When I first got into running my own business, it was because I wanted to have more flexibility in terms of where I work and how many hours I spend working. I was yearning for that freedom of working only when I wanted to and on projects I felt absolutely passionate about. These were the two opportunities I associated with being an entrepreneur. The second one did come true, as I keep engaging only in projects that challenge and interest me. But the second one did not exactly go according to the plan. Instead of working as and when I wanted to, I ended up working all the time in order to meet the demands of a challenging full-time job as well as being able to develop my business on the side. But I have learned a few valuable lessons during my journey, for which I am grateful. And, most importantly, I got better at managing my time and saying “no, thank you” to projects and people. I made my own rules and came up with a few systems which I wanted to share with you and which will, hopefully, allow you to run your business without sacrificing your personal life. Oh… and to work for only 5 hours every day.
5 hours of work… in the right time
Okay. Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. When I say 5 hours, I don’t mean to force you to squeeze in all the work which you are doing for your business into 5 hours a day. Fair enough, I do know of some entrepreneurs who are able to work for only a few hours every day (have you read The 4-hour Work Week yet?), but I am certainly not one of them. What I want to encourage you to do is to identify the most productive 5 hours of your day and arrange your routine around those hours, so that you get the most tedious tasks done first every day and immediately start feeling more fulfilled and productive. So.. here’s your first challenge for this week.
The point of the exercise is for you to take time to identify your perfect routine and help you to find out when, during the day, you should fit in your 5-hour slot. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you like to have a long breakfast and go jogging before you start working? If you work from home, do you focus best before your loved ones come back home in the evening? All of those things impact on how productive we are during the day. I get the impression that whenever we look at a day as an 8-hour working shift, we are more likely to ignore the fact that we should do those things before we start the work because they will make us more productive during the day. I think it's because deep down we feel that we won’t have time to do them before we start working anyway. But if those things really make you happy and help you become more productive when you actually get to do the work, then you should find the time to do them before you start working. Having a 5-hour work shift takes the pressure off you and allows you to do all of those things (and be more productive when you start working). You need to get a good routine in place to fuel your passions every day, so that you can be really productive during your 5-hour work shift.
5 hours of *substantial* work
Now, why did I suggest 5 hours of work only? I was recently listening to an inspiring podcast by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus known as The Minimalists. I believe this one was about finding your own passion, and one of the things that surprised me was when one of them mentioned that despite the fact that they love what they do, it still feels like a chore for 50% of the time. I was relieved to learn that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way and made my peace with the fact that there will always be some parts of my job which I really don’t enjoy doing. On the other hand, there are other parts - the more interesting tasks - which I could keep doing 24/7, and which I have a tendency to pursue at the expense of the less interesting ones on days when my motivation and energy levels are low. So the idea with the 5-hour work shifts is to get the tedious work out of your way first, and give you that sense of achievement which will recharge your batteries and will help you to start working on the tasks which you enjoy for as long as you want to. The idea here is that, since those more enjoyable tasks are something you enjoy doing anyway, you won’t need a lot of motivation and energy to complete them. But first you need to prepare an exact list of the things you love and hate doing in your business, so that you know how to structure your routine. So, here’s your challenge number two.
It might seem like a no-brainer to you, but actively reflecting on my routine and paying attention to my productivity levels for a few days in the past really gave me an understanding of how I like to work, and so I would really encourage you to give it a try.
The One Thing… for 5 hours
Another recent inspiration of mine, which I mentioned in a previous article on productivity (How to Project Manage yourself When Working from Home) is a book called The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The key message from the book is that every day you should focus on doing only one thing which brings you closer to your overall goal. So I decided to work on “one thing”... for 5 hours every day. The difficulty is that because I’m regularly engaged in several different projects (I’m still juggling between a full-time job, my business and a few other things), my “one thing” tends to change from week to week (and from day to day). In the past, when I used to be a TO DO lists freak, my daily checklist would usually contain a combination of admin tasks, writing, mentoring, Skype calls etc. etc. It was always a huge mess and I tended to jump from task to task, only getting into organising my work when my Internet browser crashed from having too many tabs open at the same time. It was not an efficient way of working, and it wasn’t very effective either. So, after I discovered that I worked best in 5-hour shifts, I decided to dedicate each shift to a different set of tasks. I did my best to group the tasks, so that if I focused on admin work, it was just that for 5 hours. That way I was much more efficient in completing my tasks because I had the same mindset throughout the whole slot. But the obvious difficulty with this approach was that I only had 5 hours every day and I only had five slots like that each week, so I really had to focus my energy. If I were to mention one thing that I learned from The One Thing book it would be that it’s okay to delete tasks from your to do list without completing them because not all the tasks were put on the list for the right reasons in the first place. After I reflected on my to do lists, I realised that there were plenty of tasks which I just wanted to do because I thought they would be good for my business, rather than because I knew they would generate results. Gradually, I learned how to let go of those and not to feel guilty about it. These days, before I put any task on my list, I ask myself two questions: “Will this task generate immediate results in my business?” and “Is there any other task that I could do instead during that time to generate better results?”. If the answer to the first one is “yes” and the answer to the second one is “no”, I put the task on the list. Otherwise, I forget about it immediately. By applying this approach, over the past few months I managed to let go of around 80% of tasks which I was considering adding to my to do list. I feel less overworked and more fulfilled. And I’m definitely more productive. So, your task challenge for the next few days is to identify the tasks which you can delete from your to do list, and here’s how you will do it.
Hopefully, by using this approach you will be able to immediately let go of a few tasks, feel a lot less overworked and be a lot more productive.
Final word of caution
If you are still reading this article, there is a chance that - just like me - you are one of those people who tend to forget that holidays are a must rather than a luxury, especially when you’re working on a few interesting projects at the same time. But I’ve experienced burnout in the past, and I worked hard to recover from it which taught me that it’s best to try to avoid it in the first place by not overworking yourself. In the process, I learned that I needed to take better care of myself, and that I was the one in charge of my to do list rather than it being in charge of me (and trust me - it wasn’t an easy lesson to learn!). In the past, my to do lists resembled a never-ending story. Being passionate about my business, I kept coming up with new ideas on how I could improve it. All of those ideas immediately landed on my to do list, pending implementation. Understandably, my working days were getting longer and longer, so that I could catch up with my to do’s. These days, I only use one to do list for my 5-hour slots to list all the tasks I need to complete, and I prepare those on a daily basis. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it means that I can forget about the work once I’ve completed my 5-hour time slot (because the other tasks I’m working on afterwards are the interesting ones that don’t feel like a chore anyway). I’ve also learned to schedule my slots a week in advance, including deciding what I will be doing during each slot. That way, I know my plan for the week and I can easily let go of some of my ‘amazing but not really necessary’ ideas on how to develop my business. For the cost of stripping making my work a bit less exciting (because I no longer try to implement ever single passionate idea I have), I get the benefit of growing my business steadily and gradually, which (at least in my case) seems to be the most effective way.
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