When I started my own business one of the most challenging obstacles I had to overcome was sticking to a daily schedule. It’s not like we have to adhere to the traditional nine to five workday. Some days I would arrive at seven am, while other days I would come in later and stay well into the evening.
This flexibility is liberating, yet stressful. There are days when you feel you’ve accomplished more than planned. But, there are also days when you’re aimlessly running around. This might feel productive but you were just busily accomplishing zilch. Eventually, I realized that I needed more structure to be more productive. Here nine ways that I achieved that goal.
1. Create your own definition of work-life balance
“Take care of yourself: When you don’t sleep, eat crap, don’t exercise, and are living off adrenaline for too long, your performance suffers. Your decisions suffer. Your company suffers. Love those close to you: Failure of your company is not a failure in life. Failure in your relationship is.” ? Ev Williams, co-founder of Medium and Twitter
There’s a misconception that entrepreneurs only spend their time working. While we may frequently have our business on our minds, successful and productive entrepreneurs know the importance of work-life balance.
Of course, we all have our very own definitions of work-life balance. If you have a family, this could mean being home every night to eat dinner with them. Your balance may include going on a family adventure each weekend. If you’re single, your work-life balance could be catching up with friends on a Friday night and spending your free time learning a new skill.
After you’ve determined what work-life balance means to you, look for ways to make it possible. For example, you could work at no longer being a perfectionist, or maybe you'll stop allowing people to contact you 24/7. You may also decide to delegate and outsource less essential tasks.
However, one of the most useful things you can do for a proper balance is to begin to add personal events to your Google Calendar. If you want to catch a concert with your friends, add it to your calendar. Want to attend your kid’s baseball game? Schedule it as an event.
This "adding all things, items and events to your calendar," may sound simple -- and it is -- once you "get it." By adding these "events" to your calendar, you’re creating an appointment just like you would with a client, doctor, or attorney. You wouldn't break those appointments, right? If it’s important enough to be in your schedule -- then it’s important enough for you to stay committed to the event.
2. Devise a weekly schedule
We’re juggling so many responsibilities that it’s necessary for us to plan out our entire week in advance. It’s not like we work exactly from nine to five -- and do the same tasks day-in-and-out. One day we may have meetings. The other days were developing our product or service. The next day we’re recruiting or marketing our business.
In short, we need to devote a specific day to certain tasks to stay focused and organized. Assigning and grouping like activities is a technique that Jack Dorsey does to remain productive while running two businesses.
3. Establish a morning routine
If entrepreneurs share one common scheduling theme, it might be that they all have a morning routine. Regardless if you wake-up at four am or 10 am, entrepreneurs generally kick-off their day by doing the same thing.
The successful entrepreneur creates a routine which could be waking-up, slamming down a glass of water, exercising, eating breakfast, and reading. Having a morning routine helps you start the day on the right track and keeps you grounded and consistent.
4. Build your own maker’s schedule, manager's schedule
Building your own schedule is an idea influenced by Paul Graham where entrepreneurs create two different schedules (or plans) for each day:
- A maker’s schedule that will either operate on a half-day or full-day spent on tasks like problem-solving or building a product.
- A manager’s schedule is where you set aside hour blocks of time for tasks like marketing, sales, and meetings.
For example, your schedule could look something like this:
- 6 am to 8 am. This time slot would be “maker time” devoted to high priority or high energy tasks. I enjoy this period in the am since I have the most focus in the morning. Also, there aren’t many distractions like email, phone calls, or other people since “business hours” haven’t yet started.
- 9 am to 10 am. This morning hour is “manager time” where I check emails and make phone calls.
- 10 am to noon. Another block of “maker time.”
- 1 pm to 3 pm. After lunch, this is another block of “maker time.”
- 3 pm to 4 pm. “Manager time” spent on meeting with my team or clients, as well as rechecking messages.
- 4 pm to 5 pm. I sometimes get in an afternoon slump -- so I save this time for creative tasks like writing blog posts, organizing my workspace and planning for tomorrow.
