If you didn’t read my previous post, How Productivity Tips Miss the Boat – 10 Bits of Wisdom, I recommend you check that out before diving into Part 2.
If you’re done with my pontifications about how productivity techniques in a vacuum devoid of planning are useless, you are now ready for…
The 4 Steps to Real Productivity
1. Set Aside Regular Time for Planning
This is the simplest one, but obviously it’s foundational for this all to work.
Each winter, I set aside one full week (without clients or appointments) to dream, vision, create, write, and plan out my work for the upcoming year.
Then, each quarter, I take time (from four hours to a day) to go back to the intentions, goals, and plans I created in winter to check on how I’m doing and make any adjustments necessary (goals change, and that’s ok!).
ACTION: Right now, mark time in your calendar this winter for planning, and then block off a few hours at the end of each three-month period to assess your progress and plan for the next quarter.
2. Set Clear Goals and Priorities
“Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”
~ Bill Gates
I’ll start this section by saying that I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t initially set too many or too-big goals. So just know that, and know you may need to both downsize your goals and also not beat yourself up if you don’t complete them (because we live in a culture that is overly focused on productivity, we often feel like we have not done enough).
So, setting goals. First, you can read about how first setting intentions can lead us to set meaningful goals. The bottom line is that you want to get a handle on what is most important for you to complete in a given period of time and why. In other words, what is this goal in service of?
In the biggest picture, think about what’s most important for your business. Is it getting more clients/earning more? Is it setting up foundational systems so you can be more efficient and work smarter? Is it clarifying your niche and developing a website that properly represents you? Is it pulling your years of experience into a class or training?
If you can determine what is most strategic for your business, based on your life, then you are well on your way to setting strategic goals. (A little plug, if you are totally confused about what’s most important, this is why some people get business coaches).
In any one area of life, let’s say business, having more than three goals is overwhelming and can actually cause you to get less done. There are studies that show this (I’m sorry I’m not scientific enough to reference them here). But I do love the book Essentialism which is more scientific and talks all about the importance of prioritizing what is most important and cutting the chaff.
So productivity begins with setting aligned, inspiring, yet realistic goals.
Here’s the coolest part about setting goals, even if they change. If you set them, you at least know whether or not you’re achieving them. As opposed to just doing a bunch of things haphazard and feeling disorganized and foggy and wondering if you’re actually doing something of value. (Sound familiar?).
Knowing you’ve hit a goal also allows you to say, “I’ve completed it; I’ve done enough!” And then you can stop and celebrate, and then start on a new goal if you desire.
If you haven’t hit them, then you can either a) reprioritize and carve out more time to work on your goals, b) adjust your goals based on the reality of your life circumstances and changing business needs, c) ditch the goal completely, because maybe it’s not even relevant any more.
Either way, you are tuned into how you are doing vis a vis the meaningful priorities you have decided upon.
Which brings me back to #1, why you need to set aside time regularly to check in with your big picture goals and priorities (at least quarterly) so you can adjust them and move forward strategically.
Define Your Objectives: Objectives are the projects that, when complete, make you achieve the goal. Let’s say you just made three goals for this quarter. You’ll then want to list all the smaller objectives or projects under each of them. Chunking out your goals into doable parts helps decrease overwhelm and helps you find the first step. Sometimes it’s easier to work backwards from the end goal when creating objectives.
Be realistic about how much you can actually get done in three months. It sounds like a long time, but life happens. It’s standard practice when work planning to double the time you think something will take to complete! You’ll have an opportunity to check back in with these objectives in the next section to make sure it’s really doable with your schedule.
At this point you might be thinking, holy crap I have way too much to do. And remember what Bill Gates said. So here, I will offer you a fun little tool, known as…
The 5 D’s: Ditch, Delay, Delegate, Downsize, Do
This is a common prioritization method. Take your goals and/or your objectives, and run them through this test.
Ditch – Can I just NOT do this? What’s the worst that could happen? Is that really so bad?
Delay – Can I do this later? Why am I pushing myself to do this now? Am I just in a race with myself to get things done by arbitrary deadlines? Or maybe it doesn’t even make sense to complete because I am waiting on information or another person.
Downsize – Does it really have to be this epic? Can I do a smaller version? A beta test? It doesn’t have to be perfect. Check out Bit of Wisdom #9 in Part 1 of this post.
