“Don’t multitask – it makes you unproductive.”
“Everything needs to be done one step at a time.”
“If you’re suffering from project overload, it’s time to purge.”
Most productivity advice originating from the mainstream and even the gurus are thoroughly unhelpful or plainly bunk, as they seem to be under the mistaken impression that all of us only have one job, freelancing career, business, or client.
If you find yourself in a position where you can freely choose what you want to work on, and for how long, discard this – it’s not for you.
For most of us, the reality will be moving multiple projects forward simultaneously. Once you’ve accepted this, and I stress this – once you’ve accepted this – you will be ready to move multiple projects forward powerfully.
Project Management is the Bottleneck
At the risk of beating a dead horse, there are no textbooks on project management, as people lucky enough to be tasked with the responsibility, unless especially talented or experienced, find themselves needing to invent a system in a company that’s reluctant to set forth the necessary resources for a new initiative, and want to do everything by the book.
I’m a champion of artistic success, and as such I’m aware that I’m speaking to creatives, freelancers, and entrepreneurs.
But understand – even if you’re mostly a one-man or one-woman show, having no structures in place will be the downfall of your success in moving multiple projects forward. Without structures, you will drop the ball on projects, experience major cash flow problems or lose income to prolonged silence and neglect. And no whiz-bang invoicing system will save you the trouble. Read this paragraph again.
We need structures, though complexity is unnecessary. A simple written list of projects can serve as a good reminder (just beware of it blending into your environment so you don’t even notice it anymore). As well, there are tools plentiful enough to satisfy most personalities and inclinations – Evernote, Google Drive, ClickUp, Asana, or the now trendy Notion. Pick something, commit to its mastery, and make it your own. Start simply and don’t second guess.
Crack the Whip on Your Time
As a passionate adventurer, I take it upon myself to dig for the gold in countless resources, whether books, courses, mastermind groups, coaching programs, or otherwise.
No one can give you the tough love you need like author Dan Kennedy, especially in his timeless book No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs. And while his methodology may appear draconian to the microwave success crowd, it’s worth reading for the mindset alone. Let it impact your workflow, and you will expand beyond any level of productivity previously imagined. Anything else I could say in this regard would be redundant or a pale imitation.
Nir Eyal’s timeboxing process would also merit a look, as I have personally experienced great success taking on blogging daily, a yearlong intensive leadership program, community projects, staff writing duties, freelance and ghostwriting clients, and multiple business projects simultaneously. And I still workout at least three times per week, meditate most days and have time enough to wind down for a couple of hours each night.
Act with Great Urgency
There is no time to sit around waxing eloquent about the theoretical. You’ve committed to multiple projects, and now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Don’t wait to get started. Don’t expend more time and energy on planning and project management. Don’t try to fine-tune your routine or time management processes. It’s time to act with urgency.
As actor Will Smith says:
Bite off more than you can chew… Then chew it!
Start chewing now. Don’t wait until later. Adopt the mantra “do it now” and have it lived in your life.
And as you get into motion, you will recognize that there isn’t time enough to be tired or sick. There isn’t time enough for excuses. Only time to do and restore integrity when and where you are out of it.
Create a start and end time for every activity, and unless completely impossible, move every project forward every single week.
Create Margin for Hired Help
If your fees are barely enough (or not enough) to keep you afloat financially, increase them immediately. Your personal solvency is paramount to your initiative’s future success.
In most projects, there will be opportunities to outsource the workload, if not in whole then in part, and that will bring some relief to the project load. Over time, you can create even more leeway.
Smart entrepreneurs won’t outsource everything, though, and will instead discover and feed their passion for marketing and continue to sign paychecks and monitor staff activity.
My book, The Music Entrepreneur Code, introduces several real productivity techniques I use to get results. It was written for musicians, but freelancers and entrepreneurs alike have benefited from the read.
Let go of the need to fight against multiple projects and instead embrace it as a way of life. Get good at advancing every project every week of your life.
Every day, you can tee yourself up for your next accomplishment.
Even if it’s as something as simple as writing a blog post…
If you took the time to plan and outline your work the night before, you’d be able to tee yourself up for success in the day that follows.
You can tackle any area of life, be it work, fitness, relationships, or otherwise.
The tough part is not the preparation required to tee yourself up. Oftentimes, this can be done in 30 minutes or less.
The tough part is in having an expanded view of your work. Not seeing everything as a means to an end, but as a connected whole. Looking ahead in your schedule and considering what’s important to you. Prioritizing.
