email is often mentioned as a productivity killer. How do you efficiently manage your email?
Email is always going to be a beast, but I manage it and keep it under control a few different ways:
I use folders a lot. I route almost all incoming email into specific folders: A “Bourn Creative” folder, a folder for each client, a personal folder and a folder for all key partners. Any general inquiries have the lowest priority, so they go to my main inbox. This allows me to quickly triage what needs to be dealt with first and see all emails from paying clients first, and it allows me to address those with support priority in their contracts right away.
I use a separate email address for all retail, product, and newsletter subscriptions. This ensures my primary “money making” inbox isn’t cluttered with extra stuff that isn’t critical to our daily operations.
I used to use my inbox as a to-do list and it was a nightmare. Today I get things out of email as quickly as possible. For clients who are game, we move all communication into Basecamp, our project management tool. For all other clients, I move any critical communication into Basecamp anyway for internal use, I make note of any to-dos related to the email on my to-do list, and I either respond or delete it.
Responding to email quickly is highly underrated. I found that it is much better (and less stressful) to send a quick, short reply right away and be done with it than it is to let it sit. So every email that comes in gets forwarded to someone else to deal with, deleted or responded to right away. Even if you’re busy, it’s better to send a “I got your message, I’m on deadline, I’ll get back to you” than delay a reply.
What other productivity tips do you have for busy freelancers?
Close Slack. Close email. Close social media. Leave the phone on silent or in another room. Seriously. You’ll find that you can get eight hours of work done in about six hours if you reduce distractions.
Also, embrace the idea of working in focused sprints with no distractions. Not only will you do more work in less time, it will be better work. By limiting your email, social and Slack time to only the time between sprints, you’ll actually get faster and better at managing email and your social media compulsion too.