As we wrap up 2016 and near mid-December, all I can think about is wrapping up the year so I can REST, and start planning the big winter projects as we head into 2017. The projects and launches and dreams that just can’t happen until there’s space on the calendar, and I am so pumped to have the time to dive in! Up here on the coast of Maine, the days have become SHORT- with the sun setting by 4, and it beginning to feel darker around 3- it can be SO hard to keep working my normal hours when it looks so late! It has had me thinking a lot about how to get more done in less time, because I want to make room in this colder season for personal projects that bring rest and rejuvenation to a tired, travel weary self!
Recently I sent out an email to my (amazing, awesome, couldn’t be more incredible email community) on a look at how I sabotage on own productivity. It’s an honest look, that I know when I evaluate my days to see how I could truly get more accomplished in less time- and actually be productive, not just feel “busy”, these are my top downfalls. I am sharing them here with you, because we could all use a little dose of honesty, and maybe you too find yourself wanting to have more time away from your desk while still being able to check off those end of the year todo’s!
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So here we go, when I am not being productive, it’s most likely because I am guilty of one or more of the following:
1. When I Check My Email All.Day.Long: I have a love/hate relationship with email. It’s a task that seems to never be fully crossed off, and yet I still find myself longing to see what’s in there all the time. Is there a new inquiry? Did Sara love her session proofs? Has Katie picked out her frames? Did Anna decide to book that mentoring session? My business grows through that little inbox, and I am always curious about what I may find in there. But email is also often a catalyst for more todo’s. So when I am constantly interrupting what I am working on to answer emails, it’s like inviting a list of distractions to take over.
This is why I try to no longer spend the first of my office hours taking care of email. Instead, I will answer only client inquiries, then I close it out. I focus on my todo list, and come back to it most usually mid morning, and once more before I shut down for the day.
Having a scheduled time for email helps me to not drag my feet in needed replies, and it keeps me on task for what I desired to get done that day. Think about it- when I start my day with email, I am essentially asking everyone else how I should design my day and what I should focus on.
Two key things that help me to do this effectively:
(1) Email Templates. I am not spending hours re-writing the same kind of emails to every single inquiry. Using Honeybook, it takes me less then 3 minutes to respond to any kind of inquiry, even on the go. This way when I start the day answering my most crucial client emails, it doesn’t take me very long, or draw my creative energy before the day has even begun.
(2) I Start With A List. I spend time at the beginning of each week planning out a skeleton of what I want the next 7 days to ideally look like. I take a look at everything that needs to be done, and I schedule each day accordingly. My schedule is always different due to a full travel schedule, so focusing week by week is something that personally works really well for me. This also gives me a starting place each work day, and keeps me on track. If I don’t start the day with a specific plan, than it’s too easy to just “feel busy” in my inbox, and never really get much done. I use Trello, a simple weekly planner I picked up at Target, and old fashioned pen & paper.
2. When I Say Yes To Avoid Feeling Guilty or Selfish. When I first started to become interested in photography I remember reaching out to another local photographer who was running a successful studio. I asked her if I could drop by sometime and just take a look around and see how she set things up, and what her studio looked like. When she responded politely “no”, I remembered feeling devastated. After all, I had asked so nicely!
What I had yet to understand was the value of other’s time and what the they had worked hard to build. I didn’t respect it yet. There are times when I get the opportunity to share with other local creatives and have great conversations over mugs of something sweet (like our local Rising Tide Society Meet ups!), and there are other times where I have to say no, or point others in the direction of my mentoring sessions. I wear so many hats both in and outside of my business, that I have had to learn how to say no, and not agree to taking something else on or adding something else to my schedule only because I would feel guilty if I didn’t. I have to decide what it is I can commit to, and be ok with having to limit what I can’t.
3. When I Don’t Take Care of Myself. If you’re a close friend of mine, you know that I know need sleep, food, and time alone to recharge. When I don’t take care of myself in those three areas, I absolutely cannot function, let alone produce my best creative work. Here it always comes back to this thought that I read a long time ago, We become our own boss so that we can make our own rules. But then when we do become our own boss, we find ourselves constantly looking to others to ask what the rules are.
The truth of the matter is, you can have any office hours you want. You can choose to work 3 days or 6 days. Start in the morning, or start in the afternoon. You can take a walk in the middle of the morning when everyone else says it’s the hustle hour. You can have a two hour lunch break if you want. Sometimes I fear that I forget what it was like to work in a cubicle. To wait on those tables. To never have a choice about how I spent my day because I worked for someone else. And too often I no longer fight for those things in my daily schedule like I did in the beginning because I have forgotten what it was like to not be able to. I have to take care of myself if I am going to serve my clients well. End of Story.
4. When I Don’t Block & Batch. You have to know yourself, and what easily steals your time. For me, something as simple as a post office run can be the most sabotaging of all. Because after waiting in line at the post office, I decide I want a almond milk latte. Maybe a latte and a bagel. Maybe at that cute, fun bakery down the road. And actually the grocery store is sort of on the way to the bakery and maybe I should just stop in and get a few things for dinner tonight and…..THREE HOURS later I come back from mailing one small package, and then I am no longer in the mood to sit at my desk and work, and I wonder where the heck my entire day went.
I have learned that I am more productive when I block off time for batching tasks. Intentional block scheduling is slowly changing my life! It’s taken a lot of different forms, but one major thing I did this fall was spending a day assembling all of my client boxes that ship out with all their session planning materials & welcome gift surprises ready to go. Instead of full assembling a box every time I book a client, I can now just grab one from the shelf all ready to go. It’s already been so amazing, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner!
When I don’t make efficient, productive decisions, I stay where I am. My business doesn’t have the opportunity to grow because I am always spending all of my energy maintaining what I have, instead of also growing for what’s next. This is the final stretch of 2016. Let’s make it count!
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