The single most important thing I've learned about productivity
I consider myself an organized, driven, self-motivated person. Some might even say a bit OCD. (Me. I would say that.)
I’m also a creative free-spirit who would wander barefoot through the woods sketching all day if only society were constructed differently.
Sometimes those two sides clash a smidgen.
In my world, that looks like a pile of nice, partially used planners in my office closet. Oh, and literally years of fighting my every attempt at creating habits learning to work with the ebbs and flows of my own energy instead of forcing it to fit into a color coded calendar block.
And I hear the same struggle from my clients and solopreneur friends. Figuring out how to plan and schedule your time so you actually get the right shit done and move forward on those big life + biz goals is like the entrepreneurial Holy Grail.
Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who figured out early on how to stick to a schedule, create and maintain momentum on your goals, drink enough water, and master the messy bun. If so, congrats!
I’d say most of us fall somewhere between productivity ninja and beach bum though, so I want to share what has taken me the better part of two decades to figure out for myself.
These are the things that have helped me transform my schedule over the last few years as I’ve been building my businesses and searching for a balance between my own projects, client work, and life in general.
The most crucial thing I’ve learned about productivity and scheduling so far
Ready? This is huge. It changed the way I plan my days. It might be the most important thing I’ve learned yet. Here it is…
Every day is going to be different, and that’s okay.
Yep, that’s it. I know. Stupidly simple. But it was a game changer for me.
I’ve stopped trying to create a master schedule that works for every single day, and I don’t stress out (as much) when a day feels lazy or less productive.
I realize that as an entrepreneur, a creative, a woman, and a human, my energy and motivation are going to vary from day to day.
I pay attention to my energy at different times of the day and different days of the week and month and try to plan my tasks around the times I’ll have the energy to do them.
This is a work in progress, and it’s not always possible. But if I know that Monday’s suck and I tend to be tired I can plan admin tasks for that day instead of scheduling intense creative work and beating myself up when I struggle to finish it.
What works for me
So, what does that actually look like in my day to day?
Loose time blocking
My to-do list is basically useless if I don’t actually schedule those tasks on my calendar.
I don’t block every second of every day though, and I leave lots of margin around tasks.
I use my Google Calendar and add each task from my list (or batches of similar tasks). I like to block a week ahead, but try to leave open space towards the end of the week so things like client revisions can slide in.
A weekly planning routine
Every Friday I update my client projects. I also make a list of tasks I need to finish next week to hit my deadlines, including things like writing posts, scheduling social, and client work. This takes about 30 minutes, and I usually write it on a post-it and stick it in my planner.
Monday mornings I schedule out those tasks. I use my paper planner (InkWell Press right now) to split up tasks by day, spreading my to-do’s out over the week. Then I pull up Google Calendar and quickly add time for each task on the appropriate day.
I already have blocks for lunch, morning biz development time, weekly tasks, and any appointments that have come in, which gives me a good idea of how much time I actually have to work with that week.
For some reason, Thursdays are a low energy day for me. Mondays aren’t great for creative work, and there are certain days of the month I’m just not my energetic best.
When I’m scheduling, I keep that in mind and plan accordingly. My future self thanks me and it ensures I’ve got simple tasks to do when scrolling Facebook just seems easier.
Setting no-go hours
Unless there’s some sort of website emergency - which is rare - I leave the office around 5pm daily. I don’t start on client work until 9 or 10am, after I’ve done a bit of work on my own projects. And I try to avoid working at all on weekends.
By setting these boundaries I’m giving myself the rest I need to do my best work. Your needs and boundaries may be totally different, this is just what works for me.
Breaking down my goals
We tend to put big hairy goals on the calendar like “Launch the shop” or “Write that proposal”. But that doesn’t give you a specific action to take - just an end point.
If I put something off more than once it usually means I need to break it down into smaller steps.
When I create a goal or start a client project I physically write down all the small actionable steps involved. Those steps are then given due dates based on my final deadline and scheduled on my calendar or written on a list for the week they need to be done.
I do this with tasks during the week as well - I might break down a blog post so that I’m choosing the topic and outlining on Monday, writing Tuesday and Wednesday, creating graphics and editing on Thursday, then scheduling the blog and accompanying newsletter on Friday.
I’d love to hear how you schedule your time, or if this is something you struggle with. Tell me in the comments below!