by Jenna Kutcher
It doesn’t matter where you work, what you do, and who you do it for — Productivity is a tug of war and staying focused seems like a finicky art we’re all still trying to master. You know what you have to finish in a day to reach those goals, so why is it SO HARD to get it done? My guess — because it comes from experience — you need a makeover. I’m not talking hair or clothing or anything that, because you look GREAT… I mean your routine. If your productivity is lacking, you need to makeover and rework your current workflow habits to find a new groove to do your best work. I’m breaking down my “work smarter, not harder” tips that keep me focused and productive during the long days growing my business. Let’s get productive up in here.
Your Big Three
If you start to feel your productivity lacking, look at how you schedule your day. Your work day needs structure and organization, whether you’re working in an office or from home. You might be inclined to time block your hours, setting aside two hours for a creative task, followed up by an hour for email inbox maintenance. Time blocking can be a great strategy, but before you start assigning hours in a time-based structure, identify your Big Three. The Big Three is a concept my entire team uses to ensure our best flow state hours are filled with the biggest needle movers for the business, before we do anything else. Your Big Three are the tasks that, when you cross them off your list, will have a direct impact on your profits and overall growth.
For example, today, my big three were: coaching inside of my Facebook group for the course I am mentoring people through, recording 4 podcast episodes, and working on an outline for our podcast course… those three things are the priorities and I started with my Facebook group, so that’s done, and now I’m recording, so CHECK, and after this, I’m diving deep into our new course — get excited.
Too Many Tabs Open
Once you get in the practice of determining your Big Three for the day, you’ll be better prepared to work through your the most important things on your to do list without bouncing around, opening a million tabs in your brain, and never finishing any of them. Sometimes one or all of the tasks on your Big Three list might be TOO big to think about as a whole, and it leaves you scrambling to find your starting point, so break them down. Add bullet points beneath each Big Three item, breaking down the individual tasks you need to complete in each category.
For example, if Kylie (our podcast managing pro) has “Write Show Notes” on her Big Three list, she breaks it down like this: She can reasonably write two episodes worth of show notes in the morning, so she picks the two episodes she’ll work on. Each episode requires her to listen to the show, pick the three major takeaways from the episode, draft the blog post in WordPress, embed the graphics from our designer, embed the episode player, confirm the ads and link to them in the blog, and schedule Facebook posts to the Business Page and the Goal Digger Podcast Insiders group.
When all of those breakdown tasks are done, she’s finished with ONE of her “Big Three” for the day. Seeing the steps to complete a project listed out makes it easier to focus on what needs to be done, and motivates you to work on it until it’s complete instead of bouncing from one task to another.
When you structure your day around your Big Three, you know that even if nothing else gets done, you’ve accomplished three major tasks that have a direct effect on the growth and success of your business, and that’s a really great feeling.
All of these concepts are part of my larger batch work strategy, which I dive into fully in episode 207. If my Big Three includes recording for Goal Digger, I’m not just recording one episode, I’m recording six or more at a time so the task of recording is complete for the next six weeks. Batchworking frees up brainspace to create with intention, and do my best work. For an entire episode on my favorite productivity hack, go listen to Episode 207 titled How to Batchwork and Save Yourself Hours.
The concept of the Big Three sounds great, but you still might fall victim to the inevitable distractions around you. I did a quick survey on The Goal Digger Podcast Instagram stories, and no matter where you worked, DISTRACTIONS were the number one struggle during your work day. From chatty coworkers, to a nagging email inbox, and those super enticing apps vying for our attention on our phones, they’re just a few of the distractions you’re facing during your day… But we can tackle all of them with two rules: CREATE before you CONSUME and SET BOUNDARIES.
When you’re in your most productive, creative, and focused “flow state” hours in the morning, make a rule to CREATE before you CONSUME. Be intentional with your time — You are here to create big, important things, not to be scrolling your Instagram feed and being weighed down by comparison fatigue. Before I do anything, I CREATE with my Big Three top of mind. If you think this sounds great in theory but aren’t sure how to actually stick to it, you can set limits on your consumption on your phone so it will send you warnings when you’ve hit your time limit right inside of things like Facebook and Instagram.
Maybe your distractions are more in the form of other people demanding your time on their schedule… Those notifications on your phone and the constant ding of your email inbox can quickly pull you away from your work and all of the sudden, that flow state you were in? Gone. I am very, deeply passionate about setting boundaries and NOT making myself available 24/7. You’ve heard me talk about this before — I rarely give out my phone number.
My team communicates with Slack and I can snooze notifications for when I need to focus. One of the most important things I’ve done to set boundaries for contacting me, and it may sound scary, but I deleted the GMail app from my phone. I do not receive emails on my phone, and it’s because my email inbox can be one of the BIGGEST distractions to actually getting stuff done in my business. Let’s dig a little deeper into that one.
