A while back I received two similar questions from newsletter readers (thank you Anna @gregoriafibers and Sharon @sharonmichellewebster!) asking if I could write something about how I structure my day and use my time to build up my business.
I loved the question, but answering it was a bit tricky - when I started writing the outline for this post, I realized that it’s damn hard to write about how I structure my day because no two days are alike. But I also realized that I’ve gradually adopted a few techniques that allow me to get a lot of stuff done!
So Sharon and Anna, I hope this post still helps answer your question - here are my five go-to techniques that help me keep my sanity, get shit done and be happy (oh, so so happy about this path!!).
Oh, also! I love hearing how other creatives use their time - please do comment below and share your tips!
1. Establishing a morning rhythm that allows me to get my self-care in every day.
The most important asset you have when you build your own creative business is you - your physical, mental and emotional health. Meaning - you need to take care of yourself. If you are sick or you’re feeling shitty, no one is going to step in for you. It’s more important now than ever that you establish routines or rhythms that allow you to not work yourself into the ground, but to recover, relax and fill up those energy reserves.
I am very much a morning person (just ask my boyfriend…) and over the past couple of months I’ve come up with a rhythm to my morning that really helps me start into the day right. On days when I can’t get in this rhythm (when I’m travelling for example) I feel myself tensing up and getting more anxious - and less productive.
My typical morning looks like this nowadays:
- Get up without an alarm. WHAAAAAAT???? Yup. I also didn’t think this was possible (or a good idea). I’ve gotten up to an alarm clock since… I don’t know. As long as I can actively think. So coming to a point where I am now waking up without one comes close to a revolution for me. But let me tell you - it’s the best thing ever. Seriously. I naturally wake up after about 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep which means a wake up time of between 7 and 8am most days - and I feel GREAT. I don’t need a mid-day nap, I don’t feel sluggish, I have energy right from the start. I do think though (without being an expert!) that this only works because my body has found her natural sleeping rhythm by now. That might take some time if you’re not there yet! If you are or if your life circumstances allow you to work towards this (aka not a lot of meetings in the morning or you run on your own schedule) I can only recommend to try this.
- Workout. Yeah. Me, the not sporty girl who hated exercise works out every morning for 45 to 60 min. Key to this was finding an exercise regimen that I actually enjoy which I did in Pop Pilates. Working out has a huge impact on my mental health and emotional stability - and I’m sure I’m not the only one who can attest to that, right? If you feel like you’re snapping a lot or you are anxious, try putting in just a few minutes of exercise every day. Then work your way up to a level that feels good to you.
- Meditate. Gosh, I feel like I’m just putting cliché after cliché in here! I discovered meditation about two years ago and have been using Headspace ever since. I worked my way through a lot of their guided meditations, but since half a year or so I only do the unguided ones. I do my meditation directly after exercising - I find that my mind is quietest then (which does NOT mean it’s quiet).
- Shower, coffee & morning pages. This is a quite new part of my morning routine (not the coffee or the shower, mind you) - after meditating, I jump in the shower and then make my coffee. I sit down and take the first glorious sip of hot hot caffeine of the day and start writing my morning pages. 3 pages every morning, just a stream of consciousness - whatever comes into my head makes its way on to the page. I’ve really enjoyed this practice of journaling as it makes me a lot calmer and all the feelings I feel in the morning are on paper now, and not in my head anymore.
- Breakfast. Girl’s gotta eat, right? Last step before starting to work is having a good, nutritious, healthy breakfast. I normally use this time to scroll through Instagram, check out new followers, comment and like and see what people have been up to while I was asleep.
This morning rhythm just really helps me get into the right mindset for starting my work day.
2. Blocking out my time.
I’ve written about this before in the Manager vs. Maker blog post, but I feel this is essential to how I structure my days so I decided to include it here as well.
I block out as much time in advance as I can on my calendar. I use iCal, but the technique works with every calendar out there, online and paper. I find that this is the best way to keep an overview of how much time I have available during the day and to prevent “meeting creep” - aka spending all my time in meetings and none on creative work or longer projects.
You can see here how that looks like in practice:
I typically block out
- business meetings
- long time chunks for creative work
- tasks that need to happen on that specific day
- private appointments.
I find that especially blocking out long time chunks for creative work really helps me get into the “makers mode” on those days. It forces me to not schedule any meetings and I know that I have hours of time to myself that I can spend working through my goals or to do list.
And yes, I do put in private appointments as well. Coming back to the earlier point of taking care of yourself - they’re the best way to ensure that you’re still taking care of your relationships. And those are essential to your mental and emotional health.
3. Scheduling meetings for the morning (or sometimes evening).
This is probably pretty obvious from the screenshot above, but I am mindful of scheduling meetings only for the morning - or, if it doesn’t work otherwise (e.g. because of time differences), for the evening. This allows me to have larger chunks of time available for doing creative work or working on other projects without being interrupted by more calls or meetings.
I also cut down significantly on in person meetings - if I can, I schedule them for lunch (because girl’s gotta eat)! Otherwise I like to schedule Skype calls or phone calls to discuss things - it’s a lot more productive and efficient than getting into the Ubahn, spending 30 min going somewhere, spending an hour having coffee, going back for 30 min, getting into the work mode again.
I still love to go out for coffee though - my favorite way to network - so every once in a while I’ll have one day with a breakfast date, a few coffee dates and a lunch date where I just travel all over Berlin to see people.
4. Checking email twice per day.
Email is a huge huge huge HUGE time monster. Like “I’m going to eat away ALL YOUR TIME and your cookies too” monster. This is why I try to force myself to only check my email twice per day - after lunch and in the late afternoon. Now - that doesn’t work so well for me yet, mainly because I haven’t made it a habit yet (or I simply lack the self-discipline to make it work just now). On days when I do stick to that though I feel that I’m more relaxed, less jumpy and just get more done.
One trick that I’ve found helps with this is to quit the mail app on my laptop when I work on something like this blog post here. I also switched off the notifications on my phone and the little red counter bubble that you normally have on your iPhone. That alone made a huuuge difference to how often I felt inclined to check my emails on my phone!
5. Saying goodbye to the weekend - or any sort of regular working hours.
Now, before you start yelling at me, listen to me. I’m not saying “work all the time”. Quite the contrary - I’m saying “work when you feel like working, rest when you feel like resting”. Obviously, this is a gross simplification of what happens in real life, but when you are fortunate enough to be the master of your own schedule (hello to one of the big advantages of running your own one-woman business!) try something for me - listen to your gut when it comes to when to work and when to rest. Allow yourself to work when you want to, no matter if it’s Sunday or in the middle of the night or during lunch hours. When you’re in flow, don’t break it!
BUT. Also allow yourself to rest when you feel like you need to rest. You know what I mean - when you feel sluggish, demotivated, in a funk, getting a little bit sick. Rest when your body and your mind tell you they want to rest. When you do that you feel that over time you are going to establish a natural balance of when you work and when you don’t. I can’t tell you why that happens - maybe magic?? (still waiting for the Hogwarts letter…) - but it’s one of the surprising benefits I’ve come to experience since I started my own business.
Alright, this is wayyyyy longer than I originally planned for - but I hope it’s useful! As I wrote in the beginning, I love to hear how others manage their time and how they keep their sanity, so please do share your tips and stories in the comments below.