For as long as I can remember, my productivity has been guided by two things: my task list and my calendar. Depending on my role, one would always be the more dominant over the other. However, over time I have learned that managing them in tandem is almost always the most productive.
There are multiple ways to leverage your calendar to maximize productivity. By understanding the options, the pros and cons of each and your personal work style, you are more likely to select a method that leads to long term productivity.
Breaking your day into chunks of time to increase productivity is not a new concept. Even so, it is not as widely discussed as some other methods of time/task management.
The basic concept is rather simple:
- Break your day into functional chunks of time (usually 30 – 120 minutes).
- Analyze your levels of focus and productivity for each chunk.
- Assign types of activities to each chunk of time in order to best utilize that time slot.
- Only do those activities until they are done or time is up (whichever comes first).
This type of chunking can be particularly helpful when you have lots of tasks to do and certain types never seem to make it to the top of the list. Even if they only get 30 minutes each week, it is probably more than they would get otherwise.
The downside is, this version might be too restrictive for some types of business ventures.
Another variation of chunking time is to look at bigger chunks of time (1/2 day or full day) and assign larger groups of activities to each. For example, to minimize interruptions, appointments are only to be scheduled on Tuesday afternoons or Thursday mornings. Monday mornings are for planning, strategizing and prepping for the week ahead and so on.
This version has more flexibility within the chunks of time, but still has enough structure to create a framework for productivity.
Another upside is if you are working with others, either in-person or virtually, team members can also have a reasonable idea of what to expect and how to work with you effectively.
The challenge is that it can become too restrictive making scheduling challenging or difficult to complete certain tasks.
If your work requires you to participate in a large number of meetings or appointments, it may make better sense to start with getting those in your calendar first. You can still leverage a bit of the chunking concept by limiting the times people can schedule meetings, but this approach assumes that a large percentage of your work calendar is open.
The challenge is this method can make it difficult to get any task work done. However, a way to minimize this challenge is at the end of each week, block chunks of task specific time for the following week so very few additional appointments can be scheduled. This allows your clients and associates to have reasonable and flexible access, while at the same time ensuring you have some time for task work.
Obviously this method is best for roles that require at least as much, if not more, time allocated to meetings as opposed to getting tasks done.
Another method for using your calendar to increase your productivity is to actually make an appointment with yourself. Most of us are pretty good at showing up at the designated time/place for a meeting with another person. The concept is to apply the same rigor to your most important tasks. For some, leaving the office and working in a remote location like a library or coffee shop helps in making the “meeting” happen.
This is a great method for who automatically break projects down into milestones or steps and can easily place them on the calendar weeks and months in advance.
The challenge is to hold firm on your own appointments. It can be easy to convince yourself to “reschedule” when something else comes up, but if you are not careful a task appointment will get regularly rescheduled and never get done.
Block and Tackle
The idea of blocking time and tackling tasks is a method that can be used in combination with some of the previous calendar management concepts or on its own. The idea is first thing in the morning to look at the day ahead, given the appointments, work blocks, etc. on the calendar, assign the remaining time slots (usually smaller slots like 15 – 60 minutes), to very specific tasks.
This method works well in concert with other time management techniques like the Pomodoro method. It is also a great way to ensure you make time for your personal activities, like running errands, or ensuring you get to important but less urgent tasks.
Personally, my favorite is to create a mash-up of several methodologies. I am a firm believer in systems, but I also know that customization is often the key to success. Rarely does one system fulfill all of a person’s needs. But when you combine elements, you get the best of both worlds — systems and customization.
I personally combine the “Meetings First” and “Block and Tackle” methods. Although I loved the concept of chunking time, I could never make it work for myself. As a natural project planner it would seem like scheduling tasks into the future would make sense, but I know that I am not good about honoring appointments with myself. So everything ended up getting moved around anyway. The combination of “Meetings First” and “Block and Tackle” gives me just the balance I need.
The Reality of Managing Your Calendar
The reality is no system is perfect, but systems invariably increase our productivity. We also all have the same number of hours in a day. The difference is seen in how those hours are utilized.
When you realize that your tasks are ultimately part of your calendar, it becomes so much easier to have them work together. And when your calendar and tasks are working together, you will feel less overwhelmed and get so much more accomplished.
