Figure Out Your Work Style and Be More Productive
There is no 1 best way to be productive, yet we’re all looking for that magical formula to help us #GetShitDone. The truth is, your personal productivity is as unique to you as the clothes you wear. If you’re just doing what everyone else is doing because it’s the new cool thing, you could be doing yourself a disservice. You need to figure out what works for you specifically, which requires some trial and error and regular maintenance.
Your formula for productivity is a mish-mash of many factors: your circadian rhythms, your mental and physical health, your physical work environment, your personal commitments, your accountability and organization, and more. We’ll dive into some of these areas and I’ll give examples of how I struggled and what I did about it.
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Lose the Guilt
Becoming more productive almost always requires a change to your schedule or work habits that impacts other people. There is no point in feeling guilty about this, since the changes you’re implementing will be making you feel and work better. And that improvement allows you to serve your clients, friends, and family better. Explain what you’re trying to do and how it might impact them - if they are really upset about you trying to improve your life, well, it might be time to kiss them goodbye.
I am a recovering people pleaser. Setting boundaries around when I would work, when people could contact me, and when I would be available for meetings initially made me wince and worry that I would be pissing people off. When people pushed those boundaries I was always scrambling for another reason to say NO, as if my own mental health wasn’t a good enough reason.
The best thing for me was making sure those boundaries were immediately obvious to anyone reaching out to me so they could clearly see the line - I didn’t have to deal with the stress of ‘do I say no or do I let them have their way this time’. Here is what I did:
My email signature contains my office hours
I use my out-of-office outside of office hours (I also have this set up on Facebook), and it reiterates my office hours
Client contracts contain a communication commitment that outlines how/when I work that clients need to read and initial
Appointment and services are booked online and are limited to specific hours of the day/week when I want to have meetings
I also suspect that talking about how I like to work (online, online, online, never on evenings/weekends!) turns my non-ideal clients off and they take themselves out of the equation before I ever have to deal with them
Listen to Your Body
Everyone has times of the day when they are most and least productive. If you are a complete zombie in the morning, feel free to ignore all of those “successful people wake up at 3am” articles. As an entrepreneur you have more control over your schedule, so don’t try to fit yourself into a “traditional” work day if it’s not working for you.
As an introvert, meetings are pretty draining, so having meetings first thing in the morning guarantees that I won’t get much done for several hours after. Once I realized that, I moved my availability to the afternoons so I can spend all morning being productive, and my post-meeting dips occur outside my office hours when there is no pressure to have to be working.
I also stopped using an alarm clock. That’s right - 99% of the time I wake up naturally. Being startled awake is stressful and I need a full night’s sleep to get my day off on the right foot. I have made the decision to sacrifice work time (by sleeping in when needed) in order to get enough sleep, and as a result I’m more well rested and able to focus and get more done.
Work Around Life and Distractions
This is one that can be somewhat out of our control and all we can do is figure out how to work around it. I find that this is one of the hardest areas for women entrepreneurs who work from home - since they’re at home, either they or their family expect them to be homemaker AND entrepreneur. And if you have young children or are a caregiver for a family member it can be even more challenging. The big keys here are to set boundaries and clear expectations when you have some control, and plan ahead and anticipate when you don’t.
If you need help eliminating distractions because it’s your mindset getting in the way, check out this guest post from Tanya Lochner, who has helped me personally with my productivity and goal setting!
Many of you might know that my husband had been sick for many years and I essentially set out to design my business around those external needs (the flexibility to be available when he wasn’t feeling well, being able to drop work at a moment’s notice or work remotely if we ended up in the hospital, scheduling work around regular out-of-province medical trips, and so many other medical appointments). That meant a few things:
No in-person work appointments - I didn’t want to have to deal with the hassle of rescheduling if I wasn’t able to physically attend a meeting, so phone or Zoom meetings are my norm
My husband’s calendar is linked to my own so that online bookings with clients can’t be made when he has appointments that I will be attending
Blocking off time even for tentative personal/medical appointments - better to find you have time opening up than to realize you’ve double-booked yourself
I wanted to make a special mention about time blocking separate from scheduling, because it’s something that I struggled with mightily and couldn’t accurately communicate to any of the coaches I’d worked with until I read this article from Emylee at Think Creative Collective: What to do When Time Blocking Doesn’t Work for You.
I tried to slice up my days into neat, repetitive chunks of breakfast/lead follow up/social media/client work/finances/etc. But inevitably I’d wake up one day and go “But I just can’t get in to blogging today, I think I’d rather do those website updates”. If I stuck to the schedule, the blogging would get done but it would take twice as long (throwing off my existing schedule anyway - sigh) because I couldn’t focus, and the quality would suffer. If I changed up the schedule, things would get disorganized and I’d feel guilty.
