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Productivity paralysis. A freelancer’s efficiency killer.

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By: Jess Perez

Productivity paralysis. A freelancer’s efficiency killer.

It’s happened to me before. Not just as a full-time freelancer but now as the CEO of Tycoon. I make list after list of to-dos. I sometimes spend more time in a day adding to my to-do lists than I do checking things off of them. I use Google Sheets, post-it notes, iPhone notes –I even have a physical, real paper notebook full of tasks. Much like freelancing full-time, part of the problem I have in running this company is that I don’t really own my time. I carved out this afternoon to write this blog post for example, but I’ve had to stop to deal with a new app bug that’s come up, take a phone call, and give some design feedback.

I used to face similar types of situations when I was modeling. As soon as I would decide to do something on my to-do list, I’d get a last minute casting that would have me rushing to the mirror to apply mascara and figure out the right outfit to wear. When you learn to live like that, to be unexpectedly pulled in different directions, it’s insanely hard to focus when you do have downtime. It’s almost as if though you don’t trust that time is really yours or that it’s going to last for long. As you try to focus, the impending thought of, “Am I gonna have to go do something else?” takes over.

I’ve learned to identify this feeling as “productivity paralysis”. One day blends into the next, lists continue to get long, and before you know it, the goals you set out to accomplish at the beginning of the month are no further along when the next month arrives. I know I’m suffering from productivity paralysis when I find myself at my laptop staring at a blank screen, or moving from tab to tab with no apparent direction. As I sit there in a mental paralysis, I subconsciously start to search for those distractions to take me away from what I’m supposed to be focusing on.

Productivity paralysis is an efficiency killer. It’s a monster that has the ability to get to me when I have a lot of different things going on AND when I have free time. The worst part is the guilt I feel when I realize that I’ve just let time pass me by again. As with most problems related to productivity, creating structure is a helpful remedy. Here are some tips that have helped me use my time more effectively:

  1. Think about when you want to get certain things done during the day and schedule them accordingly. Do you write better in the mornings? Do you prefer looking over your finances at night?
  2. Estimate how long each task will take to get done and write that down next to each to-do. Will it take you 30 minutes or an hour to update your website? How long will it take to write back that one client?
  3. List each item with a call to action. Attaching a verb to your to-do is more likely to prompt you to actually take action. Don’t just write down “laundry”, write “Pick up laundry”, “Search for insurance policy” etc.
  4. Break down your list into as many small tasks as possible. Big tasks like “Make a website” can seem daunting. Break this large goal into smaller parts like, “Buy a domain”, or “Choose a Squarespace template”, etc.

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