Time Blocking vs. Blocking Time

This was originally a LinkedIn post, but it felt too valuable not to share here as well… In our effort to get more done each day, we often forget that slowing down can actually be the best way to increase our overall productivity. Here are two techniques I use that help ensure I work smarter, thus increasing the number of tasks I can complete fully and successfully on any given day…

 

I was on a call with a colleague who is also a consultant and needed some help streamlining his work week for increased productivity. I shared a few tips with him, and here’s one that may be worth trying if you feel like your days are getting away from you.

Time-Blocking

Block out time in your schedule weekly (preferably the same day and same time) for key non-client activities. Some things that may fall into this category are invoicing, marketing, sales follow up, paying bills, etc…

By setting aside time each week to handle these items you’ll be doing two things to help increase your productivity.

1. You’ll actually save time by doing all of “one thing” at once instead of bit by bit over the course of the week. The less times you “touch” something, the better.

2. You’ll build “muscle memory” and after a few weeks your brain will automatically kick into gear on that set day and time when it’s time to write a blog, make follow up calls to potential customers, check your collections for the week, etc.

Here’s to working smarter, not harder. 🙌🏼🙌🏾

 

Here’s the second tip:

Blocking Off Time

When it comes to scheduling appointments, especially with business booming right now in the construction industry, it seems like we’re all trying to squeeze in as many per day as possible.

My suggestion, however, is to block out time IN BETWEEN appointments (Zoom or in person) to wrap up with client #1 before moving on to client #2. As both consultants and contractors, when we “hang up”, there are almost always a few follow up to do’s that need to be taken care of to truly close out the meeting.

When you book back to back to back calls, you don’t give yourself the time or space to:

1 – End the call calmly and avoid rushing into the next call (sometimes a few minutes late 😳).

2 – Finish jotting down your final notes and take a breath before moving on to meet with the next client.

Try giving yourself 15 minutes between calls as you’re making new appointments and see how it affects your overall productivity. And pay attention to how being present in the moment, knowing you have a cushion, leads to better conversations and eliminates the stress that comes with rushing from one task to the next. 😎

Give Yourself Permission To Rest

Every morning, when I wake up and get out of bed, the first thing I do is make my bed. Sheets are re-tucked, comforter is smoothed out and all of the pillows are fluffed and neatly stacked. For me, it signals the “transition” into my waking hours. I also like knowing that when it’s time to go back to bed, all I have to do is pull back the covers and tuck myself in.

At some point during the middle of the pandemic though, I hit the wall. One morning I got up to get my daughter squared away for school and get the dogs out and fed, and I thought to myself “I’m just too tired today.” That morning I chose to leave my bed unmade with the thought that once everyone was settled “I’d crawl back in for a little extra sleep.” And you know what happened? I didn’t need to. Once I got up and moving, had my morning cup of tea and took the dogs for a walk, I found the energy to stay up and moving. I did end up popping back into my room to make my bed though before heading to my desk for the day. 😂

 

And ever since that day, when I’m feeling particularly worn out, I leave my bed unmade when I get up and give myself permission to come back to it if needed. The amazing thing is, giving myself the permission to rest often gives me the strength to push through. There have been days over the past year where I have crawled back into bed due to burnout and exhaustion (it’s real), but more often than not, once I get up and moving I stay up and moving (and always go back and make my bed).

As entrepreneurs, we love the hustle, we love the grind, we love being able to say we gave 110%, but we often forget that we’re still human and need to rest and recharge as well. Stepping away from your desk in the afternoon to take a walk and clear your head is not a waste of time, it’s actually an investment in your health and overall productivity. Choosing not to check your work email on a Sunday isn’t being lazy, it’s a sign of respect for yourself and your family to spend time alone or together. And giving yourself permission to rest when you’ve hit the wall isn’t weakness, it’s the self grace we all deserve to be our best selves (as opposed to the tired and burned out version who isn’t very productive or effective). So the next time you’re feeling worn out, give yourself permission to rest. You may not end up needing it, but knowing that it’s an option might make all the difference.

Rule Your Day – A To Do List For Maximum Productivity

Stephen Covey, Brian Tracy, Daniel Pink – these are all names we know, and for many of us, who we aspire to be more like when it comes to productivity… but how do you get there when organization and time management don’t come naturally to you?

Short answer – find a tool to help you simplify the process and work it into your daily routine. My tool of choice – a simple Daily To Do List.

