As a creative multipotentialite entrepreneur, there’s a lot of things I want to work on. I’ve currently got three (yes three!) medium to large products/courses in the works, I’m revising and adding to my free resources and looking at how everything fits together, I’d like to start an interview series, oh and there’s also that free ebook that I started then put on hold that really could be helpful and I really should start working on again. And that’s on top of blogging and social media and all the stuff that’s essential to my business like working with clients, continuing to learn more and more about coaching and business and anything else that will help me help you to the best of my ability, and making sure I get enough rest and creative inspiration to balance all the creating I want to do. And that’s just for THIS BUSINESS.
There are also regular life duties like cooking and cleaning, a tiny side business idea I’d like to work on, various creative projects, and I’d like to get back to exercising regularly and get more sleep and relaxation time than I have been.
So planning, productivity, systems, routines, and schedules have all been on my mind a lot lately. And then I read a post by Shanna Mann, Imitation Works: Copy Other People’s Routines to Super-Charge Your Own, where she says that a lot of her best ideas and most powerful reassurances have come from hearing the specifics of how someone else does something. This made me realize that this is true for me as well, and I want to continue the chain of inspiration and reassurance by sharing my inspirations and the things I’m thinking about trying out.
So here is what I’ve learned about planning and creating schedules, my top inspirations for it, and some details about what I’m thinking about doing.
Step One: What Are Your Top Priorities?
So when you have a billion and one things you want to do, how do you manage to fit everything in?!
At least not all at once.
Emilie Wapnick talks about rotating your focus between interests and shares other helpful tips for managing multiple projects in a lot of her blog posts (her How To Be A Multi-Focus Maverick series is a good place to start), but I think my main inspiration for this is Melissa Dinwiddie’s post about the Stovetop Model of life design. (Or her guest post about it on Puttylike.)
The basic idea is that you can only do so much at once, and it’s much easier to focus on about 2-4 main projects or areas of your life at a time.
“If you’ve ever cooked a full meal (Thanksgiving dinner, anyone?), you know that there are only a certain number of tasks that you can keep track of at any one time.
The typical stove has four, maybe five burners, but rarely more than that, and there’s a good reason for this. A stove with, say, 20 or 100 burners would be impossible for one person to manage. Imagine that poor cook running around like a madman!
But four or five is feasible for any one meal. ”
– Melissa Dinwiddie
In her guest post on Puttylike, she amends this by saying
“There’s a reason your typical stove has four burners: that’s about the maximum number of pots that most people can keep track of at any given time.”
And just like you can cook different things and rotate your focus between different pots and pans, you can also shift your focus between different projects and areas of your life.
Here’s Melissa’s example:
“On my metaphorical stovetop, I can put time into making art, making music, writing and growing my business every day, but only one will be cooking on high speed, while the rest are set to simmer.
If I have a gig coming up (yep, I reached that goal of becoming a performing singer), my music will be on the front-right burner.
If I’m in the middle of a product launch or a website overhaul, my business pot rotates to that spot.
If I’m working on a big art project or towards a show, my art pot takes the front-right burner, and everything else rotates to the back.
The beauty of my stovetop metaphor is it frees me up to rotate my pots at will. (I find my areas of devotion naturally want to shift every three to nine months. Your mileage may vary.)
Plus there’s this: although my stove only has four burners, the metaphor allows me to keep many more than four passions in play: I imagine the interests of mine that aren’t currently cooking on the stove as Tupperware® containers in the fridge, or ingredients in cupboards, waiting to be combined into a tasty new dish when the time is right.”
She also acknowledges that her stovetop model may not be a good fit for everyone.
“If you’re a truly sequential multipod (what Barbar Sher, in her book Refuse to Choose, calls a Serial Specialist), you may not feel the need to cook with four pots all at the same time.
Or maybe your optimal number of focus areas/burners is three, or five, rather than four. That’s fine — as with cooking, life design is an art, and the best cooks experiment and adapt at will.
Season to taste, and have fun!’
