Being a solo entrepreneur isn't the easiest job in the world, but when you're armed with tips on how to be an ultra productive business owner, the journey is a lot smoother.
As much as we'd like to, there are days when we just can't bring our A-game, when the tasks pile up, and when the project deadlines fly right past us.
It happens to the best of us.
The best defence? Get a system and routine in place that promotes productivity consistently, and not sporadically.
That's why I'm sharing 10 tips on how to be productive as a business owner (with a free productivity planner) for you to get your productivity game on.
1. Accept that work will always take the amount of time you give it
Let's begin by first talking about the fact that the amount of time required to finish work always expands to fill the amount of time you allow yourself to complete it (also known as Parkinson's law).
If you allocate 8 hours to work on a blog post, you'll need all of the 8 hours.
But if it's mid-afternoon, and you have an early date you're really looking forward to, you bet you'll finish that same blog post in the two hours you have left before you need to head out.
No matter what you're working on, the amount of time of you have to perform a task is pretty much always the amount of time it will take to complete that task. So the next time you're planning your daily tasks, keep that in mind and set yourself tighter (but realistic) deadlines to get your work done.
2. Time is not the enemy
Your mindset is everything, and to get the most out of the time you do have, you need to adopt the mindset that time is not the enemy.
Instead of always thinking that time is working against you, it's time to make friends with time.
Because when you consider time to be the enemy, you're mentally making it a real source of pain.
And we all know that humans do everything to avoid pain, so there's the #1 reason you're procrastinating right there. You're welcome.
If you want to learn how to be productive and make the most of your days, it's time to become pals with time and accept the fact that we get 24 hours a day to get things done, and when used effectively, it's more than most of us need.
3. Morning routines are not just for YouTube and Instagram
Everyone needs a day off and the occasional Netflix binge, but to get anything worthwhile done, you do need a daily routine.
Your routine doesn't need to look the same as mine (or anyone else's, in fact), but to make sure you have a productive day, it's crucial to have a nourishing and encouraging morning routine to set yourself up for success for the rest of your day.
A nourishing morning routine also ensures that even if you do nothing else all day, you've still been effective and done something to make your day count.
I typically work out right after I wake up, get in quality time with my guy by eating breakfast together before he leaves for office, and when I'm in the flow, I meditate and journal before getting started with the work day.
I also make sure I write down or review the 1-3 main tasks for the day before I open my laptop. This prevents me from getting suck into the digital vortex of emails, vlogs, and James Corden snippets (which is what happens when I skip making a task list).
My mornings aren't "perfect", and that's definitely not the point, but I make sure I start my day doing something that I know will motivate me and make me feel proud for having done it.
Then, it's easy to ride that good mood wave throughout the rest of the day and knock my daily goals out of the park.
Take a moment to figure out how you can start off your day on the right note.
Maybe leave the social media check-ins and email inbox alone for the first hour of your morning. Get in some exercise, reading, a short walk, journaling, painting your nails, painting, or just about anything you love instead.
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4. Set up and use a planning system
This is so essential, because if you don't plan where you want to go, you'll get nowhere. No one wants that, right?
Whether you're a paper-planner lover (like me) or a strictly-digital planner baby, find a system that works for you.
After trying lots of different things, I found my perfect system in the mix of paper and digital. I schedule all appointments in Google Calendar, and I also use it as my digital (and universally accessible) content calendar.
This way even if I don't have my paper planner with me, I can still access my appointments and content calendar.
I also use a bright yellow Leuchtturm1917 notebook (yeah, the "Bullet Journal" notebook) as my planner and brain-dump-central. It makes me happy, and it's important for me to put pen to paper when I'm brainstorming post and product ideas.
I find it easier to work through mental and writer's blocks on paper, and I also find it handy to make my own calendar in the notebook, and use it to plan out my content calendar, my quarterly/monthly/weekly goals, and keep track of my daily tasks.
I also use and recommend Asana to keep track of processes in your business and logging your projects and tasks.
Find a system that works for you and use it for a reasonable amount of time (at least a two to four weeks), and only switch if it's really not working for you.
Sometimes you might have multiple ways of doing the same thing, like my content calendar on paper and in Google Calendar, and that's fine.
