Those of you who are friends with me on Facebook and/or follow my Facebook business page will know that I’ve been suffering with pain in my neck and back for the past few months.
While I’ve had neck and back pain before on and off, it got to the point this time where I couldn’t even sleep, so I had to go see a doctor. The doctor said it was my thoracic spine that was the root of all my pain and discomfort, most likely caused by me being sat at my desk working too much.
Now it has been a busy few months and I’ve been spending a lot of time working. However, I thought that walking the dogs twice a day would be enough activity to keep me from killing myself.
The doctor referred me to a physio and I managed to get a cancellation appointment. I also made an appointment with an osteopath recommended by my mother.
After about 2/3 appointments with the physio and 1 with the osteopath, I was able to function without the strong painkillers the doctor gave me. It’s now only at night that I am in some pain and find it difficult to get comfortable.
Then, by a massive coincidence, a friend of mine who runs a gym/personal training business called Limelight Fitness advertised on Facebook about a new 6-week mobility course she was running. It focussed on helping people with, well, mobility problems, so issues with pain in their knees, hips, back, etc. I booked in with her straightaway and started 3 half-hour sessions a week, last week.
Despite the fact it’s pretty hard going, I can already feel as though my general mobility is getting better.
Unfortunately, it’s been a pretty stressful couple of months, what with physio and osteopath appointments 30 minutes away from my house (office). Trying to juggle my work and focus on getting myself better has been difficult – especially as I’m a routine freak!
Getting used to being out of the house at random times during the week – especially now I have started the mobility course – has been a challenge.
To try and arrange my days better, I have put a schedule together and blocked out times in my calendar by client/task.
This has worked really well keeping me on task rather than jumping around multi-tasking and not really getting anything done. As well as turning off notifications during the times I’m working on a task, this has made a massive difference in my productivity.
Now that I’m on the mend, I thought it would be useful to share with you some of the tips given to me by the physio and the osteopath that have helped improve my condition.
1. Set a work timer
My osteopath suggested that I set a timer to go off every 30 minutes and have a 5-minute break every time I hear it. Admittedly, I have mine set for 45 minutes, but this has still worked well.
I’m using an app called Awareness that gongs every 45 minutes and records when you stop using your computer. Five minutes is actually a long time when you’re waiting to get back to your desk, so make a list of things you can do in those 5 minutes e.g. make a cup of tea, tidy your desk/office, pre-prepare your dinner, wash-up, whatever you like really.
2. Invest in some ergonomic kit
Repetitive strain injury is really common in the wrist/arm you use your mouse with. My osteopath suggested I get a vertical, ergonomic mouse. I did and while it took some getting used to, I must say I’ve noticed my wrist/arm pain is a lot better.
3. Exercise your upper body
I had always thought walking for about an hour a day was enough, and for activity purposes it is, but the upper part of my body was not getting any exercise. I now have a set of exercises from the physio that I do each day and with the mobility sessions, my upper body is moving as it should be. These exercises should also sort out my posture – after working at a desk for around 24 years, no wonder my body is finally telling me to stand up!
4. Standing desks
Have you seen them? They are a great idea, but only in small doses. My osteopath says that standing all day working is going to put pressure on your legs, so alternate between sitting and standing. I now have my laptop on my kitchen counter which I use a couple of times each day for around 15-20 minutes at a time.
Do you have any daily routines or top tips that help to prevent aches and pains while you’re sat at your desk working? I’d love to hear them!
If you’re like me and have a whole bunch of different clients you work with on a regular basis, your daily task list is probably pretty hectic – I know mine is! And while this isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, it sometimes means I can’t see the wood for the trees, which makes planning my day that bit more difficult and can (occasionally) impact my productivity.
That’s why I wanted to write this post and share with you some of the tips I use on a daily basis to keep my productivity on track.
Use a task management tool/app
Task management tools and apps – like Todoist (my current fave) – allow you to see at a glance all of the tasks you’ve currently got on your to-do list. They also enable you to sort them by priority and flag ‘must do’ tasks, allowing you to easily see exactly what you ‘have’ to do that day. But to use these tools effectively you have to remember to add every single task and flag/label it appropriately, that goes for non-work tasks too!
Don’t spend too much time on email
I always try and get a couple of tasks out of the way in the morning before I start replying to emails. It gives me a nice sense of achievement early on in the day, which puts me on the right track.
In addition, I use an app called MailButler (for Mac) that allows me to stagger (schedule) my email replies, preventing a deluge from coming in a little later.
Minimise client distractions
It can be hard, but try not to let your clients/customers distract you by constantly calling or instant messaging. Instead, set some time aside for having these types of discussion and ignore/turn off notifications at the times you really need to work.
Learn to triage and say ‘no’
A triage system for clients and customers that lets them know you can’t complete tasks at short notice can really help. It manages their expectations and reduces the likelihood of them asking.
