Practical Productivity Tips: Take on less work

I read a quote recently about organizing your stuff in a minimalistic type of way. I’m paraphrasing here but it basically said that the best way to organize all your stuff is to get rid of it. In other words, having way less things means way less need to organize. Your room, house, office, etc, all stay organized because there just isn’t anything to clutter it.

I am a big believer in minimizing distractions, reducing clutter, and living simply. If something doesn’t provide value to me now or won’t provide value to me in the near future, I get rid of it (typically donating it if I can). Someone else can get way more use of it, and I’m better for it— it’s one less thing in my life to think about.

The same can be said for your professional life as a freelancer. Today's practical productivity tips are all about reducing the 'professional clutter' in your life.

Professionally speaking, the best way to organize yourself and maximize your productivity is to take on less work. Being overcommitted to 5, 10 or more projects can sound like you’re being super productive. People may notice how busy you are and how many clients you have, and think: wow, good for you! You’re a rockstar and have so many clients!

Be Productive, Not Busy

However, it’s likely that internally you’re a mess. Having that many projects will make you busy but not productive. Your work will suffer, you’ll feel overwhelmed, and no matter how productive you try to be, you’re in a constant state of simply organizing and managing projects instead of actually doing any of them.

The best way to stay productive, no matter the context, is to learn to say no—and more importantly, to actively stop working on projects (or working with clients) that aren’t providing any value to you. Even if they are paying you, is your sanity worth having the extra pay? Is your work quality suffering?

I’d rather work on less projects and deliver greatness than work on 50 projects and be mediocre. Anyone can deliver mediocre work--in a matter of weeks, I’d just be outcompeted, and undercut by others. The hard thing is delivering great work— that’s why clients/customers seek and pay experts.

Ultimately, I want my products and my work to be worth it. I want to be truly productive with my time and over deliver when I can. Being ahead of schedule (or even on time) makes everyone happy. That only happens when I’m able to focus on what I’m working on, and not context switch between too many things.

It Comes Back To The Power of Focusing

One of my favorite analogies I have about focus is the falling asleep one. When you’re trying to fall asleep, it’s not something that can add up non-linearly to finally be asleep. In other words, it’s a process that has a very clear, non-interruptible start and finish. If you begin to fall asleep and the phone rings, you’re awake again and you start over. That’s the same with focusing on projects, and delivering great work. In order to be truly great with something, it deserves your full attention from start to finish. Otherwise you’re just constantly skirting around the starting point, and never doing anything of meaning.

The takeaway lesson here is to every now and then (maybe every few months), take stock in your professional life. What are you working on? What have you committed to? What clients do you have? The scope can be as large or as detailed as you want.

I often do this with my products and features— what features are there? Which ones can I cut to keep the product simple and useful? It’s basically like being an editor. You would never want to watch an uncut film (it’d be a 6 hour long mess), so why do that to your own life? Be a great editor— you’ll maximize your productivity, be happier and you’ll have clients and customers that will truly appreciate the added quality!

If you're interested in this topic and others like it, be sure to sign up for our productivity newsletter and group! You'll be on your way to working smarter and living happier.