The freelancer’s guide to coworking part 2: Productivity Tips

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In the first part of this two-part guide to coworking, we offered some general tips about how to make the most of your coworking experience. Now, we will dive into the most important parts of coworking – staying productive and focused.

Coworking is an exciting and beneficial work structure for many types of freelancers, remote workers, small teams and entrepreneurs; but learning to adapt to the new environment and lack of structure can be challenging for some new coworkers. The added flexibility of coworking can be problematic if you are not used to setting your own schedule, getting tasks done without working alongside other coworkers or even just working in an open or shared office space. Keep these tips in mind next time you sit down to work at your coworking space.

Prioritize Work

If you are a freelancer or work in a small or rapidly growing team, chances are you have encountered the challenge of deciding which work should take priority and which tasks are secondary and can wait. Every client or coworker may think their requests are the most crucial for you to accomplish, and it is your responsibility to prioritize your work by weighing the pros and cons of things like deadlines and concurrent tasks that cannot be started without your work being finished.

Sometimes, your gut will tell you which project should take priority based on things like the return on investment or benefit that you know completely the task will give you. For example, one task may be due to someone that you have previously delivered work late to, in which case you may want to prioritize that project to get back in good standing, or a task may be more of a favor than an assignment, in which case you probably have some deadline flexibility. If you are struggling to gauge what work should be prioritized, consider building out a matrix, like the Soschin Priority Matrix. After assigning priority levels (high, medium and low) and return on investment (high, medium and low) to each task, you can use the Soschin Priority Matrix to get a “priority factor” for each task, which can help with ranking priority if you otherwise are stuck.  

Don’t Multitask. Focus.

Coworking can undoubtedly provide distractions, and focusing on a single task at a time is the easiest way to ensure that those distractions do not get the best of you. The best argument against multitasking is the numerous studies that have been done against it. For example, the American Psychological Association found that shifting between tasks can cost you up to 40% of your productive time. A study by Stanford researchers found that while multitasking, your brain works less efficiently than when you are not multitasking, regardless of the content of the tasks..

To fight the urge of multitasking, start by cutting out the distractions and temptations. Put your phone in your pocket (or in airplane mode), close open tabs or windows that you do not need on your laptop, and if you want to listen to something while you work, choose instrumental or ambient music that will not take your mind off your work. If you have a hard time focusing on a single task for a long period of time, break up your task into pieces so you feel like you are working on several smaller assignments rather than just one large one. Give yourself a short break between these established stopping points if you need it, but then try to commit yourself to focused work when you begin the next bit.

Joining the right coworking network can also cut out some of the temptation to multitask. While working at home, you will be exposed to things like household chores, unruly pets, or even just a book laying on your bed hat will certainly draw you in during your workday. Coffee shops have their own set of distractions, like neighboring conversations or the urge to get up and peruse the pastry case. Finding a dedicated space to work with limited distractions may just be the ultimate way to increase your productivity and reduce your desire to lose focus by multitasking.

“Eat The Frog”

“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” – Mark Twain

If you are the type of person that tends to procrastinate on bigger assignments or who puts off more challenging work, keep this quote from Mark Twain in mind next time you prepare your to-do list for a day. Essentially, it’s the same rationale that parents teach their kids (eat your vegetables first if you want dessert). By tackling a task that is difficult, confusing or just unpleasant, you will go into the rest of your day feeling good and not dreading the challenge ahead.  

The next step in Twain’s advice would be to think about how to make that bigger frog slightly more appetizing. If we think about it as a challenging task on a to-do list, that may be by splitting it up into several more manageable tasks, or by sugar-coating it with something you enjoy. Completing a hard task in an environment that makes you feel positive, like an outdoor space or while enjoying a coffee or snack as a treat, can help push you across the finish line if you are having a hard time completing something.

Use A Time Management App or Website

Online and off, there are a number of great time management apps and websites that can help lead to more productive days. For starters, list managers like Remember The Milk, MyLifeOrganized; or more robust tools like Asana or Basecamp, which can help individuals or teams manage tasks, assign tasks to the appropriate people, and ensure that everything gets done by the necessary deadlines.

Other apps can help tackle specific needs more directly, like Toggl which is aimed helping you track how much time you spend on different projects and gauge how long remaining tasks will take. The app helps analyze time spent and allows you to see billable time, potential revenue and other metrics that help put your productivity into perspective. Pocket is a popular app and web platform that allows you to save interesting links to your “pocket” so you can avoid the urge to read them in the middle of a work session. By saving articles and links and reading them later in the day, you will avoid the urge to multitask and have a reminder to read them later. This will certainly lead to more productivity.  

There are also apps that can help with productivity that may be less intuitive. Using LastPass can help save time during the day by saving all your passwords for you, meaning you will not have to dig through notes in your phone or your email to find the right login info. IFTTT (If This, Then That) can automate posting, backing up and other online tasks, which can be helpful to keep you off websites that may tempt you into distraction. For example, setting up IFTTT to automatically post your Wordpress blogs to your Facebook page can be an easy way to avoid falling into the trap of scrolling through Facebook mid-day.

If you have a time management app, website or hack that you have found helpful, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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