Published April 21st, 2011 by Steven Snell
Having productivity in your work day is important, but having productivity on the right tasks is what will really lead to a successful use of your time. In this article we’ll look at 7 tips that may be of help to you when struggling with knowing what to work on next.
1. Respect DeadlinesWhen working for clients the most obvious factor that determines priority and urgency is the deadline. If your project has a deadline approaching or if you are behind the pace to meet a deadline in the future, the work should have some added urgency. Meeting deadlines is an important part of giving your clients a positive experience working with you, and most designers understand the need to use deadlines in prioritizing work.
2. Set Milestone DeadlinesIf a client project only has a deadline for completion of the project, make an effort to break down the work that is needed to complete the project and put it into a few different steps or parts. Assign each part with a deadline to hit a certain milestone that will allow you to move on to the next step, and use these self-imposed deadlines to help with prioritizing. This way rather than just seeing the final deadline, which may seem like it is far off into the future, you’ll have a clear understanding of the smaller steps involved in the project and what you need to do now in order to stay on pace.
These milestone deadlines that you set for yourself may not even need to be shared with the client, they can be used just to help you stay on track and to view the big picture of the project. Staying on pace with a project can also have an impact on everything else that you are working on. If one project gets off track you may need to dedicate extra time to getting caught up, which of course takes time away from your other projects. So staying on course will allow you to prioritize effectively, rather than being forced to dedicate your time to certain things because you’re behind.
3. Consider the ConsequencesMost likely there will be times where you’re not sure how you’re going to be able to get everything done. If you have several different things that are pressing for your attention and you’re not sure how to prioritize, consider the consequences of not getting the work done or not meeting the deadline. Chances are, there will be much different consequences from one task to the next.
For example, you may have a client project that would be disastrous if you can’t meet the deadline. Maybe the client has other things, such as a marketing campaign, that are dependant upon you getting your work done by a specific date. On the other hand, you may have a client project that has an upcoming deadline, but there really are no significant consequences if it falls a little behind schedule.
Another factor to consider is your relationship with the client. If it’s a client that you have worked with for a while and have always met deadlines, they may be more understanding if you’re struggling to meet a deadline (depending on the situation). Or you may have a situation where you’re working with a new client and hoping to get more work or referrals in the future from this client. In this case, your relationship with the client may be important enough to shuffle things around to get the work done.
4. Consider Payment TermsYou’ll also want to take into consideration the impact that a task will have on getting paid. You may have a project where you will be paid at various milestones throughout the project. If you are just a small step away from reaching one of those milestones you may want to give added priority to getting it done and getting paid.
Likewise, there may be a situation where a client has already paid for your services and you just need to complete the work. Completing this client’s work may take priority since they have already paid for your time.
If you’re a freelancer you’ll always need to be considering your cash flow situation. So taking into consideration the situation with money and how/when payment will be made will help you to know what you need to be working on to keep your business functioning smoothly.
5. Consider Time RequiredThere may be times when you have two or more equally urgent tasks that are competing for your attention. However, although they are equally urgent they may not require the same amount of time to complete. My preference is to prioritize the tasks that will take less time to complete so that I can get it crossed off my list and be able to focus more effectively on the remaining tasks.
6. Set Monthly Goals and Work BackwardsSetting goals can be very helpful for determining what needs to go on your to-do list. This process is made a little bit easier if you take a look at the big picture before setting your to-do list for a particular day. Try starting with monthly goals of what needs to be done. Then look at the specific actions or tasks that need to be done in order to reach this goal. For the first week of the month take the most urgent actions, those with deadlines and those that are foundational for other tasks, and put them onto a to-do list for the week. Then you can plan your week more effectively by splitting them up and setting certain things that need to get done each day.
This can be a much more effective way of prioritizing tasks than simply trying to decide what to work on for a particular day without really giving much though to the big picture. With weekly and monthly to-do lists in addition to a daily list you’ll be able to see how each task impacts the other things on your list, and priorities tend to clearly emerge.
7. Schedule a Percentage of Your Time for Personal ProjectsThere are other tasks that are important aside from just working on client projects. Things like working through tutorials, reading a book on a topic that you’d like to learn more about, re-designing your portfolio site, maintaining a blog, etc. often get pushed to the back burner because they don’t seem to have the same urgency as other things on your to-do list. In the long run though, these types of personal projects and opportunities for development or improvement are very important.
The best way to make sure that you get time to work on these things is to prioritize them by setting aside time in your schedule. You can decide that you’ll dedicate 10% of your time (or some other amount) to working on projects like this, and set aside time each week to do something for your own improvement. If you don’t set aside the time, most likely you won’t get around to it since other things will always come up.