Five Tools to Get You (me) Back on Track and Being Productive

January has been an odd month for me. After 17 days straight with my son off from school, he finally returned on January 5. Yes, you read that right. Seventeen days! Let me tell you that takes some recovery time – some time to get my groove back and be productive again! While I love my son dearly and appreciated not having to wake him and get him ready for school during vacation, no schedule and few obligations can take its toll on me.

I was speaking with two colleagues just today about deadlines vs. free flowing work. For years, I worked in a hospitality consulting firm where everything we did had a deadline. I was the end point for most projects that left our office, so I was always aware of and acting according to the deadlines agreed to with our clients. I never missed one.

Fast forward more than a half a dozen years and I have very few outside imposed deadlines. Therefore, it can sometimes feel like I get nothing done. I love the freedom and flexibility, and really, I do accomplish most of what I set out to do, but sometimes those deadlines can really help get me on track.check-off

Balance once again is the answer. Creating balance in our lives with both freedom and accountability. Creating balance with the nutritious foods we eat and the holiday cookies we indulge in. Creating balance with systems and flexibility.

Over the years of working for myself, I have found several systems and tools that work wonderfully for me. I’d love to share a few with you here.

1 – Set a deadline for a specific item and find someone to hold you to it! (Thanks, Tisha!)

2 – Brain dump and squeegee session. A brain dump is exactly as it sounds. Sit down with a notebook and dump everything inside your brain. Mine can look like this:

  • Make dentist appt for me
  • Scan and send forms to school
  • Call re: oil change
  • Pay rest of this month’s bills
  • Take down Christmas lights (yes, that’s still on there – it’s been cold outside!)
  • Send bday card
  • Create flyer for program
  • Email re: newsletter submissions
  • Email client follow up

I had better stop now. You get the drift… After the brain dump, which I keep as an ongoing list in my trusty moleskin, I set a timer for 45 minutes to an hour for a squeegee session. Squeegee sessions are amazing. You take out your brain dump list and get to it. Call the dentist – 5 minutes; scan forms – check; email forms to school – done; call for an oil change – set; pay bills (and update Quicken) – 20 minutes… Before you know it so many items that were occupying your valuable brain space are not only out of your brain, half of them are accomplished.

3 – Top 3 priorities. I set these on a weekly basis in my Monday Morning Management pages that I keep in my planner, and on really productive weeks, I set them on a daily basis too. So while my weekly list may include “send newsletter,” my daily one will have the smaller steps like “write main blog” and “make recipe and take pic.” Knowing how to break down my weekly items into the smaller steps makes sure the weekly items actually get done.

4 – Turn on the music and exercise. Seriously, when I am stuck in my work, I know I need to move my body. Sometimes I get out for a quick 30-minute run. Sometimes I turn on Pandora and do squats, lunges, shoulder presses and planks – whatever feels good. Getting out of my head and into my body is never wrong.

5 – Set a timer (aka the pomodoro technique). Similar to the squeegee session where you set a timer and get focused, but this is usually for one longer task. I use 45 minutes most of the time. It’s long enough to make an impact, but not too long that my mind wanders. Simply set the timer for 45 minutes and get working on your chosen task! After the timer goes off, get up, stretch, get some water, go to the bathroom, whatever you need for 5 minutes and then, back to work for another timed session. Your day will fly by and you’ll be amazed at all you accomplished!

These tools have supported me as I embrace the freedom and flexibility of being a solo-entrepreneur and with them I have brought in some of the needed accountability and structure that deadlines and bosses gave me in the past. Try them out and see what you think. What do you do to stay on track with work or personal projects?

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