For me, it seems like 2-3 areas of focus is optimal. With all the ideas I have for my business, it feels like it’s a full “meal” all on its own. So my business and life are my main areas of focus right now. That little side business idea and any other projects I think of just have to sit patiently in my idea “cupboard” (future projects list) until I feel like it’s time to work on them.
Next we prioritize some more.
Remember all those business related projects and tasks I mentioned? (And of course, that’s by no means a full list either!) I’ve got to prioritize those too.
Working with clients is a priority, that’s a no-brainer. Professional development and making sure I get enough rest and creative inspiration is pretty important too. I’ve noticed recently (at the time of writing this) that I’m not being clear enough about who I work with best and I need to fix that. So that’s a priority too. After that I’ll be working on my other projects.
Step Two: Planning A Potential Schedule
Ok, so once you’ve defined your priorities it’s time to get an idea of how everything could fit together.
Some people may get extremely detailed with this, but as mentioned in 5Tips For Creative Business Planning I’m not very skilled at detailed long term planning yet. (I’m getting better though!)
I’ve got an idea of what I want/need to work on in what order and that’s good enough for me for now.
I’ve also noticed that several of my once a month tasks have somehow all ended up happening around the end of the month, so I’ve decided that I’m going to try to shift them all to the end of the month.
In her post, How to manage your time + energy when it’s split,
Michelle Nickolaisen outlines her general weekly schedule.
“What’s worked for me:
- Assigning categories to each day of the week. This way, I get to stay in the same mental ballpark the whole day, without any drastic shifts, which allows me to get into a really good groove. (Which, it is not an exagerration to say, exponentially increases my productivity.) My loose categories are as follows: Mondays are admin days for my business, Tuesdays & Thursdays are client days, Wednesdays are mostly content creation, and Fridays are biz-dev days for my business.
- Aiming for scheduling appointments either at the beginning or towards the end of the workday. Obviously, if mid-day is the only time that works for someone, I can & will schedule an appointment for then; but in general I try to put appointments in either 9 AM or 10 AM time-slots or after 2 PM. This way I can make sure I have a solid swathe of time to work without being interrupted by appointments for the bulk of my workday. And I try to schedule appointments roughly corresponding with the categories –coaching or consulting for me goes on Fridays or Mondays, client appointments are usually Tuesdays & Thursdays though sometimes Wednesdays.
- Having a color-coded task list/calendar. This is probably the quirkiest item on the list, but having things color coded by client makes it incredibly easy to see at a glance if I’m spending the bulk of my time on one thing and possibly neglecting others. If my task list looks more like a rainbow across the week, I’m doing it right.”
I’ve thought about adopting “theme days” myself, but (naturally) my potential schedule is a bit different from Michelle’s. Here’s what I’m thinking about trying:
Mondays – Admin and Content Creation (products/courses/free resources and blog post images)
Tuesdays – Inspiration/Professional Development and Working With Clients
Wednesdays – Working With Clients and sometimes Content Creation (Insider email updates)
Thursdays – Working With Clients and some Content Creation (Insider email updates, blogging)
Fridays – Content Creation (blogging) followed by Inspiration
Weekends – REST. (And maybe Inspiration.) DO NOT WORK. NO SERIOUSLY. YOU NEED TO RECHARGE. (Can you tell this is something I’m still working on? The rest does exactly what it’s supposed to – recharges and inspires me! And then I start working. I’m getting better though. Last weekend I think all I did was write part of a blog post, answer a few emails, and respond to a few things on Facebook. I feel good about that.)
(In case you’re curious, Inspiration usually means reading other people’s blog posts and listening to podcasts, but can also include reading a book, talking with friends, taking a walk, basically anything where I’m not actively creating something or having to think intensively. )
Unlike Michelle, my main work IS calls with clients and I try to schedule calls mostly between 10 or 11 am and 3 pm. This gives me time in the morning to answer emails, go over my plans for the day, and hopefully get a bit of Inspiration time, and time in the afternoon/evening for social media and my end-of-day tasks/routine.
However I’m exactly like Michelle when it comes to my task list and calendar. I prefer color coded too. It’s so much prettier, and like Michelle says, it makes it easier to see what you’re spending your time on.
