When you start your journey in small business ownership, you will quickly learn that your most valuable asset (probably apart from your intellect and character) is time. I have learned the hard way that wasting time is a no-no in small business ownership, but also a much-needed respite for when the going gets really tough. I learned fast enough though -- being a rather disciplined person generally -- that I needed to grab time by the horns and let go only when I know when it's the right time to. Sounds a little stressful, right? Ah, what is entrepreneurship without a little stress... But you will soon find out that it isn't half as bad as it sounds. Having a great but slightly flexible (more flexible than any 9 - 5 anyway!) schedule will not only improve your efficiency and productivity, but also make you quite jolly.
I was "lucky" that I started out my business early (before I even turned 21). I know many who aren't as "lucky" as me, but I also know many who have been propelled to national acclaim and fame by my current age. As much as age doesn't matter, we all want to make the most out of our time as entrepreneurs, not only to see the dough coming in, but to also be able to bring our businesses to heights and goals that we dare to dream of. So it all boils down to this: Balancing time by KNOWING where to invest your most important asset.
I have five tips (again!) on how to decide where to spend your time more wisely. AND as a bonus (because due to circumstances, the September FBG never went out, eek! I apologize!) I have TWO freebies for October that will help you get that frustrating schedule in place so that you no longer waste time on things that do not matter. These were learned by experience, because I only share what I know works, at least for me.
1. Establishing what to focus on for the day every night
I have a not-so-secret secret. I love to map out my weeks. I love to cancel out tasks. And I love me mah sticky notes.
Sometimes we scribble down to-do lists here and there so we don't forget something important. Sometimes we make mental notes. But a conscious mapping out of your day can make all the difference. I'm not talking about an hour-to-hour mapping out like a school timetable. But just sitting down intentionally and quietly every Sunday, taking a 15 to 20-minute break to really choose your work tasks for the week. I hardly include any non-work tasks in my weekly planning except maybe cleaning.
I always have a weekly planner, and you can get a gorgeous one from Rifle Paper Co., arguably my favorite stationery site in the whole entire world. I tell ya, this thing is wonderfully magical if you love to use it as much as I do.
I sit down on Sunday nights and space out my work tasks from Monday through Friday (I try my very best to give myself weekends off, but I do still work on weekends if my hubby is working). I occasionally add in non-work tasks like "Cleaning" and "Laundry" just for a small reminder, but I generally do not take non-work tasks into consideration here (demarcation, y'all). I give myself 1 - 2 big tasks a day, and maybe 3 small tasks a day. I try to underwhelm myself instead so that I can really finish the tasks on course and not have too much leftovers to bring over to the next day.
After Monday, I will review the tasks and cancel out completed ones throughout the day (best part, yo!) and bring over tasks to the next few days OR re-evaluate new jobs (maybe a new e-mail needs replying to, or a new project inquiry just came in) and add them into the Tuesday - Friday agenda (see, this is why you underwhelm, because work gets piled up over the week... Remember, flexible scheduling works best).
I do that repeatedly over the course of the week. The best thing about this is, you become better and better at managing your time + you also know better HOW MUCH you can do on a productive day. I now make close to no mistakes on my scheduling and hardly have to carry over tasks and/or always have extra time in the day because I know how to gauge my workload better. I know what I can finish before my work time ends and I will NOT choose to give myself more work than I can handle and let it snowball further. It is also habit training on what to focus on during the day because you KNOW very clearly your tasks for the day. You KNOW what happens if you do not finish your tasks. And you have something to constantly refer to throughout the day to keep you in check.
As an add-on, I have TWO choice sticky notes from 3M. One is a rectangular, small-ish note with cupcakes on them (super cute!) where I write down other tasks (like non-work tasks) for the day OR details of the tasks mentioned in the weekly planner (like an extension: ABC Client Project Website (on my weekly planner), Header, About Me page (on the sticky note)). I also have a long-ish post-it with squares on them (like graphing paper) where I can draw out website prototypes and brand designs or use it to jot down ANYTHING that occurs to me over the day so I can consolidate it that evening.
