Schedule shorter work days, have a healthier life and experience higher productivity.
When my daughter was about a year old I hit a wall so hard it nearly did me and my business in.
I wound up in adrenal fatigue, so stressed out, maxed out and exhausted I could barely get anything completed in a day. I was working from my bedroom office, isolated and lonely, which only added to the list of challenges.
All I could think is, I’m failing so hard, I need to work harder.
After spending time with my mentor and chinese medicine doctor it became pretty clear that not only was working harder not a solution, it wasn’t possible. I needed to get smart about my health and rethink how I was showing up every day for work. This was when I figured out a productivity hack that makes my self care equally as important as my next client meeting.
I LOVE the podcast EOFire for the brilliant take aways and inspiration. But at one point while listening, I began to feel like I was failing as an entrepreneur all over again. It took me a while to realize that many of the entrepreneurs on the podcast don’t have the responsibilities of being a parent. Once you throw a kid into the mix, things get decidedly more challenging which is why I began a Mastermind for Mompreneurs.
Fact is, being a mom I simply don’t have 18 hours a day to rock out my business. I don’t even have 10 hours. I have a very limited amount of time to get shit done.
My business day starts at 8:30am (usually) and it ends at 4:30pm when I split to pick my daughter up from daycare. During the day I also need to tend to my self care as much as I do my business
Burnout happens when I’m not aware of how I spend my time. I start working more hours, getting less done, feeling more stressed, sleeping less and eating poorly. It’s a downward spiral that nearly every entrepreneur I know has faced at some point.
The way I’ve found to prevent this from happening is by scheduling my day. It also results in making me highly organized and productive.
I’ve experimented a lot with productivity tools and this is what works best for me. It’s also the simplest productivity habit I’ve ever used. I’ve created a system that works for me, a mom, who recharges in nature on a daily basis.
The goal of productivity is freedom, not achievement. Entrepreneurship is ultimately about creating the time to do the things you really love.
Make your todo list the night before
This is one of the biggest productivity hacks I’ve ever used and it’s so simple. The last five minutes before I quit work, I make my todo list for the next day. Doing it this way, I can let go of trying to figure things out in my head. It’s already done and waiting for me when I start work. Don’t forget to add the things that you didn’t get done the day before.
Then I number my list in order of importance and start with the most important thing first. If there’s not a blatant thing that needs doing first, I start with the thing I’m resisting most. Trust me, if you leave that thing to last it seldom gets accomplished. By getting it off your plate early, you’ll free up a lot more energy for the other things.
Keep the list short. It shouldn’t be more than six items long. Realistically you’re just not going to get that much stuff done in one day anyway. If there’s more than five or six things, add them to your list for the next day.
Block Out Work & Play Time in Your Calendar
The human brain can focus for about 90 minutes before it needs a break to prevent burnout. Burnout is a cognitive sign you can’t take in more information until you’ve had a chance to rest.
You’ll know when you hit burnout because despite your best efforts you start to feel restless and have a hard time focusing. When this happens to me I almost always begin compulsively checking social media and email more and more frequently, bouncing around and unable to focus.
Its unrealistic despite deadlines, to expect to be productive for 8 or 9 or 12 hours of straight work. You just can’t. You feel stressed and exhausted when you hammer away at a keyboard all day, and the evidence is everywhere.
While it may sound counter intuitive, it turns out, the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer—but working smarter with frequent breaks.
In the morning I block 90 minute chunks of time on my calendar (I use Google Calendar) that I designate to specific tasks I’ve created the day before… say writing this blog and producing a newsletter. I try and get two 90 minute chunks in in the morning and 2 in the afternoon.
Instead of going flat out for 90 minutes straight, I use a timer that breaks work cycles into 25 minute chunks with five minute breaks in between. In between those 25 minutes of focused output (presumably at the computer) I jump up and do push ups, hit the bathroom, grab a glass of water or get in a few downward dogs. I use the timer from the Focus Booster app which is free.
When I set up my calendar and todos for the day, I also block out my breaks. This ensures that I take one. I use my break as a full on reset. Being a mom I don’t get much free time in the morning to exercise before the family wakes up. I’m lucky if I get to meditate before my daughter demands attention.
Instead of going to the gym, I take advantage of living close to nature. I grab my dog Hank and hit the trails with him for a hike, or run, or bike ride. In the winter I squeeze in a few runs at the ski hill at least once a week. I usually schedule myself for a 90 minute break but if things are pressing or I have deadlines, I shorten it to 45.
I pick getting outside over going to the gym for a few reasons, the first is, it’s convenient. I literally can walk out the door and be on a mountain trail within five minutes. I also find being in nature is a huge reset for me. I’m a committed lifestyle junkie who has chosen to live in a fairly isolated town in the mountains of British Columbia for the opportunities it provides so I take advantage of those opportunities as much as possible.
In addition to getting recharged I get some of my best creative breakthroughs out there on the trails. After a burst of exercise and fresh air, I’m ready to get back to business and do another round of focused work sessions.
Connect with Your Community
Isolation for an entrepreneur is real and it’s hard. It can be much more acute for moms who are juggling their businesses and babies with little to no time for friend visits, coffee dates or strolls through the park. That’s when finding an accountability partner can really help. I’ve seen it’s effectiveness time and time again.
Accountability works on two levels. First it gives you someone to show up for who’s expecting to see results. But it also allows you to be seen and validated for the challenges you’re facing and the work you do while assuaging the loneliness and isolation. This is especially important on those hard days where nothing is working and you feel completely unmotivated. Something as simple as co-working at a coffee shop or even sharing an online office space on Zoom will build a sense of connectedness which as humans, we require in order to thrive.
Accountability and community are driving forces behind Masterminds. I’ve never witnessed this kind of shift and accelerated growth anywhere else as I have in these sessions. Which is why I began to run Masterminds for business support and strategies for mompreneurs.
Structure makes me feel like I can’t breathe, but these hacks vastly improve the quality and quantity of work I do while preventing me from burning out. It also ensures that I take Fridays off and spend a good chunk of time connecting with my daughter, friends and family doing the things we love best, which for me is the ultimate benefit in entrepreneurship.