As an entrepreneur, you are in charge of your time and have a responsibility to make sure that you get the most out of your working days. Being your own boss means juggling a lot of hats as you find yourself dealing with lots of different things that demand your attention. Having a daily / weekly / monthly work schedule that works for you will help keep you on track of what you need to get done as you work towards growing your business and achieving your goals.
When I first started working for myself I never used to properly plan my work days. I would have an idea of what I needed to get done on a particular day, but never really took note of how long a task would take or what I would need to prepare in advance. I would just go with the flow. This approach meant that for most of the time my days were highly disorganised costing me valuable time especially when it came to deciding on what I needed to work on once I sat down at my desk. And by the time I had settled on something the day would have progressed significantly. I also found that aside from the main task I was working on, a lot of my other less inspiring yet still very important work like admin would not get done until absolutely necessary if all because I hadn’t made room for it in my daily work schedule. That is not a very productive way of working.
So why should you plan your work days
As a creative business owner planning your day may seem like going against the very nature of being creative, so why would you even consider creating a schedule. Besides how will you know what next week will look like, let alone next month. Here’s the thing though planning your work days will actually give you the time you need to be ‘creative’ as well as giving you a good idea of what the day / week / month ahead will look like. And it doesn’t mean your planned schedule will stay this way. Things do change, but knowing what you need to do in advance is one less thing to stress about when running your business. Also, I don’t know about you, but I have always found it easier to give most of my attention to what I am good at and what makes me happy over what I don’t know, feel uncertain about or simply find boring. But those things need to be done too. And putting them in your schedule makes it harder to avoid working on them.
Planning out your work days ahead of time can:
– bring balance to your days;
– give you clarity on where to focus your time and attention;
– save you time that you can then allocate to doing more of what love; and
– hold you accountable by helping to nip that pesky thing called procrastination in the bud.
So how to create a work schedule that works for you
A work planner is a tool to help make life easier for you, but will only work if it is right for you. In other words, you need to create a schedule tailored to your needs and way of working. Creating your work schedule is a simple process. For this exercise, you can use your phone or tablet note-taking apps or good old-fashioned pen and paper for this, whatever works for you. I also suggest having several blank calendar templates, a daily planner template, a pen or pencil, markers or coloured pencils, sticky notes, a quiet place to work and patience.
You will start by:
Documenting your days
Your day / week / month planner needs to accommodate all the different tasks and areas of your business you work on and want to work. And in order to know exactly what these tasks are you need to make a note of them. Document your working days for three-four weeks. If you can document a month that is ideal because the longer you do it for the truer reflection you get of how you are spending your time. Make a note of everything you do in your day including any breaks you take, time spent scrolling through Instagram or staring into space, what time you take lunch and so forth, and add the finish and start times for each. Whilst doing this exercise at the end of each day add notes to each task, jotting your thoughts about how you felt the day went and what you think you could have done differently with hindsight. So, for example ‘this task took me too long to complete because I was unprepared and had to do some research first before I could progress. It would have been better if I had planned and taken some time to do the research first then tackled the task on another day.’
Sorting through the information
Once you have your information it’s time to go through and make sense of it, this bit is repetitive, so hang in there:
1. Create a list of all the tasks that you do, removing any duplicates for example if you have documented yourself as doing social media marketing several times during the month you will only need to enter it once on your list (this where different coloured highlighters will come in handy)
2. Going through the list you’ve just created group similar tasks together into separate lists
3. At the top of each list add a category heading for example Client Work, Marketing, Admin, Product Development, Brainstorming, Note: some lists may have the same heading this is fine.
4. Group any lists with the same heading into one list. By now you should have a much clearer picture of the tasks you work on and the categories that are important for your business. Whilst looking at these lists is there any task or category that is not listed but is an important part of your business that you never seem to find time to fit it in. If so add it to your lists. You also don’t want to end up with too many categories. If, for example, you have Blogging as a category I would add that under the umbrella of Marketing, and any tasks related to blogging will become the actions on your to-do list, for example, writing blogs posts, uploading blog posts, interviewing blog guests and so forth.
5. Referring to your documented information make a note of which days or weeks you prefer to work on certain tasks. We are creatures of habit and you may find that the majority of your marketing tasks always seem to get done every Wednesday, or that the entire 2nd week of every month is dedicated to client work. Follow the patterns because a schedule will only work for you if it is structured in the way you like to work.
6. Taking your blank Calendar template under the relevant day of the week add in the categories only, not the tasks these will do a bit later. For example, under Wednesday you would put Marketing, under Thursday perhaps Admin and so forth. If some categories fall on the same days that is ok. (And don’t worry about calendar dates for now)
7. Taking the calendar template that you added your categories too, take another blank calendar template and start adding in the tasks for each category in the assigned day or week you identified in step 6. Obviously not all your tasks will fit in one day. You will need to spread them out either through the month or through the week depending on how you like to work. So for example sticking with Marketing which I have allocated to doing every Wednesday, the first Wednesday of the month I may allocate to research for social media content, the second Wednesday may be formatting my graphics, researching hashtags and writing captions, the third Wednesday scheduling and so on. As you can see your workdays are starting to take shape. For the next step, you will need your daily planner template.
8. Going back to your documented information we will now pull out the times you take to complete the tasks on your lists. If, as noted before, you work on the same task several times a week or month use the average time taken. You will use these times to block out the time you need for each task when filling out your daily planner.
9. By now you have reached the point where you know the areas that you work or want to work on in your business, the tasks making up each category, the days you prefer to work on your different categories and how long the different tasks take you to complete. You are ready to fill out your planner. Using your completed calendar template as a guide you can now use your daily planner to plan out the tasks and related actions for each workday blocking out the time you need for each. So, for example, Wednesday task: Blogging, Actions: Formatting and uploading pre-written posts, Time allocated: 10:30am-12pm. And don’t forget to add breaks in between moving onto a different task. Whether it’s a Sunday evening or Friday afternoon when you plan your workdays for the week ahead is up to you.
Your work planner can be printed to be completed by hand, interactive to fill out digitally or add the information directly into your preferred online calendar app such as iCal or Google calendar. If you want to save time creating planner templates The Goal Achiever Planning Kit has a set of printable and interactive worksheets in A4 and US Letter formats designed to give you everything you need including daily, weekly, and monthly planners and calendar templates to focus your mind on achieving your goals and boosting your productivity.
If you have made it to this stage well done! It is a long process but I guarantee that once you have done this it will make it so much easier to plan and prepare for your work days, months and work year, boosting your productivity and helping you achieve those all important goals. And to make sure your schedule keeps working for you, you must make time to review it.
Regularly review your schedule
A successful planner grows with your business. It is important to regularly review your work schedule to make sure you are getting the most out of your days. Schedule time in your monthly planner to review your calendar and make any necessary adjustments. I would suggest doing this every two/three months as it gives you enough time to see if the adjustments are working. If all is fine and you’re happy with your progress that’s great, if not look at what needs to change, and change it. You may need to add in some new task areas or remove ones that no longer apply as your business grows. You could tie-in the task of reviewing your schedule with setting and reviewing your goals.
With a schedule, everything has its place. It may seem like a chore at first, constantly filling out worksheets, but speaking from experience I need those sheets to keep me on track. Organising and planning my days means I procrastinate less, and get more done in a shorter amount of time. This means I achieve some goals ahead of schedule, and who doesn’t want that?
Always remember that a work schedule and planner are there to help you grow and develop your business. Schedules are not set in stone and can be adjusted as and when the need arises.
Did you find this exercise useful? I hope the information has helped you plan and get the most out of your working days.