ICBA Blog

Keep Your Business Productive with These Tips

These foolproof methods will keep you on track and on task 

As freelancers, every minute of our workday matters. If we’re not using our time wisely, we can lose out on precious billable hours and our projects can pile up. Managing email and handling meetings are some of the workday necessities that can derail an independent contractor’s task-mastering. Here are some tips and tools for getting it all done.

Gain control of your email.
Email can be one of our biggest time sucks and obstacles to actually getting things done. A recent Adobe report tells us that on average, we spend more than five hours each weekday checking email. The Washington Post even has a handy calculator to show you just how much time you’ll spend on email over the course of your career. It’s depressing.

But we can stop letting our inboxes control us if we get smarter about when we check email and respond to it. To make responding easier, try a typing shortcut utility like TextExpander, which allows you to store and easily insert phrases, text snippets, and other frequently used info.

Designate two to three times a day to check, process, and respond to email, and focus the rest of your work time on accomplishing the items on your to-do list. Programs like Inbox Pause can help you avoid the distractions of email notifications.

An important step to getting a handle on your messages is to set a goal for “Inbox Zero.” This article from Entrepreneur explains how to achieve it and maintain it. To manage daily tasks, you can take Inbox Zero a step further and incorporate GTD Gmail, as described in this blog by Andreas Klinger.

Minimize meaningless meetings.
Commuting to and from a face-to-face meeting or even preparing for a phone conversation can also steal time and energy that could be put to better use. Ask yourself whether a meeting is absolutely necessary before scheduling one. Could the issue be tackled with a few emails?

An email chain just about scheduling a meeting can bog down your day and distract you from completing actual work. When a meeting does need to take place, Calendly is a great tool for getting around the scheduling hassle. Just send your client a list of times that work for you and let them choose.

If meetings are a frequent part of your workweek, schedule them back to back in one location (like a coffee shop or coworking space) if possible so that you have a hard stop after each one and that you aren’t wasting idle time in between. Avoid scheduling meetings during the times of day when you have your best focus. Reserve those hours for tough tasks.

Whether meeting remotely or in person, make sure you’re clear with your client about the agenda. Break down each talking point into timeframes. Try Less Meeting as a way of managing it all. If the client takes the conversation off-track, don’t be afraid to rein it back in. This article in Harvard Business Review has some great pointers on how to do that. Set a clear start and end point for a meeting so that there isn’t an opportunity for it to go long.

Slay your tasks.
Productivity is about getting things done. Planning out your days and projects will help you set aside time for completing tasks and achieving the satisfying click of checking them off your to-do list.

The Muse offers a great tip on how to set up your day using the 1-3-5 rule. Each day, choose one big task, three medium tasks, and five small tasks to complete. Don’t let your big task take up your entire day. For example, if you’re working on a project that will account for 20 hours of work, break it up into smaller chunks over a week or even three. This does two things: first, it prevents procrastination, and second, it allows you to spend your day in a mix of deep focus and then getting other mindless items off your list so that they don’t pile up.

Work on your big project or task at a time during the day when you have the most focus, and then reserve the smaller tasks for when you typically experience an energy lull. Don’t forget to leave a task slot or two open for those mini client or project emergencies that sometimes rear their heads. Figure out a system and schedule that works best for you.