Your email inbox is not your to do list. I repeat, your email inbox is not your to do list! You’ve probably heard this before, and yet it’s still easy to pop open that inbox first thing in the a.m. and attempt to achieve the elusive Inbox Zero… But this is one time-suck that I want you to put an end to, so you can focus on the more important tasks in your business.
I don’t even think about opening my email inbox until my Big Three for the day are finished. And when I do open email, it’s once or twice a day to take care of important responses. It’s possible for me to do this because of the other systems of communication I have in place that are simply more efficient and effective than managing my business through email. My team utilizes Slack to communicate throughout the day. We have Google Docs upon Google Docs that organize our content calendar, podcast advertisers, assets for the website, and more, so instead of emailing and asking for an update on an item, anyone on the team and look for themselves.
Still, there are some things that come through email like new brand approvals from our ad agency or inquiries from companies who want to work with me on sponsored content. I have a team member who only manages the inbox, so that cuts down a lot of time for me weeding through the most important emails that require a timely response, but if a team member or virtual assistant isn’t a feasible solution for you, try this instead: Setup autoresponders with answers to the most commonly asked questions that land in your inbox. If you emailed me during maternity leave, you most likely saw the auto responder with answers to sponsorship questions, a link to my media kit, a direct email address to customer support for my courses, and more. My team also has canned responses in GMail with pre-written messages that address our most common emails.
When you move as much communication as possible out of your inbox and setup auto-responders and canned responses for common messages, it creates a funnel that only lets through the most important emails needing your direct, timely response. The result is less time in your inbox, because there’s simply less to handle!
Finally, just remember you don’t need to be reachable all the time and if deleting the email app from your phone is too scary, notifications are easy to turn off. If you’re frequently pulled back to your email when you hear the tell-tale ding, turn. it. off.
Create Your Workspace
Let’s talk about our workspaces. In the words of Marie Kondo: “Does it spark joy?” When you look at your desk or cubicle, or the kitchen table or the couch, is that setup helping you stay focused and doing your best work? Here are a few ways to improve your workspace and spark a little more joy (and focus and motivation) while you work.
First off, if you’re working in an office cubicle you might have less control over your zone, but there are still some things you can do to create a space that motivates and inspires you. Pictures of your cute family, a small plant in the corner, and your ergonomically correct computer chair are all the common ones, but go beyond that. Pick up a “happy light” to simulate natural daylight in a dark office environment, or even to battle against the harsh fluorescent lights buzzing above you. If you’re able to pop in some headphones, build a playlist of instrumental music to provide the soundtrack to your workday.
Search on your favorite music streaming service for things like “Instrumental Movie Soundtracks” or “Instrumental Acoustic” and they will bring up tons of tracks that are calm and not distracting. Finally, if you’re able, change up your workspace entirely once a week. Reserve the office conference room or setup a workspace in a lesser-used corner of the office. Bonus points if the space has a window — Get that natural light any way you can.
Now if you’re living the work from home life, you know the benefits largely outweigh the downsides here, but a work from home workspace has so many more distractions and motivation-zappers. You’re only a few feet from your couch and streaming services at all times — How can you not get distracted by that? I’ll give you a peek into my workspace and how I stay inspired through many long days there.
I have a happy light, just like I recommended if you’re working in an office, and I also LOVE running an essential oil diffuser while I work. My desk is always showered in natural light, unless of course, the sun has gone down… And I usually have a snuggly dog in my lap. My home office dress code is nothing more formal than leggings. While you will typically find me sitting up to my desk tackling my big three, I give myself the freedom to dream up big ideas from the bathtub or answer emails with my laptop on the couch.
One thing to remember if you’re an entrepreneur and you’re your own boss, is you get to make the rules… And sometimes those rules are really flexible, but you also need to enforce those rules for yourself in some areas. If you often move to the couch to write, but 30 minutes in you’re curled up with a blanket, balancing your laptop on your hip and typing with one hand, you’re probably not doing your best work. Make a rule for yourself that couch work time is only for email or something less involved… And enforce that rule.
No matter where or for whom you’re working, check in with your body every 30 minutes. Let’s try this together right now: Am I sitting with proper posture? Are my shoulders tensed up to my ears? Am I clenching my jaw or furrowing my brow? When was the last time I had a drink of water? Am I breathing steadily and deeply through my nose? Check in with your body and discover any areas you are holding tension and release it. When your focus wanes and you’re feeling burnt out, give your body a chance to recenter before getting back to work.
The Big Picture
My hope for you at the end of this episode is that you now have the tools to work on your own routine, and find a productive workflow so your time is used efficiently and you’re proud of what you have accomplished at the end of the day. It’s a tug of war, and some days you might be on the losing side, dragging yourself through mud to cross off just one thing on your list… But when you have a strong structure in place, like identifying your Big Three and batch working your projects, you’ll find that productive stride in no time.
Did this help you out? Head over to Instagram — AFTER you’re done tackling your big three, of course, and let me know which steps you’re going to put into action and while you’re commenting, let us know what you want to hear next. We LOVE hearing from you!