by Pamela Lund | Featured Contributor
With every passing year, life gets busier and more hectic. The list of demands on your time keeps getting longer and being an entrepreneur intensifies the imbalance between what you need to do and how much time you have to do it. If you’re working more than ever, feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, but not making enough progress towards your goals these five tips will get you back on track.
Have a Schedule
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to let your work day stretch from checking email before you get out of bed in the morning to sending one last Slack message before your head hits the pillow at night. The freedom that comes with being your own boss often turns into working all the time, especially if you have a home office that makes separating home and work difficult. This leads to burnout, constant low-grade stress, and getting less done than you would if you imposed limits on the hours you’ll work.
You don’t have to keep a traditional work day, you just need to have boundaries so you can focus on work when you need to and can enjoy downtime when you want to.
If you check your email/Slack/Trello/etc during your downtime you won’t be able to completely relax and recharge which means you won’t be as effective when you’re actually working which will lead to working longer hours and even less time off. It’s a vicious cycle but one that’s easy to halt by implementing a schedule and boundaries so you can give yourself permission to log off. Remember, downtime is necessary for creative thought and innovative ideas!
Have a Plan
Beyond having a schedule, you need to have a plan for each day so you know what to focus on and what to let go. Without a plan, you’ll spend your day bouncing from task to task and email to email feeling productive but not making true progress on your priorities. With a plan, you’ll know what to
To make a plan for your day, start with your current goal and reverse engineer what needs to be done to get there. To avoid getting overwhelmed by a big project, break it into manageable chunks and tackle one at a time. Set an achievable, realistic goal for your day and make that your primary focus. You’ll still have to check email, answer the phone, and put out fires but knowing what your primary focus is for the day will make it easier to stay on task. Knowing what you need to do to win today will reduce the urge to procrastinate and keep you accountable to yourself.
Have a whiteboard, chalkboard, or notepad in view at all times and write your primary focus for the day on it to keep your eye on the prize.
Start Your Morning Off Right
Even if you have a schedule and a plan, your day can easily get hijacked by other people’s priorities. If you check your email first thing in the morning you’ll likely spend the first half of your day responding to emails and working on tasks from the emails even if they are lower in priority than what you planned to work on. When you do this you’re letting other people’s priorities take precedence over yours. Even if you don’t abandon your priority to work on something from your email, seeing something stressful can affect your mindset and knowing you have outstanding tasks waiting for you can weigh on your mind making you less productive.
Try delaying checking your email until you’ve accomplished your priority task for the day. If you are worried about missing time-sensitive or urgent emails you can hire an inexpensive virtual assistant to review your emails and alert you to anything that can’t wait.
The busier you are the more organized you need to be to reduce stress and anxiety, prevent mistakes, and be as efficient as possible. You may have a solid schedule and plan for your day but when things get hectic if you aren’t organized you’ll find yourself scrambling to find things you need or wasting mental energy trying to remember what needs to get done.
Keep Your Work Area Clean and Organized
If you are surrounded by a mess you will not be able to perform optimally. There will be a slight but not inconsequential drain on your mental capacity as part of your brain is distracted by that stack of receipts you haven’t logged yet, the plant you haven’t watered in weeks, and that sticky spot your elbow keeps touching. It will be harder to get into the flow you need to produce your best work.
Have Everything You Need Ready Before You Start
If you cook you know that it’s faster and easier to gather all of the ingredients and mise en place before you start actually cooking. If you have to dig around in your cabinets 10 times throughout the cooking process it takes much longer and you might end up burning something while you’re distracted. The same holds true for any task including work projects. When you’re ready to work on a task make sure you have everything you need to complete it so you don’t have to stop in the middle, increasing the chances that you’ll get distracted and won’t come back to finish.
Have a System to Handle Disruptions
Even if you’ve set up the perfect conditions to focus on your priority task, you’ll be interrupted by others and by your own thoughts. Keep a notepad (paper or digital) handy to jot down anything that comes up so you can clear it out of your consciousness and handle it later.
Don’t Let Your Self-care Suffer
You need to feel your best to do your best so when you are busy, self-care is more important than ever. But self-care doesn’t mean a Netflix binge with a bottle of wine, it means doing things that optimize your physical and mental health which gets hard when you’re in a time crunch. Make self-care easy to maintain by keeping healthy but easy foods on hand, making sleep a priority, and incorporating movement in your day by stretching, doing yoga, or walking for 5-10 minutes every hour.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Finally, understand that you’re not going to kill it every day even if you do everything right. Everything in life cycles including our energy levels and our ability to focus. Some days you’ll be “on” and will do all the things. Some days you’ll be “off” and will be lucky if you get anything done. On those off days, don’t spend the day forcing focus that won’t come. Instead, redirect your energy towards reading, education, or something creative to give yourself a productive break so you can come back strong tomorrow.