Is your schedule too flexible?
How to increase productivity without losing your freedom
It’s why a lot of us go into business in the first place, right? So we can make our own schedules, be our own boss, volunteer at the kids’ school, take a couple of days off for a mini-vacation. We trade the security of a regular paycheck for more freedom and autonomy.
And yet… Flexibility can be like that cool kid in high school who talks you into cutting class to smoke a cigarette behind the gym: seductive, exciting, but not ultimately helping you achieve your bigger picture goals. As much as it can be a drag heading to an office at the same time every day, clocking in and clocking out, it provides us with a structure that gets us going and keeps us accountable.
One of the biggest challenges of being self-employed is creating a structure that you actually adhere to, when YOU are your own boss.
Take for example, Parkinson’s Law: the idea that the task you’re doing will expand to fit the time you have allocated for it. Know what I mean? You set aside a whole day to do your taxes… and by the end of it you might have your receipts organized in a nice little bundle. Whereas if you give yourself a snappy 90 minutes you can actually get a whole lot more done…then hit the gym.
Here are my Top 5 Productivity Tips:
1. Take 15 minutes at the beginning of each day to set your top three priorities
Before you do anything else (including checking email, surfing Facebook, etc), write your top three priorities on a sticky note. Take charge of your time before you get flooded by the seemingly urgent – but not necessarily most important – tasks that demand your attention when you open your inbox…
2. Organize your time into 90 minute blocks.
Studies have shown that this is the optimum amount of time our brain can focus before it needs a break. If we try to do more after this time, our productivity will diminish drastically. Choose a task or sub-task that will fit into this time, and go for it. Set a timer, then take a 10 – 20 minute break! Stretch, go for a walk, chat to a friend. You’ll get more accomplished in three 90 minute blocks than a gaping 8 hour day, I promise.
A fun and potent variation on this theme is my personal favorite… The Power Hour. (1) Pick a task – preferably one that you’ve been procrastinating on. (2) Set a timer for 50 minutes. (3) Go for it! Get as much done as you possibly can. (4) Take a 10 minute break. (5) Rinse/Repeat. You’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish with that focused burst of energy and drive. Like an Olympic sprinter, you give it all you’ve got because you can see the finish line… as compared to a marathon, where you pace your time and energy.
3. Exercise daily (even if just a little bit…)
Even a 20 minute walk helps you clear your head and restore your energy. I have a trail I walk on my way home from dropping the kids at school. It’s a “butt buster” of a hill – complete with red tailed hawks and humming birds. By the time I reach the top, I’ve reset my mood after getting two grumpy children dressed and out the door, my to-do list has been prioritized, I have a fresh new idea or two for a client, or a blog post, or a course, and I’m ready to start my day.
4. Find a co-working space or a work buddy.
We humans are social beings. And being around other people who are working motivates us to stay more focused and productive. Check out some of your local co-working spaces, or just make a regular date to meet a friend/colleague at a cafe to work on your own projects for an hour or so. They will appreciate the structure and company too!
5. Use your calendar.
Um, yeah, of course… It sounds obvious, but giving a task or action its own time slot in your calendar – especially something you’re putting off – makes it 80% more likely to happen. It’s even more effective if you take a bigger task like “Work on marketing”, and break it into smaller, achievable chunks (eg “Create a list of potential referral partners”). AND put that achievable chunk into your calendar.
At the beginning of each week, I HIGHLY recommend you take a few moments to review your week’s to-do’s and priorities, break them into chunks, and get as much into your calendar as you possibly can!
Do the same with your self care. Put that yoga class in and keep it there. Schedule around it. Make it a priority. Treat it as you would treat a client meeting. Or (in my experience…) it will probably not happen.
Ok, there are many more tips and strategies out there… but I invite you to pick one of these and try it out this week. Let me know how it goes…
In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “The future depends on what you do today.”
Happy getting stuff done!