Listen to your own rhythm…. and why it is good for business.

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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….

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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…

 


The Night Owl

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I have always been a night owl. I love to stay up late, working, creating, writing, painting, pondering, figuring out my next moves.

Lately though, the owl in me has been somewhat on overdrive. I find myself up at 2, 3 or 4 am, reaching for my journal. It is the quite time. There is a stillness as the street noise outside settles and the air falls soft. I turn my phone to quite mode, so there is no disturbance or even the possibility of disturbance. When the hush descends I feel I can penetrate into the mystery where the silence holds some of the answers, or at least indicates a way.

The darkness is a portal to insight.

Others find this silence and stillness in the early morning, but for me, it has always been at night.

I could resist it, the late night pull but I have learned not to. I’ve had some of my best ideas and made some of my most radical decisions in those liminal hours. The other night, it was almost 2am when an idea which has felt blocked for months suddenly popped and a new wave of understanding entered. I had been looking at it entirely the wrong way round and in an instant it seemed to flip and there is was, a way through and forward illuminated. There was nothing for it but to grab a notebook and write. Pages and pages later I could see the light. It is the kind of light that only the dark of silence can offer; the light of stillness bringing the clarity of in-sight.

The word itself if a clue. Mostly the answers are already within us. We know our own way forward but it just takes some inward reflection and a questioning spirit to find our way to our own insightfulness. 

I have also learned another thing: that when I write in such a way, there and then I need to collect action steps I can take into the very next day to carry the insight into the tangible. Otherwise the dream or idea can remain hidden too, coming out only at night when it feels safe to dream big and hold the ambition of possibility. In the light of day the distractions can creep in, and my fear or uncertainly too- so those tangible steps are critical. It can mean sending an email to get a project started, researching a domain name, registering a trademark, or sounding out the idea with someone you trust (all of which I did this week!).

So each day, after a night of dreams, ask yourself, what is that one little step that can take you closer to the insight, can take you closer to the light, your light…

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(PS: Staying up late also means I get up a bit later. I never schedule a meeting or job before 10am, if I can help it. It is just my rhythm and after many years of trying to convince  myself that I could be a morning person, I have given in to the fact that I will never be! The owl in me does some summersaults knowing I grant her permission to do her job without resistance. My mother, of course, has known this all along. I asked her recently want I was like as a child and she said even from when I very little (2 years old) this was my pattern. I refused to eat before 11am, but after which time I would come alive and want to stay up late. I should have listened to her after all!)

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The One Touch Productivity Method

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Any creative and entrepreneurial people I know have many projects on the go. Juggling them all without letting balls fall is a constant challenge.

This is me too, with many projects happening simultaneously, with ideas swirling and with the distraction of phone/ internet/ social media (and dog!), how to stay focused and productive while delivering on projects and keeping my friendships alive and the doggie happy is something I am consistently working on. I have days where things flow and days when I am less focused. So when there is flow, I ask myself ‘What worked? What made the difference? And what can I repeat to continue the flow and productivity pattern?

A very simple trick I have come across recently is called ‘The One Touch Method’. I’d like to attribute where I came across this first, but can’t remember- on a blog or in a book. But to whoever it was- thank you.

The method is very simple and the premise is this: If you touch it, finish it.

 

So for example, if I begin an email to someone, finish it there and then. If I need to send a birthday card to someone, buy, write and post it, treating the task as a chunk. If I pick up a dirty cup, wash it there and then. Finish what you start.

Like now, when starting to write this post I set myself the target of finishing before starting into another task. To do so, I have disabled the internet and turned off my phone so that it is less likely I will be distracted (or tempted even by the thought of distraction). Having chunks of time to focus allows my brain to zone in on that one task and when it is complete it feels like closing a tab in my brain which I had been spending mental energy trying to keep open. I try to close as many tabs I can during the day, within the time allotted! (I use my creative planners to plot out my day and weeks)

As mentioned, there are days when I do this and things flow, while other days when I forget and inevitably I am less focused. Focus is as much a practice as a technique; it takes time to embed until these techniques become habit. So a dose of patience is good to add to the mix too.

So, that is my one touch method. Complete.

Have you any productivity tips you would like to share? If so, leave a comment below- I would love to hear them.

Clare x

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