Here's the thing about being in business: you never want to look unprofessional. If you don't think you're in business, look around you. Do you have a job? You're in business. Does someone give you money in exchange for goods and services? You're in business.
There is a level of service expected in business and it is called "professionalism". If you are looking unprofessional, you present the opposite of the level of service expected.
One of the ways I get around this problem is with a todo list. You know those moments when you're working and you think: "I'll just check Facebook or Twitter,"? Those are moments when your mind is wandering and wants something else to do. Chances are you have something else to do. If you aim to be professional, you bloody better have something else to do.
Using a todo list takes a lot of effort at first. It takes mindfulness and understanding about the value of your time. It can be exhausting. It's a difficult habit to start but, when you build up that habit, it becomes invaluable.
Whenever I think of something that needs to be done, I put it on my list.
New tasks requiring my attention come up all the time. If I relied on my brain alone, the most recent thing mentioned to me will always take priority over an older item. That's just the way brains work. If I have a list, I can put the new thing on that list, know it's in a place where it won't be missed and go back to whatever I was doing.
You can buy lots of books and listen to many podcasts about improving your productivity, but nothing is going to help you more than having a list and trusting that list.
The trusting part is just as important as the writing it down part.
All of this is about forming a habit. It's about picking yourself up when you fall over.
There's no secret to being more productive or looking as professional as possible. The chances that buying a book will change your life are slim. The truth is, everybody finds their own way of working best and they only find that through reviewing their current practice. Books might help you think about that but you'll still need to find your own process.
My personal todo list is on my phone, my iPad and the web. Whenever I look at it, regardless of context or device, it is always up-to-date. I use a service called "Remember the Milk" to do this. I could also use paper and pencil if that fit my habits.
My todo list has to be with me wherever I am. There's no point trying to remember to put something on my todo list. In that case I'm trying to remember two things at once and one of them is redundant.
One of the feelings I like least is when a client or a boss says to me: 'Did you do that thing I asked you to?' It doesn't matter what that thing is. In this scenario I might have said I'd do it and then I never did because it slipped my mind. There's very little leeway in this kind of interaction. The first time it happens, I might be able to get away with it. The second time I begin to lose the faith of the person hiring me for a task. The third time and I just look damned unprofessional.
I try to avoid that so I try to write that thing in my list.
This post was originally published in the Floate Design Partners blog