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Productivity paralysis. A freelancer’s efficiency killer.

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By: Jess Perez

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-do’s. I sometimes spend more time in a day adding to my to-do list than I do checking things off of them. I do Google Sheet to-do’s, post-it note to-do’s, iPhone notes to-do’s, I even have a notebook full of to-do’s. Much like freelancing full-time, part of the problem in running this company is that I feel like I don’t really own my time. In just trying to carve out the time to write this blog post for example, I’ve had to stop to attend to a new app bug that’s come up, take a phone call I had forgotten about, and give some design feedback.

I used to face similar types of situations as a model. As soon as I would decide to do something on my to-do list, I’d get a last minute casting that would send me to the bathroom 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 down time. 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. When I know I’m suffering a bout of this is when I find myself sitting in front of my laptop staring at a blank screen or moving from tab to tab reading all the different categories of things I should be taking care of at the moment. 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 about it getting to me when I have free time is the after effect of guilt when I come to terms 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 to-do’s done in 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 your to-do’s will take you to get done and write it down next to your task. Will it take you 30 minutes or 1 hour to update your website? How long will it take you to write back that one client?

3. List your to-do’s with a call to action. Attaching a verb to your to-do is more likely to prompt you to actually ‘doing’. Don’t just write down “laundry”, write “Pick up laundry”, “Search for insurance policy” etc.

4. Break down your to-do’s into as many small tasks as possible. Big tasks like “Make a website” can seem daunting. Break goals like this one into small parts like, “Buy a domain”, “Choose a Squarespace template”, etc.

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