Working arduously will take to where you want to in life. However, working hard without the proper methods and planning likely won’t take you there. You need to spend your time on the things that will be steps that advance you closer to your goals. Smashing Magazine has 3 things you need to do in order to work harder:
Working smarter is about three things:
- • Combining interests,
- • Creating structure,
- • Knowing yourself.
Let’s look at each in turn.
A good starting point when it comes to working smarter is to look for commonality between the three aspects of your life (work, life and side projects). You can often achieve a lot by coming up with things that have a positive impact in each of those areas. Take for example the choice of your personal project. If you look at most personal projects out there, they are aimed at a technical audience. We are encouraged to “build for people like us” which has led to an endless plethora of HTML frameworks and WordPress plugins.
If however we have built up interests outside of the Web, suddenly it opens up a new world of possibilities for side projects.
I wanted to get to know more people at my church. There are so many I have never spoken to. I also wanted to keep my hand in with code (as I don’t get to code a lot anymore), so I decided to build a new church website in my spare time. This involved talking to lots of people from the church, and also gave me the chance to experiment with new ways of coding. What is more, some of the things I learned have been valuable at work too.
Look for ways of combining personal projects with outside activities. Alternatively, identify side projects that could make your working life easier. This kind of crossover lets you get more done. However, by itself that is not enough. We need some structure too.
If we want to get the balance right between personal projects, work and life we need some structure to work in.
For a start take control of your working hours. I know this isn’t easy if you have a slave driver of a boss, but most of us have at least some control over how long we work. You will be surprised, limiting your hours won’t damage your productivity as much as you think. You will probably get as much done in less time. Work tends to expand to take as much time as you are willing to give it. Next, stop fluttering from one thing to another. When you are “having a life” don’t check work email or answer calls. There is a growing expectation we should be available 24/7. Resist it.
One method to keep you focused is the Pomodoro technique. This simple approach breaks your day into a series of 30 minute chunks. You work for 25 minutes on a single task free from interruption and then have a 5 minute break. Similar tasks are grouped together so that you spend 25 minutes answering email rather than allowing email to interupt other blocks of work.
Set specific time for working on personal projects and stick to them. Don’t allow that time to expand into your free time. Equally don’t allow work to distract you from your side project. Set boundaries. If you need to, set an alarm for each activity. Nothing will focus your mind on a personal project like having only 30 minutes until your alarm goes off. You will inevitably try and squeeze just one more thing in. These artificial deadlines can be very motivating.
Finally, make sure work, personal projects and recreation all have equal priority in your mind. One way to do this is to use a task manager like Omnifocus, Things or Wunderlist to keep all your tasks in one place. Often we have a task list for our work but not for other aspects of our life. This means that work is always prioritised over other activities. It is just as important to have a task to “finish that book” you are reading as “debug IE7”. Providing structure won’t just help with your side projects. It will also help with your sanity.
Remember, the goal here is to have fun on side projects, broaden your horizon with outside activities and recharge with downtime. You therefore must be vigilant in keeping the balance and ensure that all these competing priorities don’t drain you.
Part of the problem is that we spend too much time on activities that we are just not suited to. Its important to recognize your weaknesses and avoid them. If you don’t, you waste time doing things you hate and doing them badly. For example, I just am no good at DIY. I used to waste hours trying to put up shelves and fix plumbing. Because I was trying to do something I was weak at, it would take forever and leave me too tired to do other things.
My solution to this problem was to delegate. I employed people to do my DIY. People that could do it much quicker and to a higher quality than me. How did I pay for this? I did what I was good at, building websites. I would work on the odd freelance site, which I could turn around quickly and enjoy doing. This applies to the side projects we take on too. Learning new skills is one thing, but if it stops being fun because you are just not suited to it, move on. Working on stuff you are not suited to will just leave you demoralized and tired.
Talking of being tired, I would recommend not working on personal projects immediately after getting home from work. Give yourself time to unwind and allow your brain to recover. Equally don’t work on side projects right up until you go to bed. This will play havoc with your sleep patterns and undermine your productivity.
Finally, remember that side projects are meant to be fun. Don’t undertake anything too large because not seeing regular results will undermine your enthusiasm. If you want to work on something large, I suggest working with others. There is certainly no shortage of opportunities. Alternatively try breaking up the project into smaller sub-projects each with a functioning deliverable.
(image via Internet Time)