1. Set up a proper office space
One of the great fantasies about working for yourself is this image of laying in bed casually checking emails, or filling in a spreadsheet from some tropical beach, and yes these things are possible and they do happen. However, those days (or more realistically, those moments) are far less appealing as you may think, and if you set yourself for that style of work, you are bound to have problems.
The ability to work anywhere doesn’t mean anywhere gives you the ability to work. There are countless studies around ergonomics in larger office spaces, and the rule applies at home as well. Having a quality office chair with a desk will inevitably be a better work space for you in the long run than lounging in bed. That doesn’t mean you can’t do those things if and when you want to, but make them the exception, rather than the rule.
2. Get in the cloud
Following on from our first point, whilst you should set up an office space, the ability to take your office with you is going to dramatically increase your ability to get things done, if you use it wisely. These days, just about anything can be completed online, whether it’s your bookkeeping and accounts or writing a report, you can access your work from any device anywhere. What’s more, most cloud based systems and programs also allow you to collaborate with other people, saving you the time wastage on sending, editing and sending.
COVID-19 lockdowns forced so many businesses to convert to remote offices, and the software developments to support this have been hugely successful. If you’re not familiar yet, it is probably wise to start with a setup that integrates with your email first, for example google docs, sheets and slides if you use gmail, or office 365 if you’re on Microsoft.
3. Use your calendar
If you’re working from the cloud and have your office set up, you should be able to handle a much higher workload and do so even when you’re not sitting in your ergonomic office chair at your desk, which means your tasks will be plenty and calendar full. However we often find that many people with enormous task lists have completely empty calendars. Thinking that you can operate simply by checking off your to-dos 1-by-1 is a trap we can fall into when those to-do lists are reasonably short. When your workload increases, the need to look ahead and consider future outcomes is essential, and the ability to prioritize tasks becomes an asset. It is best to start by considering what things are must-dos rather than to-dos, then schedule them into your calendar with a colour (or style) that allows minimal flexibility. Next will be your to-deligate items; anything that you have to do to get a bigger job or the same job working on someone else’s desk. These come next because from the moment you complete them, they continue being productive for you while other teams work on them. The next most important are the ‘to-completes’, which refers to anything you need to do to finalise a job or contract. Everything else is a to-do and should fit in around these top 3 types of tasks.
4. 3 things everyday
You may have heard the age old adage “do one thing every day that scares you”, and we believe in it wholeheartedly. We also live by another similar rule: “do 3 things every day that progress you”. It seems somewhat trivial at first, but the rule genuinely works. Simplify your tasks to grouped outcomes. Any outcome is a thing that will progress you. If you achieve 3 of these every day, you’ll have achieved 15 of them by the end of the working week. 15 progressing outcomes every week is more than 60 every month, and we can promise you this, if you’re hitting 60 key outcomes consistently every month, one of them will be reconciling all that money you’re making.
This rule doesn’t just apply to your work, though. As a contractor you are likely to blur the line between work life and personal life, and that’s okay. Try to apply this to your personal life as well and notice the huge improvements in your mood, health and relationships.
5. Set boundaries and flex them.
Boundaries are tricky. You want to do well by your clients and partners, and deliver a service they are happy with and you can be proud of, and that is a good trait. Sometimes, that intention falls into the hands of people who see no end. This is particularly true for people with regular, ongoing contract arrangements where learned behaviours can infiltrate otherwise systematic arrangements.
Familiarity with clients and understanding of yours and their strengths and weaknesses can result in manipulation into crossing the terms you’ve agreed on. This often takes the form of something called ‘mission creep’, a dangerous slippery slope where a contractor agrees to do something that is not part of the agreed terms, as a gesture of goodwill, or a demonstration of service and commitment. Before long, that ‘one thing’ has turned into late nights working to complete jobs with little or sometimes no return.
As a contractor, you are especially susceptible to this kind of manipulation, and it is important to get clear on what you are prepared to accept from a working relationship and what you are not. Once you are clear, flex it; politely and respectfully, of course, but be firm and assertive with those who seek to push the limits. For example, if you’ve set a working time with a client, and they set meetings outside those hours, politely ask them to change the time. If you opt for a goodwill gesture and allow that breach, make it known, and reinforce it more firmly on the next request. Having boundaries might seem like setting up walls and limiting your potential in some way. It isn’t, and the reality is that having these boundaries will help you avoid being taken advantage of, falling into mission creep, and spending your precious time on not-so-precious tasks for someone else’s gain.