Call me crazy, but I’ve always looked forward to the “back to school” season at the end of August.
While it usually means that summer’s coming to a close, it also means there’s a fresh new season on the horizon. A “second New Year,” of sorts.
Because I don’t know about you, but summer is usually a lot crazier than I expect it to be.
A couple vacations, a couple bouts of car trouble, and a big move has kicked me out of my normal work week routine, and I’m longing for routine and consistency.
Surely I’m not the only one!
In an effort to get back on track, I rounded up my favorite tips and strategies for scheduling your workday, staying on task, and setting better boundaries to maintain a realistic work/life balance.
If you’re hoping for a fresh start to your business this fall, this post is for you.
I mention my Work Week Scheduler several times in this post. Before you dive in, you might find it helpful to log in to the Elle & Company Library, print off the workbook, and follow along:
It’s one of the most helpful resources I’ve ever created for creative business owners. I hope it comes in handy for you!
Scheduling Your Workday
After 3 and a half years of working from home, I’ve finally come up with a realistic system for mapping out my workday in a way that helps me make the best use of my time.
Here’s a glimpse at my system:
1 | Start by setting a quarterly goal
You might spend 8 hours a day working on business tasks, but they won’t amount to much if they don’t inch you closer to an overarching goal.
To guard against ineffective busywork, set a goal for each quarter of the year.
Setting a goal to accomplish every 13 weeks will encourage you to take action today rather than putting it off until a later date.
Quarterly goals are also a lot less overwhelming than one huge annual goal.
When setting a new quarterly goal, I find it helpful to consider why I want to achieve it.
Writing down my “why” provides perspective and gets to the heart of why I set the goal in the first place.
For example, my goal for this upcoming quarter is to have 150 students register for the second round of my Freelance Academy course.
Why do I want to achieve it? A couple reasons:
- I had 100 students register last year, and I love a good challenge!
- I want to help as many people as possible start and scale their creative business
- The income will help us achieve some personal financial goals
Those “why’s” get me fired up to dive in and get to work.
I also find it helpful to set a reward to work toward.
So if I reach the 150 student mark, I would love to treat my 2 assistants to a team retreat.
Take action: List your quarterly goal and make sure to work through the SMART method to ensure that it’s specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound. Then write down why you want to achieve it and how you’ll reward yourself when you do achieve it.
Now that the quarterly goal has been determined, it’s time to break it down into smaller steps.
Setting 3 progress goals helps you set benchmarks for reaching your quarterly goal and provides a framework for crucial tasks that need to get done.
For example, my 3 progress goals for getting 150 students to register for the second round of my Freelance Academy course are:
Progress Goal #1: Bring on 15 affiliates
Progress Goal #2: Create an 8-week content strategy for course launch
Progress Goal #3: Update course modules and resources
All 3 of those progress goals are crucial to helping me reach my quarterly goal. Once those are set, I like to list 3 action steps that will help me reach those quarterly goals.
Progress Goal #1: Bring on 15 affiliates
- Action step: Create a list of potential affiliates from past students and peers
- Action step: Setup new affiliate program in Teachable
- Action step: Create email sequence for reaching out to and equipping affiliates
Progress Goal #2: Create an 8-week content strategy for course launch
- Action step: Create an 8-week content strategy for the blog
- Action step: Schedule and write launch sequence for the newsletter
- Action step: Setup content calendar for social media
Progress goal #3: Update course modules and resources
- Action step: Break up course modules into smaller sections
- Action step: Revisit/add to resource section
- Action step: Move course over to Teachable
See how I’m moving from the big picture goals to practical steps? This will help me as I map out my workdays in the coming steps.
Take action: List 3 smaller progress goals that will help you make progress toward your quarterly goal. Then list 3 action steps for each.
It’s important to map out these goals and action steps at the beginning of each new quarter, but it’s even more important to check back in on them!
Set a reminder in Google Calendar, Asana, or on your phone to look over your quarterly goal and progress goals once a week (preferably on Monday to help set the tone for the new work week).
2 | Map out your daily routines
Routines are essential to helping you reach your goals.
For example, if you have a goal to get healthier this year or lose 20 pounds, a daily workout routine will increase your chances of reaching that goal. But if you work out haphazardly whenever you feel like it, you’ll probably fall short or give up altogether.
Because routines help form habits.
They also set the stage for productivity, because the more you’re able to accomplish each morning, the more drive and motivation you’ll have to keep getting things done throughout the day.