Every day, there are opportunities to tee yourself up for the next.
Polymaths are bound to have a mix of projects on the go at any given time.
Some of this is by design. Inspiration hits and you find yourself unable to resist compelling possibilities. So, you initiate new ventures, knowing it will require personal expansion, even as you hurry to cause completion with projects already started.
And, of course, some projects serve a more practical function of creating cashflow. And this means maintaining a healthy inflow of leads and stable of clients.
So, how do you keep all your plates spinning? Here are several practical tips to help you maintain order amid chaos.
1. Batch Process & Optimize Weekflow to Boost Productivity
Batch processing will prove essential to getting things done. When you’ve got many projects to tend to, you can’t afford to lose time. And task switching is a known productivity killer.
That said, if you don’t optimize weekflow, I’m going to posit that your batching efforts aren’t going to be as effective as they could be. If you don’t have a good sense of the big picture that’s forming, you’ll be plowing away at a certain task, only to be interrupted by a client call, meeting, deadline, or some other fire you didn’t see coming because you were too busy working.
In my experience, a desktop calendar pad can go a long way towards achieving better big picture clarity around forthcoming meetings, deadlines, calls, and so forth. Some people like to use their phone, but I find notifications annoying, and they break concentration besides. Paper-based systems like Getting Things Done (affiliate link) by David Allen force you to rely more on your organizational skills (and putting things into existence) than on unreliable tech.
2. Leverage Themed Days to Maximize Results
Don’t just group your tasks. Group your days.
I’ve talked to multiple entrepreneurs who keep multiple plates spinning, and the main way they do this is by setting aside certain days for specific projects.
I, for one, publish daily, write for Music Industry How To and MIDINation, maintain Music Entrepreneur HQ, and create content for The Indie YYC.
I use Mondays to outline the content I will be developing for the week. I divide my time between my various Music Industry How To and Music Entrepreneur HQ duties between Tuesday and Thursday. Friday is The Indie YYC day, though realistically, it doesn’t require more than a couple hours per week.
The point is that I’m not trying to advance all projects simultaneously on a given day. I give each my full attention on their designated days, so that my mind space is only occupied by pertinent tasks and conversations. As you can imagine, this helps you generate better ideas and think better overall.
3. Get into Communication to Grow Your Team & Maintain Client Relationships
First, admit to yourself that being a lone wolf polymath is unworkable. Because it is.
Second, recognize that there are people around you just waiting to engage in meaningful projects. Their jobs are boring. Their home life is humdrum. They’re just waiting for you to pick up the phone and invite them to be a part of something, even if there’s no financial incentive!
Build a personal relationship with everyone in your team to keep engagement levels high. It might seem a little unreasonable at first, because it’s going to take a lot of time out of your day. But you will soon see your workload minimize as others pick up the slack.
Keep your clients informed of project progress as well. You don’t need to type out 1,000-word essays to get the point across. Clear, succinct communication helps decrease misunderstandings and sets proper expectations.
When a promise is not going to be met, communicate. Everything is about communication. Don’t try to manage people. Manage promises instead.
Internalize the fact that promises are empowering. Many people avoid making promises because they don’t want to be on the hook for anything. But promises tends to elevate the importance of tasks or projects, maximizing your overall effectiveness. And that leads to better results.
4. Minimize the Amount of Time You’re Available to the Public to Make More Time for Focused Work
Unless self-initiated, I’m only available to the public on Wednesdays and Thursdays, between the hours of 11 AM and 5 PM for ad hoc calls and meetings.
This may appear self-serving, but when I leave my calendar open for anyone to book at any time, I may not be in the best position to serve them (because of energy levels, distractions, other tasks I need to get to, social events, or otherwise). I might even miss their booking requests. So, it’s in everyone’s best interest that I take calls only when I’m best equipped to handle them and give the matter the attention it deserves.
5. Prioritize Self-Care & Wellbeing to Keep Energy Levels High
I understand that your days will be booked to the brim with various forms of work. After all, you’re a go-getter.
But if you’re not taking care of yourself, you will burn out, and if you burn out, you will need to spend time in recovery. This can cost you severely in terms of productive time, medical bills, supplements, rehabilitation, and more.
So, it’s best to work a little self-care into your routine, even if it’s just five minutes here, 15 minutes there. Do five minutes of yoga. Meditate for 10 minutes. Take inspiration from some of my burnout reversal strategies.
