Are you looking at your to-do list right now… and your calendar… and wondering how in the world you are going to get everything done by the end of the year?
I know I am. And if you’re like me, you’re not just thinking through your personal to-dos like holiday cards and parties. You’re also trying to juggle your business responsibilities, especially if you’re a small business owner, solopreneur, or a side-hustler — because when you’re working for yourself in some capacity, the responsibility to hit deadlines and deliver is all on you. You’ve got to get it done, no matter what it takes, because there is no one else to step in to do it for you.
Well, I can certainly relate to that feeling. And while I don’t usually mind the pressure — after all, that’s why I thrive as a solopreneur — I also know we need to make our lives manageable, especially during the added pressure and expectations of the holiday season. So, with that in mind, I offer you 4 tips to help you stay productive between now and January 1.
Make a plan. This doesn’t have to be a detailed, perfect, unbreakable plan. In fact, it’s probably best if you maintain a roughed out plan, maybe in pencil so you can erase and readjust without too much pain. The key is to be realistic about how long it’s going to take you to do something, factor that into your planning, and do your best.
Example: You see that photo of my calendar for today? It’s got a rough plan with not much on it right now, except for some deadlines and hard plans. The To-Do list to the left is a list of things I need to get done in general. I’ll pull some items off that list to do today — probably a few client articles, and some personal errands over a long lunch.
Start earlier than you need to. Many of us have the tendency to procrastinate. It’s an even greater temptation when you’re your own boss, because no one can stop you from leaving your desk to go do laundry or take an hour to read a book. If you start projects earlier than you need to, you’ll be ahead of the game, which is key to managing a busy schedule. It’s actually how you free up time for yourself, to be honest.
You can start earlier in several ways — by starting your work day a little earlier, spending a little less down time at lunch, working a little later, or working on the project a day or two earlier than you think you need to. When you fail to start early enough, you can end up miserable.
Example: Failing to plan enough time for things can get you in the situation of having to do what I did this past weekend. I worked super late Friday night to meet a deadline I would have met easier if I’d started working on the project just one day earlier. And I worked over the weekend on articles I could also have finished earlier in the week. I was exhausted. I got sick. Procrastinating wasn’t worth the pain.
Be prepared for the crazy to happen.
Even if you’re a good planner, disciplined, careful, you’ll still face something absolutely nuts at times that throws off your schedule. Small business owners, solopreneurs, and freelancers are especially vulnerable to this kind of disruption, so you should pad your schedule to account for it.
Example: I have three indoor cats that normally get along pretty calmly. And on nice days, I open the glass sliding door to expose the screen door, giving them and me some fresh air while I work. And this also normally works great.
Except for the day last week when a strange cat came onto the back deck, violating cat rules of territory. Because my cats couldn’t get outside to chase the stranger away, they attacked each other instead, and I suddenly had the mother of all cat fights skidding across the floor.
Three hours later, I had isolated the cats so they could calm down, bought some Feliway and calming cat treats, tried to soothe them individually…and missed both the rest time I’d planned for that afternoon, as well as the two hours of client reading I’d planned.
STUFF LIKE THIS HAPPENS when you work for yourself. You better expect it to happen, when you least expect it, of course. You’ll laugh about it later, probably, but when it happens, you just have to roll with the punches.
Spend time on yourself.
It is all too easy to get lost in the to-do list and deadlines, especially when the holidays are approaching and you have added things to care for — such as gift buying, visitors to make room for, relatives coming for dinner, and more. Don’t neglect caring for yourself as well. Getting enough sleep, taking a break from work to walk or stretch or hit the gym, journaling, reading a good book, having a leisurely lunch with a friend — activities like these recharge your battery and give you more energy and creativity, which you can take back to your work or to-do list. These two things — hard work and rest time — go hand in hand in ramping up your productivity. You need to do both. Don’t neglect one for the other.
Example: After my overly full weekend, I gave myself permission to rest on Monday. Of course, I wasn’t feeling well either, so that also fed into my decision. But I gave myself permission to not feel well, and thus not be as productive as I normally hope to be. I read a lot, I napped, I sipped tea, and I didn’t expect to get any client work done. It was glorious, and much needed.
Do you have any favorite tips and tricks for staying productive during the holidays, or any other time of the year? Please share in the comments, so I can learn from you.
And don’t forget to follow this blog for more tips on productivity and other ways to be successful as a small business owner or solopreneur, or contact me anytime you want some help with writing, editing, or coaching to help you boost your business success.