This may be a whatever, duh thing to do really, but if you practise it for 3 solid months and more, you will be awed by the results! Trust me if you haven't tried it!
Also check out: Teux Deux
2. Setting aside time for work and play
Another whatever, duh point to you? Probably because you haven't really enjoyed the benefits of this. I have practised Marie Forleo's N.N.T. (Non-Negotiable Time) and this is just an add-on to it. Really sit down, consolidate your activities and set out your times for work and play. Leave times throughout the day for play time, but have ultra-focused work time as well. I generally stick to a 9 - 6 timetable (because I'm weird that way) but give myself a leeway between 12.30 to 2.30pm for "play time" when the day gets too intense. I do not set meetings for this time or after 6, and even if the day is fine I just work through half of my play time and keep the other hour for winding down.
As small business owners and entrepreneurs, we can find ourselves working 24/7, especially if we have no familial commitments or children. Telling yourself CLEARLY to set aside time for work and play and lining up activities for those times can easily help you re-group and re-focus on your tasks throughout the day. Leaving everything "up to fate" can sometimes mess with your mojo and drop you off the wagon. Whilst we set aside time for buffering and unexpected drama / SOS-es, we can learn to better control our time so that we get a well-balanced lifestyle.
I have videos (perfect, because they are almost always perfectly timed for a break) lined up for my play-times (morning beverage time to fire up my "engine", lunch hour and after 6). They are always either 20-minutes for sitcoms or 45-minutes for dramas. Which is an easy way to escape work and let my mind rest.
Children getting off the schoolbus at 3pm? Make the most out of your 8.30am - 2.30pm time with well-planned work activities. Then plan your after-3 play time with your children to just relax (I don't know how much of a relaxation that would be though, haha!) and have your play time activities. Give yourself some N.N.T. Give yourself some play-time.
Play time makes your work times even more focused and productive because it is sorta like a reward-based system. You know that you will have 2 hours to spare later, but you know that you won't have that time to spare if you don't do your work right now. Remember how fun play time can actually be: online shopping or grabbing a donut down the street counts as awesome playtime choices!
All about demarcation again, y'all.
3. Establishing work boundaries
This is a continuation of point 2. Be sure, super-duper sure, that you have WORKING HOURS planned out. Now, this isn't your work time, but the hours your business is in operation to your customers/clients. My working hours are 9.30 to 6.30pm and I also have public holidays planned out (remember, different countries have different holidays, so it is always better to state your public holidays upfront if you are taking the day off!) so that my clients know when NOT to find me. It is hard keeping up with everyone if you are getting e-mails at 2am and replying to them. It is hard to keep a sane and awesome mind if you are addressing client problems even at dinnertime. NO. DEMARCATION.
Establish a CLEAR working hours timetable and stick with it. Let your clients know you mean business with this time frame, and they will get your 150% when they contact you during and any time after is a strict no-no. It will be hard to implement at first, but let it slowly work its magic. If you see an e-mail coming in at 7pm, let it sit till 9.30am the next day. It won't hurt. But if you are really really concerned, set a e-mail auto-responder or voicemail to notify your clients of your work-time and let them know when you will respond. Easy enough right? But why are there still so many running the hamster wheel and feeling afraid if they don't reply their clients right away?
This is YOUR business. No one is going to give you that free time unless YOU SET IT TO BE SO.
Your work hours will be so darn productive that you will not look back! Keeping that clear mind and not checking business e-mails after-hours will ensure that you are refreshed and ready to tackle the next work day!
I even go so far (I am now more lenient) as to demarcate phone call time and email responding times. Being a one-person team, I sometimes find it overwhelming to be responding to e-mails ASAP, even when it is during work hours. So I set aside time for picking up client phone calls (I schedule phone appointments as well, so that I can be MORE PREPARED and MORE FOCUSED for that phone call), maybe in the morning before lunch, when I don't respond to ANY e-mails and just give my attention to my phoning clients. After my lunch hour + play time, I take an hour to respond to ALL e-mails (YES THIS IS POSSIBLE, see below point 5) and then I don't touch NEW e-mails anymore UNLESS I have free time. I will only work with following up with the clients that e-mailed me THE DAY BEFORE.