Something is always better than nothing. And you honestly might be surprised by how much a difference walking for a few minutes daily can make.
6. Test Alignment & Prune the Stinkers to Manage Energy
Pay attention to how every project and client makes you feel.
There are ebbs and flows with every task or job, no matter how aligned you are. But ultimately, some projects will boost your energies and fulfillment level, while others will take away and steal your lifeforce.
Book Yourself Solid (affiliate link) author Michael Port suggests cutting clients that drain your energy, because inevitably they will consume the most time and energy, making any financial reward almost irrelevant. The 4-Hour Workweek (affiliate link) author Tim Ferriss has made similar assertions.
You need a “red rope policy,” as it were, meticulously defining the type of customer you want to work with, while pricing your services out of reach for those who are sure to be lesser quality clients.
The same goes for personal or collaborative projects. It might hurt to cut some off, but if you’re not acting on them today, and you didn’t last week, and you didn’t the month before, can you honesty say you’re ever going to get around to them?
As former CD Baby founder Derek Sivers says, goals shape the present, not the future. If the goal has no impact on current actions, then there’s a good chance it’s misaligned.
We want to examine our relationship to everything we do, as personal development guru Steve Pavlina suggests. And we can shift our relationship to our projects at any time. But inevitably, you’re going to bump up against work that’s not in alignment.
Consider eliminating the projects and clients that take up too much mind space, time, energy, and resources. They are robbing you of fulfillment in every dimension.
7. Track & Review Your Progress to Ensure Momentum
Take some time to review your progress each week. If you’re not advancing in certain areas, remember – goals that aren’t shaping the present are bad goals. They aren’t in personal alignment.
Each week, take some time to review:
- What is getting done
- How much progress was made
- Your overall performance relative to each project, on a scale of one to 10
- What is not getting done
- Where progress wasn’t made and why
- Areas you need to improve in
- Tasks others are working on
- Tasks you need to delegate
- Projects you need to revise or prune
- Your overall fulfillment level
If you aren’t tracking and reviewing your progress, you can’t make an honest assessment of how a given project is going. And that stifles your ability to adjust, or course correct.
Clarity is key. You can easily forget or lose track of specific tasks, projects, or people if you aren’t aware of how your projects are going, and that is unworkable.
You’re busy, and you’re up to something. And you won’t do everything perfectly. You will drop balls, and you will make mistakes. Which is why communication matters so much. But as much as possible, you want to create workability in every facet of your endeavors, and your weekly review is a good time to think and reflect on that.
Taking on many projects isn’t for everyone. But where there’s a will, there’s a way.
I would still advise chipping away at projects that don’t serve or fulfill you, as they are bound to consume more time and energy than they are worth. That said, I’m not one to stop anyone from running three businesses simultaneously. I know people that do. And it’s possible because of the practical tips discussed here.
So, find the things that keep you up into the wee hours of the night, and have you jumping out of bed early in the morning. These are the things that will inspire you to be, do, and have more.
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I see everyone on Medium talking about their process for writing an article per day, two per day, five per week, and so on.
I applaud everyone’s effort and understand that it takes something to put together long-form posts that will be read, appreciated, shared, and so on.
But I can tell you right now that one or two articles per day probably isn’t your limit (unless each one is 4,000+ words), and with enough practice, and enough of a reason to write, you will write immeasurably more than you think you can.
I, for example, write at least 3,000+ words most days, and 5,000+ words on some.
How is this possible? It’s simpler than you think.
Commit to Deadlines & Follow Through
I’ve had weekly publishing commitments since 2011. Yes, for 10 years, I’ve had duties ranging from publishing three blog posts per week, to fulfilling on three or four client pieces ranging from 600 to 1,200 words per day (in addition to any publishing I was doing on my own blogs at the time).
Deadlines may not light you up, but when “like to” or “should” turns into “must,” I can almost guarantee you’ll find something to write about, even when you don’t feel like it.
Before Leo Babauta started blogging exclusively for his zen habits, he had a swack of writing deadlines to meet. These commitments were quite extensive as I understand it, but because he had to, he learned to complete his work with velocity.
Turn your casual commitments into non-negotiable deadlines. Then you will naturally write more.
Take on More Profitable Work
This goes hand in hand with my previous point. When you take on more, you’ll find a way to fulfill on it.
I’m not telling you to work at a burnout pace. I’m suggesting being a little unreasonable. Stop trying to survive your workload and look for ways to thrive in a little chaos. Transform your relationship to work.