What I do naturally (thanks to a 98% ranking for time management and productivity)  is combine the strategies of these three experts into my personal to do list to maximize my workday. And now you can too. 😎

Here’s a quick overview of how the Rule Your Day method works:

If you’re familiar with Brian Tracy and “Eat the Frog” you know that starting with your biggest and most important to do (or sometimes the most dreaded) is the best way to ensure you have a productive day.

#1 – It gets your highest priority item checked off of your to do list early (and before you get hit with endless interruptions and distractions).

#2 – It makes the rest of the items on your to do list feel that much easier to complete now that the weight of the BIG TO DO is done.

BUT…. how do you avoid going down the rabbit hole of putting out fires and slapping on band aids once your big ticket item is taken care of?

That’s where Stephen Covey comes into the picture. Most of us are aware of the “4 Quadrants.” Unfortunately, business owners wearing multiple hats tend to spend the bulk of the day in quadrants 3 and 4. By focusing on Quadrants 1 and 3 (in that order) AFTER “Eating the Frog”, you can increase your overall productivity for the entire day before you take a break for lunch.

 

“Lunch break? What’s that?” 😂 If this is you (and it was me for YEARS), and you haven’t already read about or listened to Daniel Pink’s theory on “Timing”, taking a break is a critical factor in accomplishing your daily goals. Essentially, we are all subject to the “3 Stages of Timing” and it affects our overall daily productivity.

How so?…

If you’re a morning person, your “peak” comes early and you most likely do your best work at the start of the day. If you’re a night owl, mornings can be tough – you most likely get off to a slow start and “peak” a few hours into your day. And at some point, everyone “hits the wall.” – Pink calls this the “trough” – and this is the perfect time to stop for lunch and reset. We all enter a “recovery” period as well, but our productivity will not hit a “peak” again for the duration of the workday.

Knowing this cycle allows us to map out our to do lists and get to the end of each day without feeling completely burned out. And taking a break to eat lunch (and take a walk) gives our brains a chance to regroup and reset for the second half of the workday.

So, if you’re ready to start working “Smarter, not Harder”, you can grab my free basic to do list here and start mapping out your day using my method, OR you can purchase a Rule Your Day Notepad, (including detailed instructions) to make it that much easier to re-train your brain for maximum productivity. Either way, here’s to finding the best way to Rule Your Day. 🙌🏼🙌🏾

 

Vacation Mode – Conquering Your Inbox – Bonus Post

My daughter was off from school a few weeks ago for Spring Break and we decided to take a much needed break and head out of town for a long weekend. Thankfully, since we live on the East Coast, there are lots of beaches within a few hours of home so we chose one of our favorites, loaded up the car and the 8 month old puppy, and hit the road.

While gathering up everything I needed for the trip, she saw me grab my laptop and notebook from my desk and said “You’re not going to work while we’re away, are you?” …..

So, here is some bonus advice for handling email while on vacation and making sure you truly relax and enjoy your time with family, friends, or even yourself if you opt for a solo getaway.

 

  1. DON’T schedule any meetings the day before you leave. No matter how good your intentions are, the last day in the office always tends to get crazy. Make sure you have the time to deal with last minute issues and wrap things up so you can actually exhale when you walk out the door knowing that all critical tasks have been handled.
  2. TURN ON your out of office reply. I’m guilty of skipping this step myself sometimes, and while you may have time and end up answering emails while away, let that be the exception, not the norm. If you’re away for business and will be checking your email, say so … “I’m away for business and will be checking my email periodically. If you need immediate assistance, please contact [ fill in the blank  ] …” And if you’re going away with your family like I did, tell the truth … “I’m on vacation with my family and will not be checking my email very often. Please contact [ fill in the blank  ] for immediate assistance or I will be in touch when I return on ….”
  3.  CLEAR THE CLUTTER on your phone using the delete/forward/quick reply (if your kid’s not watching and/or still asleep 🤫) / save for later method.
  4. DON’T schedule any meetings on your first day back. While I often say taking a long weekend just means “cramming five days of work into three”, you’ll want a clear calendar that first morning back so you can A – clean out your inbox and B – check in with your teammates to get caught up on anything important that happened while you were gone. Plus, the whole point of taking time off is to rest and relax, and if you fill your first day back up to the brim, you’ll most likely end up feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the end of the day, which defeats the purpose of you taking time off in the first place. 😳

Now that I’ve got you thinking about a getaway of your own, I’ll share one final tip. Whether you end up hitting the road or just sitting at home, check your calendar and schedule an “OFF” day in the coming weeks. When life gets crazy (which seems to be the norm these days) just knowing you have a day off coming up can help you find the strength to push through. Plus I’m sure you’ve earned, and could use a day off by now.

