Confession time: I'm not really very good at time management.

I'm not awful at it -- I do manage to be productive, on balance, and I almost never miss a deadline -- but I definitely struggle. I get distracted, I leave things until the last minute, and I do that thing where I sit down first thing in the morning to do some quick research on an article and before I know it it's 3 p.m. and I haven't written a word -- and I was going to have the article drafted by noon. Not good.

But I've really had to pull it together in recent weeks. Between my obligations to The Motley Fool, my mad dash to revise a book manuscript before the first week of October, and the work my wife and I are doing to prepare our house for sale, I'm busier than I've been in a long time. Every day needs to count, one way or another.

Sticking it to the Man: myself
Of course, since I'm self-employed, every day that doesn't count is lost money. Back when I had a corporate job, a fuzzy-headed day where nothing got done every now and then wasn't a big deal. But now, I need to manage my time as well as possible.

And over the last several months, I've learned a lot about getting the most out of my time every day. Surprisingly, mainstream "productivity tips" haven't done much for me: My desk is always cluttered, I abhor those little day planners, and my filing system -- such as it is -- is mostly mental. But some things have made a huge difference:

  • Self-care. I've known for years that if I don't get enough sleep, my writing stinks. But as I've pushed myself to write and edit for longer stretches, it has become clear that other self-care habits are equally important to my productivity. Eating a substantial breakfast, choosing good snacks (fruit instead of chips or candy, for example), and getting some sort of exercise every day aren't just namby-pamby do-gooder recommendations -- they actually work (somewhat to my surprise, I admit). When I stick with them, I get more done, and the work I do is better.
  • Create "eustress." Eustress -- healthy stress, the opposite of "distress" -- can come from anything you use to motivate yourself near-term. There are lots of ways to create eustress for yourself. Here's a great one: I know a freelance consultant who gives herself every Friday off -- if she hits her productivity goals for the week. If not, she works Friday, and her clients never know the difference. But that rarely happens -- because she really likes having a day off, she usually manages to do more in four days than most people do in five. Companies like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) are famous for their workplace perks and incentive programs -- those also create eustress, motivating people (positively) to work harder and reach further.
  • Choose to like your work. Boy, that sounds lame, doesn't it? But again, it's true. You don't have to work for a "fun" company like game maker Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:ERTS) or toy giant Hasbro (NYSE:HAS) to enjoy your work. There are whole books on this topic, but I'll keep it short: Nearly every job has some good parts, some bits that exercise your skills and provide satisfaction. When you think about your work, focus on those. There are days when I hate the thought of writing about personal finance. But I love writing, even when it seems like a drag. I spent years working toward the goal of being able to write every day. Now that I can, I remind myself that I'm fortunate to have the opportunity -- and fortunate to get paid pretty well for it, too. More than once, that self-reminder has been enough to get me back to work on a day when I didn't really "feel" like working at all.

Ultimately, making the most of your work time is about figuring out what you need, and making sure you get it. What are some of your favorite productivity tricks? Drop me an email and let me know, and I'll feature the best of them in a future article.

Managing your time is just one part of a balanced financial plan. Motley Fool Green Light, our personal-finance newsletter, can help you put it all together. Co-editors Dayana Yochim and Shannon Zimmerman offer great ideas that can save you hundreds of dollars every month, guaranteed. A 30-day all-access free pass is yours for the asking.

Fool contributor John Rosevear does not own any of the stocks mentioned above. Electronic Arts and Hasbro are Stock Advisor recommendations. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy loves its job and never needs a day off.