Welcome to 2019, kids; time to get shit done.
I’m a firm believer in starting “now” rather than waiting for some date in the future (think of how much you could have done by then!), but it’s a brand new month in a brand new year, and that’s always a kick in the ass. I have to admit: I haven’t immediately jumped on the “It’s 2019 time to drastically change everything!!!” train. It’s been a slow transition for me, and if it’s been that way for you too, that’s ok. Another month rolling over in the calendar doesn’t mean you have to immediately kick it into high gear.
This is a two-part blog series on productivity and how to be more efficient with your time. Because–tough love time–let’s be honest with ourselves: saying we “don’t have time” for something is an excuse. Procrastinating is just a way for us to self-sabotage and say “if only I had more time this would’ve been better!” Rather than owning up to our own lack of effort. Be honest with yourself. Prioritize. Utilize the time you have wisely.
And when you don’t, own that. Excuses won’t make anything better.
When we’re thinking about productivity–either in your business, your personal life, whatever it is you’re struggling with–we need to look at it from multiple angles:
- Speeding up your current workflow by optimizing it
- Finding time for the “other” tasks that you never seem to get to
- Cutting the “dead weight” that’s slowing you down and taking up brain space
- Staying sane
All 13 of these tips (unlucky?) may not apply to you, but that’s all part of the process: finding what works, adapting things for your life, dong what makes sense for you. These are tips that I’ve personally used in my own business/life. They got me through grad school, and they’re keeping me afloat as I work two full time jobs while trying to maintain a clean house and something of a social life. It’s a lot, hence the two parts, so feel free to take these tips on one at a time, at your own pace.
1. Dedicated workspace
This really got me in grad school.
It’s so tempting to read that last article from the comfort of your bed, or to try and write that lab report at the coffee table in front of the TV, but our brains slip into habits pretty easily. If you try and work from your bed, it’s harder to both switch your brain to work mode and also switch it back to “time to sleep” mode.
You don’t need an office, or a studio space, or anything like that. Just set up a desk in the corner if that’s what you’re working with, and designate that your workspace. That is where you work. Not your bed. I know, I’m sorry; part of why we run our own businesses is so we can say no to real pants and yes to working from bed. But I promise you, you’re sabotaging yourself. Your brain will, over time, switch into “work mode” much more quickly if you have what I like to call a “spatial routine.”
2. Identify your patterns, then work with them
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
At this point in our lives, most of us have figured this out. You either wake up easily in the wee hours and find yourself longing for bed at 9pm (like my 95-year-old ass; not ashamed), or you can happily stay up till 3am and then sleep later in the day.
Don’t fight it.
There’s some evidence to suggest that our natural circadian rhythms are inherited, which means you can’t really overhaul them. You can train yourself to be more of a morning person than you are now, or more of a night owl, but trying to flip completely from one to the other just…sucks. You’ll be grumpy, unhappy, and unproductive. Figure out your most productive, clear headed time of day, and take advantage of it.
Also keep in mind that this can vary from day to day! As lovely as routines are, sometimes you just want to stay up later than usual working on something. Or you may wake up earlier than intended feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed. Don’t lose those moments just because you usually do most of your work at a different time of day.
3. Write it all down.
All of it. Everything you want/need to do. Post-its, excel, digital calendar, planner, whatever works for you.
How far out you want to do this is up to you. I’m extra about it and have a whole spreadsheet for my yearly goals, broken down into monthly tasks—I’ll go into this later. On top of that, each client has a checklist in Trello for my usual workflow. My “master lists.” My blog posts are planned out in advance, with a tracker showing me where I am in the process for each post. For daily things, I use a bullet journal.
Everything is written down, or it doesn’t get prioritized.
4. Break everything down into bite-sized pieces
“Update website” sounds like a massive undertaking that will take a lot of time. So we never do it; it’s daunting. Thinking this way sets us up for failure. Our brains aren’t as good as we think they are (…is that too meta for you?); you can only hold so many pieces of information in there at one time. So if you only have “big vague amorphous thing” in your brain, even if you manage to start chipping away at it, we often waste time wondering what to do next.
If everything is written out and broken down, we know exactly what comes next when we cross something off the list. Let’s take “update portfolio” as a basic example. Your bite-sized pieces might look like this:
- Look through catalog of images
- Select new images for portfolio
- Remove current images you don’t want any more
- Upload new images
- Rearrange order
Seems much easier, right? And if you’re really stretched for time doing those things that need to get done (e.g. editing client work, creating proposals, etc.), it’s hard to find time to do the things that don’t necessarily net you an immediate return. But you know you need to update your portfolio, even if you can’t do it all in one sitting. So if you break it down into little pieces, you can work on it over time. 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there.
(I wrote most of this draft while waiting to get my car’s oil changed.)
5. Order by priority
What will help your business most?
Do that first.
What I see a lot of people doing—and what I’m guilty of myself sometimes—is calling something “productive” whether or not it’s useful. Listen, just because you worked on something and checked it off your list doesn’t mean it was worthwhile.
Productivity for productivity’s sake is a waste of time.
Read that again.
Certain tasks are huge time sinks, but do they actually benefit your business, move the needle? If the answer is “sort of” and “not really,” put that one on the back burner. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re making progress just because you’re doing something.
Take a look at that list you wrote down, then order things by priority. How you do that is up to you: by deadline, be benefit, by whatever.
6. Put. Your phone. Away.
You don’t need to hear this from me again—you’ve heard it one hundred times before—but I’m saying it anyway. Because let me guess: you’re still distracting yourself!!
I can spout statistics at you, cite studies about how long it takes for you to re-focus on what you were doing every time you’re distracted by your phone lighting up, but… that’s all in one ear out the other at this point. So instead, I’ll challenge you to try it for a day. Even half a day.
Give yourself 4 hours.
Don’t just turn your phone upside down on your desk. Put it on silent, do not disturb, airplane mode, whatever you need to do. Then put it in a different room, in a drawer, anywhere that isn’t within reach. Stay off of social media on your computer, too. Use one of those “lockdown” apps if you don’t have the willpower yet.
Then sit down to your tasks for that day.
Realizing how much more you get done without your phone, or how much more focused you are, will go much further in convincing you to ditch the phone than statistics ever will.
Some of these things can be difficult at first, I know. (Especially the phone thing.) But look, all I can do is lay these tips out for you and encourage you to try them. If you’re serious about improving your business, your life, etc., that’s on you. Get your shit together, do what you need to do.
You got this.
Ready for part II?