The real reason you’re getting nothing done.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you’ve been super busy all week but when it gets to Friday, you don’t seem to have accomplished anything?

It’s easy to blame it on a lack of time but for the vast majority of us, we’re simply not using the time we already have available in the most productive way.

Being busy doesn’t always mean that there is no more time available. After all it’s perfectly possible to be both extremely busy AND extremely unproductive.

As solo business owners we can’t do absolutely everything we’d like, so we need to decide on the best use of our time at any given moment.

And it’s usually the case that what seems most urgent is not always what is most important, or what is most connected to sales and profits.

Most of us don’t have an assistant to screen our calls and respond to our emails. We don’t have a boss breathing down our neck, setting us deadlines and measuring our results. We don’t have other departments to which we can delegate certain tasks.

Everything either gets done by us, or it doesn’t get done at all.

So, this working environment is completely different to any other working environment that we might have encountered in any other job we might have done previously, or at school or university.

In this working environment the choice of what to spend our time on is limitless, but so is the potential for distraction and the temptation to react to what happens, rather than determine what happens.

WHAT WORKED FOR US THERE WON’T WORK FOR US HERE.

We need new strategies, and new skills in order to be successful. The good news is that we can plan our days to suit our other life commitments and our own personal working style. Most people don’t have that freedom available to them.

But, if we don’t plan our days at all, we will likely struggle to get anything done.

Why is that?

It’s because SOMETHING will always show up to distract us or demand our attention. Whether it is phone calls, emails, phone notifications, other people, or even your own thoughts, something will pop up and pull your focus away from what you were doing.

Unless you have already set a priority for what you are going to do in this chunk of available time, you will find that somebody or something else will set that priority for you.

Working proactively and working reactively.

In general, in order to accomplish more in our days, we want to structure our environment, our time and our schedule so that we spend more time working proactively and less time working reactively.

When we are working proactively, we are working on something that we have chosen to work on in this moment.

It is something that we have decided is important to us in one way or another. It is something that may help to grow our business. It is something that matters to us.

When we are working reactively, we are responding to something that comes from outside of our plans.

Maybe you get an email from a customer asking a question about your products and you immediately stop what you’re doing to reply and help them. Maybe your phone rings and you pick it up and spend 10 minutes talking to someone trying to sell you advertising space in a trade show catalogue. Maybe you get a text from your partner asking you if you could just pop to the post office and post a letter for them. Maybe you absentmindedly click on a Facebook training about Pinterest and spend 10 minutes watching half of a video before feeling guilty and switching it off.

In each case, suddenly you’re doing something that you weren’t planning on doing in that moment. You are reacting to something that has come up, rather than deciding for yourself what it is that you want to be spending your time on.

The four most common triggers of reactive behaviour.

If we’re going to reduce the amount of time we spend working reactively, then we need to understand the particular triggers that can shift us from working on something we choose to working on something else.

For most people, the four most common triggers are:

1. Email/Internet Browsing.
2. Phone Calls
3. Other People
4. Your own thoughts

We can deal with the first three by setting solid boundaries around our work. Perhaps you decide to only check email once or twice a day at a set time of day. Perhaps you switch your phone to voicemail and respond to messages once a day.

Being less contactable during work time can also help with interruptions from other people, as can being clear that you are not able to run errands for family members during this time.

This can be a difficult conversation but it’s important to remember that by saying yes to these requests, you are effectively saying no to your business and therefore saying no to your income.

So, we have reduced or perhaps even eliminated emails, phone calls and other people as a source of distraction, but what can we do about our own thoughts or our difficulties in remaining focused?

Although we can’t switch off our thoughts or escape them by shutting the door, if we can analyse what triggers our distracting thoughts we can work on solutions to them.

Environment

Although we certainly take our thoughts with us when we move to a different room, environment often plays a large part in how well we’re able to focus. Heading to our own work room and closing the door signifies an intention to get to work, much more so than sitting on the same couch on which you watch tv and just opening your laptop.

And it’s not news to anyone that a quiet environment with good natural light is conducive to greater levels of concentration and alertness.

Fixed Timeframe for Work

Set working hours and a fixed schedule within the working day can really help us to be more productive during working hours, and stop work from bleeding into time set aside for family and relaxation.

