5 Time Management Tips to Stay Productive & Creative
I recently had a conversation with a lifestyle photographer about the challenges of being a creative business owner. “When I was first starting out,” she said, “I was just worried about bringing in clients. But since then, time management is by far what I struggle with the most.”
As small business owners and creatives, we know there is a lot involved with running a business. Consistent marketing, solid processes, and administrative upkeep are not things we can skip and expect our businesses to thrive. However, all of this “stuff” fights for our time, attention, and energy, and if we aren’t careful, they can hinder us creatively.
You don’t have to choose between being productive or creative. With the right strategies, you can handle all of your back-end business tasks like a pro while consistently producing excellent creative work. Practicing any of the following five strategies would be an awesome place to start.
Do one thing at a time
Multi-tasking is a myth; it is neurologically impossible to focus on more than one thing at a time. Instead, when we think we are multi-tasking, we are either background tasking (e.g. driving and talking on the phone, walking and listening to a podcast) or task-switching (e.g. cooking dinner while helping a kid with homework, answering emails while scheduling instagram posts.)
The problem with task switching is that every time we switch our brain has to spend valuable time and energy refocusing. All of this refocusing adds up to lost time.
The way to get more things done is to do one thing at a time with your full focus. As Peter Drucker puts it,
“This is the ‘secret’ of those people who do ‘so many things’ and apparently so many difficult things. They only do one at a time. As a result, they need much less time in the end than the rest of us.”
Work from a (flexible) schedule
Flexibility with how and when you work is one of the greatest benefits of working for yourself. But we can be most flexible (and most creative) when we operate from a basic structure for how we use our time.
To start, decide on the office hours that you plan to stick to 80 to 90 percent of the time. Then, block off those work hours according to the different roles you play in your business. When you are setting up your work week, make sure you block off focused creative time that is protected from distractions and interruptions. Your most important work should be done at days and times when your energy is naturally higher.
For more information on how to structure your schedule, you can take my free masterclass.
Take intentional breaks
Research shows that intervals of focused work and intentional breaks is the way to structure your time for maximum productivity. Working for yourself means that you may have more interesting and rejuvenating options for taking breaks than people in traditional jobs. For instance, at home you can take a lunch break in your own dining room. Or read a book. Or do some yoga. Or take a walk outside. Or work on a house project or craft. The opportunities for re-energizing breaks are endless!
Focus timers, also called Pomodoro Timers, are helpful for being intentional about rotating focused work and intentional breaks. I use my focus timer a lot, particularly when I’m feeling distracted or unmotivated. My timer’s default setting is for 25 minutes of work followed by five minutes of rest. But, you can experiment with the intervals that work for you, such as 45 to 50 minutes of work followed by 10 to 15 minutes of rest.
Put the big rocks in first
It’s tempting when you are starting your workday to want to knock those easy, small, nagging tasks off of your list. Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, would suggest the opposite approach. He says deciding how to spend your time is like filling a jar full of rocks. If you try to put the little rocks in first, you won’t have space left for the big ones. But, if you put the big ones in first, the little ones can fill in the gaps. (Full disclosure, I haven’t actually tried this, but it seems plausible.)
Putting the big rocks in first is a principle that can apply to your weeks and your days. At the beginning of the work week, I write down my top three priorities for the week. Then, a the beginning of every day, I write down my top one to three priorities, depending on how much time I have and how long my priorities will take. I’ll normally tackle priorities first and then use the end of the workday for smaller tasks.
Plan for imperfection
Our days and weeks start with such promise. We feel energized, and empowered, and ready to tackle the world. Often our optimism leads us to forget our own humanity and limitations. Then we wonder why we didn’t get to half of what was on our list.
When you are deciding what tasks you should put on your list on a given day or week, you should expect to be occasionally distracted, interrupted, inefficient, and unmotivated. In short, plan on being human. Matt Perman wisely suggests only planning tasks that take up 70 percent of your time.
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