Updated: Jan 18, 2019
Work smarter, not harder. It's might be a cliche, but it's also true.
Everyone has their own little tips and tricks to be more productive. In our house, we just call this getting your sh*t together. Our top things are setting goals, working in time blocks, using a kanban board and having the right workspace. What are yours?
Setting short, medium and long term goals
Don't have dreams, have goals. Starting a new business can feel never-ending at times. Having a mix of short, medium and long term goals for your business will help you make real progress while not losing sight of where you want to be. For the first few months of starting Ignitzee, we had lots of good intentions. We built a few things, talked to a lot of people but didn't really feel like we were progressing. It wasn't until we sat down and did our business plan on a page that we got traction. It was a great reminder that we need to use our own tools more often, like the Goal Setter Tool.
Most of us can only think in one planning horizon at a time. Some of us are focused on the here-and-now. For others, it's all about the big picture. Knowing which way you naturally think will help you focus on the goals that you might otherwise miss. My recent reflection was that I was really focused in the one month and three month space, but not so much in the one-day and one-week space. Getting better at how I approach each day has seen so many big picture things come to life.
Working in time blocks
Many of us are epic procrastinators, even if we don't admit to it. Knowing how to tackle procrastination is important when you get to the 'business' side of launching your business - things like finances, business structures and writing plans are tempting to avoid. I've found that working in blocks of time has helped with my motivation, physical pain and intention. I started breaking my time into blocks while doing my MBA to overcome my need to do anything, including housework, to avoid studying. Turns out that it is called the 'Pomodoro Technique'. The simplified 'Erin Technique' involves working in 50 min blocks with a 10 minute break.
Getting the motivation to work on your business can be difficult at times. Sidehustlin' often means working on your business before your 'other' work day begins, after your 'other' work day ends or when you'd prefer to be outside at the beach/hiking/camping/whatever the cool kids are doing these days #mymumsaysimcool. Knowing that you have a break coming gives you energy to get started. Once you 'show up', the rest is smooth sailing.
Your body will also thank you #imsexyandiknowit. It has been well established that the human body doesn't like being in the same place for too long (whether that be sitting or standing). I've been known to use my 10 min rest blocks to do yoga. I also would like to think I use it doing the laundry, meal preparation, taking out the recycling and teaching the dogs new tricks. Sadly, most of the time it's used for social media and watching Netflix stand-up shows.
I've also found that working in blocks of time helps me to work with greater intention #livingwithintention. With each block, I focus on what I want to achieve. Nothing like a 'timebox' to set your a** on fire? I've found a 50 min block works well for the many hats of a small business owner - writing a blog post, testing one of our online tools, writing copy or building a specific web page. Fun fact: This method has resulted in the creation of 'Pavlov' dogs #businesschihuahuas. They hear my alarm go off at the end of a break and run back into our home office to get prime position on the dog beds close to my desk.
Using a kanban board
As a wannabe small business owner, there's always much more to do than time available. Kanban is about simplicity. Translated from Japanese, it means visual signal. Kanban was made famous as part of lean manufacturing in Toyoto in the 1950s. It has since become an integral part of agile working in the modern age. Each 'To Do' is written on a card and 'pulled' through from backlog to doing to done. Its value is that you can quickly see that you are being unrealistic about what you can achieve. And don't get me started on my dislike of gantt charts...
Everyone has a slightly different approach to applying the technique, tailored to how they work. My approach doesn't fit with the 'traditional' ways of using kanban as you would in software development. I keep the following lists of cards - product roadmap (long term ideas), backlog (should do in next three months), next sprint (next week) this sprint (this week), doing (in progress - this includes things I'm waiting on others for), done (100% complete) and blog ideas.
My interpretation of kanban includes:
Focusing on what I need to do each day and week - I break all of the tasks into 'sprints', colour coded by the type of activity to make sure that I'm getting the right mix of product development to marketing to customer development activities. I only focus on one week at a time.
Stopping distractions - when I'm working and have a great idea, I add it to my backlog rather than going down the 'rabbit hole' away from what I'm supposed to be doing.
Things that take longer than planned - if I start on something and find I'm spinning my wheels, I will add it as another task.
Interruptions - as emails and phone calls come through during the week, I add anything that can't be dealt with immediately as a task.
Celebrating putting things into my 'done' list - it's a great way to keep track of everything that you have achieved. It also helps identify anything that is stopped at '90%' that you need to remove roadblocks from.
Keeping ideas for blog posts all in the same place - I keep these in a separate list so that they don't get lost. This isn't what Kanban is traditionally designed for...
Create a 'work place' mindset
While the idea for Ignitzee started at our dinner table, it wasn't long before I realised that it isn't a good place to actually be productive. Sadly, this has meant turning what was my yoga room into a dedicated home office #firstworldproblems. I found that once I was working a solid 10+ hours a day in the same place, it needed more than burning some sage to give it good vibes anyway...
Extensive trial and error on my end has discovered I work best when I:
Get dressed for bizness - stretchy yoga pants make you lose sight of the fact that you don't fit into any of your suits (true story) after too many trips to the fridge during the day. For me, it helps me create a mental separation between 'working' Erin and 'social' Erin.
Get your own laptop - having access to your day job, especially Skype for Business, is too tempting. If you can't invest in a separate laptop straight away, see if you can create a separate logon. Keep in mind that legally your employer is entitled to any intellectual property created on their equipment.
Get comfortable - if your business is largely computer like ours, you'll want a decent chair, have decent lighting, monitors at the right height and a decent desk.
Make plans to leave the house - coffee catch ups with other small business owners and inspiring people is good to keep you energised and remember that you need to be a social creature.
How do you stay focused and make the most of your time?