The Entrepreneurial lifestyle, no boss, no rules, freedom to work in sweatpants, or the local coffee shop, or Costa Rica. You can see it now as you wave goodbye to smaller then ethical cubicles, co-workers, and purple cardigans, the new you is here.
I’m sure everyone has fantasized about doing their own thing, being the boss and having control over schedule, focus, and time. It seems wonderful when you are grinding away on a project you have no interest in, but it’s not all sandy beaches and americano mistos.
Sylvie and I both fell into entrepreneurship, our families both had tendencies it was less intentional and more forced. The company we worked for disintegrated and we found ourselves jobless, with all of life’s commitments (read bills) starring at us. We made mistakes – regularly still – struggled to pay bills, shuffled funds around, lived lean, read books and slowly began creating something to call our own. And… it is rewarding, it’s great to pick your projects, decide your hours, and be able to spend more time working remotely. We do get to sip coffee over a later lunch or occasionally sneak away for sex in the afternoon. But, by no means is it easy. We work more now then we did before and are in a constant tightrope act between working on and for our business.
One of the biggest hurdles we have encountered has been time management. Now that I have control over my own schedule what do I do with it?
The old adage, “If you want something done give it to the busiest person in the office” couldn’t be truer. 12 tasks with 3 hours to complete and I’m almost guaranteed to knock 10 of them out of the park, 3 tasks and 12 hours…maybe tomorrow I’ll get to it. Alternating between days of optimal productivity and days of pure sloth got old pretty quickly, and it was time to figure out a solution. That’s what I want to share with you today, how to hack your schedule for optimal productivity despite the distractions that come from working out of the home.
In an attempt to avoid some of the more commonly discussed methods I am going to skip over getting dressed – you’re an adult put pants on – and have some sort of home office, you already know you should avoid working while laying in bed.
Create a Morning Routine – If you exist in the 1% that can wake up every morning 30 minutes late, roll over and brush your teeth while simultaneously wolfing down a bagel and head out the door for a day of kick-ass productivity then god bless you. That is a genetic gift right up there with running a sub 10 second 100m. For the rest of mere mortals structure goes a loooong way, so create some beginning with your morning, we have talked about morning routines several times before but ultimately it’s up to you to decide what works best. Lemon water and meditation? Great. Sports highlights with coffee? Cool. Sunshine and Journaling? Amazing as well. Jamison and a beer? Savage but if it works it works. This routine should act as a trigger, your body starts priming itself for the day as it goes through the usual actions. Think professional athlete, pre-game warm-up but for a day of productivity.
Block Periodization – This is a slight play on a strength and conditioning term, block periodization refers to a style of training that breaks up work into 2-4 week blocks, with cycling intensity. I’ll often do the same thing with my day, break it into 1-hour long blocks with specific tasks or focus during that time with set breaks of 10-15 minutes between the 50-55 minute cycles. This was a tip I learned in a Brendan Burchard worksheet a friend sent me, he has actually expanded the blocks into all areas of life. You can check it out here.
There are 2 parts of this strategy that I believe to be important. The first is the number of blocks, we are constantly presented with pictures, videos, and stories of people working 18 hours a day to make their dream happen. That’s great, there are times when you will work all day and night but on the whole, it is not productive or effective. Five dedicated hours of intense, focused action is a great benchmark, that’s 30 hours a week firing maximally, the rest is gravy. I realize that most people work 40 hours a work, but they don’t spend 40 in the zone, flowing. Quality over quantity.
The second is the use of a timer for tracking work blocks and more specifically rest, when I sit down at my laptop or notebook with the intention of completing a task I set a timer – 45-55 minutes – when the timer goes off I finish the sentence or thought, make a note or two, set my rest time and step away. I’ll leave something in the tank, to borrow another strength training term, for my next block. I could continue to pound away on my keys for another 20 or 30 minutes, and have, but when I get to the end of that literary blitz I’m at a loss for what to do next. Instead of being productive for 2 blocks of 50 minutes, 110 minutes total, I am productive for 70 – 80 minutes, with somewhere between 30 and 40 minutes left on the table to creep social media and generally waste time. The forced rest gives my brain an opportunity to relax and thoughts to percolate subconsciously without a specific focus. When I sit back down I am ready to dominate the next block.
Turn It Off – The last tip seems so obvious but I failed to do it for years, and truthfully sometimes still do. We are terrible multi-taskers, that’s not to say we can’t shift our focus from one item to the next in rapid succession, but true multitasking with a primary and secondary task occurring simultaneously is not for us. There is some research to suggest that women may accomplish this better then men but the studies have been limited and inconclusive at best. Despite this information, we place our cell phone beside our workstation, toss friends on in the background, blast our Daily Mix 3 on Spotify, wondering why we can’t focus long enough to complete this sentence. Put your phone in a different room, turn the TV off, play something that supports creativity (classical, rainstorms, and Ben Howard – but only the Every Kingdom album top my list), focus and flow.