How I Organize My Work Day | Smutlancer Process
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Finding the right process helps me get work done, stay efficient, and not feel like I’m spinning my wheels. It lets me get more done in a day than I otherwise might — without using extra energy or sitting in front of a screen for hours upon hours.
With that in mind — and because a few people have asked me to talk about it — let’s dive into my process for organizing my work day.
Note: If these process posts interest you, feel free to comment, email, or talk to me on social media about other parts of my working life you’d like to know more about.
A quick reminder that my process is designed for a full-time freelance life. I’m not juggling a day job or another side hustle. I have an entire day at my disposal and can organize it in a way that suits me. That being said, I am mindful of a few things: my kids’ school schedules, what time I need to be in bed (so I’m not a total zombie the next day), and one of the non-negotiables in my family life: eating dinner together.
A Morning Routine
Though it’s fluctuated over the past couple of years, I tend to follow a routine in the morning from the time I wake up until I sit down to work. For 2020, I’m more mindful about my routine. I do things that keep me calm and help me feel good about the day ahead. My current morning (or starting) routine is outlined in a recent podcast episode: The Power of a Morning Routine
I do my best to wake up at the same time during the week. (Kids’ school routines dictate this during the school year.) As often as I can, I follow my routine to the letter. Of course, real life gets in the way. If I have an early morning appointment, I skip the gym. When I have a bad night and barely sleep, I may skip the routine entirely and take an early-morning nap. Consistency is good, and perfection is impossible, so I do the best I can.
Making a To-Do List
I work from a to-do list every single day. I have a master list/spreadsheet of all planned client work for the month. Because much of the work I do for clients reoccurs regularly, I know most of what needs to be in a given week. Thankfully much of the work I do has its own routine.
From the monthly master to-do list (check out this template if you want to create one for yourself), I make a weekly to-do list. I write it out in my bullet journal planner and I map it out (hour-by-hour) in my PA Planner. This planner is new-to-me for 2020, and I love it.
When I sit down to work on any given day, I look at my planners to figure out exactly what needs to be done for the day. I write it out on a post-it note that sits next to my keyboard. As I complete a task, I cross it off the list. I can also see what still needs to be done at a quick glance.
Getting Work Done
Okay, so my to-do list is made and the morning begins — around 9:00 a.m. most days of the week.
Ideally, it’s best to align your work with your energy levels. I have the most energy in the morning until about noon. In a perfect world, I ought to write and do creative work at this time. Except that’s not how I do it. I tend to get the multiple, tedious tasks done in this block of time.
Because I can cross off most of my to-do list in the first half of my day. I feel like I’m making progress. When I start with something that takes a lot of time, I worry that I won’t have enough time later in the day for everything else. It’s not true, but tell that to my anxious brain.
So while I should work with my natural energy levels, I do best working with (not against) my own anxiety.
I break for lunch around noon. This is when I walk the dog, get something to eat, and fuck around on social media for a bit. Setting this as a time in my schedule helps me stay on track during the rest of my working day. (I’m less tempted to scroll mindlessly when I know I have a time set aside for that. Also, I keep my phone in another room and on silent so I’m not tempted while I work.)
From about 1:00 p.m. until whenever I stop for the day, I finish my to-do list. Typically, I spend the afternoon writing. Depending on the content and the day, I can get four to up to eight pieces of content written in a few hours. I’m brain-dead by the end of the day, and my fingers hurt, but I can do it.
End of the Day
When I stay focused during the day, I am often done by 5:30 p.m. or 6:00 p.m. If I dick around, let myself get distracted, or have to deal with issues I didn’t plan for, I work after dinner. Sometimes my client work is done but my own content needs attention. Sometimes I have client work still to do.
By this time of day, I’m unfocused, low energy, and have almost no desire to be at my desk. So everything takes twice as long as it would otherwise. I work very hard to avoid working in the evening, but sometimes a project needs to get done or life got in the way earlier in the day. It happens.
When I finally close up for the day, I make sure it’s at a stopping point I’m comfortable with. Sometimes I cross off everything on the to-do list. (That’s a great day.) Sometimes I move things forward to the next day or some other time in the week. (As long as it gets done on time, that’s all that matters — I tell myself over and over again.)
A year or two ago, I often worked until midnight when I took on big projects. Often because I didn’t manage my time very well. But sometimes because I promised a deadline that didn’t really fit my schedule. These days I’m better at avoiding both. I give myself more time to complete bigger jobs, and I stay as focused as possible most days of the week.
I enjoy the predictability of my routine. I usually know, with a quick glance at my to-do list, if today will be a long day or if I’ll end on time. Sometimes I even end my day early — it’s rare but it happens. (The day I’m writing this blog post is one of those rare early days.)
I’ve learned to embrace the slight chaos within the routine. Following a similar pattern each day helps me feel in control of my work and my life. After all these years, I know (approximately) how much time it takes me to get certain tasks done which always makes scheduling myself easier. I don’t always get it right, and distraction and procrastination find a way in more often than I’d like.
Bottomline, I think most people need some kind of routine — even if it’s one only you understand, built for the way you work. If nothing else, going into your work day knowing what needs to get done helps. Treating each day like a surprise tends to be a recipe for missed deadlines, chaos, stress, and unhappy clients.
So…how do you organize your smutlancer life in a given day? How do you get things done?