As a successful entrepreneur and small business owner/CEO I know a few things about you:
- You are passionate about your business idea and the products and/or services you offer.
- You are most likely a visionary — with lots of ideas and the ability to see the amazing possibilities.
- Marketing and/or sales either comes naturally and has been your primary focus as you have created, developed, and grown your business.
All of these are excellent traits for an entrepreneur to possess and fundamentally are a key component to your success thus far. But in almost every small business there is an inflection point.
This point of inflection is fairly easy to identify for the owner as they start feeling stuck.
Stuck at a particular income level instead of consistently growing.
Stuck doing the same “boring” tasks instead of working in their zone of genius.
Stuck carrying all the burden of the business instead of enjoying the elusive entrepreneurial freedom so often touted.
Feeling stuck is your business trying to tell you that something is wrong (or maybe several somethings).
When most entrepreneurs feel stuck, their go-to solution is marketing. More ads, more posts, more offers. New tactics, new products, new programs. But, it is rare that the business’ marketing is actually the problem. So marketing will rarely help and in some cases will actually make things worse.
Instead it is time to look at the business’ operations.
I use the acronym GEARS for the parts of your business’ operations:
- Goods – Products and services you sell
- Effectiveness – Personal and team productivity, including goals and strategy
- Accounting – Profitability, financial tracking, and cash flow systems
- Resources – People, equipment, space, technology, and similar
- Systems – Processes, routines, and non-financial reporting
Most entrepreneurs are not operationally inclined; it is counter to their visionary gifts. So operations get overlooked or put on the back burner until an issue becomes critical. And then it gets addressed quickly, in a “make do” manner without lots of consideration for longer term effectiveness.
At the point of “stuck”, all of the patches, quick-fixes, and band-aids are no longer serving the business and the internal gears of your business are about to break. Your business has hit its operational capacity limit.
Unfortunately, what got you here (stuck), will rarely get you there (unstuck).
If you are feeling stuck and not sure where to start, sign up below to download your GEARS self-assessment, or click here to learn more. In just a few minutes you will identify which GEARS need to be addressed and how to prioritize your efforts for maximum benefit. Optimize your GEARS and you will be unstuck and moving forward before you know it!
Groundhog Day has always been one of the “strange” holidays celebrated in the US, passing each year mostly unnoticed until the release of the 1993 movie by the same name. Suddenly, the day had a whole new meaning. What would you do if you kept repeating the same day over?
Since its release, Groundhog Day has been one of my favorites – I have watched it so many times, I can practically say the entire dialog along with the movie. Although it’s a comedy (possibly Bill Murray’s best), there are still many great lessons tucked away among all the laughs and one-liners.
You start your day feeling excited about a project you’re going to work on for your business. You start working, and after a little while one of two things might happen:
You get stuck on an idea and you’re not sure where to go with it; OR
You get some sort of interruption in the middle of your working time (email alert, phone ringing, your kid needs something, etc.)
Is this scenario familiar to you? What happens NEXT?
Understand your losses
At this point, you fall down a rabbit hole of distraction. You check your email, answer the phone, browse Facebook “to get some ideas,” or even just get up and switch the laundry or start lunch because you think you need a break.
You are actively working against your own success.
You have lost time, twice:
- The first amount is the time it took you to actually give in to that distraction (20 minute phone call, 30 minutes on Facebook, 10 minutes checking email, etc.).
- The second amount is the time you lost switching back and forth between two tasks; this is the actual time your brain takes to catch back up when you force it into a state of context switching.
Though you might understand the first loss, it’s my guess that you didn’t even realize you were losing that second block.
This table illustrates Todd Herman’s research on context switching:
No matter how much time you have to complete any given task, you automatically lose more than half of it just by adding another task into that time frame. The extra 20% goes to your brain, to allow it to mentally shift gears. As you can see, adding more tasks doesn’t grow in even amounts; the amount of time you lose to context switching increases exponentially every time you add another task.
Let’s say you have one hour to write a blog post. If you give in to 5 interruptions during that hour, you’ll actually only get 3 minutes to work on that blog post out of the whole hour, and you’ll lose 48 minutes of it to context switching. No wonder it feels like you never have enough time to do your work!
Improve your Focus.
How can you solve the problem of context switching?