“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”– Rumi
I have been thinking about this concept: that it is good to know and to pursue what we truly love. As a writer, I love writing because it is beauty in the making, taking shape as I create it. I enjoy editing because it refines what is rough and turns it into a pleasing form. I even enjoy proofreading, because it corrects tiny wrongs and allows you to see what is right more clearly.
But this quote from Rumi is about more than just writing. What are the things we really love? As we identify these things, we are naming who I\we truly are as people. We are delving into the depths of self and drawing on what is there to make our whole life an act of positive creation.
This is not an easy pursuit. Delving into the self can be scary. We may not always be thrilled with what we see. But sometimes, we can be surprised by glory too. Only by following the pull of what we really love, no matter the strange paths it takes us on, can we be our true selves.
That’s a lesson for writers, for sure. Who we are as artists is going to end up in our art. There is no avoiding it.
But it’s also a lesson for whoever we are and whatever we do. As we take time to etch out a mental picture of what we love, what pulls on us, what paths we feel drawn toward, we can help ourselves to make choices that lead us to the goals we are aiming to accomplish. It helps us to let go of the activities that really don’t serve us, and give more time to the things that matter most to us.
The lesson: Even if you’re having a busy day or staring down a long to-do list, take a few minutes to breathe, remind yourself of your biggest goal in life — your one true thing — and choose to find a way to pursue that goal today. Even if you only do it for five minutes. It’s how you get to where you want to go.
It’s not easy keeping resolutions. Turning those goals into actual results… Well, that can be tough. But there are some things that can help.
Be specific. You’ve heard this before, because it’s true. It is much easier to aim toward something and actually take action if you’re specific about it. For writing, this might mean deciding not just to “write more,” but to write “one piece a month.” For business owners, this might mean adding one additional hour to your cold call marketing. Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, define a specific step you can take to work towards it.
Create a habit. To make your goals come to pass, you’ve got to keep with it. That means you need to keep it up past the discomfort point, until what you’re doing feels good, natural, necessary. I had to push through many weeks of not wanting to go to the gym but going anyway. Now I am uncomfortable if I don’t go to the gym. That’s how you make a habit. It’s hard work, and it takes discipline to push through the times you want to quit or procrastinate. Do the hard work. It’s worth it.
Keep a log. That could be a journal. A quick note in your phone. Whatever. But there’s something about writing things down and keeping track that helps you keep up a habit. You can do this with all sorts of tasks and goals. And no matter how small it may seem, give a little attention to that accomplishment by writing it down. It’ll make you feel successful, which is a key to helping yourself move forward. And you can pull out that log anytime you need to encourage yourself to keep going.
Be accountable. This is like keeping a log, only you get another person involved. This is particularly helpful when you have an honest, loving person who will tell you kindly when you’re getting off track. And also, choose someone who will genuinely enjoy hearing about it when you stay on track and have success. You don’t need frenemies. You need partners, coaches, buddies, mentors.
Put something on the line. It can be money. It might be a massage or pedicure (two of my favorite things). A trip to a movie you’d like to see. An ice cream cone. Just because we’re adults, it doesn’t mean a little reward is a bad thing. Indulge the kid in you with a promise that your success matters because it will get you something. Or, if you’re wired this way, plan to “lose” something if you don’t succeed. (No coffee for a week, money to charity instead of to that new laptop you want, no chocolate cake tonight, that kind of thing.)
This week’s post addresses how to keep yourself on task when you are not busy. Yes, this is a legitimate topic: Lots of us do better at accomplishing important tasks when we’re busy than when we have a lot of free time.
Many of us are closet procrastinators who struggle to achieve daily discipline. Yet it’s vital to master productivity habits, especially for those of us who are entrepreneurs, business owners, freelancers or authors. Failing to get our work done means lost clients, less books or products sold, lessened ability to conquer our goals. When we’re busy, it’s hard to get things done, that goes without saying.
But when we’re not busy, it can be even harder.
I’m serious. Perhaps it’s because we tend as Americans to live such on-the-go lives that when things slow down, we get lazy and don’t want to do anything. Perhaps we lose our drive, our sense of panic.
But the more free time I have, the more tempted I am to put off important tasks. And I’m not alone. Fellow writer Serena Saint-Marceaux shared with me her challenge of writing like this:
“I don’t have a structured schedule that keeps me from having time to write… And sometimes that seems harder to deal with, almost, because there is no demarcation of ‘Oh, now that everything is finished for the day, now I can write.’ I just have to decide, ‘Now, I’ll set aside a couple of hours, or a half hour, or a few moments, to write.'”
There’s an important truth in Serena’s statement. When we’re not busy, we may feel no urgency to make a schedule of what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it. It can be temptingly easy to say to ourselves: “I’ll do that later, because I’ll have time for it later.” If that’s how we treat the important tasks that lead to accomplishing our goals, though, it’s the kiss of death for us.
No, if we have goals we want to accomplish, then we need to schedule, or set aside, a length of time to work on those goals on a regular basis. And if that’s the only appointment we make for ourselves on a slow day, that’s fine. It’s still an appointment we need to keep…one that matters greatly to ourselves.
It’s a form of self-care for us to fit time in for the things that matter the most — whether it’s building a business, taking time for loved ones, or scheduling in a much-needed vacation. All these things are important to caring for ourselves and achieving our vision for our lives.
For writers like me, the act of writing is such a part of who we are that we aren’t really being our full selves if we don’t do it sometime. And I’m sure that’s true of you. Whatever it is that you see as a vital part of you — that’s who you are. Make time for that part of you in your daily planning.
If you have the freedom to set your own schedule (as many freelancers and entrepreneurs do), then you might want to experiment with different times for working on your goals, until you find the time that is most productive for you. But do yourself a favor and make a daily appointment with yourself to work on your key life goals, so that the day doesn’t get away from you. You’re worth it, and so are your goals.
Life may be super busy for you right now. I know it is for me — and that’s a good thing in many ways. If you’re a business owner, you’ll appreciate what I’m saying. Having more projects than is completely comfortable means your business is expanding. That’s a good problem to have. But it’s still a problem, and it needs solutions.
I’ve said it before, but time management is not my favorite thing. Don’t get me wrong. Organization is one of my happy places. But it’s a challenge to be organized and on top of things in a world where events move fast and the unexpected happens frequently. Right now, the cats have fleas, I’ve got visitors coming to town this week and next week, a good friend is dealing with a death in the family, we’re late on an important deadline at my day job, the holidays are coming… And I’m going to be speaking at Comic Con in Tulsa, as well as my Writing Well Creative Writing Workshop in November. And business at Chipper Muse Creative Service is booming.
As you can see, lots of good things are happening, mixed up with one very sad thing and one very annoying thing, and lots of annoying details to make the good things go smoothly.
The first time I tackled this topic, I was having a rough week. This time, it’s been a rough month. But as a special person in my life reminded me just this morning: All you have is right now. And right now, you have time for what you are doing right now.
Sounds very zen. But there’s truth in it. All any of us can handle is the immediate moment, and we exhaust ourselves when we worry about our to-do lists. Even on an ideal day, you can only do one thing at a time. So focus on that one thing, and get it done well. And then move on to the next thing. Remember the old saying, one day at a time? Make it one moment at a time, and you’ll be better off.
Now, if you want some additional tips on time management, I’ve got some good links for you to check out:
Over at Writing Is Hard Work, busy teacher Roger Colby is offering tips for surviving National Novel Writing Month. His first post is about time management, and he is busy enough that I’m embarrassed at my own lack of productivity. Read his Compartmentalizing post.
Nanowrimo’s website has a post on time management for college students who are writing. I’m not in college, but I like the post’s title, which is about the “preservation of sanity.” That post is here, if you’d like to remind yourself that no matter how busy you are, you don’t have a essay due on top of it. Unless, of course, you do have an essay due today, in which case I extend my sympathies.
BookBaby has a blog post on time management for writers on a deadline. And let’s face it, who isn’t on a deadline? If the deadline isn’t for your writing, it’s for something else, like fitting your writing into a certain time slot before you have to go to work, the doctor, etc.
Rebecca Bradley shares her tips for time management, including what to do with the kids (if you have them). She also recommends cutting out unnecessary TV, which of course can be extended to cutting out anything that we don’t really need to be doing and that we’re using just as time-fillers.
That’s the best I can do in the limited time I have this morning to get this post live. On the other hand, that’s pretty good information to get you started, and I came up with it in 20 minutes. Proof positive that I can, in fact, manage my time and get some writing done fast, if I set my mind to it. And you can too.
Copyright (c) 2016 by M.A. Chiappetta. All rights reserved.