In these bleak days of toxic productivity, the desire to become the “most productive entrepreneur” sits at the heart of so many exhausted, burnt out business folk like myself.
We just want to do all the things, all the time, perfectly.
Then, when we act like regular people (who get sick, run late, and miss deadlines,) we berate ourselves endlessly for not living up to our own potential.
So let’s just get this out of the way now – it’s pointless to berate yourself for not being perfect.
Even though we “solopreneur” types (God I hate that word but damn it if it doesn’t suit…) who work from home have a tendency to strive for “optimum productivity,” what if we simply looked for the 2-3 things that are getting in the way of our natural drive & motivation?
We can call these roadblocks “productivity demons.” They’re the things that keep us from being our NATURALLY energized, productive, selves.
Because no amount of “lifehacking” will banish these demons.
They simply lie in wait below the surface of our conscious mind… begging us to stay in bed (just 10 more minutes!), or watch some Netflix (just one more episode!), or do that thing that actually moves your business forward (because the kitchen is dirty!)
Fortunately, once you learn to see your productivity demons, you can fight them head-on.
You can approach them like a ongoing challenge: Some days you win, some days you lose, but ultimately they are always going to come back in one form or another… and that’s okay.
Everyone’s productivity demons are different, but I’ll share mine below and see if any of you resonate.
Demon #1: My super comfy bed
My biggest problem these past few years has been my unlimited capacity to sleep in.
Some cold days in winter, when bleak wintertime depression had been invading my brain for weeks, I would just straight up bring my computer into bed and never leave all day.
Forget about walking 20 steps to my beautiful work space and taking advantage of my huge screen and graphic tablet. That would mean leaving the soft cozy womb of bliss that is my bed.
Ultimate solution: Have relaxing, enjoyable activities built into my morning routine
I really thought I had tried everything. Shake ‘n Wake apps, setting alarm clocks all over my apartment, even living with someone who worked a regular 9-5 wasn’t enough.
Earlier this summer, I broke down the problem and realized the main issue – I just wasn’t enjoying the morning enough to motivate my ass out of bed.
I would stay in bed because I’d wake up and immediately think of all the work I had to do, all the chores, all the non-dreamy errand type crap that I’d put off as long as possible.
Here’s what I did to make my morning as chill and enjoyable as possible…
- Complete “get out of bed routine” (ex: stretch, take 5 deep breaths, take 5 big gulps of water or tea, and do 5 jumping jacks)
- Make a delicious breakfast
- Review today’s calendar
- Do some stretches (or simple yoga if you have experience)
- Take a walk (keep sunglasses off for first 10 minutes to get full sun, even if cloudy)
- Listen to a podcast or audiobook
- Sit with notebook to “brain dump” and reduce mental clutter
- Clean up & organize workspace before setting into work day
BONUS TIP: For morning workouts, get one of these visual analog countdown clocks that lets you quickly see how much time you have left in the workout and stay focused. I found this necessary since I’d always be glancing at my watch / phone to look at how much time I had left, get startled if the timer went off while I was in the zone, and I would often get distracted if I didn’t set a timer in the first place.
Then to set myself up for success in the mornings, I’ll also build some easy activities into my evening routine:
- Basic stretches and/or roll-out with body roller to reduce muscle tension
- Sit with shoulder massager for 15 minutes
- Track today’s progress + metrics using journal, Finch app, or Bearable app
- Set alarm, then put all screens away at least 1 hour before target bedtime
- Prepare water or tea on nightstand
- Take evening meds or vitamins (melatonin, 5-HTP, magnesium)
- Prepare earplugs, eyemask, mouthguard, or any other sleep aids
- Relax with a good book (I love the Kindle Paperwhite)
Demon #2: “Urgent” client work
This isn’t me complaining about having client work – it’s about how I perceive client work.
Many times, I will procrastinate on important (but not urgent) business-building projects (such as writing, marketing, or portfolio updating) for the sake of client projects – not because they ARE urgent, but because they FEEL urgent.
Like “Hey Laura… someone is waiting on you to finish this!! Better get on it ASAP!”
I might be good at writing for my business, but it’s something I can easily avoid, since it’s not an urgent priority or a project that’s directly tied to my income.
I’d just default to working on client tasks nonstop and pushing business stuff (even enjoyable business stuff) to the back burner. It’s simply easier to work on client projects, which are my zone of genius (and reason for being in business in the first place.)
Ultimate solution: Use time blocking in my calendar
With this system, I can simply build time into my day to handle “urgent” client tasks, making me immediately feel less anxious and ‘on call’. The first hour of every morning is “emails and admin” which generally involves me responding to client freakouts, fixing minor things, and resolving whatever needs to be resolved before my day actually begins.
That way I can close out my email, move forward with my day, and actually get sh*t done.
Now keep in mind this system I’ve built for myself has been in the making for years, and might be way more complicated than most of you need.
