American poet Delmore Schwartz said that time is the fire in which we burn.
We are all given a fixed amount of time on this wondrous blue marble floating about in a seemingly insignificant corner of the galaxy. So it’s our duty to make the most of it.
One of the benefits, and curses, to working for yourself is that the time you do have isn’t structured for you. It is incumbent upon you to either set a schedule or devise a system that works for you so that you can get things done. There are lots of systems out there – too many to count or even reference, and its unlikely that you’ll find one to perfectly suit your needs or situation. Given that, I will explain my process and time management methodology and hopefully you’ll find something in it that works for you.
I used to use Microsoft Outlook, but I find Gmail a far better mail management system, especially if you’re used to the ticket workflow like I am (an email comes in, you deal with it, then archive save it when done). I don’t believe in relying on free email accounts, so I pay the paltry (and well worth it) $5 a month for my own custom domain email.
For note-taking I use Microsoft OneNote. While I generally shy away from using proprietary software, I have to admit – OneNote is the best. It’s free, or a free part of Office 365. That’s another $10 a month, but certainly worth it. I get 5 copies of Office and a lot of space on OneDrive that I never use. But OneNote alone is worth the price of admission.
I don’t really keep a to-do list anymore. Instead, I use email as my primary task list. If someone gives me something to do, I will ask them to send me an email. It lets them provide all the details that are needed, and then it inserts directly into my preferred method of keeping my tasks straight.
I keep my inbox as clean as possible. Anything more than 20 emails in my inbox means that I’m not filtering things as well as I should be. When an email comes in, as long as its not SPAM, I try to follow the 2 minute rule.
The Two Minute Rule
I use the two minute rule on tasks – can I do it in 2 minutes? If so, then I do it right then if at all possible, even if it isn’t super important. By quickly clearing small tasks out of my way, it lets my mind stay focused on the larger ones.
Larger tasks are generally contained in emails, but sometimes they are so large that they become a OneNote folder. I still try to tie it to an original email, though.
For tasks that require ongoing consultation with a client, email sometimes isn’t the best choice. If items don’t require time-sensitive input, or messages are just between two people, email can do fine. But when you start adding multiple people or have some real-time communication, email begins to falter. In that situation, I use Slack. Slack is like an IRC channel for the web that also has attachments and other neat features like in-browser notifications, guest invites, multiple channels, and more. It’s perfect for business users, but some freelancers might find it valuable as well.
I use Google Docs quite a bit, as well as Telegram for chatting. I find that Notepad++ makes a fantastic text and code editor. WordPress is great for keeping a blog, either public or private for internal notes that you want to share. I know you can share notes with OneNote, but if the user doesn’t have a Microsoft account or isn’t familiar with OneNote, it can be quite difficult to integrate with them.
I hope that some of these tips and tricks will help you manage your time more efficiently and be more productive. If you have any questions, let me know in the comment section below.