Seven Hills Communications
Small Business Marketing & Public Relations

Blog

Small Business Marketing & PR Advice

Posts tagged productivity
Prioritizing by Context

As a PR pro, I am constantly consuming media as well as journalists' request, and it never ceases to amaze me how much is still being written on work/life balance. It seems to be the never ending quest we're all on. We pack our days full and then at the end feel off-kilter. I'm not a huge believer in day-to-day balance (to me, that's just punishing yourself every 24 hours for getting it wrong), but I do think that having an overall sense of balance over time is important. It was coming to terms with that fact that's allowed me to figure out the best way to manage my day is CONTEXT. It's sort of a combination of block scheduling and being present, and it requires you understand your strengths, weaknesses and limitations in any part of the day, but ever since I've become conscious of doing this, I've found that I end the days feeling more accomplished, less rushed and like I hit on my personal and professional priorities for the day.

Like lots of working parents, my day is a constant running to-do list. I often get made fun of for my lists, my schedule blocking and my focus on efficiency around my house (all of that can be found here), but the foundation for it all is the context of my day. I prioritize my day by context intuitively, but if it doesn't come naturally to you, it's pretty simple to do, and it'll really up your efficiency game. When you're thinking about your day (and I highly recommend doing this the night BEFORE to get it out of your head!), block it off into the things you cannot control - what your particular situation will be at any point in the day. 

Then, take your to-do list and figure out how it all fits in. What are you going to be best at doing at any one time? Here's an example for you of a typical day for me:

5 AM - Wake up and work out
My body hates working out once it's fully awake so I trick it by doing it early. Bonus: my kids are early risers so this time is usually spent watching Daniel Tiger anyways. Might as well let my husband do that while I get my workout on!

6:30 AM -8:30 AM - Get everyone dressed, fed and out the door for school
Here's where context comes in. I try not to do any work during these hours--not even checking email--because in the end, it slows me down and I'm not fully focused. What I do get done during this time is small household chores: laundry gets thrown in, bedrooms get straightened, blankets get folded, dishwasher gets loaded as I move about the house. That way those things don't nag during worktime and they fit into the flow or context of "getting ready."

8:30 AM - 3 PM - Work
Even within the workday, I contextualize. I try to hit my hardest tasks in the morning so they're out of the way and I'm "rewarded" by taking it easier when the hard stuff's out of the way. If I have meetings to drive to, I use the context of the car to return calls or listen to podcasts. Things I NEVER do in the work context: work out, watch TV, grocery shop, do chores. It's work - not free time - so I try to keep disciplined.

3 PM - 7:30 PM - Family Time
Once we reach pickup time, I'm in mom mode again. I consider late afternoon post-pickup the perfect time to run errands like going to the grocery store or doing a return at a store--things that I find pretty easy to do with my kids. I cook, I straighten, I do light work things to wrap up the day but make sure anything that requires concentration is done by then.

7:30 pm - 11 PM - Relaxing and Light Work
Context returns here. I tend to spend this time relaxing and sometimes doing light work. I specifically leave simple work tasks that don't require tons of brainpower for this time, because it's a time I use to catch up with my husband or watch TV. So, for example, I'll invoice or research or build media lists during this time. I won't write the copy for an entire website--my brain's too fried. Because I know this about the context of my day, I know which priorities on my to-do list can and cannot wait. I also can't do much housework at this point in the day, so I'll save something I can do in front of the TV, like folding laundry, for the evening.

Not every day is the same for me, of course, but I find that knowing myself and the context of the situation--what I can and can't accomplish based on what else is happening--is instrumental in helping me be as efficient as possible, being less frustrated by the circumstances around me and doing my very best work. So try it: sit down and figure out what's going on tomorrow, what makes most sense to do during each part of your day, and if it ups your efficiency.

Staying Productive When You're Your Own Boss

I've had the privilege of being "my own boss" for nearly seven years now, working with clients in a variety of industries but working as an independent consultant or, today, small consultancy. I often hear, "You're so lucky you take any day off you want," from people, and that's sort of true. I feel really fortunate that in the end, I have control of my schedule. But in actuality, I have clients to answer to (as any business has the end user to answer to!) and there's not a big system in place to replace me if I'm out for a day or week.

