The Most Important Meeting You Have Is with Yourself
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In no other time in history has our attention been sought after by so many different stimuli. Only 30 years ago, before the internet was a global staple, you could talk to exactly one person on the phone or send one person a text message, and that was it. Now I can see what people are tweeting in Australia in real time. Our options have become unlimited, and many freelancers struggle to set firm boundaries between their personal and professional lives.
One incredibly helpful tool that I’ve found is called time-blocking. In theory, it’s quite easy but as we all know life tends to complicate things. I’d like to walk you through how it can drastically improve the control you have over your life, your productivity throughout the day and even improve your time with loved ones and friends.
How I discovered time-blocking
I’ve been a full-time freelance translator for about 3 years now, and as of a year and a half ago, I became slightly obsessed with putting systems in place in my life that gave me greater control over my freelance career. I could feel that I was working on a reactionary basis and the stress and uncertainty of not knowing my next move was really weighing me down.
I would wake up when I felt like it, have some breakfast, watch last night’s reruns, hit the gym, wait for a job to come in, get a job (or not), work a bit, check Twitter, head back to the couch for a series, work some more, grab a snack and repeat that day in and day out. I had no schedule, no routines, no priorities and definitely no control.
I worked and lived based on what was happening around me and if clients sent me a job or not. By nature, freelance translating is a bit uncertain, but there are much better systems that I could have put in place to focus my energy and prioritize my health.
How’s your time management system?
I started digging and checking out different time management apps, life coaches and really anything I could get my hands on. The thing that changed it all for me was a book I read about a year ago, it’s called The ONE Thing by Gary Keller, and in it, he breaks down time blocking
What is time-blocking
Time blocking is the idea of setting aside a chunk of time where you have 0 distractions. Yes, that means no phones, no internet (if possible), no calls, no meetings, no emails, no walking the dog, no snacks, no social media, no bathroom (actually this one’s ok, I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.)
You set aside a certain amount of time, in the book he says 4 hours a day and I think that’s a good starting point for most full-time freelancers. All of this works on the notion that your calendars make appointments, but it doesn’t care with whom who you make those appointments.
You need to make a daily, unwavering appointment with yourself.
However, there are three layers to this time blocking, and they go like this.
1. Time block your time off
2. Time block your most important daily task
3. Time block planning time
Time block your time off
Highly productive translators and entrepreneurs, in general, understand that taking time off is a necessity not a privilege. I love the analogy that we’re like knives. If you use a knife without sharpening it, it increasingly loses effectiveness until one day it no longer cuts. That’s what happens to people who work every day and don’t take time off. Your vacation, unplugging, whatever you want to call it, is basically you sharpening your tool, your mind. Using it every day without rest and sooner or later it will become so dull it won’t cut.
First thing’s first, time block your vacation for the rest of the year and don’t change it. You’ll need it.
Time block your most important task
Each individual translator has their most important task of course, but you need to learn to prioritize your activities. The question you must ask yourself, and the one taught in The One Thing is this:
“Today, what’s the ONE thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?
If you answer that question, then you’ll know the exact task you need to time block. If you finish that task, ask yourself the same question. Freelancers always have things to do. In that way, over time, your work becomes easier and easier.
Time block planning time
This one basically explains itself, but planning is a freelancer’s best friend. Planning gives you clarity, purpose, direction and if you have a schedule, you’ll never be wondering which task you should accomplish next. Planning makes decision making easy and allows you to see the big picture.
Things you should plan:
• Wake up
• Morning routine
• Weekly meals
• Time block
• Time with family
• Phone calls
• Client meetings
• Marketing (if applicable)
• Bedtime routine
All of this planning could be done within an hour or so, and it could save you the stress of making last minute plans, poor dietary choices, missing time with your family, and you’ll never have anything take you by surprise again.
In theory, time blocking seems simple. Set aside a chunk of time where you get rid of all distractions. However, life is a bit more complicated than that, especially if you have a busy personal life as well.
You’ll need to inform everyone in your life that for a set time every day you will be unreachable and it’s your job as the person setting those boundaries to be unwavering about it. Like with anything, people will push the limits and see what they can get away with, or they’ll flat out forget. A gentle reminder, after your time block has ended, that you’re unavailable at that time every day and after a week or so most people will get the hint.
You’ll need to turn off your phone, the internet if possible, close your office door, draw the blinds, hide the remote to the tv, remove all snacks and just do your best to make your environment as distraction-free as possible. Answer the question about the ONE thing and get to work. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish in a few hours of uninterrupted, focused productivity.