Beginners Guide to Productivity

Making the most of your week

Everyone following the path of starting their own business is primarily looking to make money from it.  There will inevitably be other goals – helping people, making great products, doing what you love – but even not-for-profit businesses need to make money to cover their costs if they are to achieve their goals.  There are a raft of books, articles, training materials and experts (some good, some bad) that offer to help teach you the who, what, why and how of starting and growing your business.  This article does not fall into that category.

Most people starting up a new business venture are not blessed with a calendar free of commitments, expert knowledge around everything they need to know, funding to cover their expenses whilst they get established, a personal assistant to arrange everything and some home help so they can wholly focus on getting their business off the ground.  If you are anything like me, you are a one-person show who has to take on learning how to be a business owner, creating the stuff you sell, marketing and growing your business, serving your new clients, oh and working full time at your day job, raising a family, charity work, running a household and trying to find something resembling downtime, fun and actual life in there somewhere!

I can’t help you with the specifics of your business and how to get that working in the right way for you but what I can help you with is how I managed to organise my life to give me the time to spend on getting my business up and running without putting in 20 hour days or letting the other areas of my life suffer.  Below, I have shared the top 3 things I changed in my life below and how they made a real impact on me and my personal productivity; I hope you also find them useful.

Getting started

Around 15 years ago, a typical week day for me would be get up, get showered & unearth something to wear, grab some toast or cereal and then jump in the car to drive to work with a bit of music to set me up for the day.  Lunch would be walk out to a local sandwich shop for food.  Finishing work for the day would mean sitting for an age in commuter traffic. Getting home in the evening after a long day would start with my husband and I rummaging in the fridge to see what we could make for dinner (occasionally highly unique and unforgettable combinations of ingredients – I may feature those in a future “what not to eat” article!).  Finally sitting down to eat around 8pm, collapsing on the sofa for a couple of hours then heading to bed just to start over again tomorrow.  Weekends would be unplanned apart from laundry and the weekly trip to the supermarket which usually involved buying the same things week-on-week out of habit.  There never seemed to be time to do anything other than work, nothing was getting done at home (we had bought a house that could politely be described as a “fixer-upper”) and both of us were getting stressed out not able to progress sorting the house out, finding time for hobbies, going out etc.  Something had to change so I got my thinking cap on and tried a few things to see what might work. 

Tip 1: Meal Planning (aka remove small decisions)

This may sound like an odd place to start, but this really is the cornerstone of my productivity method and was the first thing to make a real difference for me.  The amount of time wasted each week for us around how we ate and shopped for food was astounding – lunch breaks were spent out buying food (2.5 hours a week), at least 2 hours a night working out what to eat and then cooking it (14 hours a week), plus a meander around the supermarket having a browse for a couple of hours on a Saturday means we were spending around 18 hours a week just feeding ourselves – which is equivalent to having a part time job!

So I sat down one Saturday morning with a rectangular post-it note and planned out what we were both going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next 7 days, compiled a shopping list based on the meal plan, and stuck the week’s menu onto the fridge.  Whoever was home from work first in the evening had the meal plan and could start preparing food without having to expend brainpower on thinking up something to eat first.  That first week of running with a meal plan was a massive change to routine but we could already see benefits from doing it.  We’d finished eating by 7pm so had an extra hour free each evening to start reconnecting with the things we used to do.  By the end of week 4, not only were we hooked, but we realised we’d saved over £300 that month not buying lunches each day and shopping more efficiently.

I have been doing the same thing now each week for 15 years and adapted and refined my plans to meet the needs of my family as it grew. It was massively helpful when we had kids, planning things like weaning in the early days, through to now when the kids have various activities on after school so I plan whether we need to have a quick early meal, put the slow cooker on, make on-purpose leftovers for lunch the following day and so on.

The key thing that organising meals has given me is to remove the need to make decisions about small things several times each day.  This frees up both thinking space and time each day that I can use to focus on getting other things done to move me forward towards my goals.  What could you do with some extra hours back each week?

Tip 2: Everything has its slot (aka time block)

The second thing that has made a real difference on my productivity is time-blocking.  I had been doing variations on this in my day job for years and decided to apply the same to my home life to enable me to make more effective use of what time I did have available.  There are many ways of doing this – apps, planners, google calendar, etc so find one that you will actually use and stick with that one.  I personally try and keep my time-blocking quite simple or I will end up with something convoluted that I don’t then keep up to date and I’ll get in a mess.  I don’t attempt to time-block tasks, just the themes that those tasks relate to.  An example week for me looks like the below:

Weeklytimetable

Commute learning is typically listening to podcasts, audiobooks or other training I have downloaded to my iPod whilst enjoying the inevitable traffic jams each morning and evening.

Daytime tasks during the week are limited to emails, messages and follow ups on my phone on my lunch break when I need to do those, or can also be jotting down ideas for things I want to do whilst munching my lunch.  At the weekend I’ll set aside a couple of hours each on Saturday and Sunday to get things done, and plan for the week ahead.

Evening tasks are blocked out in a similar way but may vary week to week depending on what additional training I want to do or how many coaching clients I have ongoing at that time.  Sunday night always features a planning session to map out the following week.

The key thing that time blocking has given me is visibility around what my week looks like in advance so I can plan better.  The routine also allows me to get right into that day’s topic and not waste time working out what I need to do.  Knowing how much time I have to get various things done also helps with the next step.

 Tip 3: What to do today (aka my running list)

Once I have my time blocks sorted for the week and I have done my Sunday night planning, I am ready to set up my to-do list for the week.  Once again here there are many, many ways you can construct and manage a list of what you need to do.  My preference is to keep a ‘running list’ in a journal that I use as a paper-based planner.  I have put together an example below: 

RunningList

The running list has the tasks that I want to get done during the week in a long list and a checkbox aligns to the day of the week that the task is scheduled.  Longer tasks (like ‘finalise course slides’ above) would get 2 boxes.  Using this method I can see at a glance what I need to work on, easily migrate tasks to later in the week – e.g. put another box in on Thursday if Fred isn’t available on Monday.  As tasks complete I tick the box.  It is as simple as that.

The key thing I get from using a running list is that it makes sure I am not overloading days with tasks as I can see at a glance how my week balances out.  Vital for me as I can get tempted to cram too many things into my week in a fit of optimism and then end up disheartened when I don’t tick off 85 tasks by Wednesday…

I hope this has given you some useful tips to take away and use to make your weeks more productive so you can focus on the important parts of your business and go on and make it a success.

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