I had the pleasure of co-hosting a free Bplans webinar with Lara Galloway, a business coach and time management expert. In the webinar, Lara offered some excellent time management tips and productivity hacks. She also answered several audience questions, which I’m sure you will find useful for your own situation at home or at work.
Lara is an author, speaker, business coach, and the host of the popular Mom Biz Solutions Show podcast. Her passion is helping entrepreneurs create and run businesses that honor their priorities and values. Lara’s best-selling book, “Moms Mean Business: A Guide to Creating a Successful Company and Happy Life as a Mom Entrepreneur,” offers inspiration, advice, and plenty of how-to’s for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Hear more from Lara Galloway on the seventh episode of The Bcast, Bplan’s official podcast (at 9:47):
Click here to subscribe to The Bcast on iTunes »
Lara has a unique approach to coaching business owners. Her Twitter account, @MomBizCoach, has won her the attention of national and international media. Forbes.com named her one of 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter, and HubSpot dubbed her one of the 100 most powerful women on Twitter.
Watch the webinar below:
Read the transcript below:
Jonathan: We’re so happy and excited to have Lara with us to share some of her time management tips and productivity hacks. At this point, I’d like to say welcome, Lara. Thanks for joining us, and I’ll hand it over to you.
Lara: Hey, Jonathan. Thanks so much for having me and letting me be a part of the Bplans community. I appreciate so much the work you guys are doing, and it aligns so much with the work I’m doing. I want to make really good time today, because I know the people showing up here are really busy and have lots of stuff to do. I hope I’ve got some great information for you guys. We’ve got a jam-packed webinar today.
Some nice tips and tricks. I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I guess every year about this time of year, I feel like time speeds up. It’s inordinately faster. Things go faster. There are more things to get done in the month of May, as we head towards the summer. I think as business owners, a lot of times we feel the need to wrap some things up so we can take a break, or shift gears as we move into a new season. That affects a lot of our businesses. Sometimes you need a few hacks to help you get through and help you be more efficient. That’s what today’s webinar is going to be all about.
As Jonathan said, we are recording this webinar. Even though I will be talking a little bit fast, you can be sure that you can listen to it again if you miss some of the tips and tricks that we’re going to be sharing. I hope you have had an opportunity to download that PDF, which just has a really simple worksheet that—I’m a coach. I like to help people see a difference when I do a webinar. I like to have them take notes and have some takeaways.
The downloaded PDF, if you’ve got a hold of that, is going to have some questions or some categories of thoughts that I’d like you to fill in as I go through. I’m just going to give you some ideas about what to fill in those places. If you’ve already started filling it out, great. If not, it’s coming up in just a second. I’ll explain that to you. Like I said, if you don’t have that, that’s okay. Just listen in and think. Sometimes it helps to really write things down and see it so you can understand what you’re doing and make some positive changes, especially in your time management.
Let’s jump right in. Thanks so much for being here with me today. I am going to start off by telling you really one of the things that gets in the way of us being super time management ninjas, and that is we all have things that drain our time, places where it’s like flushing money right down the drain. We’re flushing our time down the drain. These generally fall in five categories that I’ve seen over the time that I’ve spent coaching.
The first category is lack of boundaries. A lack of boundaries is something that really pretty much every, most every entrepreneur I’ve ever met has a struggle with at some point. This isn’t necessarily a reflection of character. It’s more a reflection of us having way too many roles and responsibilities, way too many demands on our time, way too many conflicting priorities.
When I say a lack of boundaries, the way this shows up for a lot of the clients I work with is they make a really nice to-do list. They start their business day, and they sit down with every intention of getting that to-do list done. Yet, things happen. Maybe they think, if you’re working from home, you run by and you think, “Oh, I’m just going to go clean this kitchen up really quick before I get started today, because I’m going to feel a lot better if it’s not cluttered,” or, “Oh, the phone just rang, and I answered it. I wound up having this long conversation with my mom. Oh my gosh. Doesn’t she understand I’m really busy?” or the doorbell rings, and somebody stops by and is offering you something, whatever.
You get it. Things happen. A lot of my clients don’t realize that that’s actually a lack of boundaries. What I like to point out that it really is a lack of boundaries, because if you have, as a business owner, if you have the luxury of working from home or working in an office, either way, it can be a luxury for all of us. I’ve done both, and I really enjoy both. The fact is, we have to set up some sort of physical boundaries, mindset boundaries, mental boundaries, because if we don’t, we won’t ever get the things done on our priority list. It’s up to us to set those boundaries and communicate them.
For instance, when I say that my office hours are from 9 to 3:30, which, by the way, happens to coincide with the hours that my children are at school so I can get things done, I don’t spend my time cleaning the house. I don’t spend my time having lunch with friends. If people ask me to have lunch or if they want to drop by and have a coffee, I set up that boundary, and I say no, because these are my very protected work hours. Just the same, I don’t allow people to take my time [over 00:09:09] that is my family time in the evening or on the weekends. If somebody offers me to do something during that time, I say no, because I have a real clear boundary between work and family. I maintain it not every day, not all the time, but most of the time, as a rule.