Great leaders know how to deal with chaos. They know how to communicate, problem solve, and work with others to generate the desired result. They remain open to possibilities they may not be present to and allow others to contribute.
Maybe you don’t see yourself as a leader now, but if you want to create at the level we’re talking about here, at minimum, you will need to learn to lead yourself well.
And if you’re going to take on more, you may as well seek out profitable work and benefit from the extra load you’re taking on.
When you have less perceived time to do your work in, you discover new ways of solving seemingly impossible problems.
Be Impeccable – be a Professional
If you don’t know what it means to be a professional, read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (affiliate link).
The best way I know to articulate it is that professionals treat their work like a business.
They open their doors daily at the same time. They’re consistent in their commitment to produce great work and please their customers. They show up even when they don’t feel like it.
Some people fear this level of commitment, but as I’ve been discovering, there is great freedom in it.
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (affiliate link) author Mark Manson says:
Commitment gives you freedom because you’re no longer distracted by the unimportant and frivolous. Commitment gives you freedom because it hones your attention and focus, directing them toward what is most effective at making you healthy and happy. Commitment makes decision-making easier and removes any fear of missing out; knowing that what you already have is good enough, why would you ever stress about chasing more, more, more again? Commitment allows you to focus intently on a few highly important goals and achieve a greater degree of success than you otherwise would.
I could not have said it better myself.
Build Out Your Tool Stack
Marketing guru Dan S. Kennedy said:
Walt Disney didn’t start Disneyland with a blank page; he started with already proven, profitable amusement parks and began subtracting things he disliked, adding things he thought could be done better, further plus-ing new ideas on top of the rearranged old ones.
The point? Don’t start from scratch!
You should never succumb to blank screen syndrome when it is so completely avoidable.
Keep notes, create swipe files, save references, develop idea sheets, and so on.
Here are a few tools I use to ensure I have a starting point for all my writing:
What infrastructure do you have in place to support your writing?
Could you start collecting industry stats? Relevant quotes? Resources the reader would find helpful? Maybe you could create blog post templates for different post types…
If you’ve got the right infrastructure in place, you will never need to start from scratch, and you will be far more efficient.
It’s not about writing more. It’s about having a reason to write more. When you’re committed to the cause and there are no alternatives, you will find a way to make it work.
Process is secondary to your reason for doing what you do. If you’re clear on your purpose, the details tend to fall into place.
There are no limits, and there are no requirements. There are only the commitments you make to yourself. And the better you become at following through on those commitments, the more you’ll trust yourself, and the more confident you will become in your own abilities to create and deliver.
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Time management and productivity go hand in hand.
To manage your time, though, you’re going to need to utilize a set of tools.
These tools don’t necessarily need to be the latest, whiz-bang, sophisticated, THICC 3D mobile apps. Personally, I find simple is better.
What matters is that you experiment, pick the tools that make sense to you, and then stick with your processes. Constantly reinventing the wheel will tend to have the opposite effect of killing your productivity.
For some inspiration, here are the four productivity tools I rely on.
1. Yellow Legal Pad
I use a yellow legal pad to organize my to-do list.
I’ll usually start by writing down everything I know I need to do for the week, and then make note of which items to prioritize.
(I don’t mean to glance over it, but prioritizing is critical for a successful week – just so you know.)
Having gone about this process in a variety of ways, I usually find it best to make a new to-do list weekly.
After a while, it gets altogether too easy to miss unchecked items on your list, because they are surrounded by items that have been checked or crossed off. Best recycle your old list and make a new one weekly.
2. Desktop Calendar Pad
I started using a desktop calendar pad several years ago, and it so much a part of my ecosystem now that I feel naked without it.
The main way I use the calendar pad is to add upcoming podcast interviews, meetings, and events, whether they are business related, social, personal, or otherwise. I find it much easier to get a mile high overview of the month (or coming months) using the desktop calendar pad versus a digital calendar.
On my calendar pad, there is a “notes” section on the righthand side, and I use this to track income sources. And that’s how I’ve done it for years now.
I will also consciously black out the dates where I know I will be on break or vacation.
Best to plan your breaks well in advance so they become non-negotiables. We can all be guilted into working more, so schedule your off days and commit to them no matter what.
I’ve created my LifeSheet using Google Sheets, so it lives inside Google Drive.
I make it a point to create a new LifeSheet annually, since a lot of things can change in a year, and my LifeSheet can start to look like a complete mess after accumulating a year’s worth of data.
