How to Keep a Constant Workflow (when you’ve got Irregular Hours)

I don’t know about you but I have an incredibly difficult time falling to sleep so I often say up for long hours of the night until the crack of dawn.

Unfortunately for me, this causes a very irregular sleep pattern and poses a few problems with my freelance work schedule.

Believe me; I’ve tried everything to fix my sleep. I used a white noise generator, tried staying up and flipping it around, practice all the ‘sleep remedy’ methods, get showers before bedtime, and the rest of the gamut – none of them truly work for me.

I decided that it’s just something I have to live with.

I’m sure you have some form of insomnia or irregular sleep pattern that’s messing with your time; it’s something that comes with the job when you’re working on the Web.

I’ve learned a few things over the years when it comes to this subject so I’d like to distill a bit of my knowledge and suggestions for making it work in your favor.

First and foremost: Let your clients know

Do not leave clients out of the loop.

Repeat that over and over again.

They’re relying on your work to be on time else their entire flow is thrown off.

Your clients will understand if you have an irregular schedule – hell, it may be the reason why they hired you – but you can’t expect them to play ball if something needs to go out today and it’s already night.

Action: Send over an email (or better yet: call) your clients with your work schedule and ask for their suggestions on what would be the best time to deliver their work.

It’s likely they won’t care as long as you can get the job done.

This is where scheduling comes into the mix.

Get an idea for what needs you’ll fulfill for your clients and plan it all accordingly. Try to get a piece over them a few days earlier than the delivery date (which also ‘wows’ them on your commitment to the projects).

Second: Get into a batch processing type of flow

The process I use for getting a whole lot of writing done is through batching my work.

I believe there are better terms for this but I think of it like a computer program with ‘if’, ‘then’, ‘else’ statements while I’m at work.

Here’s an example:

  1. Client A requires 30 blog posts for the month
  2. Outline the headlines and subjects for each (along with their schedule)
  3. Open 30 documents, fill in the title, and write the outline
  4. Go through each document filling in the introduction
  5. Go back through and fill in the main body
  6. Go back and do the conclusion (and internal links for resources)

Your workflow may be vastly different than mine but I’ve found this method to be extremely productive since I’m able to start each of the articles and work on them in segments rather than facing a daunting task of writing 30 articles back to back.

Psychologically, you see them as work that’s already a third completed so you’re not intimidated. Likewise, you bounce between subjects so you don’t burn out from touching on the same idea over and over again.

Other areas of your work can be done the same:

  • Knocking down all of your emails at once (based on a time for these items)
  • Commenting on blogs once a week which has been populated in an RSS reader
  • Saving documents and important works to be consumed on a Sunday afternoon

Basically, you’re working like a robot. You do everything for a single client in one massive block of time rather than bouncing between all of the projects which ultimately throws off your workflow.

Action: List and categorize each of your main tasks (blog posts, freelance writing, social networking, etc) and create specific blocks of time throughout the week where you’ll work on only those items within the category (or client).

Third: Do it when you’ve got the spark

Something I’ve been experimenting with has been a bit hedonistic in nature.

I’m generally the type that enjoys a solid to-do list and spreadsheet for my projects but lately I’ve taken up the idea of just working on something as it presents itself in my mind.

For example: This very post is being done on a whim even though I have other obligations.

The mindset is basically that you’ll get a lot more done by just jumping right into it while all your ideas are forming rather than listing them off and coming back to them later.

I don’t know about you but a lot of my ideas never gain action because I’m constantly adding new items to my list. This new gun-ho mindset at least gets the ball rolling and more-often-than-not – it gets the job done.

There’s something psychological about it all. You knock down the first half so you naturally move on with completing the piece because you’re already half way done.

For me, I get satisfaction knowing that I completed a piece rather than spending the next hour trying to flip around my schedule so I can do it later. I can get the task done in half the time if I just get at it.

Sure, you may have some obligations but you won’t really be in the mood to get that done when you have this great idea stewing around in your noggin’.

In my opinion, it’s better to just get at it (even just a fractional part of it) than ruining your momentum with your entire workflow – you’ll get things done – it’s satisfying – and you’re not forcing yourself to work on something that doesn’t hold your interest at the moment.

Action: Go with the flow for one day of the week. Opened a tab with something you want to read? Read it right then and there. Outlined a blog article? Finish it. Sparked an idea for a new website? Set it up.

You’re not left with a laundry list of ideas that never get worked on – instead – you have projects in the pipeline which you’ll feel actual commitment toward since they’ve already been started. Give it a try.

A few final thoughts

In all, the system that’s going to work is one which you create and tweak.

I can’t tell you how many productivity articles I’ve read that have done nothing than waste my time; what’s truly work for me is going with the flow, doing batch work, and working around my irregular schedule. The job gets done, everyone’s happy.

For you, it may be none of these items but give them consideration if you’re stuck working odd hours, and then form your own workflow to get the job done.

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One Response to “How to Keep a Constant Workflow (when you’ve got Irregular Hours)”

  1. May 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm #

    really useful tips. I like the concept of batch processing – though it’s somewhat difficult for me to start (just like any new thing I start)

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