Are you having a period in life when you feel stagnant and you're not achieving as much as you'd like to yet constantly feel busy? Or perhaps things are ticking along for you but you lack any energy or drive to get into something beyond the necessary.
You are certainly not alone and a few years ago I was exactly there. Advice on business blogs and posts just made me feel overwhelmed and like I had a huge mountain to climb. I couldn't imagine myself as a highly driven person who wanted to juggle projects and hit business targets each week. The very reason I'm self employed is because I wanted to do more of what of love. But there are elements of running any business that have to fit into your every day and I seemed to be doing less photography and more and more admin. Pushing myself further creatively and reaching my personal goals seemed like an indulgence when the basic to do list was just getting bigger. I hate routine but desperately needed some kind of structure to help me regain the balance.
The trick lies in how you choose to spend portions of your day and the turning point for me was when someone sent me this amazing article which was my personal game changer. We all have different pressures and responsibilities so for each individual the advice on the article is tweak-able - for instance, I have a dog so it's not achievable for me to meditate and hit my desk at 7am, I have to be out on the downs at that time to walk the boy before breakfast. So the same can be applied to parents or people that have other school runs and other commitments before work hours.
Along with advice from the article and a few other changes I have managed to overhaul my workflow and eliminate the need for constantly working in the evenings (I do still need to put some after hours in but the amount has drastically reduced) and allowing me to free up more time for personal projects and spend time with the people I love which both in turn inspires my work.
My tips are simple, easy to implement changes that will see you freeing more time up. They aren't meant to be rigidly applied every day but if you can get a few days a week in where you follow your routine then you may just find that you are nailing it a lot more than you were!
Schedule your day
Honestly, you won't believe how much of a difference this makes. Just 5 minutes over breakfast/coffee/on the bus/train sets hourly deadlines that means you will focus more and have more structure.
Using a notepad or a journal/planner system, I sit down on a Monday morning and set a priority task for each day. These priorities are essentials that I know I need to get into my week. So on Monday I know I need to look at my accounts as my main task and then on Tuesday my main task is to create 2 portfolio PDFs and so forth.
With this rough plan in place daily planning becomes a cinch. You know already what your main focus is each day and you can make a list of 'bonus' tasks that would be great if you can fit in but not your priority.
You can use any planner, notebook or journal. I use a journal system called BestSelf (post incoming on that very soon!) that is essentially a planner but also a gratitude journal and goal focused target planner. I find writing down my tasks works way better than trying to make digital plans. iCal is used for jobs and meetings but I use a pen and paper for planning tasks and priorities. If time allows it, I often try and plan the next day before I go home but sometimes it's while I get ready to relax for an hour or so before bed which helps me sleep better as I'm not worrying about how I'm going to fit everything in the next day. So my day plan might look like this:
- 6.30am wake and dress
- 7-8am walk dog
- 8-8.30am breakfast, coffee and finalise day schedule
- 8.30-9am travel
- 9-12pm concentrated work (here I will detail what my first thing to tackle is and what my bonus jobs are)
- 12-1pm gym and pick up lunch
- 1-3pm emails, admin and social media
- 3-4pm tie up tasks and 5 minutes on jotting down schedule for next day
- 4-4.45pm travel
- 4.45-5.30pm walk dog (when I decompress and mull over the events of the day)
- Evening is for social/relaxation/friends/inspiration
Often, I'll find I'm actually way ahead of myself, have fit a bonus task in and still have time to think about something else.
Protect your morning
You might have seen this term thrown around a lot at the moment. And for good reason, it really is a very effective way of getting all your main priority tasks done and by main tasks I mean the actual core of your work - not the admin or dealing with orders but the actual essence of what you do. That might be designing a garment, writing an article, coming up with a strategy, designing a page.... I uncompromisingly hit my desk at 9am and have a concentrated working time until noon. In that time I tackle my most pressing tasks or the thing that I know I would put off otherwise and I usually achieve that and more. Try to never schedule meetings or phone calls for mornings and switch off notifications and emails. Set an auto response if needs be and don't feel guilty about it - allowing yourself to apply fully to your work benefits your clients and colleagues.
