When you work for yourself, the workload pendulum can swing wildly from “laid back and relaxed” to “overwhelmed and stressed.” Steady routines can help boost your long-term productivity—and calm your nerves—but getting started is half the battle.
These five essentials will help kickstart your in-control mindset:
1. Get out of bed—and get dressed
It’s easy to hit the snooze button when you have a morning commute of 17 steps. Figure out what time you need to wake each morning to complete a good chunk of work, and stick with it. Night owls may need to employ fancy alarm clocks or roommate support systems. A dog is a huge help. A dog with a small bladder doesn’t let you snooze much.
Working in your pajamas should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances—like snowy days or low-grade fevers. Dress for spontaneity. If a colleague called asking to grab coffee, or a client requested to meet ASAP, could you run out the door in five minutes?
Bottom line: Wear something you won’t be embarrassed to answer the door in.
2. Tackle your to-do list
When you’re wrapping up for the evening, make a quick list of the tasks you plan to complete the next day. Then, once you’re up and dressed in the morning, review the list and strike one or two items that aren’t immediately crucial. Having your list handy will keep you on task, and eliminating a few items from your list (at least temporarily) will make you feel less swamped as you near the end of your workday.
Paper lists work best for people who like to get touchy-feely with their workloads, but you might like an app like TeuxDeaux. If you’re struggling to manage your time spent on individual projects, try timeEdition or Focus Booster.
3. Go outside (every single day)
It’s hard to explain, but probably something you’ve heard before: a little fresh air can do wonders for you. Take a few moments to stretch out of your computer-induced posture, and don’t be surprised if your mood gets a boost, too.
If errands beckon, schedule time to walk to the post office or bank. A “walking meeting” with a friend or colleague can keep you moving as you brainstorm or catch up. And if you’ve got a dog, you know the drill.
4. Organize your passwords for your sanity
Your home office doesn’t need to look picture-perfect, but save time and energy by keeping the info you need most often within arm’s reach. Keeping track of your dozens of user names and passwords (for yourself and your clients) is key to avoiding headaches, repeated resets and the curse of the locked account.
Use an online tool like 1Password or keep a trusty notebook in your desk drawer with all the details. Just remember to keep your chosen method a secret!
5. Figure out your daily limit—and don’t overbook yourself
Your to-do list is there to guide you, not guilt you. Some days you’ll get stuck on the phone with a client. Some days your wifi will crap out and you’ll have to hustle to the coffee shop to make any headway. Pad your deadlines to avoid last-minute catastrophes. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to a midday meeting if it’s going to throw off your entire day.
You need to be at peace with yourself when you close the laptop, whether you do it at 5:00 p.m. or 9:00 p.m. Some tasks you don’t get to today can be moved to tomorrow’s to-do list (which you should be making tonight!).
Then, leave work at work. Even if your desk is only 17 steps away from the rest of your life.