Last week, Laura from Create as Folk wrote an awesome piece on how she reimagined her workday—it seriously spoke to me. My own personal work structure (and really, my entire business) have been undergoing some major renovations in the past few months and I’ve taken some serious action to amp my productivity and get my mojo back.
What I want you to know is that no one (no one) has a foolproof, perfect solution for how to run your biz. You can read a million blogs, work with your favorite coaches, buy a bunch of digital products (we won’t talk about how much I invested in that one.), and do everything that one article on “how to get more clients” told you to do. If you’re anything like me, you probably had nominal results, and spent alot of time thinking about why things just weren’t working.
What I realized was that all of these “solutions” weren’t working because they frankly, weren’t me.
The greatest thing you can do for yourself as an entrepreneur is to make authenticity your #1 priority.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t follow great blogs, work with coaches/mentors, or get awesome training. But you shouldn’t be looking for magic formulas, fairy dust, or a quick mil in your bank account. You should be looking for you.
Use, borrow, adopt, adapt, reimagine—make it work for you. Each Aha! moment you have reading someone else’s experience is an opportunity to uncover a little piece of yourself. Your goal in working with a coach is to find a perfect solution, but the solutions and processes that work best for you. Digital products offer you great frameworks, but they’ll only work if you run them through your own filter.
So the way I started this whole authenticity revolution wasn’t anything major. I started with little things I do every day. I tore apart my daily life and stopped reading productivity blogs that tried to tell me the “best” way to get %$#@ done. I started simply listening to myself.
I won’t bore you with the finer details of how this all rolled out, but I do want to share with you 10 of the little shifts I made that have made an enormous difference in my attitude, my work, and my results. Deep breaths of gratitude and a major feeling of alignment make for a seriously productive person.
Let’s hit the list, shall we?
1. Anchor your day with small disciplines. First of all, I hate the word habit because it implies mindlessness. Discipline is totally conscious, purposeful. I’m also not someone who does well with big chunks of time scheduled for work tasks–my mind wanders, I get bored, I get distracted. Bad news. What does work for me is using small tasks to create flow in my day, and a sense of mindful routine. For me, this is a 10-minute Shamatha meditation and a 15 minute visualization exercise. For other people, its a “morning pages” practice or making a new inspiration board on Pinterest. Smaller disciplines give you a sense of routine and the ability to accomplish a “to-do” with relative ease and speed. For me, the action of crossing items off my list gives me a major boost and pushes me to knock out the bigger stuff. It’s all a mental game, friends.
2. Use a timer for the tempting tasks. Ahhh, the Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr/blog feed/Pinterest vortex. We’ve all been sucked in. I’ve taken to setting my Iphone timer and giving myself 20 minutes or so to hit everything I need to hit. This might seem a little extreme, but the alternative is RT-ing, commenting, sharing to my heart’s content, and then all of the sudden it’s dark outside and I’ve gotten nothing done. Not cool.
3. Use your dog. (Or children. Or significant other.) Instead of seeing it as a juggling act, look at it as a balancing act. Allow the other elements that influence the way you work to do so positively. My dog can’t tell time (obviously) but he knows when it’s time for his lunch walk, and when it’s time to eat dinner. If I didn’t have him, I wouldn’t get outside during the day (which I need) or stop working at a reasonable time. Your kids could be the same type of framework–you know you have about 6 hours while they’re in school to work on your business–make those 6 hours as productive as possible so you can focus on family after school is done for the day.
4. Use a ritual to get yourself into “work mode.” For Laura, it was opening the blinds, feeding her bunnies, and lighting a candle. For me, its getting dressed for work, turning off my phone/TV/distractions, and setting up my workspace. It’s important that you have something that signifies to your brain that its time to work–especially if you work from home. It can be hard to look at the kitchen table where you just ate breakfast and read the newspaper as your corner office.
5. Resist the infinite to-do list. I give myself 3 (and only 3) things to accomplish with each day. How crappy does it feel when you end each day half-done and carry over work to the next day? All it did for me was make me mad at myself, procrastinate even more, and then panic when I had a million things to do in one day. Then I ran around like a maniac and got nothing done. Now, I knock out my three things, feel awesome when I complete my day, and then carry that fabulous energy over to the next day.
6. Honor your timing. I’m a morning person. Let’s talk about how many time I procrastinated during the day, telling myself I’d get it done after dinner. Then I wouldn’t. Why? Because I’m a freaking morning person. Post-dinner, I’m mentally ready to relax, not work. For some reason, this simple logic took me a long time to get. Go with your own flow.
7. Be uber-specific. I can’t hang with nebulous tasks like “writing” or “client work” on my schedule. I need specificity like: “write a blog post to be posted Monday about_____” or “60-minute session with Suzy McClient re:_______”. This is what gets me excited, engaged, and ready to go. It gets my creativity going and helps me wrap my head around the needs of my clients. If you just told me to sit and write, my mind would go off into a million different directions, I’d get distracted by a pretty bird outside, and be up and out in a matter of minutes. My lust for work comes from engagement; specific, descriptive tasking is how I get there.
8. Work to task, not to time… Although I do use a timer for some work tasks, I can’t batch out time for certain things. You can’t know how long its going to take you to write a piece or do your prep work for a client. I used to try and tell myself to get the blog post done before 1pm, so then I’d have time to bang out the other 12 things I wanted to do. Know what? The blog post NEVER got done by 1pm. Then I would be annoyed with myself, and those bad vibes would color the whole rest of my day. Now, I know how much work time I devote to each day, and build my 3 to-dos accordingly.
9. …But keep office hours. I used to never define my start/stop times. Ever. I’d start work when I felt like it and stop to do things like laundry, or go for a hike if it was nice out, or have a long lunch with a friend. Sure, flexibility is awesome. That’s one of the main reasons we start our own gigs and work from home, right? I also resisted structure for a lonnng time because I thought it was too much like my old “job” mentality. But let’s be honest…we all need a little structure. So now, I keep my work from about 10am-6pm Monday-Thursday. I keep the “fun stuff” either before or after. I don’t check email or do anything work-related after 6pm. Fridays are my completely unstructured time–I still work, but its my more development/imagination-driven/research kind of work than real task-or results-driven work. My weekends are true weekends–laptop is mostly off, I do what I want when I want, and I recharge my batteries. *note: this is such a work-in-progress for me. So if you start a similar endeavor, give yourself the space to screw it up a few times and don’t expect perfection. We take a while to reprogram.
10. Feed your work. We might not realize it, but they way we work is directionally proportional to the quality of our work. How I learned this: my old job was very active and on my feet; it was very interactive; and I led some pretty amazing teams of people. As I transitioned to my own gig, I was sitting in front of my laptop more, I was by myself, and I was leading, well….myself. It was, needless to say, a rocky transition. What I discovered was that I needed activity, interaction, and people (amongst other things) to be able to work effectively. I move my body every day now; I’m active socially both online and here in Philly meeting business owners, volunteering with local organizations, and just making new friends; I worked live classes into my model and will be launching a mastermind group next year to amp up the interaction factor with my peeps. These essentials won’t necessarily be your essentials–but you definitely have them. Choose your most important values and make sure they have an outlet through your business.
What shifts have you made as your business has evolved? For those of you who transitioned from working for others to working for yourself, what was the hardest part of your transition?