Do you know that crippling feeling of being suffocated by your to do list? If you are a creative girl running your own business you know exactly what I’m talking about — the tightness in your chest, when you want to film that video, write that article, paint that illustration, organize your Pinterest boards, redesign your homepage, and create content for the e-course you’re launching this summer... Oh, and have a dinner date with your beau at the end of the day, of course.
It’s an interesting state to be in – you want to do everything, today, all at once but end up binge watching The Big Bang Theory with a huge bowl of air-popped popcorn instead. I call it my chaos procrastination mode. It’s often a sign of two things:
- Your beautiful brain needs a good long rest.
- Your work hours need to be restructured.
Over the years I’ve tested a lot of productivity hacks and today I'm sharing my personal favourites with you. They work for me because they fit my lifestyle. Remember: one girl's miracle solution is another girl's absolute no-no. So, test everything and keep only what works for you.
1 | Have a morning routine
People say that you should work out first thing in the morning. Others say you should do the hardest task of the day first and then do everything else. That it’s best to wake up at 5am. That you need to meditate every morning. People say a lot of things these days, but the truth is we can't always fit our imperfect (but perfectly beautiful) mornings into the prescribed mold.
All those things are great, but they won’t help you if you force them on yourself each morning, just because someone said so in a book or in a video.
The secret to a good morning routine is to be fully present. It doesn’t matter that much what you do as long as you wake up rested when your alarm chirps and start your day doing YOUR little rituals, not somebody else’s.
If you love to meditate when you open your eyes at 5am, excellent, go do that every morning.
If you want to write blog posts in your PJs for two hours each morning, go for a quick run and then have breakfast with your kids, that’s a great routine, too.
There’s no wrong way to design a morning routine. The only mistake you can make is to try to impose somebody else's rituals on yourself, just because they've worked for them. Different people will have different needs. There are only three requirements for a productive morning routine:
- Wake up around the same time each morning. Wake up as early as you can but don't sacrifice a good night sleep for that 5am goal. You cannot do creative work with a sleep deprived brain.
- Do the same thing each morning. Don’t make yourself take decisions when you’re still half asleep. Have a list of things you do each morning when you open your eyes, and do them without questioning them at all.
- Be fully present. Most people check their phone within seconds of waking up. But what if instead of inviting the world into your bed and looking for instant validation from it (all those likes and comments that gathered up during the night), you take these first few moments to be with the most important person on the world — you! And you can check Instagram in half an hour or so, it's not going anywhere.
2 | Plan everything
This one goes without saying, I should think — plan the work, work the plan.
I use a Bullet Journal, two Google calendars, Asana, a bunch of spread sheets, and A4 graph paper for daily notes, all at the same time. I’ve planned my year, I plan each month, week and day, and I never get tired of adjusting my tools.
The most important thing to remember about planning is that nothing’s set in stone, everything’s fluid, and plans are there to guide your progress, not enslave your time.
Also, avoid over-planning — it's easy to fall in love with bullet journaling or tweaking your Asana calendar to perfection. Remember that over-planning is a form of procrastination — it keeps you busy, not productive.
3 | Embrace monotasking
“Multitasking is a myth”. I heard that in a neuroscience podcast almost 10 years ago and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve tried and failed to prove that statement wrong. Multitasking is something that might’ve been good in a corporate office environment, but it’s one of the two biggest creativity killers I know (the other one being acute lack of chocolate).
That being said, you can do more than one thing at a time. I know, I know I just said something else, but bear with me. There are two ways to do more while using single tasking:
Switching between tasks every 25 minutes
You can use something called the Pomodoro technique. You work on one task for 25 minutes after which you take 5 minutes break and then work on something else.
It works for me — my mind switches off after 20 minutes anyway and I get the feeling that I need to check my Instagram and eat some banana nice cream.
And since we can’t remove a habit, only change it (source), I switch between tasks every 25 minutes with a little break in between.
Use a bubble work zone
Combine a task that doesn’t require that much creative brain power with something that engages your mind for a long period of time.
I’m the worst when it comes to focusing on repetitive tasks. Got to clean up 21 Photoshop files for my next Brand Design Kit? Just thinking of it reduces my attention span to that of a baby kitten (10 seconds?) The only way I can endure monotonous tasks is by distracting my brain with a podcast, or a Netflix series.
4 | Set super clear goals
No goals, no gains. You can dream all you want of that “perfect business and life” but the only way to get close to it is by turning your daydreams into goals and get to work.
How would you achieve something if you don’t know what that is?
Here’s a simple method to turn your dreams to goals:
Dream: I wish I could travel more, work while traveling, and be truly free.
Now, take that dream, extract your actual wishes and add values and due dates to them.
Let’s say it’s 1 May 2018 and you’re setting your goals. Here they are:
- Create a travel fund for the Aruba trip ($3000 by December)
- Find 10 ways I can earn money while traveling and test them (get it done by the end of August 2018)
- Create a business model, a brand and a website (by 30 September 2018)
- Create my products / services and launch (by 30 October 2018)
- Get three weeks off my day job to travel around the country and test the lifestyle (November 2018)
- When back, if I loved it, continue to grow my business and plan the Aruba trip for early 2019.
Of course this is just a silly little example. But you get the idea. Starting small is always the best option. When you are a one woman operation having super clear goals with due dates is the only way to turn a dream into reality.
5 | Make an action plan (lots of them)
Action plans are not the same as regular planning where you schedule things into a calendar. They are super detailed road maps towards a clear goal. The best example are the running planners you might have seen around the interweb if you;ve ever aspired to run a marathon or a 5k.
An action plan breaks down huge, seemingly impossible endeavours (like running 42km, loosing 10kg or launching your first e-course) into tiny daily tasks.
To create an action plan, begin with a start and the end point. What do you have now? What would you want to have in 90 days, 3 weeks, 6 months, 2 years? Next, put in milestones to check your progress, plan the daily tasks in between them and begin your journey.
6 | Batch up tasks
Batch days are great for when you want to get a bulk of things done all at once. As a one-woman-business you’ll have to do a lot of things on the spot but for the things you can schedule in advance use batch days to make the most of your precious time.
I have a list of 17 different activities I need to do each week (this is not a random number by the way) and they are all vital for my business — writing articles, scheduling IG posts, designing the Brand Design Kits, filming, bullet journaling, etc.
When I plan my day I pick the main task for that day and then, going through the activities and my action plans, I add similar tasks to the day's to do list. For example, if my main task is write this article, I'll add to my to do list things like write a newsletter, write next weeks IG captions and write emails, etc.
This is the way I do batch days, because it works for me as a solopreneur. Find a way to batch up your tasks that suits your life and work schedule.
7 | Make time to reboot your brain
You’re a highly motivated creative woman on a mission and you cannot stop, not now. There's so much to do and so little time. Believe me, I get it. Yet, self-care and the complete shutdown of your brain for a whole day is the only way to recharge your creative well. Do yoga, learn to crochet, watch Netflix, read a book, go dancing with your bestie...
Do something that lights your soul on fire and has nothing to do with your work.
How about you?
How do you stay productive and how do you replenish your energy? Do you feel overwhelmed most days? What is the one thing you'll change right now so you don't feel like you're chasing your tail all the time?