Like most of you reading this, I have a busy work life; I have my company to run, clients to care for, marketing campaigns to plan, projects to oversee, and products to develop. In addition, a month ago, I was invited to join the board of a national non-profit organization, which has taken up approximately 3 full days of my time since I was confirmed. Despite my heavy workload, I never work on Thursdays, I rarely work on weekends, and I usually sleep until 9 or 10am on workdays (no alarm unless absolutely necessary).
If you're like most entrepreneurs, this kind of lifestyle may sound idyllic and impossible to achieve. Maybe you would rather stop work at 2pm and use your afternoons to garden, and Tuesday is your ideal day to skip work. Whatever your preferences are, you can learn to manage your time so that your business does not take over your life. I was not born this way--I was raised with a work hard, earn money, retire early, and enjoy life later model. My early business role models were workaholics who discussed business at the dinner table, on vacation, and pretty much everywhere else. If I could learn to relax, go with the flow, AND still get everything accomplished, you can too.
So how can you shave a day off your workweek?
My favorite answer to this question is: block out your schedule. For example, let's say you're a coach, counselor, financial advisor, consultant, or attorney and you are also the business owner. Your job includes advising clients, business management, strategy/ vision, marketing, networking/correspondence, and creating items for your business (writing articles, creating products, etc.). Even if you're organized, all of these different types of activities require you to put on different "hats." If you try to do all of these activities in one day, you will have changed your hat--i.e. your mindset/ skillset--so many times that you will have wasted an inordinate amount of time and energy.
The research on multitasking clearly shows that it's inefficient and costly for all types of organizations because you're not keeping your mind focused on the task at hand. The same goes for how you work throughout the day. If you do a new task each hour, you will have to shift your focus (and mental skillset) for each new task. Instead, try grouping similar tasks together within your week.
Here's the easiest way to do this:
- Write down all of the essential things you do over the course of your workweek;
- Group these items into categories requiring similar skillsets;
- Decide how much time you want/ need to devote to each category;
- Schedule these items as complete blocks into your calendar.
My favorite way to do this is to figure out the categories and group them into a full day. For example, Monday could be devoted to business strategy, planning, and marketing, Tuesday for people-related matters (client calls, coaching/ consulting, networking, etc.), Wednesday for creative endeavors (writing articles, designing products, etc.), and on and on. Maybe you have certain activities that only require a few hours of work each month (such as your newsletter or ezine). These can be scheduled as a once-monthly block, as opposed to a weekly one.
But what about daily activities?
Yes, you will still have some activities you need to do every day (such as email maintenance), but designing a plan for how you work gives you a framework for the "assignments" that come out of your inbox.
You may be thinking, it sounds like a great plan, but could it work for me?
Yes, it can! Is it always perfect? No, of course not. These last two months have kept me busier--both personally and professionally--than I have been all year. Have I worked weekends? Yes. Have I worked the occasional 5-day week? Yes. But you know what else I've done? I've not worked during the week when I've had personal matters to attend to. I've maintained the freedom to create when I was inspired (be it writing, art, design, etc.) and to rest when I've been tired. I've had some days I've had to be up and out of the house before 8am, and other days I didn't start working until after 2pm.
So how DOES blocking your schedule work when life is topsy-turvy?
Sometimes your organized schedule gets disrupted. If you have travel or personal disruptions, your blocked out calendar may lose its shape. You can still apply these principles though. Maybe you take Monday off and start your blocked schedule on Tuesday, or you take your most important blocks and you move them around your personal appointments.
Blocking out time for your most important tasks keeps you focused on the most critical aspects of your business. If you're spending 4 hours of "Marketing Monday" on the phone with your IT guy discussing website updates instead of figuring out how to fill your client pipeline, you're going to have a problem. With a blocked schedule (that you've ideally shared with your team), you can let him know that Wednesday is a more appropriate day for him to call you about non-emergent IT matters. The same goes for client interactions. If Tuesday and Wednesday are devoted to client work, you'll be in the right mindset to give them your undivided attention, and you won't be distracted with business planning or strategy.
The bottom line is this: the lack of a scheduling plan can be as disruptive and insidious as multitasking. Everyone thinks they're good multitaskers, but in reality, a single focus is more productive. Blocking your schedule is about increasing your efficiency and productivity so you can work fewer hours. When you work fewer hours, you have more time to devote to hobbies, interests, and personal relationships--all of which contribute to a happier, healthier, and more balanced life.
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