Completing a task uninterrupted will be a game changer - focus and brain power is better in the mornings and without things pinging at you changing your train of thought you are free to get on with your work in a whole and creative way. You will get so much more done.
Bertrand Russell said "To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement."
Working in this concentrated way will result in achievement. I am often amazed by what I can get done and it frees me up for a lunchtime gym visit which renews my focus and energy for the afternoon. Afternoon for me is all about admin, meetings and emails.
Block distracting websites
If anyone had accused me of procrastinating a few years ago I would have been very defensive and say I have no time to procrastinate but when I started blocking certain websites I was shocked at how my working practice changed and how much time I had been spending on them. For instance, I would finish a task (for example, an edit of photos from a commission) and hit export then while it was doing that I would mindlessly look at Facebook or check Twitter. With those sites not available to me, I then look for something else to do. This could be ticking off my completed task in my planner and deciding on what the next task I tackle is.
There are also other scenarios, for instance: perhaps you need to buy a work related item from Amazon and you head on over to the site to buy it. You get caught up looking at the reviews and then something in the 'other customers bought' list catches your eye and you look at that, before you know it you have lost 40 minutes. Imagine what concentrated work can be done in that 40 minutes!
Try blocking Facebook, Twitter, news sites, Amazon, ASOS.... whatever your personal distractions are. While I realise it's often a need for a business to interact on social media sites you can create a window in your schedule in the afternoon for this once your concentrated work is done. Also, keep a notepad close by so anything that comes into your mind involving going to any of these sites can be remembered and addressed later in the day.
I have used Cold Turkey and found that to be my favourite out of the free distraction blockers but I did get irritating notifications that plug ins weren't working. I have since invested in 1Focus and its excellent, very simple and works seamlessly. It's a one off £9.99 cost and well worth it.
I block distractions from 8.30am-2pm which allows me to address any social media admin in the afternoons.
Set your priorities and identify your boundaries
If you're struggling to clarify your priorities you might need to look at your why. This excellent post by Lola at One Girl Band (who kindly let me use some images from her portrait session in this post) talks about finding your why. Finding your why is key to figuring out what you are aiming for and what your priorities are.
Once you have your priorities you can start breaking them down into goals. And you can identify what is getting in the way of you achieving your goals. If these things aren't contributing to getting to where you want to be you need to reevaluate them. Why are you doing them and are they furthering you in any way? From here you can decide whether you are going to stop doing them, postpone them or delegate them. Have a read of this post.
When you're busy the idea of fitting exercise into your day seems totally unachievable and an indulgence, but once you do it you will find the deadline helps you hit your daily targets and also to chew things over in your brain.
Exercise not only improves energy by increasing mitochondria (cells that produce energy) but also will help you feel like you have achieved personal health in your day which helps a positive mind towards work tasks. It effectively stops you from hitting a brick wall by taking a break - termed rest and recovery this time is essential to approaching your work with renewed vigour. Exercise can come in many forms - a quick 20 minute walk, a lunchtime yoga session, a half an hour HIIT session. Whatever it is make sure it's sustainable for you so you can stick to it and you can fit it in, even on busy days. MoveGB is perfect for this if you are in an area where it is currently offered, find every type of class wherever you happen to be in your city.
Get out of the house
If you're self employed and are still mainly working at home, give leaving the house a go, even if just for a day or two a week. Often when people start their own business half of the attraction is being able to work from home but as time goes on you may find it is so easy to be distracted by the washing up, or putting the bins out. Being around people is energising, even if you're not interacting with them. A survey found nearly 40% of people found working from home lonely.
Self employment is on the up and up, as is remote working. There are many cafes and workspaces that are savvy to this. While it may seem like an unnecessary cost affordable workspaces are there to be found and it can be possible to work from cafes without taking the mick (tapping away for hours having only bought one pot of tea is a bit of a cheek). Some cafes openly advertise that they are freelance friendly so keep an eye out and find a regular go to spot.
There are also lots of networking groups for self employed people on Facebook, get involved and you might find that some groups have organised co working days near you. It's often possible to work in your local library too.
So go forth and take control of your time! I would love to hear if you implement any of these into your life and what results you get from them.
Formally Emma Gutteridge