Organisation Tips for Freelancers and Small Business Owners
Tools and tips that help keep me organised when life gets chaotic.
As an INFJ, routine, structure and organisation are things I crave. It's not that they come naturally to me (they don't!), but being planning things and being organised makes me feel calm, happy, and generally sane!
I read countless (too many) books and articles about productivity and I've learned that being 'effective' is key. Yes, 'effective' - not 'efficient'.
You can be extremely efficient at doing something, but it doesn't matter how efficient you are if you're doing the wrong thing. Being effective means you're doing the right thing, and you're doing the thing right.
Being effective is working smarter, not harder; a phrase I'm sure you've heard a billion times over when anyone talks about work/life balance or productivity, so I'll be quiet now.
Below are some things that help me work effectively:
1) Get everything out of my head
People who don't use any form of to-do list scare me; are you some kind of superhero? How do you cope with life??
I wouldn't be able to get anything done if I had a list of things I need to remember just rattling around in my head; I need to get that stuff out. I use the Reminders app on my phone for every task I have to do (in personal and business life), and set each one up to remind me at a time when I know I'll be able to do it.
2) REGULARLY REVIEW what I do
I like to work in an 'Agile' way, so writing huge lengthy plans every couple of years and sticking rigorously to it isn't my thing.
Yes, I've talked before about creating a business plan (and even have a template for one!), but you'll notice that it's fairly succinct. I do have one myself, but it is short, sweet, and easily editable on Google Drive.
The start of the year is a great reminder to review and edit your plan, but I generally revisit mine every 2 months or so because things change drastically. And even if they don't change, it's good for me to keep my goals and targets to the forefront of my mind as often as possible.
Similarly with a Marketing plan, I revisit it often. Usually there will be a couple of things that I will look at think 'that's not working', or 'that's working well' and I will tweak my future actions using that.
3) Track things that need to be tracked
I see at least an article each day advising me to start tracking some kind of metric that I'm not already tracking. Yes, there are plenty of things that are useful to track, and these things will probably differ business to business, but some things are just wasted time and complicated equations.
Things I track that are important to my business:
- % Traffic from Referral sites; lets me know where my marketing efforts are working
- Email list growth per month; if I'm running promotions this will let me know how successful they've been to growing my email list
- Contact form enquiries per month; also lets me see if promotions have been worthwhile, and allows me to track seasonal demand
- % Engagement on social media; much more important than just follower numbers!
4) Use Visual checklists
I'm a very visual person; it's the only way I learn or remember things. This is why I love Trello so much - I can see everything organised in different columns and I can see it move through the 'to do', 'doing' and 'done' sections with satisfaction!
I also write a daily task list on paper purely to have the satisfaction of seeing a big red tick on all the things I've accomplished that day!
5) Test things first
Before I launch a service, or start to develop a 'product' (an ebook for example), I test the waters first. With the services, I operate 'under the radar' offering to do some work for free for people to gauge demand and responses before I invest time into marketing myself for that. Heck, I'm doing that right now with something, and it's looking good!
6) Prioritise strictly
Sorry to bang on about Trello, but it really is brilliant for prioritising your tasks. You can either move all your most important/urgent tasks to the top of each list you create, or you can colour code your tasks to show importance/urgency.
I truly believe being good at prioritising is the key to being effective; it's about understanding how tasks relate to your business goals (and life goals!), and which ones directly or indirectly affect your success in achieving those goals.
Here are the tasks I tend to prioritise on a weekly basis:
- Client work
Obviously this is the most important!
- Publishing a useful blog post here each week
I want people to know they can come to my website each week and there will be fresh content, and lots of people find me through my blog, so it's important I keep it up!
- Responding to contact form enquiries
Obviously important if I want a steady flow of work coming in.
- Marketing myself on Pinterest
This is my biggest traffic referral source, and where I get quite a few enquiries from each month.
And here are some that if I have time, I will do, but I don't prioritise them because they don't directly affect my goals:
- Posting to Twitter and Facebook
I don't get a huge amount of traffic from these sites, so I don't stress about these.
- Tracking statistics
So time consuming! See above.
- Writing an email newsletter
I really do try to get these out every other week, but at the end of the day, I'd rather send to my email list too little than too often; I don't want to fill up peoples' inboxes!
- Posting a 'Midweek Moodboard'
I do enjoy posting these each week, but if I'm particularly busy, I won't stress about it. It's not necessary for me to achieve my goals!
I've also written a few things below that (perhaps more importantly?) I try not to do, because I feel they make me work less effectively:
1) Get hung up on the competition
It took my a few months to force myself to stop stalking my competitors and just get on with my own stuff! I've written a post about doing a competitor analysis, but I recommend doing this only once or twice a year MAX - not every month!
2) Plan the smallest details
As I mentioned above, when writing business plans and marketing plans etc, I try to keep them short and sweet. I personally feel there's no point in trying to plan out every details of your business or your year, because things change so regularly.
In fact, planning so far in advance can make you much less flexible and adaptable when changes out of your control occur. Be Agile, people!
I try my hardest not to multi-task on projects. I still do, but I try not to. I find time blocking a much more effective way of getting things done, as you can get in the flow of a project or task without interruption.
Writing a blog post and answering emails and doing a bit of client work at the same time just makes the whole lot slower, in my opinion, as constant interruptions will ruin your 'flow'.
4) Stay up late
Most days I'm in bed before 10pm; yes I'll probably be watching an episode of Suits after that, but generally I try to switch off early.
I know it's different for everyone, but I personally know that nothing great ever happens in my work after 9pm.
I'd love to hear your tips - how do you stay organised and effective?
*The link for Trello is an affiliate link, but I honestly swear by it and wouldn't share it here if I didn't!