Are you proactive or reactive?
Do you find you’re constantly in control of your day and the outcomes you’ll reach by the end of it? Or are you regularly sideswiped by truckloads of tasks you didn’t even see coming?
Proactivity and reactivity can both be perceived as some form of productivity. However, a reactive approach to your work yields short-term success, results, happiness and work-life balance.
It can be difficult to maintain progress in your career when you’re self-employed, especially when you’re just starting out, which is why it’s imperative you become more diligent and self-disciplined.
There are a number of ways you can alter your daily routine in an effort to optimise your workdays and increase productivity. This week’s blog post will discuss the first five practices you can implement in your work life that will help you respond to work issues each day with a more successful and proactive approach.
Your First Hour Determines The Rest
Harvard researches have indicated that the first hour of your day has the most influence over the remainder.
It’s no secret that starting your morning feel inspired and energised is the best way to ensure you get the most out of your workday. Therefore it’s important you use your first 60 minutes wisely, completing activities you know will uplift you and put you in a positive and productive mindset.
Entrepreneurs like Oprah Winfrey and Arianna Huffington start their day with meditation, which is a surefire way to clear your mind and center your intentions for the rest of your day. Even just 10 minutes in the morning can have a profound impact on your ability to remain focused and productive throughout the day. However, meditation can be a highly self-disciplined practice that some don’t feel quite ready to commit to. If meditation is something you’ve struggled with, or just not your cup of tea, you can go about your first hour differently.
You may like to try splitting your 60 minutes into 20-minute blocks, finding three things you know have a positive impact on your mental wellbeing and energy levels. You could start your day with 20 minutes of exercise, followed by 20 minutes for breakfast, and spend the remaining 20 minutes reading something that inspires you. Perhaps you benefit from reading a business magazine, or other successful entrepreneurs and their habits. Or you may prefer to spend this time writing out your own thoughts and creating an action plan for the day.
‘A goal without a plan is just a wish.’
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Which is where our to-do list (or action plan) comes in, ready to make your business dreams come true.
To increase daily productivity, each goal or task you give yourself needs to be achievable in a day. It’s fine (and extremely important) to have a grand future plan in the works, however it’s important you create a list of tasks you know you’re able can be completed in a single day if you’re to help yourself work towards long term productivity and outcomes.
Your to-do list will be more than just a list of tasks with little square boxes next to them, ready for you to tick off when completed. According to Richard Moore, founder of EightStepStartup, you should really be writing a ‘when to-do list’.
This means you write down your goals for the day AND decide on a time to complete each task. Take into account how long you estimate each task should take so you can better schedule them into your day. By time-managing each task before you start it, you can be more realistic about what and how much you can actually achieve in workday hours without tasks biting into personal time.
Additionally, you’ll feel an increase in satisfaction when you achieve each task, as opposed to being left with 15 items you put on your ambitious to-do list and never had time in the day to complete.
If your when to-do list only has a few tasks, don’t feel as if you aren’t doing enough. Some work requires more time an effort, just ensure you’ve appropriately prioritised the work you need to complete.
If you’re struggling with figuring out which tasks to do first because they all seem equally important, using the Eisenhower Matrix can help you identify long and short term priorities, guiding the content of your when to-do list. Below is an example of Eisenhower’s Matrix, published by Canadian Center of Science and Education in Theory and Practice of Time-Management in Education. The Matrix addresses what kinds of tasks fall into each category and when they need to be completed.
You’re when to-do list may be an activity you’d like to include in the first 60 minutes of your morning to find focus. However, if you find you waste too much time planning your list, American business executive, Kenneth Chenault, finds prior planning the night before to be most effective. Give yourself a head start in the morning by writing your to-do list the night before, eliminating too much early decision making that may slow you down.
Know When To Get It Done
Complete your more challenging and creative work first.
Most people are more productive and energised earlier in the day – especially when they’ve spent their first 60 minutes in the morning cultivating business inspiration. Use your morning motivation to complete difficult work first, leaving more monotonous admin tasks, or lower priority work, for the afternoon when you naturally start to loose focus and energy.
However, that being said, each person is unique and if the old rise ‘n grind just isn’t working for you, try this activity I found in Brett Hilder’s book, Essential Time Management and How to Become More Productive and Effective:
Draw a diagram like the one below.
Now draw in a ‘productivity curve’ to visually represent your natural energy highs and lows the best you can. If you’re not sure what your curve should look like, you can draw a series of dots for when you definitely know you feel tired or energised and then join them together.
For example, mine productivity curve looks like this:
This activity can help you gain a better understanding of when during the day you will be more focused and productive and therefore when to complete more challenging and important tasks (note: this works hand in hand with your when to-do list and scheduling the right time to complete tasks).
Set Your Work Hours
Structure is key.
Working for yourself is great, and being able to work whenever and wherever you want is even better, but I find that too often a ‘go with the flow kind of day’ leads new entrepreneurs astray.
Implementing a workday routine can enable you to complete better quality work consistently. A routine will also aid your ability to balance work and your personal life, helping to ensure that your business doesn’t begin to overwhelm you.
Give yourself a weekend, have set workday hours and know when it’s time to switch off and take some time for yourself. Don’t let your business or side hustle keep you up late at night working. Lack of structure in your business life can lead to less self-discipline and less productivity, meaning less progress for your business.
According to my productivity curve, I work best when I start at 7am and finish around 3pm, so I make these my ‘work hours’.
You need to treat your home like an office, create and maintain working boundaries for yourself that acknowledge your ability, style of work and allow you to perform at your best without the burnout.
Exercise and Procrasticise If Necessary
Starting your day with some form of exercise is the best way to get your blood flowing and kick starts your cognitive function.
If your someone who tends to work late due to a midday lull in productivity and work ethic, physical activity in the morning can help to shift your energy levels so that you don’t plateau early in the day and end up having to work later.
Regardless of whether I’ve exercised in the morning or not, I find that there are unavoidable moments in the day when I loose focus in my work – it happens to all of us. When this happens, I find procrasticising is an effective way to reinvigorate myself mentally and increase my productivity. Rather than scrolling through Facebook or engaging in other mindless activities when your having trouble staying on task, step outside and move your body. Go for a light walk, maybe just a block or two, or hit the gym if that’s your thing. I guarantee you’ll come back to your work feeling more focused and energised to complete the remainder of your work.
Keep an eye out for next month’s blog post where we’ll continue the productivity discussion with a further five ways to boost your productivity and keep your career on track.
Alice is currently studying writing at University and is intrigued by all things entrepreneurial. Each month she will be providing you all a personalised blog dedicated to the struggles we all face as we figure out who we are and our place in the world. Alice is a beautiful writer who is in the same shoes as you right now and wants to share her journey as she figures out where her passions lie and the journey to finding her dream life.
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