This article originally appeared in the Thrive Smart newsletter (North Autumn/South Spring 2019) for entrepreneurial women, published by ProSMART www.prosmart.com
When I left the corporate world and began working from home, my head was overflowing with all the new ideas and to-do items that manifest when you decide to start your business. I was the CEO, administrator, writer, video producer, director, talent, tech support, marketing, customer service, social media manager and graphic designer all at once.
Here are some of my favourite tips for decluttering and sorting all the noise from your head, your desk and your laptop, so you can focus on getting the important stuff done.
Consolidate your thoughts
Get every one of your business goals, ideas and tasks out of your head, off whiteboards, journal pages, smartphone notes and random Post-Its. You’re going to move it all into ONE place.
Choose a single workflow tool for your business. For convenience, I highly recommend you use a simple digital tool which syncs across all of your electronic devices on the go. I use Asana, but choose whichever is your favourite. Examples of other tools are Monday.com, Trello.com and the even simpler TeuxDeux.com.
The initial inputting of tasks and items can take a while, but it’s worth it and will save you so much time in the long term. Just remember to keep it simple and don’t get too caught up in managing your workflow, rather than working on the actual tasks.
On the daily
I still like to write one simple To Do list at the beginning of each day, because I love to cross off items with a pen. It also helps me to review my goals and projects regularly, and prioritise for the day ahead. If you write a daily To Do list, keep it brief – the top 2 or 3 business tasks and must-do personal items for that day only.
Schedule it in
Time blocking is one of my favourite ways to manage my time. I schedule both business and personal appointments and tasks in my calendar so that I am being realistic about what I can achieve in a day.
Don’t rely on others to check your calendar, even if they have access to it. If there are other people in your team or home who need to be aware that you are busy with an appointment or task, invite them to the event as well. For example, if I have an early meeting and need my husband to drop the kids off, I create an appointment for school drop-off and invite him, to make sure that he sees it and can book it in.
To keep track of family and life administration, I use the Google Keep app. I have a handful of basic colour-coded To Do lists on Google Keep to keep track of school, family and household tasks. I then add the tasks from my family To Do list into my calendar and daily list each day as needed.
When we check email, we start getting caught up in everyone else’s priorities, instead of our own. Instead, first work on a task that will help your business to progress, before opening your inbox.
Schedule 1-2 times each day where you dedicate a block of time to check and respond to email. You can start managing people’s expectations by adding a note to your email signature stating that you only check email at certain times of the day.
Try to deal with each email only once. Once it’s read and you’ve added relevant actions to your To Do list or sent a reply, delete or file the email.
The only notifications I keep on are phone calls from certain people (via Do Not Disturb mode), especially when I am filming or working to a deadline. Like email, check your notifications at only a few specific times of the day – with fewer interruptions, you’ll be able to focus more intently on your current task and get it done faster.
If you find yourself checking social media multiple times a day, using a smartphone app such as Forest can discourage you from picking up your phone for an allocated amount of time. We don’t realise how frequently we grab our phones, and often need a reminder to put it away.
Put Siri to work
Our own thoughts can easily distract us but many of us already have the ideal VA at our fingertips. If you are in the middle of something and suddenly think of a brilliant idea or another task – ask Siri to schedule a reminder or make a note of it for you. Get the thought out of your head immediately so you can stay focused on the task at hand and the thought will be safely stored away for your reference later.
I am much calmer and more productive when I have a system for releasing and organising all of my thoughts, as this enables me to focus on one thing at a time. Learning to clear our physical space has become quite popular in recent years, but making the effort to simplify our digital and mental workspace can have game changing benefits for both you and your business.