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I'm Mara — I help creatives create and launch digital courses and profitable products. I love chatting about online marketing, design and goal setting!
Today, we’re talking about the nitty-gritty details of productivity and time management. As my business has grown, time has become one of my most valuable resources, and one of the things that has helped me grow my business to where I am today is learning how to manage my time efficiently. I’ve definitely had my fair share of battling procrastination and distraction (we’re all human, right?!) But I’ve also managed to make some really good habits along the way that help me work smarter and push through those days when I need to get things done (even if I don’t feel like working). In this episode of Create a Better Course, I’m sharing eight productivity tips and secrets that helped me become a more efficient business owner. Let’s dive in!
I’m obsessed with using a cube timer to help me stay focused. If you’ve never seen one, it’s a small plastic cube with different time intervals on each side – mine has five, 15, 30, and 60 minutes. All you have to do to set the timer is set the cube on your desk with the interval of time you want to use. I like to use the 30-minute side for spending a focused block of time on one task and the five-minute side for breaks or smaller to-dos that I keep putting off. You can also download apps that do the same thing on your phone, but I prefer the physical timer so I don’t get distracted by picking up my phone.
You know how in Bingo, there’s a “free space” in the center of the card that you can immediately mark off? This is like that but for your to-do list. I write down something incredibly simple that I know I’ll do anyway, like “wake up” or “drink coffee.” Sometimes I even just write “free space.”
Whatever it is, it should be something so incredibly easy to accomplish that there’s no way you won’t be able to check it off. It’s a little mental trick I play on myself. The idea is once I start checking things off my list, I’ll want to keep going…and you guys, it works. Some days it’s intimidating to look at a long to-do list, so having something I can quickly check off helps me mentally shift into “get it done” mode.
I use iPhone settings and software to literally block distractions from my day, and I am absolutely ruthless. I’m an easily distractible person; left to my own devices, I will go down a million little rabbit holes every single day. Staying focused takes intention for me, and here are some of the ways I do it:
This one has nothing to do with my actual workflow, but it absolutely helps me make the most of all the time in a day – in fact, I think it’s one of the reasons that I’ve been able to grow my business over six figures without building out a team! We were big fans of Instacart for grocery delivery for a long time. Even with higher Instacart prices and delivery fees, we spent less overall because we only ordered exactly what we needed each week. We’re closer to the grocery store in our new place, so we don’t use Instacart as much.
Now, our favorite way to meal plan is by ordering Hello Fresh boxes (yes, we’re those meal kit people!) Seriously, it saves us SO much time, not just on cooking but on deciding what to eat, making a grocery list, and doing all the shopping. My husband and I sit down once every six weeks to pick out the next round of deliveries, so dinner is taken care of for over a month.
Bonus tip: Get a robot vacuum! We named ours Alfred, and he cleans up after us daily, keeping all the crumbs, dust bunnies, and dog hair under control. We still do a deeper clean with a “real” vacuum once a week, but Alfred was a game-changer.
If you’re a meetings person by nature, they can be tough to let go of, but doing it will give you soooo much time back. Once I got intentional about minimizing meetings, I realized how much can be taken care of quickly over email or Slack. I guard my meeting times closely and am choosy about which things need meetings and when I’ll schedule them. For now, I only schedule meetings on Mondays and Fridays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. At first, I was scared it would be too restrictive to limit my meetings to two days a week, but so far, it hasn’t been a problem to schedule meetings during my available hours.
So many random to-dos come up throughout the day, whether it’s small tasks that pop up in my head or things that clients mention to me offhand. More often than not, they’re things I don’t need to take action on right away, but they still take up a fair amount of mental energy to keep track of (if I remember them). All those little things can be a HUGE distraction, so I like to have one dedicated spot to write them down. What works for me is to keep a bullet journal notebook page with all of my tasks for the week on one page in a spread and a list for next week’s tasks on the other. As things come up during the week, I’ll add them to next week’s to-do list. When planning my upcoming week each Sunday, I’ll either move those things to the current week’s to-do list or schedule reminders in my calendar to take care of them sometime in the future.
It’s so easy to spend all day reacting to things that come up instead of proactively working toward bigger goals, then feel like I didn’t get anything done at the end of the day. I like to get intentional by setting three goals for each month, week, and day. These three things are the tasks that have to happen, no matter what. At first, it can be challenging to narrow bigger to-do lists down to three things, but it helps me stay more focused on what’s growing my business. I used to write these down in my bullet journal, but now I keep them in the Full Focus Planner, which has designated spaces for the “Big Three” goals. (You can read my Full Focus Planner review here).
If I ever hit a wall on something and feel like I can’t bear to work on it at the moment, I’ll switch modes and implement an “anything productive counts” rule. Instead of pushing forward on the one thing I really don’t want to do, I’ll give myself a free pass on doing that for a little while and tell myself to do anything at all that’s productive. During that time, my standards for what counts as “productive” are super low. I’m talking about things like starting a load of laundry, cleaning out my email inbox, or waking up Alfred to do a little robot vacuuming around the house. It’s normal to have periods of time during the day when you just don’t want to work as much, so I try to go with the flow and take small actions that chip away at my to-do list.
I love experimenting with different productivity tipsto see what might work for me. Everyone’s workflow and style are a little bit different, but I hope you’ve found at least one new thing from my list of eight productivity tips that you can try in your business:
Want to hear more on how I use each of these hacks in my daily life, plus three common productivity hacks I don’t do? Listen to the full episode for all the details!
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