In the end, whether you're working from home, your office or a shop, if you're a small business owner you are, on some level, working off your own drive and self-motivation. Yes, you can have flexible hours, but that work has to get done at some point, so you need to figure out when. Sure, you can decide on Tuesday that you'd rather Netflix and Chill but whatever you were planning to do then will still be undone on Wednesday. 

And ever since becoming a mom four years ago, I have become extremely focused about squeezing out every hour of productivity from my workdays possible, largely so I can spend more quality time with my children and be present for them during that time. To that end, I've come up with some strategies for business owners (or anyone really) who is looking for ways to amp up productivity that I truly believe allow me to get more work done in a single day than I once could do in two. Here's how I do it.

Take the Overwhelm Out of It

I've worked with dozens of small business owners, nonprofits and startups over the years. In most cases, these are people who are wearing a lot of hats and no matter how cool, calm and confident they are, there's a sense of overwhelm at times. My first productivity tip: being overwhelmed is a waste of your energy.

Whenever I'm feeling like there's way too much going on and I'm getting scattered, whether it's work, kids' schedules or trying to pull together a holiday dinner, I create a plan of action. That's my strategy for taking back the power of the situation. If that's what works for you, do it. Other ways to become less overwhelmed are: take a long look at your tasks and see what deadlines or timelines can be moved around; outsource something (cleaning, babysitting, virtual assistant work, anything); remove the things that aren't essential (there's always something); or go for a run (sometimes a mindset shift is all you need to tackle what otherwise seemed overwhelming).

Make Lists

I am the Queen of Lists, and I take plenty of ribbing for it, but it works for me. Ever since my first "real" post-college job, I've made it a habit of making a list each day as I finish work of what needs to be tackled the next day. This serves me well in three ways.

First, it enables me to take a quick run through what my tasks are for the day and upcoming days to ensure that nothing fell through the cracks so I don't walk in the next day to a missed deadline (nightmare!). 

Secondly, it allows me to walk away from the office and not think too much about work for the evening or my time off. I know that I've squared everything away and I have a plan of attack when I return.

Thirdly, it lets me walk into work the following morning ready to go. I don't need to spend a lot of time floundering around figuring out what I need to start with; I can jump right in.

I also make lists for personal stuff, chores, errands, stuff the kids need to have done. I usually work off a paper list for the day's tasks and electronic lists (via Asana for work and Google Calendar for calls and kids' appointments) for a full list of everything today and in the future. 

Block Schedule

I don't do this every day, but on days where the list is huge or certain projects are going to need to take up huge amounts of time, I create blocks in my day and assign projects or tasks to each one. This not only allows me to ensure that everything actually has time and space to get done, but it also gets me really focused to the task at hand. If I know I have allotted an hour or two hours to do something, I focus on hitting that deadline and am less likely to check Facebook or get otherwise distracted.

Focus on the Task at Hand

Like everyone else, I'm better at being present and focused on what's going on in the moment some days more than others. But overall, I really try to do the thing I'm supposed to be doing at the time I'm supposed to be doing it. At Sky Zone with my kids? I won't take a work call (though I do admittedly keep a general eye on emails.) Deep in a workday and heading to the kitchen for coffee? I'll rinse my mug but ignore that sink full of dishes that can be done while I'm cleaning up after dinner later on.

This sounds simple but a lot of people really struggle with it (I hear it all the time around working from home and avoiding housework!). And it does truly benefit not only your work productivity but also your ability to enjoy your downtime.

Group Like Tasks

There's nothing I love more than getting into the zone or on a roll. While we have clients across a variety of industries, we do many of the same tasks for each of them - ex., pitching the media, copywriting, social media management and the like. When it comes to work, I'll batch like tasks - either focusing on one client for a block or one function (e.g., updating everyone's social profiles or Facebook ads, or pitching the media for a number of clients) for an extended period of time. This allows me to get into the zone and not waste time switching my brain on and off the task at hand.

While I love my system, I am always on the hunt for new tips. Leave your best productivity tactic in the comments!