It doesn't matter what the system is as long as there is one, and it works for you, and you're scheduling tasks and keeping track of your goals, because that's absolutely essential to having clarity and getting things done.
5. Make task lists your friend
If you're struggling to stay afloat with your blog or business and keep track of all the work that needs to be done, you better make task lists your friend.
Ideally, your planning system should help you find a schedule that prioritizes the most important work.
One way to implement that is to make daily task lists (or to-do lists) a part of your daily routine.
At the end of each work day, I make a list of all the tasks I want to tackle the next day, based on what didn't get done that day and what is important to move me towards my goals.
To-do lists often get a bad rap for being too long and too overwhelming and that's why I have a rule of not including any more than 3 main tasks for one day.
No matter how efficient you are, it's highly unlikely you'll be able to focus enough to tackle more than 3 large projects on a day.
If you really want to learn how to be productive, make planning specific tasks ahead of time a priority so you're not left with a mile long list of small, seemingly "busy" chores and endless stress (yikes!).
The daily task lists help you to break your monthly goals down into bite-sized, actionable tasks that you can work on day-by-day and week-by-week and moves you towards your goals by default.
It beats ending up in December and realising you didn't "have the time" to work on most of your large goals, doesn't it?
A daily task list also helps you gain clarity and peace of mind, so that you're never sat at your desk thinking, "what should I do now?!"
You've got a clear plan for the (next) day and you can be focused from the get go next morning!
6. Use time blocks to supercharge your focus
Time-blocking has been one of my favourite productivity discoveries of the last few years.
At University, we had to do new weekly in-depth research projects (with a 3500 word paper that also needed to be submitted!).
The only way I ever got that done was by being laser-focused and using time wisely to get most bang for my time buck.
I found my groove in devoting 70% of my work time to focus on the research work, and 30% of the remaining time to summarize what I'd worked on earlier.
This way when the end of the week rolled around, I already had the bulk of my work written up, and I could focus 70% of time I had on the last day to put it all together (that included many, many 23:59 submissions for the 00:00 deadline).
It was intense, so intense, but if I hadn't found and stuck to this system, it would have been dire.
Breaking down my days into blocks of work time gets me focused, in the zone, and helps me to knock out a lot of important tasks every day.
Currently, a typical workday might look something like this:
06:30 - 08:00 | "Me" time, which includes meditation, working out, a shower, breakfast with my favourite man (and journalling on days I'm feeling it)
08:00 - 10:00 | Work block 1
10:00 - 10:30 | Break (because I can)
10:30 - 12:00 | Work block 2
12:00 - 12:30 | Lunch
12:30 - 14:30 | Work block 3
14:30 - 15:00 | Break (because it's good for you)
15:00 - 17:00 | Work block 4
17:00 - 17:15 | Review to wrap up + making the task list for the next day
It might seem like I have way too many breaks, but this schedule gets me really focused during the work blocks (designed for the optimal time our brains can focus at a stretch on intense work).
My work blocks are dedicated to only one task at a time, and this slowly, but surely, adds up over the week to getting so much work done (that I otherwise might have procrastinated on).
If you've been sucked into the biggest "corporate" lie of abhorring breaks, this schedule might shock you.
Breaks, however, are the very reason I can focus deeply in my work blocks. I use that time to either read a book, take a walk, watch a quick episode of whatever I'm watching, or move to a cafe to get myself (and my work) out of the house.
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7. Be generous with the time you estimate for each task
We're a funny sort, us humans, aren't we?
We spend so much time procrastinating on the things that matter, but once we decide to get started, we're way too strict with ourselves.
We give ourselves the smallest window of time to get a substantial task or project done, and then we wonder why it's so hard to stay "motivated".
On the other hand, we also spend days, weeks, months, and even years working on our course/book/website/insert your biggest goal here, and justify it by saying we want it to be "perfect".
As the quote goes, "perfectionism is often an excuse for procrastination".
Besides, life happens, and we can't always do the things we want in the time we want to do them.
So, do yourself a favor, and always plan in buffer time around your tasks and appointments to allow for unexpected things or procrastination.
For example, if you're planning in time at the gym, don't forget to account for the time it'll take to commute there.