Delegate – Do I need to be the one who does this? This is huge learning for the solo entrepreneur… what can someone else do, perhaps even better than me (gasp!)? When can I hire someone or ask for help? There are certain things it’s very important for you to do as a business owner, and many things that are a waste of your time. Oh, and everyone needs lots of help. Ask for it!
Do – And finally, for the most important, priority stuff; do it.
3. Create Schedules and Calendar Your Objectives
Schedules are about creating boundaries, which I know we all have different feelings about. I personally have found that creating annual, monthly, weekly, and daily schedules is incredibly helpful in setting boundaries around the time I do and do not work.
However, there was a reason I went into business for myself, and it wasn’t so that I could stick to someone else’s schedule, even my own. I allow myself flexibility when needed, and otherwise, I try to stick to the schedule I created. Because honestly, if I were following it perfectly, it would be awesome (I am getting close, but still striving).
Some of us have a hard time holding boundaries and take clients whenever they can meet us. Of course you should make exceptions if need be, but don’t make it the habit. Carve out your schedule, and let clients know when you are and are not available. I have never had someone not work with me because their schedule didn’t work with mine.
Create schedules that work for your life. Don’t just follow my tips, or any productivity expert out there (not that you shouldn’t try out some things). Try stuff and see what works.
Remember, part of the reason most of us are in business for ourselves is because of the freedom and flexibility it affords us.
So why not create and follow your dream schedule starting now?
And, make sure that dream schedule carves out plenty of time to work on your business (not just with clients, but the business, marketing, sales, administration, side too).
You must put in time and effort into your business if you want it to grow. Goals are great, but nothing happens if you don’t carve out time to make things happen. (And PS, it takes anywhere from 18 months to three years to grow a solid business).
These are my planned schedules for 2016. I use the word “business development” to denote any work not directly with clients (from meeting with colleagues to marketing to bookkeeping to teaching intro classes).
Annual: Run annual Replenish Retreat in January, run beta group program in February, two weeks vacation in March (Mexico), run first group program in May, one week vacation in summer TBD, run second group program in fall, one week vacation in fall TBD, first two weeks of December no clients (business development, planning, creating, and big picture work only), last two weeks of December vacation (family).
Monthly: All ongoing clients first and third weeks of the month only, group coaching call in second week, new or short-term clients and potential client consultation calls in any week.
Weekly: Business development on Mondays plus weekly group program when running, Clients on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday only (every other week), Fridays completely off, business development focus on Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday of non-client weeks.
Daily: 7-9AM Personal time (tea, shower, eat, meditate), 9-10AM check email/do odds and ends, 10-5PM official work day (lunch from ~12-1PM), 5-6PM occasional work wrap-up, 6PM and on… eat dinner, relax, play.
ACTION: Everyone’s schedule will look different. The important thing is to put blocks in your calendar now. I have my client days blocked out as well as my vacation days. This way, you can plan everything else around the important stuff instead of having the important stuff get squished out by less important stuff.
If family time is important, block it off. If gym time is important, block it off.
If you have to schedule over a block, move the block to another day before ditching it completely.
If I don’t get my finances done on “Finance Monday” for whatever reason, I move it to Tuesday and get it done then.
And remember, there’s no need to be rigid!
Tip – If you’ve blocked off time to work with clients, but your business is not yet full, have a list of ten things you can do to promote your business during that time instead (or live it up and go for a walk).
Calendar Your Objectives: Here’s your opportunity to take the goals and objectives you created and run them through the actual schedules you’ve created. Once you’ve blocked out your vacations and work schedule, you’ll be able to see if what you laid out for the quarter may be possible or not. I encourage you to use the 5Ds again if you find that there’s too much stuff to fit into this quarter.
Try to put in your objectives for each week of the quarter (knowing you will likely need to adjust these as time passes). If you have out of town guests visiting for the week, then plan to do less that week instead of expecting you will be operating at normal capacity. If you are working with clients five days straight one week, then perhaps you’ll actually get more business development work done the following week when you have fewer clients.
Once you have the weeks generally mapped out, what you need to do each day of next week starts to become A LOT clearer.
When I have a sense of what I would like to get done in a given week, I sit down with my to-do list (I use Asana) every morning and organize my day so that I have no more than three projects (and a few smaller things) to do. I spend a lot of time each day triaging my to-do list based on my changing life and business (maybe bordering on obsessive, but it keeps me sane).
4.Get Things Done
Now it’s time to go forth and do stuff! In Productivity Part 3: My 10 Favorite Productivity Tips I’ll give you my favorite productivity tips to help you manage your day…