You don’t have to follow this exact schedule. It’s a very rough blueprint on how you could shape your day. The idea here is that because entrepreneurs are often both makers and managers, you need to create a schedule that leaves enough time to account for both.
If you prefer, you could create a calendar where Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are only maker schedules. Tuesdays and Thursdays, however -- could be reserved for your manager’s schedule.
5. Follow the 52-17 rule
Entrepreneurs believe that they’re like the Energizer Bunny and keep going and going. In reality, we aren’t machines. We need frequent breaks to perform at peak capacity. According to the productivity app Desktime, the most productive people work for 52 minutes and then break for 17 minutes.
Does that mean that everyone needs to follow this rule? Not necessarily. Some people can remain focused for an hour, while others need to catch their breath every 30 minutes or so. The point is to add short breaks into your calendar app so that you can avoid burnout.
6. Batch your actions
Batching activities and action is a pretty straightforward practice that can significantly improve your focus and productivity, while also reducing the amount of stress in your life.
Batching is simply grouping similar tasks one right after another. You have to think less -- especially if you have planned for working in this way.
For example, you could schedule all of your meetings on a Tuesday so that they aren’t pulling you away from important work. You could schedule all of your phone calls and emails at specific times throughout the day. And, if you had to run errands, then why not do all of your chores while you’re already out and about?
7. Manage interruptions
Unexpected tasks, requests, and interruptions are just a part of the daily life of an entrepreneur. What separates successful entrepreneurs from everyone else is their ability to manage these distractions before they seize their schedule.
There are several ways that you can keep interruptions at bay. Start with the basics, such as turning off your phone or closing the office door when you don’t want to be interrupted. You should also keep an eye on what type of interruptions you typically have.
The category sample of your interruptions should give you an idea if you need to include a new space in your schedule. The type of disruption could give you a better idea of who, what, when, where, how, and why -- you're distracted. Now you can make a plan for the future.
For example, if your startup founder or the neighbor from the building across the street stops by your office every day after they eat lunch -- then you could leave this block of time open so that they won’t distract you from work.
It is beneficial to pencil in “invitation” times or leave white spaces in your calendar blocked-out as meetings. Plan and schedule any open-door policies so that they don't get in the way of your work.
Begin to share your calendar with your employees, friends and your family. Instead of asking if you have a minute, they can view your calendar and see when you’re either available or unavailable. If you don't have time -- block out a meeting.
8. Plan tomorrow, today
I typically spend the last hour of my day organizing my workspace for tomorrow, glancing over my to-do-lists (which I did on Sunday night) and seeing what meetings or appointments are scheduled so I'm prepared. After dinner and spending quality time with my family, I lay out my clothes and prep my meals for the next day.
That may sound a bit much. However, as the day goes on, our ability to make smart decisions decreases. If you’re able to automate and eliminate as many decisions as possible for the morning, then you’ll have a reserve or mental muscle and willpower for the entire day.
Reserving the mental muscle power and willpower is why entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wore the same outfits. Just that one decision limited the number of unimportant decisions that had to make.
9. Disengage at night
As any entrepreneur will inform you, disengaging at night may be the most challenging part of running a business. I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I had when launching my first startup. How could I possibly sleep when I had a million things to do?
Problems needed to be solved and employees that had to have work delegated to them. And, meetings with clients had to be scheduled.
Over time, I learned that I needed to get away from my business. It just wasn’t healthy to worry about my startup 24/7/365. And, studies back this up.
Our brains need time off to recover to develop and grow. Unplugging also can also increase happiness, reduce stress, and strengthen our real-life relationships. And, it ensures that we get plenty of sleep.
While there isn’t an exact time, try to spend at least an hour before going to bed disengaging from work. Silence your notifications so that you aren’t tempted to check them. Do not answer work-related texts or phone calls. Instead, read, meditate, or do whatever activities will help you relax.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.