 

Nights & Weekends – Conquering Your Inbox – Part Three

While many of us small business owners use the quiet “after hours” time to get caught up on things that we weren’t able to take care of during the peak of our workday, having some true downtime away from work is critical to your successful rest and recovery before a new day begins. And with so many more of us working from home or having additional access to work files from home due to the pandemic, it’s all too easy to “just keep working”…. but we really do need to take a break.

 

Here are my final tips on how to check your inbox on nights and weekends to stay on top of things, but without getting fully sucked back into work by doing so.

 

On Weeknights:

Do another quick rundown on your phone and delete junk, reply to easy emails, forward as needed and then leave the bigger to do’s for the morning (see blog #1 for a recap of this process). This is also a great way to catch any potential changes to tomorrow’s schedule early on (i.e. – a customer needs to move or cancel an estimate, etc.) and avoid being surprised in the morning. The critical thing with the nightly clear out is to do it early enough so that it doesn’t affect the rest of your evening routine (which should include something to help you decompress before turning in for the night), but late enough to still make a quick phone call if needed to adjust for the next day. I’d suggest somewhere between 7 – 8 pm.

 

Over The Weekend:

I still clear my inboxes over breakfast of all the junk, reply and forward as needed and then … wait for it … I leave the rest. 😳 This has been a challenge for me – seeing that red number on my mail icon ticking up – but we all need to rest at some point, and Monday has a way of showing back up pretty quickly anyway.

If you normally dedicate part of your Saturday to work, then go ahead and answer your emails as you would on any other workday. Otherwise, I encourage you to resist the urge to check your work email more than 3 times a day over the weekend. While it may seem harmless to check your phone while waiting in line, hanging out with your family, or relaxing on a Sunday afternoon, it’s all too easy to head down the rabbit hole and get caught up in something that was “only going to take a minute.”

And just because we all carry our inboxes around in our pockets now, doesn’t have to mean your office is open 24/7. As a “customer”, I send emails and leave voice messages over the weekend because that’s when I’m home and have the time to do so, but I do so knowing that I most likely won’t hear back until Monday, and that’s perfectly acceptable. If you’re fielding incoming leads and have a way to schedule appointments electronically without too much hassle, go for it. Otherwise, remember that almost every other professional service industry has established working hours that we’ve all grown accustomed to and accept, and your business doesn’t have to be any different. Decide what works best for you, make the parameters clear to your team and your customers, and then most importantly, honor them. 😊 And if you don’t want to leave emails “unanswered” over the weekend, set up a auto-responder with a short message to confirm receipt and that you’ll be back in touch on Monday.

Now, go relax and enjoy the weekend to the fullest. 🙌🏼

 

Bonus Post – “Vacation Mode” – Yes, I had the nerve to go on vacation. Read more here about how I handle email while away.

 

Avoiding Email “Interruptions” – Conquering Your Inbox – Part Two

So you’ve made it through your morning routine and are now at your desk and in front of your computer. And if you’re anything like me, you have a to do list a mile long waiting to be tackled (more about to do lists later)…

Do you know what the biggest killer of productivity is? Interruptions. And do you know what your inbox becomes while you’re sitting at your desk trying to get through your prioritized to do list? A never ending stream of interruptions. Here are my suggestions for conquering your inbox over the course of your actual work day.

1. Hide your dock. If you see the little counter on your email ticking up as your working on something else, that little voice in your head is going to keep pestering you to “just check and see if it’s important.” In reality, nothing in your inbox should be so urgent that it wasn’t proceeded by or followed up with a phone call to alert you of it’s arrival. And as a habit, you may want to determine how you would like to receive “urgent” messages and relay that to your team and others you communicate with on a daily basis (I prefer text messages myself).

2. Decide WHEN you’re going to check your email over the course of the day (again, this is NOT every time you see a notification that you have a new message). If you used the morning clear out method from part one of this series, you may choose to deal with the remaining emails first thing when you get to your desk and then close your inbox for a few hours and get to your own to do list OR you could tackle your most important MUST GET DONE TODAY item first and then come back to your email once that task is complete. Generally speaking, you should aim to work for 1-3 hours between checking your inbox, (unless your primary function is to monitor incoming leads, and then you’ll want to get back to people asap).

