As a creative person, a lot of the strategies for getting more out of my time make me want to hide under my desk / roll my eyes. If this sounds familiar, we should probably be friends.
When you have a passion project that you love, or if you work for yourself all or part of the time, your time is both important and scarce. The thing is that gimmicks, “hacks” and scheduling yourself within an inch of your life isn't a long term plan.
After working for myself for five years, I wanted to share my holistic time management strategies, or a few ways of managing my time that have really, truly helped, when everything else has stopped helping.
A lot of things have changed in my work over the past few years, as I'm sure they have in yours too. I've worked in local studios, started taking fewer clients to do more strategy work and group teaching, and left my business partnership at the end of 2014.
It's still early days of working on my own, and on top of that big change, right now I'm working on several long term projects that are slow going and challenging to balance next to my weekly client work. Last Friday I found myself sitting in my office, frustrated that I wasn't farther ahead, and I felt overwhelm start to creep up my spine and take over.
I realized that through all the changes in my work life, one maddening constant is that what works for me now will only work for a few months.
Sound frustrating? It is! But the up-side is that it also means that no matter what your work style, I probably have hands on experience with something similar.
Luckily, I remembered a few secret weapons up my sleeve that have always helped me, and I wanted to share them in case you need some extra – gimmick free – help.
Holistic Time Management Strategies for Business Owners & Bloggers
Life Moves Fast, so Take Notes.
I have a dedicated notebook where I write things that work in my personal life, and another dedicated notebook for things that work in my work life. When I hear a helpful piece of advice, learn a lesson that I never want to re-learn, or find a strategy that works that I want to remember for the next few years or decades, I pick up my notebook and write it down. A few times a year, I read it cover to cover.
I started doing this several years ago and it's been incredibly helpful. In my personal life it's helped me remember what my minimum amount of self care should be, how best to plan for life during husband's monthly work trips, and that if I take cold medicine when I have a cold my antidepressants don't work. It couldn't be more practical, and it's comforting to know they're written somewhere.
In my work life, it's helped me have a miniature reference book of things that have worked for me, so when one stops I can flip through the pages and try another.
Your notebook might be a real notebook, an Evernote note, or a google doc, but if you start making jot notes on what works for you you'll never need to start from square one again.
Remind Yourself What Matters and Game Your Systems to Value That.
Administrative work is always a time suck for me, but replying to emails that are time sensitive isn't a better use of my time than working on what's important, but quiet. When my days start to get out of sync and I feel constantly behind, it's usually because I've temporarily forgotten what's really important, and what keeps the lights on in my business.
For me, what's most important is client work. For you, it might be writing your newsletter, your freelance work, or teaching. Whatever that is, you can game your systems to value that.
Ways to game your systems so they value what you value:
- Activate “multiple inboxes” in gmail and make a new tag for your most important kind of email. Then set that category to appear above your inbox, so what you value most is the first thing you see. (tutorial)
- Make your daily checklist a maximum of four items, and make sure at least half of it is your most important type of work.
- Set a goal for how long you'll spend doing your most important kind of work tomorrow, don't make excuses, and then give yourself a little treat when you succeed.
- Turn off badged icons and notifications for email on your desktop and smartphone if it hurts your peace of mind when you're not working.
Getting real about what actually matters in your business means accepting that you can’t do everything, and seeing how that’s actually a gift. By saying no to things that are outside of your core strengths and goals, and highlighting what’s truly important you can actually earn more from your work, and be less stressed.
Get Back to Pomodoro.
One of the systems that's always worked for me is the Pomodoro Technique: 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of rest, repeat. Then a longer break every few of these cycles.
It's simple, encourages you to be mindful about your work, and builds up your willpower muscles as you constantly choose staying on task. When focus is an issue for me, watching my timer count down always reminds me to stay on topic for just a little while longer… and then suddenly it's lunch time already.
While I wouldn't mind having 14 more hours in a day, time doesn't have to be your enemy. After putting these back in place for myself my Monday felt ten times better than my Friday. I even managed to get this blog post scheduled!
What are your tried and true ways of staying on track with your work? Does what works for you stay constant, or does it change over time like mine? How do you stay focused when it's a struggle?