If you’re self-employed, time management and self-discipline are vital. Today I’m sharing my best tips for finding more time by cutting back on reactive work and focusing on what matters most.
Find the time you need by eliminating distractions
If your schedule is light on true work hours, you have to guard your time. Cut distractions that make you lose focus. Do you ever find that the day is ending and you’ve barely put a dent in your to-do list? You were pulled in several directions all day. Try these popular methods of focusing on your real work:
Turn off notifications. Those little beeps, banners, and red dots can steal more time from you than you think! Multitasking is the worst way to work. I recommend turning off notifications entirely. I like to schedule a time to check in on distractions and then set a timer so that 15 minutes on Instagram doesn’t turn into 30-45 of scrolling and chatting.
Find a productive place and time to work. I do my best work by myself in my quiet office in the morning. That’s just me. Maybe you do a task with your hands and you work better with some company and some noise. Try out different places and ways to work to see which results in the most productive work.
Make a reasonable to-do list. It’s easy to feel ambitious, give yourself a crazy amount of work to do, and never feel caught up. I find that it’s best to keep your expectations low as far as how much work you can get done in a day. Put one important task on your to-do list for each day. If you finish it, bravo! You can do some of your other to-dos or call it a day.
Start with the important work. Do the most important task on your to-do list before you open your email, social media, or any other communication tool. I tracked my computer time for months, and found that communication was where most of my time was disappearing. Even if you end up putting out fires the whole rest of the day, your important work is already done. This article from Trello about “timeboxing” is a winner, and I urge you to read it.
Cultivate focus and resilience through self-discipline
Do you find yourself continuing with bad habits or having a hard time implementing good habits? Maybe you’ve become stressed or disappointed in yourself for not making the best use of that time? Or maybe you’re on the verge of burnout? Welcome to the club!
As an entrepreneur, you might not have set work hours and no one overseeing your work, so you need to be an effective boss of yourself. Let’s talk about self-discipline and priorities and see what we can improve. Here are some things I’ve been challenging myself to do to improve my habits.
Limit smartphone use. I have turned off all non-urgent notifications, and instead check what’s been going on once a day (sometimes less). Panicky feelings of needing to check and reply faded instantly.
Have a regular bedtime. It seems like staying up a couple of hours later can only be good because now I’ve got two extra hours of work done! But I wager that I actually lose those saved two hours the next day when I’m dragging through my tasks. With enough sleep backing me up, I am able to prioritize and speed through things and just kill my to-do list sometimes.
Don’t put it down, put it away. Or, “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” I can work and produce and create much better when I’m not in a house that looks like a tornado hit it. I use my “little bit better” strategy when I walk through rooms and don’t have time to really clean.
Prioritize content consumed. When I have spare time, I try to do things that make me feel good. Rather than tootling around on the internet, I have been reminding myself to look at the big stack of books by my bed. Blogs are great and all, but they’re no comparison to Margaret Atwood! It’s nice to read something that has been committed to print and run by an editor. I’m trying to go for quality instead of ease of use.
Make time to create. Similarly, I feel better about my time spent when I have created something. We all have the same amount of hours in a day, and it’s just a matter of prioritizing. You can’t do everything, but you can certainly pick one thing you’d like to accomplish each day, rather than letting other things draw you in and take up all of your time.
Set aside time to work, and be done when I’m done. I find that I work better with a deadline, and knowing my kids will be beating down my door every day at 5:00 helps me come up with a plan for each day and get what needs to be done finished, so I can turn the computer off and forget about it until the next day.
Get outside and exercise. This one’s huge! I never used to exercise when I was young, but it turns out that as you start nearing middle age, your relationship with your body becomes reciprocal. I started a jogging habit when my youngest was little, and making sure I get out of breath and sweaty at least a few times a week improves my mood and my motivation to work.
Don’t forget to play! One perk of running my own business is that I can create a schedule that prioritizes our personal lives. Here at Aeolidia, we have embraced a 4-day work week, which allows our team to catch up on home tasks while still leaving time to rest, recharge, and take some time for fun.
That’s it – pretty simple, but any day that I follow these steps tends to be a great one. Even though the steps needed for time management and self-discipline are so straightforward, I slip out of them all the time. Especially when a task is daunting, it’s tempting to go back to your inbox where you’re needed and you can easily solve problems. Or to Instagram, where you’re getting supportive messages and hearts all day.
Be wary of these internet sirens! Block your ears and do what will get you to where you want to be instead. What if you could get your business to where you could take a two-week vacation, just by cutting down on Instagram or reactive work? That’s a no-brainer, right? Keep your end goal in sight and take your work day as seriously as you can.
Here’s your homework assignment
- Check to see what notifications and reminders are set on your phone or computer, and turn off any that aren’t life or death.
- Evaluate your current workspace to see if you can make it distraction-free and conducive to serious work.
- Plan your to-dos for the next week, keeping expectations low.
- Adjust your schedule so that you timebox your important work before opening up the communication floodgates.
Ready, set go! Then, when you’ve accomplished this, let’s celebrate and support each other in the comments below!
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