A couple of weeks ago I had to disappoint some people. I had to say “No” to networking events. “No” to coffee meet-ups and “Heck No” to pick your brain phone calls. Because the truth is, I was falling behind on deadlines and burning myself out. So after 2 years of running my own business, here’s the thing I’ve recognized, any one can start a business, but not many people can keep it. If you don’t learn how to be unapologetically selfish about your time, your company will fail.
I’ m a firm believer that your success as an entrepreneur is more about your daily habits, than your product or service offering. Simple changes such as waking up 2-hours earlier or starting your workweek on Sunday, can be big a step in the right direction. So in addition to my own tips, here are some habits I’ve snagged from a few other women in business.
1. Figure out your sweet spot for getting ‘ish” done – As crazy as it may sound, I think I’ve managed to keep the same schedule I had as a child. I’m most productive between 5:00 am – 3 pm, I get my best ideas during early morning showers, and at least once every other week around 4:30 pm, yours truly loves to indulge in a good old happy hour event. So unless I’m under a serious deadline, I make this schedule work because after 11 pm my brain is fried.
A few weeks ago, Tasha Robinson, Founder of Imperfect Concepts, a resourceful hub for creative women entrepreneurs, gave me some great advice about mastering productivity. In addition to providing consulting services for various clients, Tasha is notorious for cranking out insanely good content via her website and social media channels on a daily basis. When I asked her how she found the time to create digital information products and manage client demands, she explained that she doesn’t schedule any client work on Mondays, and she only creates digital information products on the days when she feels most creative. Additionally, she schedules “mental health” days at least once a month.
2. Make a List, Prioritize, & Plan – Every Sunday, I use Evernote to do a brain-dump of all the things I need to accomplish that week. Then I follow the 1-3-5 rule, snagged from the Daily Muse, which means on any given day, assume that you can only accomplish one big thing, three medium things, and five small things, and narrow down your to-do list to those nine items. Considering I get random request to write stories or cover events for Black Enterprise, I usually allow myself some flexibility with my list of 3 things.
Sometimes we overwhelm ourselves with a long laundry list of things to do. Simplifying things and having a game plan before the week starts is a win-win for me.
Anie Akpe, CEO of IBOM & Innov8tiv, a consulting company and technology news and innovation news outlet, recommended that I purchase a large dry erase calendar whiteboard to schedule and prioritize my weekly tasks. For each day, I narrow down my list to the 3 most important things I have to get done, assign each task a date and allocate a number of hours I need to make it happen. Keeping a log of my activities also helps me understand how I can work smarter the following week. And having my dry erase board in plain sight with bright colored stickers helps a lot.
3. Eliminate Distractions and Be Relentless About Keeping Your Schedule – On a daily basis, I log-out of my social media and email accounts, turn off my cel phone, and get really focused on what needs to be done, within a designated time period.
“The meeting doesn’t exist unless it’s written down;” I have clients so sometimes this rule can be a challenge, but lately I’ve been relentless about not immediately responding to impromptu calls or long email exchanges, etc. Also unless it’s a strategy session, I try to keep all calls and in person meetings under 1-hour. I usually schedule meetings on a designated day such as Tuesday or Thursday and always on the half –hour—don’t ask me why, it’s just the way my mind works (again, find your sweet spot). That way 30 minutes prior to my meeting I can focus on making sure I am well prepared.
4. Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable – Let me be honest, my life is an emotional roller coaster. I’m building a business, looking for new clients, and dealing with family and client demands. And I suffer with anxiety way more than I’d like to admit— because most times I am figuring everything out as I go along. But with the freedom I have to live life on my terms, I wouldn’t trade my life for nothing in the world right now. So my best advice to you is to get rid of “destination thinking” and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Stepping outside of your comfort zone and taking risk can help you get comfortable with the unknown.
5. Schedule ‘Follow-up Fridays’ each month – Surviving my first two years in business was about genuinely connecting with like-minded entrepreneurs, and being of service to others. Not only did I learn the best business tips from their personal experiences but also I felt empowered to keep going when times were tough.
Each week I schedule a “Follow–up Friday” hour to email or call people for a possible coffee/lunch/dinner date the following week, or to simply say thank YOU for helping me out. I also mentor several college students so I love to use Fridays as my day to connect with my mentees and help them along in their journey as well. Giving back to others through volunteering or mentoring is a great way to feel good about yourself and make a difference in the world.
6. Step Away From Your Work – Working for myself has given me a weird relationship with my laptop, which I affectionately named Lucy Liu. From my bedside to work desk to taking it everywhere with me in my oversized bag, we’re always glued to the hip. Believe me if I could safely bring my laptop in the shower with me to jot down my ideas—it would be there. Insane? Absofreakinlutely! Because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written an article, stepped away from my computer for a few moments and returned to the screen thinking—“Did I really write this, what the heck was I thinking?” So to gain a fresh perspective on your day-to-day business challenges, force yourself to step away from your work.