Our circadian rhythms chime at our own pace. What is morning for one, is not morning for another. What’s late to some is early to others. And yet, in the world of work, ‘time management’ is a thing and 9-5 productivity taken as a standard.
It is 22.44pm as I begin to write this blog post. It has been on my list all day to write it. But the weather was beautiful, there was music on the street this evening, and I wanted a walk with my dog. And so the writing got delayed, and delayed. But there was trust in my wandering ways too, for by now I know I am a night owl. As the evening descended and a beautiful silence with it, I knew the blog post would come. Writing has always been a night thing for me.
I’ve never been one for regular hours, which is why a regular office job hasn’t suited me. It is the same for so many of the creative and social entrepreneurs I work with- we do this work partly because it can fit in with our own clocks and pace.
Over the last few months, as I have transitioned into a new life in the South West of Ireland, I now aim for 4 hours of concentrated productive time a day; that is really focused time when I can work, move things forward, get things in motion. Whether those hours are in the morning or evening it really doesn’t matter- what matters is the quality of my output, concentration and productivity. Shifting my attention to the consistent quality of my relationship with my work has meant that I am getting more efficient, and having more beach time too.
I get as much done in 4 hours as I did when I used to spend all day at a computer. The shift has been from managing my time, to managing and boosting my energy. I am enjoying life more, work more, and my body more. I take lots of breaks and go on lots of walks. I am cooking more too- enjoying planning my meals and turning off my computer when I eat. So when I do sit back down to do the work, my attention is clearer and more concentrated.
There are days when I do spend lots more than 4 hours working, but only if I am in flow and feeling productive. If I am just staring at a blank screen or hopping from one website to the next, I turn it all off, get up from the table and go for a walk.
Like everything, learning to focus it is a practice, one which I am constantly trying to refine. I am easily distracted so I’ve needed to put some ground rules in place to help me stay on track.
So as learn this practice, here are a few things I have found helpful along the way, and offer a question to you ask yourself too….
Go with the flow
Working in ‘peak hours’- these are the hours when your natural rhythm is heightened. On occasion when I am in ‘the zone’, and when time does not seem to matter, I just roll with this. If energy is flowing, ideas are flowing and creativity on the go, I allow the work to evolve. My peak hours are early afternoon and late evening. Knowing this, I don’t schedule meetings or skype calls before 10am.
*What are your peak hours?
Move every twenty to thirty minutes
More and more I find it increasingly difficult to sit for long periods of time. I have taken to standing when writing emails, and every 30 mins or so, I try to either do some quick chair yoga stretches while sitting, or I get up to shake my legs.
*What can you do to remind yourself to move on a regular basis?
Create blank space
So, it while may look like that I am not ‘working’ all that much at the moment, but my daily walks are essential blank spaces. They are my idea generating/ incubation spaces. My walking time is time to think, process, plan, digest, innovate. It is time to be curious. It is often when I am walking that a solution to a problem will come, or an idea will pop. I usually have a journal with me to jot down any ideas along the way, I take some phone notes, or even record a voice memo into my phone. Sometimes I choose to take a particular client on an imaginal walk with me- thinking through some of their issues or challenges, and then seeing what resources, ideas, or solutions arise when I think about them- ideas I’ll later email. So as I get to exercise, my dog gets exercise and my clients get exercise too!
*What does blank space mean to you? How can you create more of it in your daily schedule?
Schedule and structure time
While there is a lot of white and open space in my week, I am also becoming a lot more structured with how I use the remainder of my time. I have found ‘chunking’ meetings to be really helpful- scheduling them in blocks and around other meetings or appointments which I have. So when I need to go into the town or city I try to keep as many meeting together as possible. This has become even more important now that I am living in the countryside and don’t want to be spending all my time driving from one meeting to another.
*What blocks of your work can you chunk together?
Block weekly regular activities
Monday is always the day I do banking and send invoices, Tuesdays and Thursdays are Thrive School days. Wednesday has a two hour study time block and is my preference day for booking in private client calls. Having this rhythm to each week sets me up. Within each day there is a lot of flow, but each day has a weight and intention to it, which helps to keep me focused on the tasks at hand. It also helps my clients know when they may hear from me.
*How might you ‘weight’ your own week? What intention can you give to each day?
One touch method
It is a simple premise: if you touch it, finish it.
This is about linking single tasks as chunks and as much as possible following individual tasks to an end. Picked up a dirty cup? Wash it there and then. Needing to process photos? Upload, process, export and send all in one go. I’ve written more about the method here.
*Think through a few task which you could apply this method too. Give it a go for a week and see what you notice…
Tune into what fuels you
Naturally there are days where the slump hits (it happens to us all). So, rather than battling it, asking, ‘What will nourish me now? What will fuel me?’. Depending on the day, weather or season, this can vary greatly. Sometimes it is a conversation with a close friend, sometimes it is a walk by the sea, sometimes it is heading to a coffee shop with my journal or sometimes it is as simple as having a glass of water…
*Make a re-fueling list. What are the simple things that you can incorporate into your daily schedule which nourish and sustain you?
Have the right conversations
Carving those four hours of concentrated time can require some upfront work or conversations. I don’t have a designated office space at the moment, so I need to communicate with those around me when I don’t want to be interrupted, why, and when they can ask me any questions. Depending on the work I am doing, it often means needing to turn off the internet for a period of time so I don’t get distracted by online conversations.
*What conversations do you need to have to create focused time for yourself?
Keep the vision alive
Why do you do what you do? What it is all for? What will you use your earnings on? How is your work impacting the world? Keeping the ‘why’ alive is a motivator, and helps with focus. Pinterest is a great tool for vision boards, as too working with an accountability buddy to keep having conversations about your dreams and visions. Connecting in with a vision is like keeping the gaze directed. As such, actions can follow.
*What is your why and how can you keep is alive in your day to day activities?
So there are a few of my own tips. Got any of your own? Feel free to share in the comments below…