Finding time to work on an online business, it’s the number one reason given by online entrepreneurs when asked where they are struggling.
Recently I started a new Facebook group called the Digital Nomad Coffee Shop. It’s for people with online businesses who live and work on the road or are interested in doing so.
As a way to make sure I’m only letting people into the group that are really interested in having online businesses, I ask a few screening questions. One of them is: Where are you stuck in your online business, what is holding you back?
And the number one answer by far is: Finding the time to work on my business
I’m right there with you. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time I have each day to work in my business, it feels like it’s never enough. Over the years I’ve tried different things, but for some reason, even when they work I tend to gradually drop the good habits that work and slide back into procrastination.
Recently I hired a coach to help me get back on track and she reminded me of a whole bunch of techniques that I had used over the years and had forgotten about. So I started implementing several of them last week and not only did my productivity go through the roof, I remembered a few things I had completely forgotten about that might be of help to you.
Where to find time to work on an online business
Start your day doing something creative
What I used to do: For years, my day started with a workout. I’d get up before the kids to make sure I got my workout in before they got up, and then would quickly move from that into my daily tasks. When the kids got older and didn’t need me first thing in the morning, my workout was still the first thing I did because it was a habit that I’d developed. But then I read an article by Benjamin Hardy on morning routines that changed my life.
In it, he talks about the fact there are certain times of the day when we’re just naturally prone to be more creative. One of them is when we first wake up in the morning. Another is after a hard workout. When I was working out first thing in the morning and then immediately moving into my day, I was essentially killing two of the most creative times of my day.
What I do now: Now, the first thing I do every morning is pour myself a cup of coffee and sit down with a notebook. I don’t turn on a computer, I don’t look at my phone. There’s something about screens that interferes with the process.
Nine times out of ten when I sit down I don’t want to write. I feel like there’s nothing to write about. So I start with three gratitudes for the the day. It makes me remember the day before and reflect, so I journal a bit. It might be about where we’re staying, or what we’re planning to do that day or even something about the kids that’s on my mind.
Before I know it, I’ve usually uncovered an idea for a blog post or a solution to a problem I’d been struggling with. I never sit down with that in mind, but as I write it unlocks something in my brain. It is now the most productive time of my day.
From there I move to client work, and when I’m starting to feel sluggish, I work out. That gives me a second creativity surge. Since I started this practice my writing has improved and I enjoy writing instead of sitting down mid afternoon and forcing myself to write something because I had it scheduled on my calendar.
Block Your Day
What I used to do: When I first started working on Launch Tech Made Easy, I was a full time virtual assistant. I had five clients on retainer that I did work for each day. My daily schedule was determined when I sat down at my desk and opened email. This was the first thing I would do each day. And I would go through my inbox and prioritize what each client needed and respond to those emails. My one attempt to stay somewhat organized was to make sure that when I started work for one client, I stuck with that client for at least 45 minutes to an hour working on tasks.
The problem would be when I was working for client A and client B emailed me with what I deemed an urgent task. I’d stop what I was doing for client A and move to client B only to get back to client A later in the day.
There are several problems with working this way. And maybe for you it’s not clients, but it’s moving from one task to another. Every time you switch tasks, you lose momentum. Todd Herman of The 90-Day Year calls this context switching. There’s actually a formula for how much time you lose each day by switching between unrelated tasks. It makes sense if you think about it, because not only are you not finishing a project (which gives you it’s own time of momentum), you are losing your place in the task you were working on.
What I do now:
I work in time blocks. I’ve already explained how the first part of my day works. Creative time first thing in the morning. But I set up the rest of the day the night before and set up my Google calendar accordingly.
After my morning routine of writing, working out, etc., I’ll put an hour on my calendar for each of my private clients. Unless I have specific tasks that need to be completed, I don’t make it more detailed than that because I found that I LOVE putting things on my calendar and I spent too much time fooling around with my calendar and not enough actually doing the work.