And lastly, routines help you become more efficient; the more and more you do something, the quicker and better you’ll get at doing it.
My husband, Jake, and I set some personal goals at the beginning of this year to get back in shape, eat healthier, and spend more time in Bible study and prayer.
So we mapped out a morning routine that would help us reach those goals:
I’ll be the first to admit that waking up at 5:30am every weekday was a big adjustment, but after a couple weeks it started to become our new normal.
By the time 9:00am rolls around, we’ve already made progress toward our goals and we’re motivated to keep the productivity going.
Because my morning routine has been so helpful, I’ve also tried to create routines for my workday and my evenings.
Take action: Take some time to map out your morning, afternoon, and evening routines. Be sure to make them realistic so you can stick to them, and consider recruiting a spouse or friend to implement the routines with you so you don’t have to go it alone.
Life happens and you may not always be able to stick to these routines to a T, but having them in place will help you make progress toward your quarterly goals.
3 | Create an outline of your ideal work week
You’ve set your goals. You’ve outlines your routines. Now it’s time to schedule your workweek effectively.
In one of my favorite productivity books, What’s Best Next, Matt Perman encourages people to make a weekly time map.
It’s like a calendar of sorts, where you block off sections of time according to the tasks you need to accomplish each week.
I’ve found this time map to be extremely helpful for how I schedule my week. Here’s a look at my time map:
I’ve blocked out sections for how I’m going to use my time, factoring in those routines we talked about a moment ago.
Sunday is a day of rest; no work gets done on that day.
On Monday, I start my routine. You can see time blocked off for my morning routine (workout, get ready, breakfast, quiet time), my workday routine (daily workflow, focused work time, lunch, flexible work time), and then a pretty lax evening routine.
If you have kids or a full-time job, your time map may look a bit different. Maybe you factor in bedtimes, extracurriculars, or evening work time. Maybe you factor in family time on Saturday.
This time map is a great opportunity to consider your roles and responsibilities and actually plan for them in your schedule.
It’s also important to factor in free time.
If you max out each day with tasks and responsibilities, you’ll burn out quickly. You’ll also become discouraged when life inevitably throws you a curveball, something unexpected comes up, and you aren’t able to carry out your day as planned.
Take action: Plan out your ideal work week using a time map. Account for your daily routines, roles, and responsibilities, but be sure to factor in free time. Go over it with your spouse, and maybe even your kids, to make sure everyone’s on board.
Planning out your workweek will not only be helpful for you, but for everyone around you. It serves as a guide for how your plan on using your time and sets expectations for your work week.
4 | Spend time mapping out your work day every morning
You’ve focused on big picture tasks like goal setting and weekly time maps. Now it’s time to plan out your individual work days.
I like to use my Daily Workflow printable in the Work Week Scheduler workbook to go about scheduling my work days. It doesn’t have to be too detailed, but this simple practice helps me narrow my focus for the day and make the best use of my time.
First, account for your daily routines and work day outline (from your time map), and write them into your schedule. Those are the “non-negotiables;” the important tasks that will help you make progress toward your quarterly and progress goals.
Then, with those goals in mind, consider the number one thing you want to accomplish by the end of the day.
It’s easy to get bogged down by tons of little tasks, but what is your overarching goal for the day? Write that down on your Daily Workflow worksheet.
Then, consider what your top 3 priorities are for the day and make time for them.
An important rule of thumb for mapping out your daily workflow is to schedule your workday at 70% capacity.
Don’t account for every second of your day; leave some buffer time. Studies show that you'll actually be more productive if you aren't booking up every single hour and minute.
I’ve found it helpful to set aside focused work time and flexible work time to help me implement the 70% rule.
Focused work time helps me knock out my top 3 priorities for the day (or at least make a bunch of progress toward them). I remove distractions, block out the time during the morning (when I’m most productive), turn on a good Spotify station, and get to work.
Flexible work time allows for interruptions. This is when I try to schedule meetings, run errands, or accomplish tasks that don’t require as much concentration.
Take action: Begin using a Daily Workflow worksheet to map out your workdays. Account for your routines and time map, but be sure to schedule your day at only 70% capacity to make room for unexpected interruptions and time-consuming tasks.
Staying on Task
The type-A planner in me loves goal setting and mapping out my work week, but it’s much harder to actually stick to the plan and put it in action.