I had to change the way I thought about time blocking to make it work the way that I do, instead of forcing my messy brain into a small square. Now I time block for a week or a month instead of a day - less granular means that it’s easily to change things up when needed. It also affords me the luxury of waking up and saying “What do I want to do today?” instead of “What do I have to do today?”
If all of this gives you hives and you thrive on a regular detailed schedule, I salute you.
If you think that you don’t need any type of schedule because it’s restrictive, I would challenge you to take a hard, honest look at how much you regularly get done and how much stress you experience.
Scheduling, To Dos, and Reminders
My friend Michelle Lowery has a great free 6-part time management course Create a Time Management System That Works For You that will definitely help you implement the things that I’m talking about, especially the stuff below. You can check it out over here (sign up and find the course under the ‘Free Resource Library’ section).
If you constantly feel like you’re forgetting things you need to do one of two things: take 15 minutes a week to do a braindump and get all of those random things out of your head and into writing so they stop taking up room in your brain, or; make sure your appointments and to dos have reminders that show up in a place that you check regularly (i.e. in your email or as pop ups on your phone).
I find reminders distracting, so I only have them turned on for things that are time-specific: my appointments and meetings with other people. For my daily/weekly tasks I have gotten into the habit of leaving my project management software open on my laptop all of the time and reviewing it at the end/start of each day, so it’s easy for me to see what to dos are coming up, or what I might want to move around.
Note: I use Trello* for my project and task management, so when I talk about easily moving to dos around, I’m literally talking about taking a task and using drag-and-drop to move it to a different date or time.
What you have to get done on any given day/week/month should be available to you at a glance. If your business requires you to have a lot of external meetings and appointments, then it’s important for you to be able to see those appointments AND your tasks all in one place
For some people, their calendar is the driver of their business - if this is you, it might make sense to time block or add your tasks directly into your calendar.
For some people, their work is all internal, and so they work from to-do or project management software - if this is you, it might make sense to simply add those rare appointments as to dos in your software.
For some people it’s a more even split, and you need to decide where you want to house everything. Here are some examples from myself and other people I’ve worked with:
A personal trainer uses a Google Calendar to track client sessions, and fills in the gaps with other daily work. On days where she has important work to do, she will fill it with tasks to prevent clients from making bookings during that time. Pro: everything is visible in 1 spot, she doesn’t have any double bookings. Con: sometimes she feels overwhelmed because every single day is full of back-to-back things.
A designer uses Asana to track client project work. Pro: everything work-related is visible in 1 spot. Con: since she can’t see personal commitments in relation to client work she sometimes overloads herself on certain days.
As I mentioned above, I use Trello in combination with Zapier and Google Calendar. My tasks are all housed in Trello (both the 1-time and repeating tasks) so I can see at-a-glance what I am doing each week and each month. Then whenever an appointment is added to my calendar (personal AND work), Zapier creates a task in Trello with the correct due date. Pro: everything is visible in 1 spot, I won’t double book myself. Con: ?? none for me so far :)
If you are finding that you have too many tasks and you can’t figure out where to start, Jodi Graham is a productivity coach with an excellent free resource Know Your Priorities 5-Day Bootcamp - I’ve been through it myself and found it super helpful!
Desk Jockey vs On The Go
Think about where you do most of your work, and where you would need to be able to view or update your calendar and tasks.
If you are working on the go, meeting with people, and making plans, it is essential that you can access your to do software and calendar on your phone. If the to do software you’re using doesn’t have a mobile app, you can either change software, or see if Zapier can connect it with the default app on your phone.
Alternatively, if you mainly work from your office and you are only using productivity tools on your phone, it’s time to see if those tools have desktop versions or can be connected to your computer with Zapier.
Life Changes, So Will Your Productivity
Be aware that as things in your life change, you might need to change your productivity routine. Once you’ve been in a routine for a while you’ll have a good idea of what things are absolutely necessary to your ability to #GetShitDone, and what things you can live without.
As an example, my husband recently received a heart transplant, and so even though we still have a lot of medical appointments, they are all scheduled - no more waiting for The Call™ and having a suitcase by the door ready to go at a moment’s notice. I could have started booking in-person meetings, but you know what? Online meetings save me a ton of time, a lot of energy, and even a little bit of cash - less time to get ready, to drive, to buy that latte that I don’t really need, to pay for parking, and as a bonus I’m in my own comfortable environment.