I have worked from home for 17 years (makes me feel old), although i have offices i choose not to go to them often. Believe it or not, I have only recently been drilling down into my time management and productivity over the last few months. I am constantly working on balance in health, family, work and free time. I think this is going to be something I will always work on, but I have made some amazing progress lately having been fairly crap at it for years. Here are some “hacks” that have worked for me. They improve my life and free up my time: –
· The Exercise Bike With Built In Laptop Holder
I think that exercise is not only key to you physical and mental health, it is also key to your productivity when you do work. The issue is, exercise takes time out of your day and when you are pushed for time already, sometimes it is the activity that gets put off for another day. So why not combine exercise with work? I bought the (Bike name) from Amazon for £120 and have never looked back. My daily work routine includes checking stats and planning tasks for an hour whilst on the bike and working out.
I get so engrossed in the work aspect that the exercise becomes less obvious. I am not bored or looking for the workout to end and yet I am able to burn 600 calories whilst doing some of my most important work. I had tried this before, resting iPads on other bikes handlebars or trying to work on a treadmill but I found it too irritating. The (bike name) is built specifically to hold a laptop and I do 150km or so a week on it and would not be without it. That is 4200 calories a week extra burnt which allows me to…… stuff myself with more junk… (I am working on that part)
· Hire A Virtual Assistant (AND Train them Properly)
(Excuse the ill thought out images, i got bored looking for imagery…)
I have always worked with VA’s (virtual assistants) with differing success. I realised that the success of working with a VA is mostly dependent on ME and how supportive I am and how well I outline and train them for tasks within my business. You can hire VA’s from all around the world, I personally prefer hiring from the Philippines using onlinejobs.ph but there are millions of amazing people everywhere.
VA’s generally vary from $350 upwards per month dependent on skill level and aptitude. I am lucky enough to work with a great VA called Gwen. I really started appreciating how good she was when I started creating video instructions on her tasks. I downloaded the LOOM plugin for chrome then within minutes I was creating video guides on my PC showing me doing them live on my desktop. A great feature of it is that you can show yourself in the corner of the screen talking while your desktop is shared and you are doing the task in question. This is good because it makes things more personal. You may never have seen your VA or Vice Versa!
OH, forgot to say, yes I sometimes do the video training while on the bike in point 1) above! Which by the end of it can mean I sound a little breathless in the videos…. Creepy?
VA’s are excellent for a number of tasks that are potentially time consuming and repetitive and can be done remotely. If you are doing work that could be outsourced like this, are you using your time most effectively?
· Listen to podcasts and audiobooks in the car
Who doesn’t want to be learn more, achieve more and generally be better? A lot of people would rather be “doing” the work than learning, thinking there is not enough time to learn and that it is a luxury they cannot afford. I am a great believer that learning is the best use of my time so I can share and apply that new knowledge in multiple places. I also find it exciting and enjoyable to learn something that will help my businesses or me personally.
Again, the problem with self-help books, learning guides and courses are they take time to study. I personally use podcasts and audiobooks to learn new skills in my job or to find new life skills that will help me grow. Here is how I personally do it:-
1. I downloaded an app called Podcast Addict, I then search for people in my line of work who do amazing content and download their podcasts onto my device.
2. For self-help related learning and time management, I use the audible.co.uk app and read (listen to) titles there designed for personal development. There are hundreds of amazing books.
The real thing that makes this work for me is that I use the following times to listen to them:-
1. In the car whenever I am in there on my own for 10 minutes or longer. On the way back from school runs, on the way to the shops, on longer journeys. I will use pretty much any time that I might otherwise spend “switched off” in the car to listen to something that will help me. As I said previously, I like learning this stuff, so it is never a chore for me.
2. On a train. I need to go to London sometimes which is a 3-hour round trip, I will often listen to a book in that time.
3. Whilst jogging or exercising. I mentioned that I like to combine work and fitness so when I run, I have an audiobook or podcast playing too. It means my mind is taken off the exercise and I get more than just a workout, I come away with more knowledge too.
4. In bed. If I feel like it, I will listen to an audiobook in bed. These are nearly always books I would read for enjoyment but also have a benefit to me like “The Awakened Ape.” I will 10/10 times fall asleep to an audiobook so for me it is a form of relaxation too.
All these “dead” minutes we spend can be used productively. I understand people will not want to overload and need downtime which brings me onto my next point….
· Work Like You Are Going On Holiday The Next Day!