If something urgent does crop up then decide if you can stop what you’re doing easily and assess how it will affect the rest of your day.
Also, remember that saying “no” sometimes is a fact of life. And even though it might cause some extra stress for your client, you need to look after your own stress levels too. Having a clause in your contract that says urgent work will incur a surcharge on their invoice may deter clients/customers landing you with priority tasks all the time.
Swap email for chat apps
Something that has worked well for me is using Slack with a couple of clients rather than email. All our projects are in different channels and it’s very easy to see what’s going on at all times. It definitely cuts down on emails, but do be careful with new message notifications and don’t get sidetracked chatting rather than working.
Save time (in the long run) by making templates
If you often get clients/customers asking you the same questions (I tend to with my author clients) a great way to save time is to either set-up an email template you can customise (MailButler offers email templates) and/or do a short video of your screen (I use Zoom) which walks them through the process. This saves massive amounts of time and lets you get on with the things you need to.
Spread recurring tasks throughout the week
Many productivity experts say you should batch similar tasks together in one day, but when you’re scheduling social media updates for upwards of 2/3 clients such an approach means you’d need to spend a whole day or more just doing that! I find spreading these tasks throughout the week means I get a nice variety of jobs each day.
Set aside some time for yourself
Try and have a couple of days each week where you’re not totally bogged down with tasks. It allows you to do things for your own business and not have clients on your case. For me, Wednesdays and Thursdays are my designated ‘quiet days’ where I can take a bit of a break (and publish a blog for instance – like today), but still be on hand if anything urgent crops up.
Over to you…
I’m always on the lookout for new tips to make my working days more productive. Do you have any you can share? I’d love to hear from you!
The allure of answering to no one (except ourselves) and being “free” from the invisible restraints placed on us by working for someone else is what drives many of us to fulfil our dreams of becoming a freelancer.
But while freelancing affords a lot of benefits for many of us, like getting to choose our own hours; working from home when we feel like it; and being able to select our clients, unless we manage our time effectively, our long-term business survival could be placed at risk.
That’s why as freelancers, entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, whatever you want to call us, we’ve had to learn to work in a way that allows us to utilise our time to its fullest.
How many of these freelancer time management habits do you use?
1. Remain Focussed on Social Media
As a Virtual Assistant, social media plays a huge role in what I do on a daily basis. Whether it’s posting updates on behalf of a client; creating a new profile/page; or responding to messages, I need to logon to the most popular social media sites regularly.
However, as you’ll probably already know, social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, contain A LOT of potential distractions. The urge to just quickly check your own feed can lead to huge portions of your time getting consumed, and that’s why you need to stay focussed on the task at hand.
2. Remove Distractions
Social media is a great example of a digital distraction, but what about all the ones that exist in your working environment? Kids, pets (dogs and a cat in my case), a TV, and many other things can chip away at your “work time” unless you take a conscious stand not to let them.
It’s absolutely possible to achieve a better work-life balance as a freelancer (I’ve done it), but you need to be regimented and make sure your day is definitively split into work and leisure times.
3. Italian Tomatoes
Yes, you read that correctly: “Italian tomatoes”. Who’s heard of the Pomodoro Method? The term is thought to have been coined in the late 1980s, and works on the premise that having a fixed amount of time to complete a task makes us work more efficiently.
For example, how many of you have accomplished five hours of work in a four-hour time frame before? And how many of you, when given 10 hours to complete the same amount of work, have used all 10 hours? That kind of sums up the Pomodoro Method, which sees us work faster when constraints are placed upon us.
Try working for 25 minutes straight at a time and then having a five minute break; a break completely from your work – far away from your desk if possible.
Ever seen those tomato-shaped kitchen timers? “Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato 🙂
4. Learn to Say “No”
Pleasing people is in all of our natures, but unfortunately we cannot do it 100% of the time. If we can’t say “no” when we really need to, our relationships with our clients and our families both stand to suffer.
Promising a client something at short notice, when you’ve got lots of other work on, will often lead to one of your clients being disappointed. Likewise, if you overcommit yourself and literally don’t have enough hours in the day – even with the Pomodoro Method – your precious family time could be sacrificed.
5. Remember, You’re the Boss
The only way to succeed as a freelancer is to establish a system that works for YOU and inform all of your clients about said system, so that they know exactly what to expect when entering into a working relationship with you. If you don’t do this, your clients will expect you to work how THEY like to work and that’s not going to do either of you any good in the long-term.
If you don’t work weekends, tell your clients that from the very start. Failure to do so could lead to them expecting a reply on a Sunday night that they’re never going to get.
If you don’t manage your time effectively, it will slip away in front of your eyes. You wouldn’t be so careless with your cash, so don’t do it with your time.