How will you be getting there? Will there be traffic? If you plan on working out with someone else, factor in the time you'll spend chatting with one another or getting a drink/meal after.
Whatever your deal, accept it and plan for it.
8. Make weekly and monthly reviews non-negotiable
As much as daily task lists are essential to any productive day, it's never quite complete until it's complemented by weekly and monthly reviews.
The heart of my goal-setting process includes working with blocks of three months at a time. At the start of each quarter, I focus on one large goal/project.
Typically, the quarterly goal/project includes three-four smaller, but substantial projects of their own, which I set as my "monthly goal" for each month in the quarter.
At the start of each month, I'll break my monthly goal down to smaller, actionable steps and spread them over the weeks, so that I know for a fact that I'm scheduling all the tasks to help me achieve my goal.
Remember: if it's not been scheduled, it probably won't happen.
At the end of each week and month, I make it a point to review my goals and see how far I've gotten in the project or goals I set for myself.
I also make notes on what worked, what didn't, what took longer/more work than I accounted for, and use those notes to make an action plan for the next week or month.
The weekly and monthly reviews will help you to keep your goals front and centre in your mind and also help you stay focused on the path to being productive and achieving your goals.
9. Work it out
Speaking of the gym earlier reminded me - you don't need me to tell you that working out boosts your mood and your ability to focus, right?
More focus = getting things done more effectively = productive heaven.
As entrepreneurs, who often work alone or small teams, it's also important to not let overwhelm and stress get the better of us.
Exercise is that perfect magic potion that reduces stress, boosts our focus, makes us feel good in our skin, and honestly, if you're doing something you truly enjoy, it's a welcome break in an otherwise packed day.
I know you probably think you'd rather watch your favorite show on Netflix, but just a 20-minute session will have you recharged and bursting with energy, and there's no way you could regret that.
10. Less obligations, more order
This one's short and snappy:
Say "yes" to having dedicated office hours so people aren't bothering you all day long, to putting your phone on airplane mode during work blocks, to checking your email only once or twice a day (or even less, like a few one-three times a week, if you can), to working deliberately through the week so you can take weekends off, to making space for things you love and aren't doing right now, and to things that bring you joy.
Say "no" to each and every appointment request that comes your way, to endlessly consuming blogs and webinars for "research", to comparing your middle (or start) to someone else's height of glory, to working without contracts, to working for free 'to build your portfolio' (charge less, if you must, but draw the line at free; your time and work is worth it), to multitasking (it really, really doesn't work), to not taking your business seriously, and to busy work that fills your agenda but isn't in line with your main goals.
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BONUS: 11. Clean up that workspace, will you? (Of course there's a bonus!)
Whether it's a spot on your dinner table or a full room decked out in velvet and Pinterest dreams, make sure your workspace is a place that inspires you to actually get work done.
No matter who you are, I bet you can't truly focus in an unorganized, messy space. And I'm not talking about the creative mess some of us make.
I'm talking about plain ol' dirt and mess and empty coffee cups everywhere, which would inspire absolutely no one to put out their best work.
Messy environments = a messy mind = poor focus = productivity hell.
Get yourself a clean, simple workspace, something that reflects you - make it personal - and make a deal with yourself to clean up after yourself once the day is over.
Even if you're not convinced a clean workspace can affect your productivity, give it a try. It will help you really focus, which means you can be more effective in what you do.
Let yourself be inspired.
Are you feeling all those productive vibes yet?
Know that at its core, productivity isn't about trying to cram in all the things you possibly can in the time you have.
It's about focusing on and only working on the 'right things' - the projects and the tasks that have the biggest impact.
All the tips above have personally helped me break down and reach my (quarterly) goals by helping me prioritize what needs to be done when and what can be best left alone.
To learn how to be productive, you have to begin by saying "no" more often to things that eat up your time, and by only focusing on the goals, projects, strategies, and tasks that are most effective in moving you towards your larger goals and growing your business.
If you have limited time, like I do, the key is to maximise your results by prioritizing the projects that have the most impact.
No more time-wasting projects that get you nowhere.
If you'd like to get started down the productivity road, grab the free productivity daily planner for online entrepreneurs and bloggers right here.
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