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How to create your ideal week when you’re working for yourself

5 productivity tips to get the most out of your time without the structure of the corporate 9 to 5

When I first left my corporate 9-to-5 job back in 2013, I initially rebelled against any kind of structure and routine. I refused to set my alarm in the morning, I had no real plan and I just wanted to go where my energy was each day.

As it turned out, this wasn’t the best idea!

The complete absence of structure meant that I lacked any kind of focus and I was spreading myself too thinly across lots of different ideas. My online scheduler meant that my clients could book calls with me at any time of the day and so each day was chopped up into random chunks of time, and weeks would pass without any kind of progress on my bigger goals (to the extent that I had any goals!). Working from home also meant that there was no clear boundary between my work and my personal time.

Working for yourself, you have the complete freedom and flexibility that you so longed for when you were in that corporate 9 to 5 – but it’s also that freedom and flexibility that can be your downfall!

Here are 5 productivity tips to create your ideal week so that you become more intentional and focused on your priorities and make real progress towards your goals:

1. Define success

The first step, in my opinion, must always be to define what success looks like for you. If you don’t know what you’re working towards, then how will you ever get there (or know that you’re there when you do)?

Start with the big vision: where do you want to be longer term, in five or maybe ten years? What about three years? One year? Six months? Recent works seem to suggest that the best time frame is 90 days or 12 weeks, so that’s a good horizon to set yourself for a specific goal: what does success look like at the end of the next three months? Then you can break that down into what success looks like for this month, this week, and this day.

Being clear on what success looks like for you, whatever the time horizon, will help you be more intentional about putting your focus on the most important priorities and, at the end of your week, you’ll be able to review the progress you’ve made and celebrate your wins.

2. Start with the big rocks

I learned about the ‘big rocks’ from Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits. The idea is that if you let all your to-dos dominate, if you put all the little day-to-day priorities and things that life throws at you into your calendar first, then you’ll never be able to fit in your ‘big rocks’. These are your most important priorities like family and relationships, personal time and wellbeing, and so on. However, if you put the big rocks in first, then all the rest can and will fall into place.

For a visual representation of this, watch this video on YouTube (if nothing else, the fashion back then provides some entertainment!) >>

What this means when it comes to your weekly schedule is that you want to start by planning the activities that are critical to moving your business forward, to nurturing your relationships, to ensuring that you stay healthy and happy – all the ‘big rocks’ in your life. Then the admin tasks, emails and other secondary priorities can all be worked around those big rocks.

Of course, you decide what the big rocks are, based on your own definition of success. Check out my 5Ls model and success audit to see the five areas that I believe are critical to a fulfilling life >>

3. Eat the frog

If you zoom in on the ‘big rocks’ idea and take a daily view of your calendar, then the next productivity tip is to schedule your biggest rock first thing in the morning. This means ‘eating the frog’: doing the most important work before you get distracted by everything else. You don’t have control over what happens throughout your day, but you do usually have control over your morning. Block your calendar in the morning for your own personal frogs to make sure you don’t procrastinate!

If you don’t do this, the natural tendency will be to follow the path of least resistance. You’ll start with the easiest tasks, the fun ones, and important projects will get postponed. Then one of two things will happen: either your not-that-urgent tasks will suddenly become urgent and you’ll be forced to prioritise them, or, alternatively, you’ll end up postponing them indefinitely and you’ll never achieve those big goals of yours.

Translating the ‘frog’ into a business context, these priority blocks of time will be dedicated to things like looking at the big picture, your vision and strategy for the business; creating content that you can share on different channels to build your credibility and authority; and managing your finances on an ongoing basis rather than waiting until the end of the year when accounts are due.

4. Follow your natural rhythm

Okay, I know that I said that my ‘go-with-the-flow’ attitude when I first quit my job wasn’t too effective, but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore it altogether. You’re more likely to stick to your plan, and do great work when you do, if you work with your natural strengths rather than against them.

If you know you’re one of those chirpy ‘lark’ people and you jump out of bed the minute the alarm rings, then you should plan to get your most important work done in the morning. If you’re a night owl and super productive late into the evening, then you’ll do better if you plan to do your most important work once the sun goes down.

Working for yourself, the risk is that you end up hunched over your computer from dawn to dusk. Rather than sit there all day while not being particularly productive, forcing yourself to work when your brain’s not functioning properly, you’re much better off following the natural rhythm of your body clock.

5. Review and optimise

Finally, the reality of life means that you’ll never actually live out an ‘ideal week’. You should treat this more as a guideline, a flexible framework that gives you an element of structure without being too rigid.

What I’d recommend is that you review your calendar and your list of priorities on a weekly basis. I like to do this on a Sunday night, if I can, or you might do it on Monday morning. What you want to do is transform your to-do list into calendar appointments, and move things around if needed. For example, I might usually exercise mid-morning but on Tuesday this coming week I have a client meeting – looking at this ahead of time means that I can move my exercise block to an earlier slot, so that it still gets done within that particular week’s constraints. The stuff in your calendar is the stuff that gets done, so make appointments with yourself – and keep them!

If you need to make an exception now and then that’s fine, and if you find that something consistently isn’t working for you then change things up! The key is to do this intentionally and proactively and not just in reaction to what’s being thrown at you.

If you want more tips on how to reimagine success for you and your business and would enjoy connecting with like-minded people, then join my Facebook group at One Step Outside >>

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