I've been self-employed for over 4 years and for the bulk of those years, I've been struggling with trying to figure out how to "manage" my time. Lose the boss and other people's expectations, throw in that you're now trying to live and work in the same space and it can be really hard!
Some days, it's hard to get stuff done. Other days, it's hard to pull yourself away from work and remember to eat. Some days, you wake up bursting with energy! Others, you wish you could call in sick and lay on the couch watching Netflix instant shows all day...
It's an ebb and flow. Everyday is different, yet we expect ourselves to adhere to these crazy schedules and plans and deadlines no matter how we're feeling. And then we get mad at ourselves, and start to doubt ourselves, when we can't seem to keep up. And we overwork ourselves to the point where we desperately need a break.
Uh-uh. Not a good way to run your own business.
Finally this year, I got tired of it. Tired of beating myself up over every unanswered email. Tired of being a mean boss to myself. Tired of trying out every productivity method in the book just to be able to get more work done. What about getting some life done?
I was tired of feeling like I didn't have any control over my own time, or room to have any fun. I mean, isn't that why we work for ourselves in the first place? To be able to choose how we spend our time?
So now, I choose to lose the rigidity of my schedule, and my own expectations, and allow more freedom in my days.
I've finally chosen to structure my worklife in a way that feels more intuitive and free and fun! And it has the added benefit of helping to make me a whole lot more productive too! Here's how I was able to make some changes in my schedule for the better:
Track your time
I tracked my time from wake up to bedtime everyday for a week- everything I did during the day, from pitching to emailing to making coffee to hugging the cat, I wrote it down, even if it was for only 5 minutes.
This sounds about as thrilling as a root canal, I realize. And tho it seems tedious as you're doing it, it can be one of the most eye-opening exercises you'll ever do. By the end of the week, you'll have a true sense of where your time goes each day, and that knowledge is invaluable.
You'll get to see how much actual focused/in-the-flow kind of work you get done (probably less than you thought) and how much you might be procrastinating or getting distracted during the day (probably more than you thought). You'll see how much time you're spending on high-priority tasks that actually make you money, and how much time you're spending on lesser-priority tasks, like facebook. You'll also be able to see which times of day you have the most energy to put towards work, and which times of day you feel a little slumpy and unmotivated.
Plan around your energy levels
I know that I have the most energy in the morning, followed by a bigtime afternoon slump where I seem to get nothing done, and then I have another surge of energy later afternoon into the evening.
Only after tracking my time did I realize that a lot of my high-energy hours were being spent on lower-priority tasks like email, twitter, web-browsing, researching, etc. And then I'd hit my afternoon slump and still have all these high-priority to-dos ahead of me for the day, and I'd lose motivation and really struggle trying to get them done and stay focused.
So now, I work around my energy levels! I try to get to work on the highest-priority stuff right in the morning when I'm feeling fresh, and then, as I feel my energy start to dwindle thru the day, that's when I'll check email, go on twitter, or start on those lesser-priority work tasks. And in the evening, I usually have energy to work on the more high-priority stuff again.
Give into the slump
When my afternoon slump hits, I take a BIG break. It's like, the Cadillac of breaks- long, luxurious and totally un-plugged. I go outside with the dog, make myself lunch, eat while watching a favorite show or flipping thru a magazine. I get off the computer for a couple hours, remove myself from work-brain completely.
I know that when I used to try to work during that slump, or eat and work at the same time, I'd just end up doing a whole lot of time-wasting nothing and get stuck in that low-energy mode. So now, I give into the slump and use each afternoon to take a bona fide break, relax and re-focus.
Afterward, I feel so much more motivated and ready to get back to work on those high-priority tasks. I've found that I actually get way more important stuff done in the afternoons after taking a 2 hour break, than I used to not taking a break at all. Funny how that works...
Add a buffer day or two
For me, Monday mornings suck for getting any real work done, as do Friday afternoons. I have an "I wanna go play!" mentality coming out of, or heading into the weekend. So instead of fighting that urge, trying to force myself to work but not getting much done- now I use Monday and Friday as sort of buffer days to ease into and out of the week.
On Mondays, I don't even expect myself to work on those high-priority, money makin' tasks. Instead, I use that day to get back into my morning routinue, I prepare for the week, check in with clients, catch up on emails, etc. If I want to take a walk or do dishes or decide to re-arrange the art on my walls, I can do it without feeling guilty because I've given myself that free time to spend doing whatever I need to do to get ready for the week ahead.
On Fridays, I will use the mornings for high-priority stuff, but I try to make sure the afternoons are easy breezy- that's when I meet with friends, go run errands, paint, take pictures, write, relax.
Tuesday-Thursday are my super focused, hard-workin days. I try not to schedule in any other obligations so that I know I'll be able to really focus and get down to business. I get so much accomplished on those days now, more than I used to in an entire week! And if things come up and I don't get as much done as I'd like, I can use those buffer days to find more time.
I think true "time management", and figuring out how to be more productive, is really about discovering how your energy flows and using that to guide you in how to best use your time. You don't need to be the big mean boss-lady to yourself to stay in check- if you feel like you need a break, take one. If you feel excited to work, get the hardest stuff out of the way first while you have the energy. Be easier on yourself.
Make your schedule work for you, rather than working to keep up with your schedule.
Do you ever get down on yourself for not being "productive" enough? Do you notice your energy levels during the day and how they affect your work? Do you take a break on even the busiest days to allow yourself to re-focus?