Everybody has the same 168 hours in a week – and those hours sure fill up fast, don’t they?! One of my focus areas in 2019 was to use my time more effectively, mainly because billable hours = my paycheck! As I have been more conscientious of my time, I have discovered some tips that work well for me and help improve my overall work & life flow. I currently work from home and have in previous portions of my career too, so some of the tips are ones I’ve implemented for years and others are relatively new. I thought they were worth sharing – hopefully you can take a few of the tips and reclaim some hours in your schedule too!
First things first, in order to understand where I could make improvements, I spent the month of January monitoring my baseline use of time. I literally made a daily log of how I used my time by creating buckets (client billable hours + work on my business/office work + blogging + family time + personal development + sleep, etc). It was a tad bit of a painful process, but it gave me a baseline to have a real conversation with myself about how I could improve. I also spent time reading blogs & books, listening to podcasts and asking friends and family for tips on how to use time most effectively, which I still continue to do because it’s a lifelong process of learning, right?!
To date, here’s what I learned that works for me…
- Sunday night prep. I take 30-45 minutes on Sunday afternoon/evening to get my inbox cleaned out, look at my calendar for the week and formulate my to-do list. I have found that investing the uninterrupted planning time on Sunday evening sets me up to get right to work on Monday morning! I also took a white board and used by Cricut machine to put my Freyday Freelance logo and a list for weekly & daily priority items, so that is what I fill out on Sunday night with my weekly goals & my Monday plan (see photo below). I enjoyed “customizing” my white board because who doesn’t like their stuff to look organized – and pretty?!
- Create a “Top Three” list for each day. I have found it helpful to identify three items I want to accomplish each day and then add in 2-3 smaller items that would be great to get done, but not a deal breaker if they don’t happen that day. I concentrate my time and effort on the big three and then if I get those done, I am thrilled to move over to the smaller items list.
- Time-block & minimize distractions. I have found I have the best luck with time blocking. I learned this from another freelancer and it’s helped me tremendously, plus it makes it easy to track billable hours at the end of each day. When I am working on a project, I find it best to break down tasks and concentrate on them for an allotted amount of time. I find that I usually can concentrate for a 30-60 minute increments depending on the topic/project, then I take a 5-10 minute break. To do this effectively, it’s important to minimize distractions. I have turned off a lot of notifications on my phone anyways, but I also log off email and minimize any other distractions during this time. I use the timer on my phone for my time blocks and my breaks (there are also timer apps too) so it helps me move between tasks efficiently throughout the day. I even try to schedule my email checking/responding into two different 30 minute time allotments each day. For time-blocking, I prefer a hard copy planner and I wanted one that had the week broke out in a vertical format so I can easily block time and then track billable vs non-billable activities at the end of each day (yes, I still track both daily in a commitment to continue monitoring my time use). Now, those of you in an office setting, this could be a bit trickier. But find the time of the day that you work most effectively (I feel like mine is on the front part of the day) and shut your door or put up a “do not disturb” sign to let your office mates know that you don’t want to be disturbed during that time. Then shut off those distractions and you will be amazed at how efficient you can be when you are focused and zoned in for an allotted amount of time.
- Create before you consume. I do a lot of creative writing in my role, so I find that it works best to do that in the morning timeframe and then work on other projects in the afternoon. “Create before you consume” means that I don’t check email, social media, etc until I have spent time in creative mode. This is when I work on writing copy, brainstorming marketing ideas, etc. I use time blocking, set a timer and shut off distractions to keep my focus and mental power on point. Everyone works differently, but I feel like this one has really helped my creativity flow, especially during peak times where I am cranking out a lot of written content for clients.
- Establish a good morning routine! I listened to a Podcast that said you either control the first 60-90 minutes of your day – or it controls you. That means making sure you don’t get up and start checking your email or social media. Take this time to do things FOR YOU! I have established a consistent morning routine of working out and then taking some time to journal or read. So I make sure I write my morning routine into my planner and try to get right to it when I wake up. I feel like working out and having a little quiet “me” time on the front part of the day starts me off on the right foot. Also, this one sounds silly, but since I work from home, I make sure to get dressed and ready for the day like I am going into an office. There are still days you might find me in yoga pants with my hair in a bun, but most days I know I am more productive when I have my hair fixed, makeup on and nice clothes on for the day.
- Limit social media usage. Social media can be a major time suck in a day and I realized that in my January time tracking! So I time myself on my social media to allow for 15-20 minutes per day and somedays I don’t even check it. Don’t get me wrong, I am not perfect and there are still times where I binge on social media, but I try to be a bit more conscientious of my time with it.
- Schedule in daily reflection time and plan for your next day. At the end of each day, I schedule in the last 30 minutes to catch up on emails, clean up my desk and write out my to-do list (including my Top Three for the next day) and I time block activities for the following day. I like to allow for this time at the end of my work day so that I can fully disconnect from work when it’s time for kids to arrive home and I can focus on being present with them in the evenings. If I don’t get it done before the kids get home, I generally step back into the office after the kids go to bed so I am set up and ready to roll on my to-do list the next day.
- Plan for YOU time each week! It’s important to schedule in time to unwind or time for personal or professional development. Whether I set in on a training webinar during my workweek, listen to a podcast, meditate, pray, journal or just read a book, I always try to pencil in at least 2-3 hours during my week to accomplish this. Oftentimes, I try to squeeze some of this in during my morning routine, while prepping lunch, en route for kid pick-up or before I go to bed in the evenings. I know that all of these things fill my cup as a mom, wife & entrepreneur and help me work towards being my best self, so I make sure I schedule time for them.
- Know your end goal(s). My end goal on a daily basis is to be able to unplug from work most evenings and enjoy my time with my family, knowing there will be times where my evenings may be tied up with work. I just want that to be the exception, not the rule. I also want to continue investing in my development as a person & female business owner. I think I have had too many times in my career where everything was crazy from sun up to sun down, I felt frazzled most of the time and I wasn’t fully present in any moment. During those times, I didn’t put my self care as a priority and was run pretty ragged. It was ugly and I didn’t like how any of that felt, so I made a commitment to change my habits.
- Practice self-compassion. I know that I don’t and won’t get all of this done perfectly each and every day, so I don’t beat myself up when a day here or there gets de-railed. I have a sign on my vision board that says – Aim for Progress, not Perfection. So, as long as I feel like I am making progress most weeks, then that’s good enough for me!
Remember – it’s all about being intentional with your time. Whether you work from home or in an office, there are always ways to evaluate your current time structure and make some changes to be more intentional of how you want to use time moving forward. It starts with understanding a clear picture of how you are currently using it. You might be surprised to find pockets of time when you schedule out and are mindful of your routine. If you are interested in evaluating how you spend your time, then I suggest tracking it for a week. You might be surprised at how many hours are slipping right through your fingertips. Once you track your time, you can find ways to be more productive and efficient in your weekly routine, which is a GAME CHANGER for your well-being. I can definitely attest to that! Cheers to your well-being, my friend!