In the first post of the Multi-Focus Maverick series Emilie Wapnick says
“I tend to be most creative in the morning, which roughly coincides with two spurts of 90-minute focus. I’ll either spend this time on one project with a short break in between, or I’ll switch to new project after my first spurt ends.
I also know from paying attention to my body, that I get a burst of energy at night, which again, I try to match up with a few additional spurts in focus mode. (This is why I tend to schedule my social activities for between 2pm-7pm, during my unproductive time.)”
I’m also most creative in the mornings (once I’ve actually fully woken up, which can take a few hours sometimes), tend to start running out of creative energy around 3 pm, and get a second burst of creative energy at night. (Unfortunately since I’m trying to get up earlier, this second burst usually happens right around the time I should be getting ready to lay down and go to sleep. So I really need to remember to avoid social media, blog posts, pretty much anything that could inspire me to work on my business, after I’m done working for the day.)
Shanna Mann says something similar in Imitation Works: Copy Other People’s Routines to Super-Charge Your Own.
“My Morning Kata: Creative and High Value Stuff First
The first thing I have learned is that if you let urgent stuff take over, you’ll never get the important stuff done.
The second thing I have learned is that my morning hours are worth three times what an afternoon hour is worth (evening hours can go either way).
The third thing I have learned is that I don’t do routine. You might find this shocking since I am known as the systematizer, but the reason I had to write down all those SOPs in the first place is because it took me forever to remember how I’d done it last time, and even longer to recall the best way to do things.
But even more than that, I have found that it’s not good for me to have too strict a routine. It adds stress when I have unexpected circumstances come up, it adds resistance when for whatever reason I feel like I HAVE to do something I don’t WANT to do. And it adds a layer of complexity to a part of the day when I would like to be at my most creative. “
Agree. Agree. Agree.
I’d like to take a minute to highlight what Shanna – a business coach who focuses on making sure you’ve got good systems and habits – says about not having too strict of a routine.
I love that! I’ve found that I also function better with the right amount of spaciousness to my days.
Attempting to plan a detailed this-is-exactly-what-I’m-going-to-do-each-day schedule does NOT work for me. And having no plan at all has resulted in not being very productive because I’m not always sure what to work on. Shanna mentions that she has a list of preferred tasks and does a few of them each morning. I used to do something like that, but it didn’t really work for me. I’ve found that picking one “most important task” to work on each day works best for me. Sometimes I know in advance what that task will be, sometimes I decide that morning what it will be (including sometimes picking a new most important task instead of doing what was previously planned). Having the “theme days” mentioned above helps somewhat with choosing what to work on when. My theme days definitely still need some work though.
Getting back to daily routines, Shanna says that she starts the day by doing a few of her preferred tasks, schedules calls and does urgent tasks between around noon or 12:30 and 3 or 4 pm.
Some Important Stuff To Keep In Mind
Here’s some stuff that could be important to keep in mind when planning your days.
From How to manage your time + energy when it’s split by Michelle Nickolaisen.
“What has not worked for me:
- Trying to work on multiple different big projects in one day. For example, splitting up one day between biz-dev & client work. It’s too big of a mindset shift for me and I end up making a lot of progress on one project and doing absolutely nothing on the other one.
- Not making a distinction between work on my business & work in my business. Two entirely different things that require two wildly different mindsets and viewpoints. Working on my business (or your business) requires a really top-level, bird’s eye view; working in my business means taking more of a day-to-day, detail-oriented view. Learning the difference between those two mindsets was huge for me, because it meant I wasn’t wasting time trying to switch directly from one to another. Now, I know that trying to plan those two activities back to back won’t work & ends up more frustrating than anything else.
- Attempting to split equally time-wise. Far more important than time spent is energy spent, and also important is if I’m actually feeling the project. If everything’s going well, I can get more done in 15 minutes than I’ve got done in an hour other times, so I don’t worry about dividing time up equally between important areas anymore, I just make sure I’m moving forward on all of them.”
– Michelle Nickolaisen
I definitely agree. Especially important, I’d say, is the distinction between working on your business and working in your business.
Did you find this post full of ideas for creating monthly, weekly, and daily schedules helpful? I’d love it if you would share it and/or leave a comment!