The biggest hindrance to any web designer or developer moving up to the next level are the little bad habits that they have in their workflow that slow them down or distract them from productive billable hours.  Here are 4 easy habits that will help you to streamline your workflow and focus on what is most important, like revenue generating activities.

1. Practice Just-In-Time Learning

Distractions for a web designer abound!  Checking email, posting on Facebook, complaining on Twitter about how you don’t feel like working right now, checking the news and your RSS reader, playing Farmville, and then there is the most insidious of all distractions… research to learn a new skill or what new cool Jquery slider to incorporate into your next project…

“Research” is the worst of all distractions because we convince ourselves how important it is to keep up with the latest technologies, but let’s be honest, one of the reasons we got into web design is because we like shiny new technology.  Our greatest strength becomes one of our biggest distractions.  Believe it or not, learning new things can actually hold you back from success.  That is a whole other post all by itself but let’s boil it down to this, yes learning new things is important, but we have to keep it under control.  There is a point of diminishing returns.

The remedy for too-much-learning is two fold.  First, schedule your research time and stick to it.  Set aside 30 minutes a day to check and see what is new or to find a better way to do something you are working on and stick to your schedule.  Second, try to use this time to focus on what you really need to know.  It is called “Just In Time Learning”.  Just in time learning can prevent information overload or “analysis paralysis”.

Analysis paralysis is what happens when you have too many options, usually it results in no action at all.  We spend so much time researching something that we are overwhelmed by all the options and we put it off because we don’t know what to do next.  It happens to the best of us and can be prevented by limiting our research time and focusing on only what we need to know right now.

2. Batch tasks

Along with eliminating distractions it helps greatly to wait on smaller tasks until we can batch them together into one large group.  The primary example for this is email.  Rather than checking your email constantly throughout the day, limit yourself to once an hour or better yet, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Don’t let email control you, be the master of your Inbox.  What is the worst that can happen?  Someone has to wait a couple of hours to get a reply from you?  They will live and you will too!  Not only that, you will be better off without the constant distractions.

3. Track your time and evaluate regularly

Here I recommend a tool called Rescue Time (or, I haven’t tried this one, you could try Lapsus for a Mac).   This software tracks everything you do on your computer and depending on your settings evaluates it as productive or not.  Install the free trial and let it track you for at least a day then go into the settings and see how you did.  You may have to tweak it some, but you will be surprised.  You may have thought you only spent 10 minutes in Facebook, only to find it was closer to 30.

I found that I was spending two to three hours every day in Outlook, blah!  I wasn’t too surprised about that because I knew that I spent more time than I should have too, but it brought to the forefront the importance of managing my email better.  Since then I have implemented a new system that has drastically reduced my time, while still keeping it organized.

4. Use The 80-20 Rule

The 80-20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.   It was originally observed in land and wealth distribution over a hundred years ago, but has sense been found to be true in nearly all aspects of life and business and is considered by many to almost be a law of nature.  It has both positive and negative meanings.

The 80-20 rule can mean that 80% of all your income is likely coming from 20% of your clients.  On the negative side 80% of your time is likely going to 20% of your customers.  You can use this knowledge to your advantage by comparing your time spent to the income that it generated. Of the 20% of your clients who are using up 80% of your time you should consider droping the ones who are not part of the group generating 80% of your income.

The same can be said of your activity throughout the day.  Just because you are “active” doesn’t mean that you are being productive.  The 80-20 rule applies here as well.  After a week or two of using Rescue Time, look back at your time tracking for the last week and see how much of it was spent in actual revenue generating activities.  Chances are, 20% of what you are doing is generating 80% of your income.  Imagine if you could drop the other 80% of your tasks and only focus on what really is impacting your business.  If you could turn that 20% into 50% you could double your income… OR here is a thought, you could just work less and spend more time with your family or friends.  Life isn’t all about making more money.

Please share what distractions you have had to overcome and how you did it in the comment box below?