Ever work the day before time off or a holiday and think “WOW, I got so much done today, I wish I could be that effective every day!”? I used to think that all the time. I understood why this was the case and that I was most effective then BECAUSE I HAD TO BE, after all I was away the next day. However, I never worked out how to recreate that effectiveness in my normal daily life.
That was until I got myself a life coach named James Boardman. He told me that I should be strict and turn the PC off at a set time every day, regardless of what was left to do that day. Now I will say that this is not always possible in business but it is a rule I stick to 90% of the time now. What finishing at this set time does is tells me that I cannot work on late to get things finished, I therefore have to be 100% optimal in the day. I used to stay on an hour or two longer or go back on the PC before bed to get things done. This had two effects on me
1. It made me think it was ok if I drifted a bit in the day, after all I could catch up later.
2. It did not allow me that work/life divide and as such I could never fully unwind and switch off.
Finishing at a set time each day has meant that I really focus on maximum effectiveness now and my businesses have grown faster in the last six weeks of doing this than they had in the previous six months! I realise now that although I was relatively successful, I had always been half-arsing it and never working to my true potential. This new way of working has now given me a huge sense of peace too. After all, if I work to my full potential, worrying is pointless and I really am doing my very best in life and work so can have no regrets. I think a lot of my stress came from feeling I could do more and was underachieving. Turning off your PC or stopping at a set time is powerful!
· “What Is The Most 80-20 Thing I Can Do Today?”
The 80-20 principle is quite well known and there have been books on it. It basically means 20% of the work you do equates to 80% of the results. You need to then find that 20% and work on it above all else to get maximum results and best use of your time.
I don’t now about you, but my to-do list gets huge without even trying hard to think about adding to it. I have read countless ways to handle a to-do list from “eat the frog” and get the hard stuff done first to “post a few wins” and boost confidence by ticking off the easy tasks first. I had skipped between these ideas to see what worked for me but was never really nailing it.
What had not realised for myself was it was not the hard tasks or the easy ones that were my most important (20%) tasks, it was all the BORING ones. In my to-do lists I did not mind taking on a hard task or an easy one but I buried and skipped over the boring tasks without ever realising it. These “boring” tasks were the ones that held the key to success as very often they held back progress. In fact, these mundane tasks were nearly always the MOST important tasks I could do.
Nowadays, I tend to either do the boring things myself or allow myself to trust someone else to. There are many people who know better than me how to do these things I hate, or do not enjoy, I just needed to find them and trust them. I see these tasks which used to be sticking points for me now as opportunities. Completing them gives me a lot of satisfaction which is a reward for me.
Next time you are at work, ask yourself “What is the most 80-20 thing I can do today?” You might surprise yourself if you are honest with yourself. Once you know what it is, go after it HARD right away, at the expense of all else on that day. Other things might suffer but it will be worth it in the long run.
· Own Your Mornings, They Set You Up For The Day
Another recent innovation for me is owning my mornings and my morning routine. I used to get out of bed at various times, do various things before the school run or just after it. I guess this wishy-washy start to the day carried on throughout my work day. Enter the morning routine: –
1. I choose to get up at 6am now, an hour or hour and a half earlier than I used to. My daughters and wife also get up then. I get to spend an extra hour with them which is a great win!
2. We start by doing 20 minutes of Pilates. I am as flexible as a plank of wood and certainly would never go to a Pilates class but doing it with my family feels good and helps my back and posture.
3. I then meditate with the app “Calm” for 10 minutes. This is not me chanting! Rather I simply focus on the app and my breathing for 10 minutes in a quiet place. This shows me what being truly relaxed feels like, it is quite easy to forget when we work at 100 miles an hour daily.
4. I then have breakfast and relax for 30 minutes.
5. If I am doing the school runs, I get ready for that and am back by 8.30 to start work. If I am not doing the school runs I start work earlier and do an extra hour on the bike at the same time.
Now I am NOT a morning person. This makes having this routine more satisfying. I have achieved something every morning which starts me off with a positive frame of mind I carry into the day. When my morning routing gets broken for some reason, I really notice it now and don’t feel quite right for a little while. Lastly, by 9pm at night, I am now in a relaxed and tired frame of mind due to this early start allowing me to really unwind.
I hope there is something in here for everyone. Most things I wrote about you may already do much better than me or may be obvious to you. However, i believe that in most things I personally read, there is one nugget of gold that makes it worthwhile and I hope there was one for you.
What are your productivity tips or tips for life balance? I would love to hear them and learn from them. Please comment below and share them!