My new “Zen” productivity approach that got me my sanity back

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I really hate the word “productivity.” It’s one of these buzz words that everyone praises and most things that are supposed to make you “more productive” (like apps and tools and such) just burden you with even more work to do.

I think there’s a much better way to be productive. And that’s to simply do a lot less. If your to do list is smaller, and you get it all done, you’re more productive right? 🙂

But it’s not just about shrinking your to do list, it’s about how you organize your day / week in general that really makes it happen.

That’s what I love about Zen. You focus on one thing at a time, give it the attention it needs, then move on to the next. You don’t do 10 things at once, or 100, like many of us are used to. Just one at a time.

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Simple. Calm. Meaningful.

I guess you could say it’s spreading your to do list out so every day has a clear focus that’s not overwhelming. The whole to do list isn’t intended for every day.

Lately we really cleaned up our workflow here at Reliable PSD.

This was the problem we faced:

We had too many ideas, and they were all screaming at us to get them done right away. (Do your ideas do that to you? It feels like they have megaphones pointed straight at my ears.)

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So we worked on them all… every day. It was crazy.

But this just started to bog us down. My partner, Lou, dreaded even opening up her to do list because it just kept growing… and growing… and growing… no matter how much she accomplished.

Every day we’d meet and share our ideas and discuss what we’d gotten done and it led to more things we have to do and the list got longer.

Then I stumbled upon an app the other morning. I was thinking back on the new show “Billions” we started watching and remembered how in the first episode the main character had a cool iPhone app for meditating. (If you haven’t seen this show, go check it out. So good.)

I looked up “meditation” in the App Store, and found an amazing, free app called “Calm.”

(Even their home page makes you feel better.)

Calm helped me meditate for 20 minutes that day, easing a lot of stress and anxiety I had.

And as soon as I was done, it hit me:

We needed to start doing a whole lot LESS if we ever wanted to do MORE.

So Lou and I met with the goal of “Zen-ing” out our task list, and realized all our ideas fell into these categories (not in order of importance):

  1. SEO
  2. Referral / Affiliate Program
  3. Blog
  4. Company website
  5. Outbound marketing
  6. New branch of Reliable that also does design
  7. Refining our brand
  8. Email marketing strategy
  9. Workflow improvements
  10. Facebook Group growing / nurturing
  11. Other marketing / things that pop up

That’s a lot, right!? 

And each piece of the puzzle is equally as important.

But we realized to get anything done, we’d have to get only a few things done – every day.

So here’s what we came up with to help organize Lou’s week who handles most of these operations:

  1. SEO (delegate – check on 1x / week / Wed. for 20 minutes)
  2. Referral / Affiliate Program (Spend 1 hour next week finalizing then 30 min. / week / Thurs. reaching out to potential new affiliates)
  3. Blog (1 hr. each / week / Friday)
  4. Company website (1-2 hrs. daily)
  5. Outbound marketing (already delegated – check on stats & iterate strategy 1x / week / Wed. for 20 min.)
  6. Website for new branch of Reliable that also does design (1-2 hours daily until complete)
  7. Refining our brand (1 meeting today to finalize)
  8. Email marketing strategy (2 min. daily to grab inspiring things we want to share with our list, then 30 min. / week / Fri. compiling into a weekly email)
  9. Workflow improvements (1-2 hrs. daily)
  10. Facebook Group growing / nurturing (Promote: 30 min. / week / Thurs. Create content: 1x each / week / Fri. Interact: Daily / 5 min.)
  11. Other marketing / things that pop up (As needed – can alter time frames of other areas)

So for example here’s what Monday would look like for her:

  • 15 min. daily check-in
  • 1-2 hours company website
  • 1-2 hours new design website
  • 5 min. facebook group
  • 2 min. email content
  • 1-2 hours workflow improvements, other marketing / things that pop up as needed

She knows she doesn’t have to worry about outbound marketing, SEO, blogging, affiliates, or anything else. Just what you see. 