Make it a habit to turn off your phone, close your browsers, and tell your family members not to interrupt unless there’s an emergency when you’re working. Give yourself the time you need in order to really do your work, and you’ll be amazed at how much more time you feel like you have, because you didn’t lose it to context switching!
How will YOU give yourself the time and space you need to get your work done? If you’d like a weekly reminder to focus on your priorities and take action to move you toward your goals, sign up below for my Weekly Course of Action e-mails. Let’s tackle this, together.
Some of you may have “met” my assistant, Jess, on this blog before. Today she’s here to talk about her new role in my company: Content Creator. If I’ve convinced you this month that it’s time to up your content game, Jess will show you one option for making that happen!
Hi everyone! I’m Jess, and I work for Gwen and a handful of other creative business owners to create the content that serves their audience. Today I get to take over Gwen’s blog and explain how that works, and how YOU can leverage the power of a Content Creator for your business.
A content creator is exactly what it sounds like – it’s my job to create content: blog posts, e-mail newsletter, website pages, ebooks and online class materials. I have a background in this area: once upon a time I was a high school English teacher and a freelance writer, and I have degrees in English and Education. So it’s in my blood to write the content pieces that educate, inform, and (I hope) empower Gwen’s audience members; this is the stuff that makes me geek out.
Gwen is busy. She runs a business that involves traveling to teach, serving her customers through 1-on-1 consulting sessions, and creating products and services that will help small business owners grow their confidence and their businesses in order to achieve the type of success they most want for themselves. Like most small business owners, she simply can’t wear ALL the hats in her business – her growth would be limited if she tried to do that. So she hired me to help her create the content to engage her audience, so that she can spend her time on tasks that really require her specific expertise and personal touch.
On my side of things, I do this job because I believe that there are small business owners out there (Gwen included!) who have something really awesome to share with the world, and I want to help them spread that awesomeness around. It’s my privilege to craft the stories they want to tell.
The “how” piece is slightly different for all of my content clients, based on their needs and the needs of their audience members. In Gwen’s business, this is how it works:
Gwen is an extrovert – she loves to talk, and she needs to process her ideas out loud. That’s why it can be difficult for her to express herself in writing, because there’s no direct interaction with another human being in that process, and it’s from those direct interactions that she draws her energy. (If you’ve ever had a consulting session with Gwen or met her at an event, you know what I’m talking about: her energy is infectious!)
Blog Posts & Emails
In order to feed on this energy, Gwen and I chat via Skype a couple of times a month. During one of those sessions we’ll lay out the plan for her blog posts and e-mail newsletters for the upcoming month. Gwen will explain what she wants to cover in those pieces, and I’ll furiously type notes while she talks. Then I take those notes and I polish them up and turn them into the blog post format you’re reading right now.
We have a similar process for the study guide content for the Small Biz Book Club – I send Gwen an email each month asking her about the study guide we’re preparing (this happens several months in advance of when we actually read the book with the club members). I ask her to break the book into weekly segments, to lay out for me the most important points she wants to be sure to cover, and to list the questions she wants to ask the group members. Then I pick up my copy of the book and, using Gwen’s notes as a guide, I flesh out the study guide content for that book. Our other team member, Holly, reads it for any errors in grammar or clarity, and then Gwen reviews it for a final polish before it goes live to club members.
Gwen and I have timed it, and because of my background in writing, education, and curriculum, it takes me a LOT less time to write her blog posts than it would take her (about 20% of the time, actually!). So even though she’s paying me to do this part of the job, she’s actually saving money in terms of the time spent on the tasks, and freeing herself up to do the work that brings in even more income, like consulting and training.
Hiring a content producer isn’t necessarily the best decision for every small business owner – if your business IS content creation, then maybe you don’t need someone else to do this for you. However, if your business is anything else, then you can free up valuable time and improve the quality of the content you produce if you invest in hiring help with your content. Whether you just want someone to come in one time and polish up your website content, or you want ongoing support to regularly craft emails and blog posts – that type of help is available!
If you struggle to create content that truly serves your customers and tells the story of your business the way you want it to be told, maybe it’s time to get some help! Click here to visit my website for more information.
And if you’d prefer a DIY solution, you’ll find loads of great information on content in Epic Content Marketing, our Small Biz Book Club pick for June! Enter your information below to read along with us: