You were working a 9-5 gig, frustrated by the lack of flexibility and by how little time it left you to live your life (like going to that yoga class at 10AM, sleeping in an extra hour because you had a late night, or taking 6 months off to travel in Southeast Asia). You started a business and became a solopreneur chasing freedom: having complete control over what you work on, when you work, and where you work. Excited at first by the flexibility, but now you put in 12+ hour days and feel like you’re getting nowhere.
Sound familiar? A few months ago, I was there. Frustrated with the lack of freedom, I made a decision to work less and live more. I knew my workday was cluttered with procrastination and unproductivity. I knew that I wasn’t valuing my time as I should be. And I knew that I was choosing work over freedom because it was easier (after all, that’s what everyone else was doing).
I researched the heck out of productivity, observed my work habits, and tried tons of different productivity hacks. And after all of that, I found my groove. A groove that allows me to work 6 hours a day, literally cutting my workday in half, and actually get more done than before. Freeing up a whole heck of a lot of time to do all those things that I used to not prioritize.
“I want you to know that you can have it all: a thriving business and an enjoyable life. You don’t have to choose between the two, but you do need to consciously choose everyday to pursue both.” #thatsgolden
That’s why I wrote this. Because I know you crave both and I want to show you how you can have it all.
Before we get into the juicy step- by-step guide on how to find your productivity groove, I want to share a few important things that I learned while trying to find mine.
- Discipline is key and without it, no productivity hack will do a thing for you.
- Multitasking is not productive. Maybe you’re thinking, like I did for sometime, that sure it’s not productive for most but this doesn’t apply to me because I’m a multitasking ninja with years of practice. Ninja or not, working on one task at a time has been scientifically proven (many times) to be the most productive way to get shit done. Accept it and move on.
- Try as you may to convince yourself, you cannot productively work and watch Netflix. Believe me, I’ve tried desperately to make this work. It doesn’t.
- Procrastination is your enemy. It makes you feel guilty, unhappy, and inadequate. It gives you the short-term pleasure of doing what you want to do in the moment, but the long-term guilt of not doing what you should have done. You need to be able to recognize when you’re procrastinating and have a plan to use to get you back on track.
- You need to make the mindshift first. The mindshift that your time is valuable and should be spent as such. That you don’t need to work endless hours because everyone else is. And that you have the opportunity everyday to choose freedom.
- Strive for improvement, not perfection. I still have days that I ditch my schedule and binge watch Friends on Netflix and days that I go to work from a coffee shop and just sip my latte and people watch for hours. Life will always be perfectly imperfect and a little undone. That doesn’t make you inadequate, it makes you human.
Step by step guide on how you can find your productivity groove
There’s a lot that can happen overnight, but this is not one of those things. I encourage you to commit to spending the next 4 weeks on this.
Week 1: Determine your distractions & learn to cope
I’m willing to bet that you’re reading this as a result of being distracted which is a bit ironic, no? My gimmicky post title caught your attention and intrigued you enough to click on through (#sorrynotsorry). Does that make you a horrible business owner? Nope, it makes you human. Am I saying that you shouldn’t be reading my blog or other resources to grow your business? Not at all. But you’ll get more out of these resources if you aren’t reading them as a result of distraction. At the end of the day, your business needs your focus.
So, how do you avoid distractions so you can focus? Here’s how: figure out what is distracting you and find ways to avoid them. Here’s an example of my three biggest distractions and how I’ve learned to cope so I can focus:
- One word: housework. If you work from home, I’m sure you can relate to this. There’s a pile of laundry (or five) that needs to be done, the kitchen sink is stacked full of dirty dishes, there are furballs running across your floor like tumbleweeds. Sound familiar? It was much easier to live with this filth when you got up every morning and headed to the office, but when your office is amidst it all it’s hard to ignore. How I cope: commit to getting all of the housework out of the way on Sunday so it’s bearable for the work week. SIMPLE action, huge results in productivity.
- Never ending business ideas popping into my head leaving me overwhelmed. Can you relate? You’re a solopreneur, you can’t help it. This constant rush of ideas and excitement that goes along with them is your gift, but it can be a huge productivity killer if you don’t create a system to deal with them. How I cope: I have a list in Evernote called “Wild Business Ideas” that’s always open. When something pops into my head, I write it down for later. Then it’s out of my head and no longer distracting me with the fantasy of what it could be. This is actually a great way to deal with a lot of distractions. I have lists for literally everything from places I want to travel to things I’d love to learn to articles I want to read. Creating a list makes space for these ideas to live outside your head, freeing up space to focus on your work.