I have tabs for a variety of things, but the main ones I keep going back to are “Projects,” “Post Ideas,” and “Medium Publications.”
Projects is where I can get a bird’s eye view of everything I’m working on right now and mark projects complete once they’re finished.
Post Ideas is critical since I publish daily. This is where all my article ideas, as well as the ideas others have share with me, are stored.
Medium Publications is relatively self-explanatory. I use this register to match up my stories with the right publications.
Suffice it to say, these tabs (and others) save me a lot of time as I’m going about my daily tasks.
You can use your LifeSheet as a register for whatever matters to you – affiliate relationships, travel, book recommendations, and more.
4. iPad & Apple Pencil
The iPad and Apple Pencil have not been in my ecosystem for long. I literally bought them before leaving Calgary in fall 2019.
But I now use these tools weekly if not daily, to journal, to log ideas, and to track my #StrategySunday minutes.
I don’t use any fancy apps. I just use Notes and handwrite all my entries using the Apple Pencil.
I also do a lot of reading on my iPad, though. The Kindle app is great.
I’ve used a variety of other tools through the years, even to see if going fully digital would make more sense. Nothing stuck. My current system has become habit, and it works.
The only honorary mention here would be Google Calendar, which is perfect for time blocking (Apple’s Calendar app works just as well). But I’m not a rigorous time blocker, and the habit has never stuck with me long-term. Which is fine.
Again, the key would be to find what works for you and to keep doing it. After a point, you probably won’t need anymore productivity tools. But to get there, you’ve got to experiment and work out your processes.
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You don’t ever feel like you have enough time.
There are just so many things you want to do. So many projects you want to tackle. But you just never seem to get around to them.
You’d like to be able to spend more time doing what you love.
But that’s just a starting point.
You’d love to be able to increase your independent income, have a greater sense of security and freedom, have more quality time with the people and projects that matter to you, and be able to live your life instead of hustling and grinding all the time.
There’s a simple mind hack that, if you activate, will instantly boost your productivity. I’ll show you how it works.
The Simple Technique That Will Train Your Mind
Every day when you wake up, first thing in the morning, tell yourself:
“You have more time than you realize.”
At first, you may not feel the effects of this simple action, and that’s okay. Just keep doing it.
In a matter of days or weeks, you’re going to start to notice a difference.
Suddenly, you will have a greater sense of clarity about where your time is going.
You will see openings for the things you want to do, as well as where you can make subtle shifts and tweaks to make better use of your time.
Let Your Subconscious Mind do the Heavy Lifting
When you keep telling yourself “you have more time than you realize,” you are effectively telling your subconscious mind what to believe.
We all know that the subconscious is powerful, and with repetition, it can be trained.
Like antivirus software, it runs background processes whether we’re aware of it or not, and it goes to work to solve the problems we present it with.
Just beware of using negative statements like “I am not an addict” or “I don’t want to be fat.” Your subconscious mind can’t process the negative, so these statements will come out as “I am an addict” and “I want to be fat,” perpetuating what you already have.
The solution is to turn these into positive statements like “I am focused and healthy.”
You Will Begin to See More Opportunities Than Ever Before
This technique is not a miracle worker.
What happens is that you begin to see opportunities to better utilize your time you never saw before. Your subconscious mind presents them to you, because by universal law, when you give it a problem to solve, it must.
Maybe you start getting up an hour earlier to tackle the most pressing issues in your life.
Perhaps you multitask during meals, even if just to engage in your passion for 15 to 30 minutes.
Maybe you return messages and make phone calls while on walks, so you can get your blood pumping, think clearly, and get some exercise while you are batch processing communication.
I don’t need to tell you what to do. Your subconscious mind already has the answers. The key is to accept that you have more time than you realize, because this is not about hustling and grinding. It’s about making better use of the tools available to you.
You Have More Time Than You Realize & Your Life Will Improve Dramatically
When you see that you have more time than you realize, you will get more done. But that’s not all.
Maybe you’ll finally be able to take weekends off or even have three-day weekends because of how efficient you are.
Perhaps you’ll be able to increase your income or add additional sources and feel a greater sense of security and freedom.
Maybe you’ll finally get around to projects long forgotten and ideas abandoned and feel more accomplished and fulfilled.
Perhaps you will learn to trust yourself more and you’ll be able to spend more quality time with your friends and family.
Give this technique a try and see what happens.
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