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One of my big goals for 2016 is being better about time management. While I always get my to-do lists done, I’m definitely a procrastinator, and have a lot of late nights as a result. (Truth? Most of my blog content is written after midnight.) I need to kick the habit, and I’ve been pretty happy with my slow progress toward doing so over the last month and a half. I won’t say I’m exactly where I want to be, as I’ve certainly had a few super late nights here and there. But I’m improving.

And I have to be honest: when I focus on getting my stuff done ahead of time, I’m a far happier and more relaxed person. I truly enjoy life more because I don’t have a bunch of tasks hanging over my head, and I’m able to do more. When I put off big projects, I have no other choice but to designate my free time to work. When I tackle them immediately, though, I’m able to get the most out of my nights and weekends. Sometimes, I’m even able to take on additional projects without added stress!

Anyway, since I’ve been making some strides in this department as of late, I thought I’d share some of my best tips for maximizing time management and productivity. :) Ready? Let’s go!

1. Set realistic goals.

I love to-do lists. But I don’t love to-do lists that have 20+ tasks on ’em. They’re overwhelming, and they unnecessarily set me up for feelings of defeat. These days, I’ve been making two to-do lists every morning: one that has five, non-negotiable tasks on it, and one that has five bonus tasks on it. If I complete all the non-negotiable tasks, it was a successful day and I feel good about my efforts. If I complete a couple of bonus tasks, too, it was a GREAT day and celebration is in order. ;)

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2. Invest in the right tools.

This year, I invested in a new Macbook Pro because my old iMac really wasn’t cutting it anymore. And it’s been a lifesaver. While I nearly cried when shelling out the money, I now question why I waited so long to upgrade. With a faster machine, I’m WAY more efficient, and I’m able to take my work with me for the first time.

I also upgraded my camera and lens. I was pretty happy with my old photos, but I had to work very hard to get my gear to produce the results I was going after. Finally, after years of contemplation (and accidentally flinging my old camera/lens across the room and busting it into a zillion pieces), I sprung for the equipment I’ve always wanted, and my job has become so much easier and more rewarding as a result. Of course, it entailed me taking on a whole lot of freelance work to save up the money, but it was worth it.

Finally, I started using TurboTax. Which has to be mentioned right now, as tax season is just around the corner, and for someone who’s self-employed, it has the potential to ruin an entire month. (Heck, tax season has the potential to ruin anyone’s month!) I actually started using the program last year, as I had a rather complicated situation: Mitch and I had both worked and lived in three different states, and collectively had four different jobs–which meant so many tax documents. But Turbo Tax handled that whole mess for us, and the process of completing our taxes was straightforward and totally doable.

Some of my favorite features of the program:

  • W2 Snap: You can now take a photo of your W-2 with your phone or tablet, and the information is securely entered in to the right forms, thus saving time and preventing worry that you did it incorrectly. TurboTax also securely imports W-2 and 1099 forms from more than 1.4 million banks, employers and financial institutions, eliminating the need for data entry on your part.
  • ExplainWhyTurboTax provides you with personalized, bite-sized explanations of the “why” behind deductions, credits and refunds, so you can be confident you’re getting every dollar you deserve.
  • SmartLook: Through SmartLook, TurboTax experts answer questions in real time (over video chat) for free and highlight key fields and next steps. It’s like you’ve hired a personal accountant! (Also, you can see the consultant, but he or she can’t see you. Which means you can do this without showering. Yassss.)
  • Absolute Zero: Through mid-March, if you prepare and file straightforward federal and state tax returns (1040A or 1040EZ), you can take advantage of free filing.
  • Mobile: You can now start, work on, and/or complete your taxes on your tablet and phone. Switch devices as often as you need to, and never miss a beat!

Until I started using TurboTax, I definitely got the stress sweats from the mere thought of taxes. Now, though, I can do them completely on my own, and quickly. For someone who’s always struggled with math and numbers, it’s incredibly empowering… and makes me feel like I can manage this little business I have going on. I also now have a stress-free April on my hands. I plan on taking a trip back home to Ocean City, New Jersey to visit my parents instead of being glued to my computer. ;)

Take my advice, get started with TurboTax now. How nice would it be to not be involved with the April madness for once?!

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Hi, Jess!

3. Work with others.

Until recently, I was convinced that group work sessions were the worst. Fun, yes, but problematic for productivity. Now, though, I see them very differently: as long as you set “rules,” they can be amazing. Maybe you chat for the first 15 minutes or so, but then you get down to business, and work in silence if necessary. Everyone’s in the same boat, so no one is offended by the quiet game!

This past week, I had a great work session the South Loop Loft, a gorgeous furniture and home decor showroom/shop in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood where these photos were taken, and got the ENTIRETY of my taxes done with TurboTax.



I also recommend working amongst strangers at libraries and coffee shops. As I talk about in the next tip, just being around other people clicking away on their keyboards motivates me!

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4. Change up your setting.

I used to be a firm believer in the idea that most of my grunt-work should be done at home to save money and the time it takes to “commute” to different locations. But I’ve changed my opinion. While I still aim to work from the house more often than not, I also now aim to get out a couple of days per week. While, yes, it’s a bit more expensive and takes some time out of my day, I find that I’m SUPER productive once I get to where I’m going because there are fewer distractions. I also look at the people around me being all productive and think, “Crap! I’m such a slacker!” Haha — seems silly, but it helps. Finally, I’ve found that my days at home are more productive as a result, as there are fewer of them and I feel I need to make the most of them. :)

I’ve mentioned this before, but I love working at Floriole Cafe and Bakery in Lincoln Park, as well as at my friend Blair’s place in downtown Chicago. And this past week, as I mentioned before, I had a great work session at the South Loop Loft. Such an inspiring space! (Though I do want to buy everything now that I’ve been, haha.)

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5. Reward yourself.

When I work late at night, my only reward for getting it all done is getting some much-needed shuteye. Which I should be getting anyway. But when I get everything done before 5 or 6 p.m., I’m able to actually reward myself, which is so, so helpful. Maybe it’s a glass of Chardonnay on the couch with Noodle, or happy hour with the girls. Or maybe it’s Small Tabs with Mitch, a really nice appetizer spread, a treat from Sweet Mandy B’s, or a quick walk to the New Elephant Resale Shop. (If you haven’t been, GO. So much fun!) Whatever it is, it makes my day nicer and more enjoyable, and I’m far more likely to be productive the following day as a result.

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How do you manage your time and maximize productivity?

Photos by Maya of Charmingly Styled. Thank you so much, Girl!

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by TurboTax, but all opinions are my own. As always, thank you so much for supporting the partnerships that keep Kelly in the City up and running!