When you charge your time by the minute and provide support services to multiple clients simultaneously, you need to be fairly well organised. Spending your Monday morning watching James Corden’s latest carpool karaoke videos or having a “late brunch in bed” every Thursday are, unfortunately, not on the cards.
Flexible working can mean putting in the hours when you don’t want to, as much as when it suits you.
But, as recent research seems to suggest, “all work and no play” could be not only unhealthy but unproductive. So this is why I’ve learned to follow these simple rules in order to retain my sanity and work-life balance:
Get up early(ish): this tip is probably the easiest one for me as I don’t need a lot of sleep. Many studies have shown that, generally speaking, we are more productive in the morning. If you really can’t engage your brain first thing, start with your workout session instead. At least, this will be out of the way and you’ll feel energized. Get the sleep you need, but don’t lie in.
Look at your calendar: start to mentally organise or visualize the day ahead and reprioritize your to-do list if need be. Always make sure that your tasks do not include unrealistic deadlines (e.g. you’ve only allowed yourself 30 minutes to write a 600 word blog or blocked just 1 hour to scan, record and file the expenses you’ve incurred over the last 12 months).
Deal with one difficult task: in any given week or month, there will be one task that you absolutely don’t want to do or hate doing. Get it out of the way. No excuse. Go offline if that makes it any easier and don’t let yourself be distracted by your emails or incoming tweets.
Take regular breaks: have a cup of coffee, do some stretching exercises, walk your dog or call a friend. That’s your reward for the mountain you’ve just climbed and a good way to recharge your batteries. A short break, a small reward for a burst of effort, can give a surprisingly effective boost for the next burst. But keep it lean and proportional. We don’t recommend a Black Forest gateau every 20 minutes.
Manage your emails: always (blind) copy yourself on your emails. This will help you remember the messages you’re already sent and who needs to come back to you. This will also allow you to delete in one go all your “sent items” without having to file or sort through them. Also organize your inbox throughout the day by creating folders for the emails you need to retain and deleting the ones that are no longer relevant.
Separate business and personal matters: set up once and for all (and manage throughout the day) 2 distinct to-do lists. For example, use Outlook or Excel for your business needs and assignments and Trello or a hard-copy notebook for your personal tasks. Whatever works for you as long as you establish a method that separates the two. Personally, I love using Trello for my personal projects as a lot of them are not time-bound. I have created special boards for the books I’d like to read, the photos I need to file, the places I’d like to visit, a packing list for my travels, and my Christmas shopping. If any new professional assignment or personal obligation interrupts my work day or thought-process, I know where to file it immediately, which clears my mind as I know that I won’t forget to deal with it. It also allows me not to get distracted.
Declutter your space: this means get rid of the papers you no longer need, file the ones you want to retain and delete your emails from your deleted folders at the end of each day so that you don’t feel overwhelmed the next day.
Outsource when appropriate: If you find that your business involves an awful lot of admin and clerical distractions, then what you might need is a professional who specialises in efficient and productive time-management support. Virtual assistant, anyone?