As of December 2022 I use 7 types of blocks in my Google Calendar…
- Food & Fitness (blue): My morning workouts, lunch breaks, and dinners
- Social / out of the house (orange): Anything that requires me to get up and go somewhere
- Calls / meetings (red): Anything that requires me to be on time, in Zoom
- Business projects (light purple): Design Mastermind stuff, like writing, posting, finance, or updating my website
- Hourly client tasks (dark green): This is how I track my hours for clients I bill monthly
- Project client tasks (light green): These are clients that pay me by the project, rather than hourly (i.e. websites or sales pages)
- Reminders (dark purple): Self explanatory.
Not only do I build 1-2 hours of writing & marketing tasks into my mornings, but I also implemented broader weekly & monthly task lists to keep me on track with my big-picture business goals.
For my “important but not urgent” business projects, I break them down into Content blocks, Website blocks, and Product blocks. Each of these has it’s own separate task list in Trello that I’ve broken down into clear, easy-to-follow steps to keep me on track.
Why does scheduling time blocks work so well for me?
- It connects each day’s time to my long-term goals. Knowing the big picture keeps me inspired to do even the most boring tasks, since I know how they will help me achieve my goals in the long run
- It helps me take one step at a time. I have issues with my brain leaping too far ahead and getting overwhelmed, but maintaining a broader monthly marketing schedule breaks down larger more daunting tasks into daily bits which are easy to knock out first thing in the morning
- It puts my productivity on autopilot. My calendar gets filled out naturally throughout the month, and when I sit down to my desk each day, I know exactly what needs to be accomplished. No more to-do lists, no more second guessing the way I spend my time. It’s all just there.
- It gives me the freedom to do everything I want to do. Because I block out my schedule as things come up, I never feel like I’m missing or forgetting anything. As soon as a client assigns me a task, or a friend invites me to dinner, I’ll go ahead and block out the time right away. That way I only have to think about it once, and take action when the time arrives.
Demon #3: Solitude
Working from home started out as this incredibly liberating experience. I can’t tell you how much time and money I spent curating the most perfect workspace imaginable.
Yes of COURSE I enjoy my clothing-optional, always tidy, totally private living situation… until 5 days pass without me ever walking outside or talking to anyone besides my fianceé. There was a stretch of time where I’d go out on Saturday night and not even know how to interact with other people.
Especially in the winter, my workday solitude turns me into an actual hermit.
For an extravert like me, that can lead to decreased energy, lackluster moods, and the general malaise that results in 2pm naps that last until 6.
Ultimate solution: Schedule time in a cafe or co-working studio
This might have been obvious to most people, but I put off justifying this expense for WAY too long. I kept telling myself that money was better spent on a VA, advertising, or that trip I’d been wanting to take.
But most of all, I put off joining a studio because I loved my home workspace so damn much. If I was going to do this co-working thing RIGHT, I needed to set myself up with a dedicated desk, a large monitor, a kneeling chair, and lots of sunlight.
Fortunately, I knew myself well enough to anticipate these needs, and 3 months ago I finally joined a co-working space near my apartment. Needless to say, it has kept me afloat socially and improved my productivity in several ways.
Here are some positive changes I’ve noticed in my daily life:
- I get dressed and put on makeup. It’s easier to take myself seriously when I don’t spend the entire day in pajamas.
- I joined the yoga studio next door which has gotten me back to a regular practice and peak flexibility. Plus it’s hot yoga so my skin is super smooth and I stay detoxed like woah.
- I get out more, since there’s a subway station and massive park literally across the street
- I’ve been meeting lots of local entrepreneurs who do all sorts of amazing stuff. It’s inspiring to be around people doing their own thing, and running their own businesses too.
- I can relax much easier when I get home, because I’m able to schedule work-specific time as separate from home-chill time.
Now for the real test…
You gotta ask at this point – have I been slaying my productivity demons?
Well, sort of. I’d say these practices have helped me become a little more productive each week.
The truth is, even if I stick to these habits 25% of the time, they are still going to improve my life and make me a more productive entrepreneur. If I fall off one week, I don’t berate myself or feel guilty. I just get back on next week and do as much as I can.
We can’t change the past. Guilt has no place in the life of a productive entrepreneur.
Knowing that my morning routine, business development time, and co-working hours are built into my schedule already makes me feel focused and in the flow. Then nights and weekends I can do whatever I want and feel like I deserve it.
Here are some questions to consider as you conquer your OWN productivity demons…
- Do you have morning and evening rituals already in place? If not, what are some ways you can create a truly enjoyable morning experience? How about a peacefully relaxing before-bed experience?
- If you work from home, what are some “demons” that might be limiting your daily productivity? How can you make peace with these demons?
- What do your “calendar blocks” look like? How many hours a day would you LIKE to spend on physical fitness, focused work, and personal business tasks?
Yours in hours, minutes, and seconds,