Work expands to fill the space you give it.
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to spend a day being “busy” but accomplishing little. Small tasks are always present to fill your time; and rabbit-holes like chatting up visitors and Facebook groups can drag you in for hours.
Just like budgeting your money, budgeting your time can help you optimize your efforts. Instead of adding more things to your place in the Incubator, you will succeed because we focus your attention and limit your tasks.
Here’s a quick way to optimize your time.
First, you’re going to create two windows for uninterrupted work.
The first work window is for checklists; the second is for creativity.
First window: FOCUS
Use this time for uninterrupted single-tasking. Pull up your checklist for the day. Find the simplest task to perform, and work it through to completion. Then find the next-simplest, and work it all the way through.
This is single-tasking. But it’s also using a cognitive tendency called Gap Theory to get you some momentum and draw you into the “flow state”, where you work at your optimum focused pace.
During your Focus window, you need to be in a place with a door that closes; you need to turn off your phone and desktop notifications. If you work better to music, play some (I work best in complete silence.)
As you work through your list, cross completed tasks off AND add them to your “Done” list. At the end of your Focus window, you’ll want to see what you’ve accomplished. That’s important.
If you have trouble getting started, use the Hemingway hack: start with something that’s almost done already. Hemingway would stop writing mid sentence at the end of each day so the next morning he could simply finish the sentence and then be in flow state.
The goal of your Focus window is to SHIP. Read more by Seth Godin here: http://99u.com/articles/6249/seth-godin-the-truth-about-shipping
Second window: CREATE
During this block, you’re going to do more creative work.
This is when you post your Social Media stuff; this is when you write your blog posts or film your videos. This is when you create the next day’s checklist.
Your creative time is more free-flowing, but absolutely necessary. It’s not nap time; it’s not easy, relaxing time. You still have to build.
Many entrepreneurs find they think best when their body is occupied at a repetitive task. (This is why you have your best ideas in the shower or while driving–we call this “thinking body, dancing mind.”) So if you have trouble thinking up a blog topic, start a menial task, like mowing the grass or going out for a walk. You can’t hit a CrossFit workout and call it your “creative” time, though, because hard workouts require too much conscious attention.
You can also use tools like 750words.com to urge you through creative work, or practice games like Tabata Talking, which we teach entrepreneurs.
Planning Your Windows
Focus time is best done before the day starts, or after a hard mental reset.
For me, that means a 4am start before anyone else is awake.
I start with easy stuff: doing money transfers and processing payments from the night before. Then I do responsive stuff: answering emails and messages. That’s my segue into my creative time, when I write blog posts and love letters to my email list.
Because most of my work is creative work, my “focus” time usually involves building or optimizing materials that will help business owners–work that is, by nature, creative; but not free-flow writing.
If you’re not an early morning person, that’s fine. Your Focus window should immediately follow a hard workout. CrossFit requires your full attention, which temporarily blocks out little distractions. That creates a short time frame in which you can follow the Focus window directions above (notifications off, doors closed.)
You’ll need at least one hour per day of Focus time during the Incubator, with a plan to build to two or more eventually.
Creative time is optimized by low-level exercise or a menial task (thinking body, dancing mind.) I have my best ideas while splitting wood or shoveling dirt. The challenge with these outdoor activities is that I rarely have a notepad around when I have my ideas. Ditto for driving and showering.
If you can find a menial task–like mopping the floors of your business or rearranging boxes in your supply room–that keeps you close to a laptop, this is often best: you can go back and forth between doing the work and recording your ideas.
Low-level aerobic stimulation, like walking, can help you remember facts more quickly AND make connections between ideas faster. It’s invaluable for an entrepreneur.
You need at least a 45-minute Creative window during the Incubator, working up to 90 minutes ideally.
The practices of Focus and Creativity are just that: practices. You won’t be great on your first day. Each is its own fitness, which means they’re both trainable. This is how you improve both critical skills for business owners.