Fast broadband, mobile technologies and social media have completely changed the way freelancers work and communicate. We can (technically) work from any where with a laptop and wifi; we can collaborate with people on the other side of the world; we can use the web to create new income streams for ourselves.
But these digital technologies can result in a daily digital deluge leaving less time to get things done and less time to focus on our core work.
Here are five tools and tactics to help you harness the power of the web to stay focused, get more done, and work effectively.
1. Gmail Priority Inbox
One of my favourite finds last year was the new feature from Gmail, Priority Inbox which has helped my transformation into an email ninja.
Priority Inbox learns which are your most ‘important’ emails and ‘prioritises’ them by posting them at the top of your inbox. Next are your ‘read’ and ‘starred’ emails i.e. those you have read and designated as actionable/important/stuff you must read etc. Lastly, comes everything else – ‘unimportant’ messages or important messages that have already been read. I find that Priority Inbox allows me to see at a glance what needs to be responded to first and what can ‘go hang’ for a while.
Gmail is fairly intuitive but you can also teach it by using the ‘important’ and ‘not important’ buttons. This way I can designate any emails directly addressed to me as ‘important’ and any emails I am copied into as ‘unimportant’, along with any newsletters or notifications. Priority Inbox is a great way of ensuring that those important client emails or exciting opportunities do not get buried in your inbox.
2. Use Filters
In our increasing digital world, I am a big fan of using filters (see “F” in my free ebook From Apps to Zen: 26+ Ideas for Building A Business with Balance) to reduce the number of information streams coming into the day.
Filters are experts in your area who read and filter the best information about an area of interest. For example, a great social media filter is Pete Cashmore from digital blog Mashable. He consistently delivers the most up to date news and features on social media, online tools and the web. If you’re interested in location-independent living, Cory McKibben from Thrilling Heroics is a great person to follow.
Find out who your filters are in your niche and follow them on social media.
3. Equanimity App
Equanimity is a neat little app for the iPhone. Set a meditation time, for example 5 minutes, and a Tibetan bowl will ring once. Sit quietly, eyes closed and focus on your breathing. Focus on the sound of the breath as you inhale and exhale. Feel the cool air of the in-breath and warmer air of the out-breath as you breathe.
After your time is up, the bowl rings three times and it’s time to get back to work. A great way to refresh, take a few minutes away from your screen, and refocus during the day.
4. Work in a Distraction Free Zone
Shutting down your distractions will help to focus your attention and supercharge your productivity, so shut off your email, turn your phone to silent and close down any social media if you have an important piece of work to focus on.
Browser extensions such as StayFocused for Chrome or LeechBlock for FireFox can limit your access to certain programmes such as Gmail or Facebook if you don’t yet have the discipline yourself. For writing, try WriteMonkey for PCs or OmmWriter for the Mac to provide an application-free writing space.
5. Use Evernote to Combat Information Overload
We all suffer from information overload. The daily deluge of blog posts, email newsletters and useful links. You know the scenario where you take a short digital break from your work. One interesting blog post leads to another, and before you know it, two hours have passed and you’ve wasted your morning. Sounds familiar?
But how do you keep track of information that might be useful in the future without getting sidetracked in your day-to-day work? Enter Evernote. Evernote’s CEO, Phil Libin, likens Evernote to having an external brain – it remembers things so you don’t have to. Essentially Evernote is an information capturing and organization system.You can use it to type a text note, to clip a web page, snap a photograph of something, or record some audio.
Evernote is cloud-based. So the information that you add from the web, or from your smartphone is automatically synched to your desktop. So you can capture information on the go, as well as at your desk. Registration on Evernote takes minutes. It’s free, and you can watch a short, and funny, video explaining how to get started.
What tools and strategies do you use to work with the web, not against it?
About the Author
Sinead Mac Manus is founder of 8fold, a digital well-being company that helps busy people use the social web to work better and design their business. A yogi for 11 years, she inspires people about mindful 21st century working through her blog From Apps to Zen.
If you want to learn more, Sinead is running a two-hour Build Your Productivity Toolkit workshop in London on Wednesday 21 September 2011.