I'm not great at throwing and catching but I am an expert juggler...
Over the years I've got used to balancing the demands of different clients and working on several projects at once, at the same time as trying to make time for family and friends, three dogs, household chores, hobbies and community voluntary commitments.
I can never resist learning and trying any new (to me) time management tips and productivity hacks. Some are brilliant. Others just don't work for me.
These are the very simple techniques I have found really effective, helping me maximise my time. Some will sound obvious - but they work!
A To Do List and a When List
I always have a long To Do List. There's always a danger that I'll pick off the least horrible sounding task and just focus on the easier ones. Or that I'll spend far too long on one thing. I'm also overly ambitious, with lurking I'm-super-woman tendencies so I think I can achieve more than I really can.
The solution is simple: a When List. I prioritise my To Do list, and on either Sunday evening or Monday morning I look at my week ahead and write specific tasks in my diary for specific days. I also allocate a certain amount of time for each activity, so I'm more focused. I try to stick to the time allocation, not by rushing through a task but by actually focusing on it, resisting the lure of social media or (my personal weakness) the 'fridge stare'*.
Remember children's star charts? Stickers every time they use the potty or are kind to someone? The ones that worked best had a target - so many stickers = a treat. I haven't progressed beyond that stage.
I might not always need the treat but I do need the completed-job-tick dopamine. When I create a task list, I put little checkboxes next to each task. I delight in ticking them off. When there's a box without a tick, even when I'm a bit tired, I'm more motivated to do the job so I can have the satisfaction of seeing the boxes ticked.... Strange? Sad? Or just efficient? You decide!
The tomato timer
I've written about this before. It's very simple - splitting your time into chunks (say, 50 minutes' work and 10 minute breaks), working through a focused task list. I don't use this all the time, but it's great when I need a bit of motivation and structure.
Yes, it's pathetic. I do a bit of work and still feel like someone should reward me for completing each micro-task. I have my own complex system of rewards, such as a coffee break, phone call to a friend, wander outside with the dogs, food, listening to a podcast as I do a more minor task. I can power through a lot of work and just enjoy it, but sometimes giving myself an incentive works well.
This might sound a bit odd but I've found that I need to sit in different places for different types of job. When I write these blogs I tend to sit on a sofa surrounded by dogs. There's something about the sofa squishiness that helps me write.
Anything to do with spreadsheets or finance is done at my desk with a favourite podcast. When I need to come up with new ideas or be more creative, I start with a wander around the garden or sit outside, even when the weather is awful, pen and paper in hand.
Sometimes sitting on a crowded train or in a cafe helps me complete a task I've been putting off. No idea why this happens or works but I have definitely found that when I struggle to get something done, simply moving to work somewhere different can make a difference.
Same day, Same job
I don't like too much routine in my life but a little can be useful. I have some jobs that I try to do at the same time or day every week. So for example, I write a blog on Wednesdays. I always write a blog on Wednesdays. Wednesday is blog day. It's deeply ingrained. It's somehow much easier to do it every Wednesday than when I did it 'when I have time'. I don't have more time than I used to, but now it gets done because I have a consistent plan.
When you run a small business, there's often no-one keeping tabs on you. No-one really knows what you're doing. So it's easy to put things off. Accountability can be a problem. I find telling someone what I'm planing to do, and when is helpful. It can just be a weekly email to a friend: here's what I actually did last week, here's what I'm planning to do this week.
Or you can publicly announce something. For example, I tell people that I write a blog every Wednesday. So I write a blog every Wednesday. Do you know what I do on Wednesdays yet?!
Combine tasks to make them a stronger habit - and make the task shorter
For years I promised myself that I'd go back to the exercise routine of my youth 'when I had more time' (spot a theme here?!).
I bought gym equipment for when I had more time. I thought of times such as between work and dinner when I might one day make/have more time. But I didn't do any more exercise.
Then I realised that I was looking for an hour's block of time, twice a week. It just wasn't happening. Instead I started a routine habit of brush teeth + exercise for 15-20 minutes + shower. I stopped thinking, and started just following a routine, stacking habits. Now it's genuinely no effort to exercise every day. I don't see as many YouTube videos about cake recipes but I think that's OK. If marketing is something that feels too big, or that you're planning to do when you have more time, this approach might work.
As I said, these tips are all very simple. But when you actually use them, they can make a big difference!
Do you have other tips to share?
* The fridge stare: when you are bored or distracted, and find yourself opening the fridge or food cupboard door and staring. Nothing has changed since you last looked, no-one has added any special surprise delights, but you secretly believe you'll find a delicious treat you didn't notice before. It's all part of being self-employed/working from home.