Here are some of the most helpful tips I’ve found for staying on task:
1 | Remove distractions
Simple things like phone notifications, texts, and even keeping your email tab open in your browser can prove to be the biggest distractions. To stay focused and get tasks done efficiently, remove distractions. Turn off notifications, silence your phone, and close out of any browser tabs you aren’t currently using.
2 | Schedule breaks
Working for hours on end isn’t good for you. Constant work leads to burnout, but it can also cause you to work in circles. It’s good to step away and refocus throughout your work day. Take a lunch break away from your computer and schedule in a couple smaller breaks throughout the morning and afternoon.
3 | Don’t max out your schedule
I mentioned this a moment ago, but it’s important to leave some flexibility in your schedule to allow for interruptions and tasks that take longer than you expect. Be realistic and leave some wiggle room in there to cut out stress and save your sanity.
4 | Bribe yourself
While there are many perks that come with working for yourself, there are also a lot of hangups. When you’re in charge of your schedule, it’s more tempting to procrastinate or take too much time on tasks. I’ve found it helpful to bribe myself and give myself rewards for completing tasks within a certain amount of time. For example, if I get all of my top 3 priorities done by lunch, I’ll for a Starbucks run or take a longer lunch break.
5 | Find an accountability partner
Are you having trouble staying on task and making progress toward your goals? Find a peer or friend to hold you accountable. Share your top priorities at the beginning of each week and follow up with your progress. My friend, Chaitra, and I use a slack channel to share our top 3 priorities for the work day and check in throughout the day with our progress. Her encouragement and accountability has made a world of difference on my productivity!
6 | Track your time
Do you know exactly how many hours you’re spending on business tasks throughout your workweek? Your time map and daily workflow will help you account for your time, but it’s helpful to know the exact data so you can see which tasks are taking too long. Consider using a time tracker like Toggl to keep up with your hours and take an objective look at how you’re spending your time.
7 | Put a time limit on meetings and tasks
Do you leave tasks open-ended? Consider putting a time limit on them to keep them from dragging on. For example, instead of scheduling a meeting with a peer or client for 12:00pm, schedule the meeting from 12:00-12:30pm. This is also a good practice for tasks that tend to take you forever. Setting a time cap on a task (like writing a blog post or coming up with a logo concept) helps you set a goal and get the task done in a timely manner.
Maintaining a Realistic Work/Life Balance
This is a topic I’m asked about pretty frequently. How do you manage your business while still having a personal life?
And while I wish I had a one-size-fits-all answer, the truth is that this looks different for everyone.
And the hard truth is that you’ll never be able to balance your work and your personal life perfectly; it’s always a work in progress.
At the beginning of your business, you’re probably going to have to put a significant amount of time into your work and make sacrifices in order to get it off the ground.
This may look like working on Saturdays and on weeknights. It might mean taking a step back from extracurriculars or spending some money on help to delegate tasks.
But if you put in the work in the beginning, you increase the likelihood of being able to step back later.
With that said, I’ve found these tips helpful for maintaining a realistic work/life balance:
1 | Set work hours
The best way to set boundaries on your time is to set office hours. If you’ve worked through the weekly time map above, you’ve done this already. But it’s important to stick to your work hours. Not only will this help you take your work time seriously, but it will help others take your work time seriously too. Treat your business like you would a regular job.
2 | Don’t check email or reply to email after hours
It’s important to set mental boundaries for your business, because your work can easily consume your thoughts during all hours of the day. Respect your personal time by only checking and replying to email during your office hours. If you’re sending emails at 11:00pm, you’re setting an expectation with your clients that you’ll reply to them at any time of day, and you’re not respecting your family/free time.
3 | Set clear expectations for customers and clients
Make your office hours known to your clients/customers and set clear expectations for when they can expect replies, deliverables, etc. If you don’t set boundaries on your time, client work and customer inquiries will invade your personal time.
4 | Schedule breaks/vacations
Plan for longer breaks. Schedule in vacation time for holidays and family trips, and guard that time. Don’t pick up your laptop, look at your inbox, or do any work during those vacations. Put up an email responder and make it a priority to step away from your business. This is by far one of the most important tips in this post - it makes a world of difference and allows you to recharge.
This is one of my favorite business topics because it’s one of the most practical. How you use your time can make all the difference in the success of your business!
What are your best pieces of advice for scheduling your workday, staying on task, and setting boundaries? Which of these tips are you excited to implement this fall?
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