After my client work is done, I break down the rest of the day for working on my own business. Here I AM really specific because if i’m not, I always default to the tasks I like to do rather than those that are most important to my business. So I might put down an hour for social media, an hour scheduling and optimizing a blog post (the actual writing happens first thing in the morning), and an hour doing research for an upcoming project. And I turn on notifications for these calendar items and stick to the schedule I’ve set.
When a notification pops up ten minutes before I need to switch tasks I start wrapping things up and get ready to move on to the next thing. Knowing that I only have an hour to work on the things I don’t like to do makes it easier to buckle down get things done. The funny thing is, when all of those tasks are done for the day, I tend to feel so good about what I’ve gotten done that I still have a ton of energy as well as a bunch of time and I find an hour to work on the part of my business I love to do.
Turn off Notifications
What I used to do: Like most people, I figured that the way to be most productive when I got my smart phone was to make sure it had email, social media and all of my project management apps on it. But what I found was that I was constantly reacting to the beeping, vibrating and pop up notifications that were happening and I was context shifting way too often.
What I do now: I have turned off all notifications on my phone, laptop and iPad. I have two exceptions: my calendar and text messages. My calendar keeps me on track all day and the notifications make sure I don’t get so involved in a task that I forget to move on to something else. I keep text messaging on because my phone ringer is NEVER on. I check voicemail first thing in the morning, at lunch and when I’m done for the day. My family knows to text me if they have an emergency and no one else has my cell phone number. And a text message is easy to either reply to quickly or ignore until later where as an email or call can easily eat up 20 minutes of my day.
Implement Only One New Thing at a Time
What I used to do: It used to be that when I heard of a new way to save time or be more productive I would try everything that was suggested all at once. I would get so involved in whether or not I was doing the new process properly that I wasn’t really getting much done at all.
What I do now: If I hear of a new technique or am reminded of something I used to do the worked well, I implement one thing at a time and make sure it’s a habit before I add something else. Last week I went back to scheduling everything on my computer again and I had the most productive week in months. It’s tempting to add in something else this week to make my week even more productive, but I know if I do that pretty soon I’ll have reverted back to old habits. So I’m going to concentrate on my calendar for a few more weeks first.
Finding More Time if You Have Kids
At this stage of my life, I don’t have kids at home that need my attention. But I went through that stage of life while working a business at home as well and in some ways I think I was more productive then than I am now.
There were a few things I did to manage my time when I had kids, from babies to high schoolers, but probably the most important was that I had them on a schedule too. When they were babies, this meant they spent a little time alone each day in a pack and play with a mobile, or a baby gym, or listening to a tape of classical music. As they got older, they spent short periods of time playing with a toy that was reserved for times when I was working. No more than 20 minutes at a time, but that was enough time to post on social media, respond to an email or outline a blog post. Nap times were usually reserved for getting things done around the house.
I also assigned a different household task to each day so that things didn’t pile up so much. So on Mondays and Fridays I did laundry. From sorting to putting away. I didn’t leave piles of unfolded laundry around because that would mess with my head the rest of the time making me feel like I always had something to do. The kids helped when possible. Laundry in particular is something very young kids can help with. They love to sort dirty clothes, match socks and deliver clean laundry to people’s beds.
Other days were dedicated to cleaning bathrooms, or dusting or vacuuming. But I tried to keep the household chores within their own time box (nap time) so they weren’t spilling over in to my work time. While laundry was being done, I would plan the next week’s menu and put together a grocery list. And laundry didn’t go on all day. I would do as much as I could for two hours and the rest would wait until the next laundry day.
As they got older, and were in school, the schedules took care of themselves for the most part, I got my work done during the day while they were gone. During the summers, we broke their day down into three hour-long blocks in the morning for chores, a little school work and reading time. While they did their “work,” I did mine. Afternoons we were free to play and explore. By putting them on a schedule they weren’t bored by noon and wondering what they’d do all day, and they appreciated the afternoons for their free time.
Finding time for anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to daily survival can be tough. But it’s easier when it’s something you enjoy and it’s working towards something you want. The entire idea of having an online business is that it gives you freedom and independence from the things you don’t love to do. But you have to be careful or it just might become that which you were trying to escape from in the first place.
What are your favorite ways to find time to work in your online business? I’d love to hear about them below!