That means she’ll make progress on updates for the website, our new design website, our FB group, our email marketing, improving company workflow, and anything else that pops up.

That’s pretty great, right?

And it’s just Monday.

She’ll make meaningful progress on everything by the time the week is done – and she’ll feel SANE and HAPPY, too!

The key is to figure out all of the important things you need to be doing in your business.

Outbound marketing? Client work? SEO? Networking? Running FB / Google ads?

Isolate the MOST important things that will serve you now and in the long run, and schedule them out throughout your week. Avoid distractions or things that “might” work out or that aren’t really your “core” business. Or put them on a list called “the back burner” if they won’t stop shouting at you, with the intention that you’ll get around to them if you have the time some day.

That way, for example, you know Wednesday is outbound emailing day, Tuesday is SEO day, and every day is client work day for a specified amount of time. 

If an idea pops up on SEO day that has to do with workflow – you’ll write it down but you won’t act on it until “workflow day.” Everything is clean and organized.

You get your client work done – AND you take action to grow your business for the long run at the same time.

Already it’s made our lives feel a whole lot happier, easier, and freer – which is why we went into business in the first place, right?

How about you?

Any tips for “true” productivity / claiming back balance in your life by being more organized? Questions? Comments?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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About David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.

 

More about David’s business: David is co-founder of Reliable PSD – what happened when a group of designers got fed up with PSD to Code companies… and created their own. Check them out, and see why freelancers & agencies are head over heels for this amazing new service.

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Comments

  1. Great article my background is design for about 30 years I now run my own real estate firm and of course I’m handling all the marking, social etc. for my real estate practice and productivity is a big issue

  2. Great advice and tips David. I’ll definitely check out “Calm” later today. About a month ago I was in the same place and then took a vacation. When I returned I turned half of my office into a painting studio and comfy corner with oversized chair and ottoman. It made me schedule in fun creative time (which i was really missing) and an inviting place to sit (not at my desk) to read, sketch and do research. This reorganization has made “work” time more focused and efficient, and a lot more gets done, yet I’m not as stressed, win-win!

  3. I needed this. Glad you shared. Thanks.

  4. This is really great advice and an awesome way to structure it. I’ve been doing something similar, having a mayer list of things I need to do for my business and client projects and only focusing on 2-3 things during a day. However, I was having a hard time still making enough progress on everything during a week. Laying out days of the week for certain task categories makes so much sense! I think that will really help. Thanks so much for the article!

  5. Breaking down your to-do list into manageable tasks is a key way to get into the Zen space of freelancing. The information in this article was very helpful and when freelancers start out or if they are more experienced, they can take something away from this article. Thank you!

  6. By productive, I would assume you mean efficiently completing a task in give time frame (rate of output per unit of input).

    I quote Mr. Parkinson, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

    How do you deal with this?

  7. David!! This is so great and I definitely needed this (and thanks for the calm.com). I have been so overwhelmed by all the things I need to do and have tried to do all of them everyday. It got so bad that I just stopped putting goals in my calendar because I wasn’t meeting them, terrible I know.

    But this just may work for me and I can’t wait to try it. Your blogs are always good and I’m always sharing them with other overworked and overstressed designers and entrepreneurs. By the way, I’m listening to Zen now and I already feel calm. Cheers 🙂

  8. “The whole to do list isn’t intended for every day.”
    So true David! It’s so simple but this is exactly what has been happening to me.

    Thanks for the eye-opener. Great tips. Keep it up.

  9. I need this methodology in my life. Thanks David, will check out Calm and try to zen-ify my life a lot more in the future. Right now it’s a mess, the month is about to start and my company’s advertising is about to go crazy active, and on top of that we have to do a zillion updates on all our websites and of course we’re redesigning them all. Nuts!

    *deep breaths*

    I like to think that if I was freelancing I’d be a lot more zen but right now I’m not my own boss and don’t make productivity decisions. Sigh!

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