Creating our own timetable for work, much like our old school timetables, can really help us to work in more proactive ways.

We can do this by starting to schedule out our time into blocks of focused work and creating habits and routines around this new schedule.

The pomodoro technique is a popular method of breaking time into chunks like this.

These are the steps of the technique:
1. Decide on the task to be done
2. Set a timer for 25 minutes
3. Work on the task with no distractions until the timer rings
4. Take a short break (usually 5 minutes)
5. Set the timer for another 25 minutes.
6. After four 25 minute blocks, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes

You might need to adapt the technique to your own working style.

For me personally, 25 minutes isn’t enough time for me to get into something, so I prefer to work in 50 minute blocks, with a 10-20 minute break after each.

Decide what you’re going to work on before you start.

The important thing to remember is that you MUST decide on what you’re going to do before you start. Without that intention, you WILL end up on social media or refreshing your inbox.

Think before you begin and start with your most important tasks, not the easiest ones. That way, even if you don’t get everything done, you’ve made progress on the important things.

Work also has a habit of expanding to fit the time available so make sure you set yourself a fixed timeframe.

Work on one thing at a time.

This is where our timetable differs from the way we did things at school.

At school there is time for a little bit of everything and, by the end of the year, we have covered enough to complete our assessments.

This is not ideal for business.

We don’t want to have to wait so long to see the benefits of our work and working in this way makes us more likely to end up without completing anything.

Instead, as much as possible we want to complete each project before moving on to another.

If you have 4 projects to complete, each project takes 5 blocks of time, and you can complete 3 blocks of work in a week on these projects, you might end up working like this:

Week OneProject AProject BProject C
Week TwoProject DProject AProject B
Week ThreeProject CProject DProject A
Week FourProject BProject CProject D
Week FiveProject AProject BProject C
Week SixProject DProject A (Complete)Project B (Complete)
Week SevenProject C (Complete)Project D (Complete)
But consider how things might be different if you worked like this:
Week OneProject AProject AProject A
Week TwoProject AProject A (Complete)Project B
Week ThreeProject BProject BProject B
Week FourProject B (Complete)Project CProject C
Week FiveProject CProject CProject C (Complete)
Week SixProject DProject DProject D
Week SevenProject DProject D (Complete)

While, in the first example, it takes six weeks before a single project is completed, in the second example, you have a project complete and potentially earning money for you by week two, another completed in Week Four and another in Week Five.

Three projects completed and benefiting your business before the first example has a single one.

And this doesn’t even account for the time lost when you have to switch your attention from one project to another.

I’m sure you know that when you switch from making to doing administrative tasks, your brain takes a little while to adjust and, for a while it feels a bit awkward. That is time wasted, and it’s also time when you’re most likely to be tempted by the internet, the kettle or the sofa.

Do the same things at the same time each week.

Doing the same tasks at the same time each week starts to create a habit that turns “I really dread writing my weekly blog post” into “I write my weekly blog post on Thursday afternoon.”

Instead of being something optional, that you can blow off, it is simply what you do on a Thursday afternoon.

Instead of whining about why you don’t want to do it, justifying why it’s okay not to do it this one time and hoping next week will be better, you can just get on with it because it is simply what you do on a Thursday afternoon.

Sample Work Day Schedule

Here’s a sample schedule that you can use in your work day.

Make adjustments as you need to in order to accommodate your own responsibilities and working hours.

7amWake Up
7:30am-8:15amExercise
8:15am-9amShower, Dress, Breakfast
9am-9:30amPost Office Run
9:30am-10:20amFocused Work
10:20am-10:40amBreak
10:40am-11:30amFocused Work
11:30am-11:50amBreak
11:50am-12:40pmFocused Work
12:40pm-1:30pmSocial Media & Emails
1:30pm-2:30pmLunch
2:30pm-3:20pmFocused Work
3:20pm-3:40pmBreak
3:40pm-4:30pmFocused Work
4:30pm-4:50pmBreak
4:50pm-6pmPackage Orders for Delivery
6pm-6:30pmClear Inbox, Tidy Desk & Plan for Tomorrow

HELLO!

I'm Nicola and I founded the Maker's Business Toolkit to help all Artists & Makers to build profitable businesses.

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