- I love being able to work from home and am naturally very introverted, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the loneliness of being a solopreneur. Being lonely becomes a distraction when you put on Netflix for “company” and troll Facebook to see what everyone else is up to. How I cope: Make an effort to change out of my yoga pants, put on real clothes, and work from a coffee shop at least once a week. I also plan something every day of the week that gets me out of the house and around people, like going to a yoga class, wine date with a friend, or heck just going to the grocery store! Having a biz bestie is also a necessity for my sanity, we’ll dive more into that in week 4.
This week’s assignment: Keep a pad of paper on your desk and each time you get distracted, write down what it was that distracted you. Also note the day of the week and the time of the distraction. At the end of the week review your distractions, looking for patterns. Are there a few that keep popping up? What can you do to alleviate these distractions?
Week 2: Find out what time of day you work the best
What time of the day do you work best? My immediate answer to this was bright & early, first thing in the morning. And I was wrong. I’m a morning person, for sure, but just because I have the most energy this time of day doesn’t mean that I have the most focus. To be honest, I’m pretty distracted first thing in the morning with a full day ahead of me.
If you came from the 9-5 culture, you’ve probably naturally adopted this work schedule for your business without so much as questioning it. But do you really work the absolute best during these hours? It’s also quite common that your most productive time to work is different depending on the work you’re doing. For example, I do creative work (liking writing or design work) better in the morning and technical work (like coding a website) best in the afternoon or evenings.
This week’s assignment: Switch up your work schedule throughout the week by working at different times during the day than you usually do. Keep notes on what time of the day you worked and how productive you felt. Review at the end of the week to determine your optimal work hours. Use these optimal hours to build your workday schedule in week 3.
Week 3: Make a schedule and stick to it
Guess what? People have devoted their careers to studying productivity and found that your brain can only focus for 90 minutes before it needs a break. In fact, after 90 minutes your productivity plummets so bad that you’re wasting your time trying to power through. With this in mind, break your workday into 90-minute blocks, scheduling as many as you need to complete your work (I do 4 for a total of 6 hours). Time between your work blocks can vary to suit your lifestyle, but should be at least 30 minutes to give your brain the break it needs. In this time, you’re not checking emails or flipping through your friend’s 1500 wedding photos on Facebook. You need to get up and leave your workspace. Grab a cup of coffee, snuggle with your dog, go to that yoga class, take a nap, or meet up with a friend for lunch. Fill this time with all of those things you really want to do, but never seem to have time for and don’t feel guilty about it knowing that your workday is taken care of.
This week’s assignment: Decide on how many 90-minute work blocks you need for your workday then use a calendar app to schedule all of your 90-minute work blocks for the entire week. Set notifications to go off 15 minutes before your next task, to give you time to wrap up what you’re working on, and at the time of the next task, to tell you it’s time to move on. Each work block should have 1 specific task that you will be working on which is predetermined at least the day before. I use Sunrise Calendar for my scheduling and set my notifications to Alerts, meaning that they stay at the top right of my screen until I dismiss them which makes sure that I don’t miss them.
Follow through on your schedule for the entire week. Make sure that you protect your time. When you’re working, you’re working. Turn off your email, put your phone on airplane mode or in another room (or maybe both!). Don’t confuse “flexible” with “free”. At the end of the week assess if your schedule worked for you and tweak as necessary.
Week 4: Build a support system
This final step is KEY to making everything else work. Even if you are an extremely motivated person, there will be lulls in your business when you keep a kick in the butt and having a support system in place will ensure that you continue to reach your business goals.
The best thing I ever did for my business was find an accountability partner. We check in every morning with 3 goals for the day and then touch base at the end of our workday to share our progress. When you’re a solopreneur, sometimes you need that gold star for getting your work done.
Your accountability partner needs to be someone that you respect and someone that you, well, feel accountable to. Ideally another solopreneur would fit the bill so that you can both benefit from the relationship. If you can’t find another solopreneur partner-in-crime, ask your bae, boo, or BFF if they’ll fill this role for you.
This week’s assignment: Find your biz bestie and commit to checking in every morning with your top 3 goals for the day. Then touch base at the end of the work day to share your progress.