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It feels like this is alllllways the time of year where I simultaneously feel this urge to plan and review what’s been working and dig into the deep data, while also yearning to take this deep breath, to pause, to unplug from the noise on social media, and to just cozy up with my little fam on the couch under soft blankets with some hot cocoa and all the Frozen movies with the addicting tunes.
And, here’s the deal: I truly believe there’s a space and time for both.
It’s a delicate dance and one that I’m still working on mastering, but if 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that I can be stretched outside my comfort zone and still show up and do the work, while prioritizing myself and my family, and while moving the most important things forward. The catch? I have to have a solid game plan set up for myself.
When I head into a workday or week frazzled without clear direction and I don’t have any clue what the priorities are or what should be tackled first, that’s always, always, always when my concentration suffers, my productivity plummets, and my workload seems larger and more obstructive than it usually, actually is. It’s like that feeling of looking at the to-do list and letting it claim victory over you before you’ve even attempted to cross a single thing off. Anyone else??
I want to revisit the topic of prioritizing what matters and managing your time in a way that produces results AND protects your peace. Because both are equally important to me, and it’s taken a year of intense challenge and change to really drive that home for me.
Let me share the 5 things that help me build efficient days that let me maximize my work time AND feel confident to close my laptop when the work day is done. These are my tried-and-true time management practices that I always return to when I feel frantic or frazzled, and they’re the real deal for getting stuff done and feeling accomplished on any given day. Take what you need, leave what you don’t, and know that you have the power and choice to make every day wonderful in your own way.
Get laser focused on what drives results
I love to think of these as the needle mover tasks. The thing is, I notice that people are spending more time on things that aren’t really leading to true results instead of hyper focusing on what is actually driving results.
We want to pour gasoline on the fire of the things that are already working and so if you’re not even sure what those things are, it might be wise to set aside a few hours to dig into the data and let that guide your approach. Information is power and when we can see where the results are coming from, it allows you to prioritize and maximize those results with your efforts, energy, expertise, and time.
Like I mentioned earlier, this is the perfect time to dig through the data. I know, I know, I’m totally a numbers nerd BUT at the end of the year you have the opportunity to dig through the past 12 months of website analytics, social media numbers, sales, clicks, follower or subscriber growth and beyond. Even with how crazy this year has been, the numbers are going to tell you a story if you’re willing to listen.
Questions you want to ask yourself when looking at the data:
- What method of marketing is working best? Do more of that.
- What product or offer is selling best? Do more of that.
- What platforms are driving the biggest results? Focus on them more.
- What offers were the most profitable? Sell more of that.
You don’t need to be an analyst or a mathematician here. It’s really just reviewing, finding the biggest movers, and concentrating more of your time and energy on those because the numbers shows that they WORK. Even if you just put those tasks, offers, and marketing platforms at the TOP of your to-do list each day or week, you’ll likely see bigger results moving forward.
And then do a quarterly data pull to help us recenter, look for trends, and focus our efforts on what’s already working. Even looking at the numbers from the past 30 days can be enormously effective and telling for what has been working well most recently.
While understanding your numbers won’t immediately translate into building your most productive day, it WILL show you what you can be concentrating more of your and if you have one, your team’s time on, as well as what may not be working.
For example, if you see that your audience responds way better to buying from you straight from your emails, but you’re spending triple the time on your social strategy for far less tangible results, then it may be time to pivot and hone in on your email marketing strategy since your numbers show that’s a more valuable place for your to serve your audience anyway!
Set boundaries on checking social media and email
Okay, truth time? My team totally makes fun of me because I’m THAT person who can have literally 101 tabs open at any given time. When we’re having funky problems with hopping on Zoom for a team call, the immediate response is “Jenna, can you close some of your tabs?!”
It goes without saying that I’m not exactly the queen of limiting my distractions… However, when I need to focus in on one task and eliminate outside noise, you better believe I’m x-ing out of everything including and most importantly email, slack and social media.
As for my phone, it lives on “do not disturb” mode. I’m the girl with 174 unread text messages which I am so not proud of but which also is a testament to the role my phone and devices play in my life. While I love technology and rely on it for so much, I also have some massive boundaries around it, especially when it comes to working.
I don’t always want my watch to always ding me every time a notification pops up, my phone lives in a cabinet in our home for a good portion of the day and we have a strict no devices policy in our bedroom. When our devices are strategically placed in another room, it makes it so I’m not tempted to pick it up mindlessly and scroll is one of the most underrated and valuable productivity hacks… ever. And it’s free and doable for ANYONE.
And if you’re someone who has email on their phone (seriously delete it) or has an email tab open all hours of the day, it’s time to set expectations and boundaries around that inbox.
Most emails and inquiries AREN’T urgent, let’s be real here. The majority of them can wait an hour or two or five until you have the capacity to take them on… until then, having your email tab open on your internet browser is just like playing whack-a-mole for your brain.
Having your inbox open gives other people control over your day. Every time a new email comes in, your brain gets pulled away from the task at hand and gets a kick of dopamine when you check it out and eliminate that notification… Even if you don’t answer the email right away, it gives you a false sense of productivity to manage your inbox while trying to juggle other projects, when really, it’s just slowing you down everywhere!
Prioritize creation first
Start your day with whatever creation needs to get done. Especially if you have a team or people relying on you for feedback, it can be easy to get sucked into a hole of “answer this email, respond to that person” first thing every day. Usually by the time I get to work, after spending the morning with Drew and Coco, I’ve got a load of notifications and asks that require my feedback.
Creating before consuming doesn’t just start when you begin your workday, this really is a way of life. Whenever I pick up my phone out of habit first thing in the morning, he always challenges me: Did you create before you consumed? I always get mad at him, but it’s true, our creations need space and our creativity is impacted by our consumption.
If you’re feeling frazzled or like you’re stuck in a creative rut or that your creative endeavors take the backseat far too often, I highly, highly recommend pushing yourself to kick off the day with any sort of creation-centered work. If you need to write some social media posts, start with that. If you need a new lead magnet or newsletter this week, begin there. If you want to build out a suite of new graphics for Pinterest or templates for a shop, then start with THAT task.
Why? Because when we start the day by pouring our energy into responding to others’ needs, we’re set up to run on response mode rather than proactive mode which can be the quickest way to drain our energy and make those creative tasks 10 times harder to accomplish later in the day.
Focus on your creative projects, the ones that require the freshest mind and the most attention — spoiler: they are probably your biggest needle movers too, and figure out your best flow state and learn how to honor that the best you possibly can.
Set up a space conducive to work
It was only in the last few months I even started thinking about posture because my body out of seemingly nowhere just began to ACHE and no amount of stretching or foam rolling or movement could help it. Finally, I started thinking about how I spent the majority of my time… bent over my laptop or phone, staring at screens for hours on end, shoulders hunched over whatever I’m working on, my eyes squinting at the screen.
I realized that the way I was working maybe felt good (ish) in the moment, but later on it wreaked havoc on my body. Welcome to your 30s, y’all, it only gets better, they say!
Since I usually need some sort of scientific research to convince me to uncozy myself and make a change, improving your posture can actually boost your productivity too! A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology stated that sitting up straight and sticking your chest out can increase your productivity and creativity and I sure as heck know that sitting in that manor helps me have enough breath to record these solo shows. Buh-bye couch slouching and bed-ridden work seshes, hello new office chair.
While 2020 shifted when and where and how many of us work, it’s important that we don’t just treat this as temporary but that we create a space that is conducive to productive working. That doesn’t mean you need a formal office to get work done.
Here’s what you DO need for a successful work setup: a flat surface for your computer that’s not your lap or a pillow, and yes, your kitchen counter or dining room table will do JUST fine. A comfortable chair that allows you to sit upright comfortably with your feet planted on the ground.
And, a handful of helpful items at your disposal, like your chapstick, water bottle, headphones, planner, and a pen or pencil. I promise, if you set up every day in a setting like this rather than plopping your computer next to your body pillow in bed, you’ll find you have way more energy and gumption to get stuff done, AND your body and brain will feel so much better doing it.
Set a timer, execute your tasks, move on
Not EVERY day can be a knockout productivity-wise, and I think that this year has been a great, much-needed teacher with that. It’s okay to give yourself grace for the less productive days, and in fact a less judgmental approach will allow you to jump back in with both feet the next day rather than feeling sleepy and grumpy and guilty that you didn’t get it all done the day before.
If you’re needing a quick kick in the booty to actually move a few things forward, there’s NOTHING like setting a timer and fitting as much of one task into that time window. Whether it’s cleaning the house or knocking out your inbox or writing that blog post, there’s something about a timer that motivates us and helps us to focus on one thing eliminating the desire to multitask.
For me, it’s the inbox, the outlining of all of our content, and the extensive copy reviews that get me. Those projects take a lot of my attention and energy on a regular basis, so, naturally they are the first things to procrastinate on.
But, when I tell myself I have 1 hour to review as much as I can of let’s say it’s reviewing 4 blog posts or outlining the next 5 solo shows, it’s almost magical how much I manage to squeeze in when I have a timer pushing me to stay on task and focus.
Most people in the online business world call it time-blocking. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a miracle worker for those things that always get bumped to the bottom of to-do lists. (You know what I’m talking about!)
The Big Picture
Whether you have a lot to wrap up this year and feel the weight of too much on your plate… Or just want to start a new year with a fresh approach to kicking butt, taking names, and checking off your to-do list, I hope you feel a little more capable of working in your flow zone and focusing on what should be your priorities.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to time management, and something that works one week may very well be counterproductive for you the next week. That’s why I’m a huge fan of leaning into your intuition, listening to what your mind and body needs, looking at the logical needle movers, and prioritizing from there.
There’s no such thing as perfect productivity 24/7, and you WILL have off days or distractions come in to swoop you away, but as long as you have some helpful methods to fall back on, you’ll be able to get into a rhythm that not only keeps you moving forward, but that FEELS good too. And that’s just as important when it comes to the work we do!
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