If you’ve been freelancing or running a small business for more than a year you’ve got way to much on your plate. It’s highly likely that you haven’t done a solid review of what projects you have running and what commitments are around.
You’re way over committed and have lots of stuff that haven’t been done. All of that just adds up to cognitive burden which means you’re not going to be at your most productive.
It’s time to do a business reset for the year.
Book a week a year
You know that week between Christmas and New Year’s when most of your clients aren’t around and you aren’t super motivated to work anyway? I’ve got a great idea for what you can do during the time.
Take that week and wipe your TODO list clean. Kill all the projects that are around. Start fresh with no commitments.
Prepping for the week
The first thing you need to do is prep for the week. This is going to have to start at the latest on December 1st. Make sure that any projcets you have will be done before Christmas and any new projects won’t start till the New Year.
The best way to kill the purpose of your ‘clean week’ is to have 10 projects mid-cycle hanging over your head. You won’t just be able to delete your TODO list, you’ll have to keep so much of it which means you won’t have a clean slate to start with.
I also set up an auto-response for the week. It simply says:
It’s reset week for me till Jan 2. Any email I get during that time is sent to the trash automatically. If you need to get in touch with me then send me an email after Jan 2.
Do this but don’t forget to filter any bills/statements so they do stay in your inbox. All my current clients have my phone number as well. If they need to get in touch with me they can give me a call for an emergency.
Day 1: Prep the list
For me this means diving in to OmniFocus and looking at every item on my list. Are there any that need to stick around?
Typically I have a few client follow up tasks for new work that need to stay for the next year. It’s also likely that I have a few household items (you know finally put up shelves as asked) that need to make it to next year.
Take those times and write them down on their own. Then delete all the tasks in your system.
You need to be super harsh when transfering items. I just spent a weekend resetting and I killed a fiction story I started 2 years ago. If I haven’t found time in 2 years to add to the story then why am I keeping it on my list as something I want to do.
That story is obviously not a priority (despite me thinking about it every other week) which means I’m just adding cognitive overhead to my daily work.
Now you’re list is totally empty. Go spend time with the family for the rest of the day. You need a break from thinking about work to have a clear head before you can really dig in.
Day 2: Evaluate Big Priorities
Now we have nothing to do today except looking at our big business priorities and setting our yearly goals.
Do you want to double your income?
Do you want to have the same income but take Friday off to do something personal?
You need to identify what your big goals are and write them down. You should also know your “WHY’s” as you set out your priorities for the year.
If it’s the first time you’ve done this then it might take a whole day (or two even). I typically can finish them up in a morning and spend the afternoon talking about them with my wife over coffee.
Now spend more time with your family.
Day 3: Evaluate your task method
I’m an OmniFocus user but each year I spend some time taking a look at the other options out there. Do any look like they might have features I need in a task management system that OmniFocus doesn’t have?
I have always come back to ‘no’ and stuck with OmniFocus pretty early in the day. So my next step is to identify the pain points I have with OmniFocus and see if I can find some solutions to them.
Your task management application should be fun to use. It shouldn’t introduce any friction at all. Added friction is just like adding cognitive overhead it just gets in the way and ensures that you won’t be getting anything done fast.
Once you’ve got some satisfactory answers: go spend some time relaxing with the family or reading or whatever.
Day 4: Build the task list
Now we are finally ready to build up the task list again. Start by doing a ‘brain dump’ of everything you’ve been thinking of for the last few days.
I find that I’ve got a bunch of new ideas since I haven’t had some monumental list hanging over my head.
Add your projects for the New Year on the list and build out all the tasks you need to do for them.
Add all the things you just had to save back to your list. Be ruthless here as well. If something doesn’t really fit in to your overall priorities now don’t put it on the list.
I’ve decided that I wasn’t even going to bother following up on any of the projects I had in my pipeline after a reset. None of them fit in with my revised yearly priorities so why even waste the time?
This usually only takes me an hour or so. I spend the rest of my morning (or afternoon) reading. Typically I’ve been trying to find time to finish a book or I’ve been wanting to start one for a while. Here is the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Then spend the rest of the day with your family.
Day 5: Ahhh
Now we’ve got a reset list of big picture priorities and a revised clean task list. Make sure that you let someone know about your year priorities. I blogged my 2013 goals but that may not be for everyone.
Maybe you just put them on the fridge so that the rest of the family can see them and ask you about them. Maybe the are up in your office. Wherever they are you need to make sure that someone knows about them and is asking you about them.
That should only take you an hour or so. Spend the rest of the time till you start new projects relaxing and recharging for the year.
6 months even
If you can do this every 6 months then do it. I can often get it done in a weekend since I’m not making new goals for the year I’m just checking up on them and how close I am.
It’s a great middle of the year break from the grind. If you take a family vacation then take 2 days off client work the week before and use those days to do the reset.
If you actually do this you’ll be amazed at how fresh you feel for the work you have to do.
I got to talk with David Allen on the Freelancer’s Show a few weeks back and if you listen you can hear him talk about a reset as well. We didn’t talk in huge detail about it, but he said that deleting your list was so freeing. Lots more great stuff in the podcast on productivity in general as well.