3. Decide HOW you’re going to handle the emails that can’t be answered right away and require some additional work on your end. If you’re using iMail you can use the Flags feature and label one “To Do’s” so you know what you have to come back to. If you’re using gmail you can use the Task List feature and create a running list of emails you need to come back to. If you’re using Microsoft Outlook you can create categories and tag emails accordingly.  You can watch my free tutorials here.  And if you’re really old fashioned, you can print the email out and add it to your pile of to do’s on your actual desk. Either way, you’ll need a system to ensure you don’t forget to come back to any emails that can’t be dealt with in the moment.

4. Do One Final Check. Before you head out for the day, check your inbox one last time and use the delete/forward/quick reply/save for later method from the morning clear out. Again, the goal is to get as close to zero as possible, but you don’t want to spend an extra hour at work on an email that came in right before you were going to wrap up for the day.

In part three I’ll share some some tips for dealing with email “after hours”, so when you’re ready click here to read more.

The Morning Clear Out – Conquering Your Inbox – Part One

You know those people that have 321 unread emails and 73 unopened text messages on their phone? I’m not one of them. 😂 I’m the person that needs to have zero emails in my inbox when I leave my desk for the day and as few messages as possible still showing up on my phone when I finally call it a night.

So how do I manage to pull this off you might ask? I’ve established a consistent routine that I use daily to keep my inbox (and my brain) from getting overloaded. And to avoid overloading your brain with too much information all at once, I’m breaking it into three parts. Here’s part 1:

The Morning Clear Out

After feeding and walking my dogs, I sit down for my own breakfast and clear out all of my inboxes on my iPhone.

#1 – Delete – Most junk mail comes through late at night or early in the morning, and clearing it out on my phone gives me the opportunity to delete a whole slew of messages without ever having to actually open them. I love the Edit – Select feature on my iPhone that allows me to tag the emails I don’t need to open and then Trash them in one fell swoop. 👍🏼

#2 – Forward – If the email came to you, but could or should be handled by someone else in your office, forward it along with a quick note and now it’s off of your to do list.

#3 – Quick Reply – Answer any emails that only require a short reply and now they’re off of your to do list as well.

#4 – Save for Later – Anything that will require a longer reply or where checking/gathering additional information is necessary should be saved for when you do get to your desk. However, now that you’ve seen it, you know what’s left in your inbox and will need your attention before the end of the day.

This clear out shouldn’t take more than 3-5 minutes to complete, and now you can relax and enjoy the rest of your breakfast.

In part two I share my strategy for keeping your inbox under control through the course of your workday, click here once you’ve conquered part one and established a morning routine that works well for you to move onto part two.

15 Minutes At A Time

As I was cleaning out some old files over the weekend, I came across a checklist that I made a while back that most likely got tucked away when we moved. The header reads –  “15 Minutes at a Time.” And while I may not remember the exact year it was written, I do remember what time of the year it was written. It was leading into a New Year, and I was focused on setting some new goals, but in a more realistic way than the year before. Here’s my list:

  • Get up 15 minutes earlier each day
  • Find 15 minutes to meditate, pray, or just be still each day
  • Take a 15 minute walk every day
  • Take 15 minutes to get ready for tomorrow before going to bed each night
  • Find 15 minutes to read/write
  • Go to bed 15 minutes earlier than the night before

 

Confession – I did better on some things than others…I’m a night owl and an avid reader, so getting to bed early and reading for only 15 minutes was never quite enough, which made getting up 15 minutes earlier a bit of a challenge… I did pretty well on the rest of the list though. So what’s my point? I have 2.

    1. When you write things down, they become much more attainable because they become real. And when you post your list where you’ll see it everyday (this originally lived on the bulletin board over my desk) you’ll have a constant visual reminder of what you’re setting out to do.
    2. Finding 15 minutes every few hours over the course of your day is fully possible and can actually increase your overall productivity. If you think about how much time we all spend scrolling through our phones or the internet every day, we could all find the first 30 minutes for sure without much effort. And if you’ve been working on a high priority item for more than two hours, your brain could probably use a break. Switching tasks for a bit and then coming back to a time intensive project will help expand your thought process and open the channels for more creativity.

     

    So what 3-5 things should be on your “15 Minutes At A Time” list?

    #timemanagment #goalsetting #leadership #success #thefullcirclebusiness