This ensures that I get the WORK FOR THE DAY done and that I don't have my mind scattered in a million different places on a million different clients. If your clients pay the premium dollar, they jolly well get focused and premium service, right? This is the way to go!
Recurring schedules will start to gain motion (like the e-mail system) and traction. Just stick with it. And see awesome-powsome results.
4. Special Project Times
I'm all about using your time better and more wisely. So apart from demarcation, there is learning. There is upgrading.
You know when during the course of your work / week you stumble upon a certain awesome TEDtalk video? Or you come across this amazing blog post that is 3000-words long? And you simply don't have the HOUR to devote to it to really get stuff out of it and still finish your work for the day. So you bookmark it. And over time, you realized you have about a hundred bookmarks under the "INSPIRATION" or "READ" or "LEARNING" folder on that bookmark bar that you'll never get to. Yes? We've all done that?
That's where special project times come in. I again give myself a few hours after work or during my off-days (like weekends) or mark out days where I finished my tasks extra early and embark on the next day's task so that I can use the next day's free hours to go through awesome resources. You have to set aside time if you want to go through the awesome myriad of resources out there that can help you and your business improve. It's a never-ending journey for me and I am always excited to find new stuff that helps me out.
Do it. Make time. And make yourself stronger and more well-equipped for this crazy ride!
It has to be a conscious and intentional process, y'all.
5. Declutter daily
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT. In order to be able to stick to a schedule better (however flexible), you need to stop things from snowballing. Snowballing makes you overwhelmed and not know where to begin or end.
Decluttering your e-mail inbox AND your thoughts/brain daily will bring an extra boost to the next workday. You will be thankful.
I declutter my e-mail daily (as previously mentioned). I will clear out my inbox to 0 daily even if I have to kungfu fight it. I will look over all the e-mails and follow-up over the day for the clients FOR THE DAY. The other e-mails I will take a mental note, speed-read and then STAR it (I am using GMail) for the next day. I also regularly archive my e-mails so I don't have more than 50 e-mails on any tab (Social, Promotions, Main). Archiving is a great way of keeping your mailbox in check and decluttering. I also archive every e-mail with a client once the project is complete. That way I can pull it out whenever I want when I type in the client's email, but I don't have to see it ever again on my main page, allowing me to focus fully on my CURRENT projects and clients.
It is super awesome. YOU HAVE TO TRY IT!
Decluttering my brain is slightly harder. I need to push myself on this. Because I don't wanna have to worry about my work all the freaking time. Even over dinner or watching a sitcom with the hubby. No. Just NO.
I will take an empty post-it (not too big, not too small, my graphing one which is awesome) and just let go of all my concerns + thoughts about the business / work I have done today or am worrying about for tomorrow. I write down as much as I can without having to really squeeze for something, then I stop and see if I can get anything out to add on for the coming days to give myself a better peace of mind or just leave it out on the table for the next day. It might even be smaller tasks like "clean the iMac" because fingerprints bother me.
At the end of the day, find a system that works FOR YOU. The weekly planner is a great way to slowly carve out a flexible schedule that works for you, that's how I eventually ended up adding the post-it notes as well. Once you get into the habit of scheduling, you will learn the habit of FOCUSING and you will know yourself better. It is a definite way. Forcing yourself to stay within a loose schedule is not that hard, and you will learn things about yourself, your methods of working, your best times and productivity times during the day, inevitably. And this will help you A LOT in your journey as an entrepreneur. Tweak it till it works, y'all! Cus you will definitely be thankful after.
Invest your time in the right things. If you don't know what you're doing, if you don't have time to even read that small business article, how are you investing your time? Take conscious steps to change that.
Tomorrow, I'll have (already scheduled! No boo-boos this month!) a desktop and mobile wallpaper and a weekly planner printable for you to download ABSOLUTELY FREE. Stay tuned!