Lack of boundaries. On your worksheet, I’d like you to consider where you might be struggling in a time drain that is a result of a lack of boundaries. These could be visual boundaries, physical boundaries, mental boundaries, whatever it is. Lots of us, we have them in different ways. If that brings up something for you, I’d love for you to write that down on your worksheet, because again, this is a no-judgment zone. This is just to help you be aware of something. When we have awareness about a habit, we have an opportunity to change it.
Okay. Moving on to number two, distractions and interruptions. Again, you’ve got the best intentions when you sit down at the beginning of the day with your to-do list and with all of your deadlines and deliverables. Yet, what happens? Like I said, the phone rings. Social media notifications popping up on your phone every five seconds. Your smartwatch is always buzzing and flashing. Your neighbors stop by. You get really distracted by some wonderful things you’re researching on the internet. Yeah, you get distracted by that pile of laundry that you want to fold or the lawn that needs to be mowed, whatever it is.
Guys, we all, as time managers and as time ninjas, we have to be really clear that as busy as we are, our time is our most precious resource. We can’t make more time. We can make more money, but we cannot make more time. If you allow other people to distract you, it may feel like it’s their fault that you’re not getting things done. I’m going to say it straight. It’s not. It’s yours. You have to own your time. You have to be really careful and be very protective about that time. It can feel a little awkward at first if you’re the kind of person who hates to let people down, or you don’t want to say no. You’re a people pleaser. Lots of us are.
The fact is, you suffer when you let other distractions and interruptions get to you. I’ll say again, as a mom of three, for any parents on the call, especially work-at-home parents, if you’re trying to juggle running a business while your kids are present, and if you’re especially the primary caretaker of little people, it’s hard sometimes to admit that your kids are distractions or interruptions. God bless them. The fact is, you have to create some sort of routine and boundaries around your time so that you can be the good parent and the good spouse or partner, however this is in your family, so that you can have that time, that quality time, with the people who matter to you, and so you can make sure that you have enough of that so that when it’s time to do work, you don’t feel bad about saying no and saying, “Uh-uh (negative). This is my work time at this point.” You’ve got to minimize those distractions. I’d like for you to look at your worksheet again and see if you can jot down a couple of distractions or interruptions that you know are taking you off your game each day.
All right. Number three, doing it all yourself. Raise your hand if you are the CEO of your company, and by “CEO,” I mean “chief everything officer.” If you are the chief cook and bottle washer, if you are the visionary, the business manager, the ops manager, the fulfillment delivery guy, if you’re all of that, if you’re doing everything yourself, chances are this is actually one of the biggest time drains in your business.
I find it again and again that when we start out as entrepreneurs, oftentimes we’re solopreneurs. We are bootstrapping. We are doing it all ourselves. That is a normal way to start. What we forget is to migrate away from that, and to start being business owners, and to figure out how to automate and delegate some things to people that are going to do the jobs well, maybe better than we do it, and allow us to focus on our money-making talents and our job as the CEO and visionary. If you are doing it all yourself, you are doing yourself a disservice, and you are wasting a lot of time.
Case in point. I know just enough HTML and CSS to really play around on my blog and really mess it up now and then when I do something wrong. For me to sit down and try to change my template, resize a graphic, upload a really cool blog post with some neat links, and all that kind of stuff, I can do it all. I can. I know how. Even the things that I don’t know how to do, I can go learn from my buddy Google and YouTube. They’ll tell me how to do anything I need to know.
That may save me money doing it myself, but over time, let me tell you, the amount of time it takes, maybe it takes me an hour as I fiddle and tweak and try to figure something out. I bill out at somewhere near 200 an hour most of the time. The virtual assistants, marketing assistants people that I work with on my team, holy cow. They don’t bill as much as I do, and they do the work in a fraction of time. It may take me an hour. It may take them 10 minutes, because that’s their expertise.
Be very careful. Doing things all yourself as a business owner is an absolute time drain that we all need to take a magnifying glass to and figure out how not to succumb to this one. Again, on your worksheet, take a look and think of two, three, five things that you are doing yourself that you’re pretty sure you probably should be letting somebody else do, because folks, I promise you, you’ll get more time back when you let go of this stuff.
Number four, resistance to change. Sometimes when I teach this, my clients say, “I don’t really get how that’s a time drain.” Yet, what happens, guys, is, all of us, humans, as we learn to do things, as we create a process for doing things, we probably get into a habit of doing things a certain way. That’s fine. We may be actually quite productive most of the time. Sometimes, as a business owner, things change. Some systems change. Some innovations change. Your business model may change. Your business delivery system may change. Your software may change.
You may feel a little bit resistant to that change. You may want to keep doing things the way you’ve always done it. Pen-and-paper calendar versus Google Calendar or iCal. It’s not to say that there’s always something wrong with doing things the way you’ve always done them, whether it’s a calendaring system and how you manage your—if you use Excel for your customer relationship management, more power to you, but there is a time and place where it is worthwhile as a business owner to evaluate in your business, “Are you hanging on to old, outdated, less efficient and productive ways of doing things that are draining your time?”
If your systems make you more efficient, awesome. That’s what systems are supposed to do. If your systems are draining your time, be honest about that, and write that down on your worksheet. Just shine a light and think for a minute.
Again, no judgment. Be honest with yourself. Am I resisting change in an area that’s holding me back and taking up my time? Because this is for you. You are the person who gets to make this change. It’s not for anybody else.
Number five. This is a biggie. A lot of us are not great at managing our time, and we are even worse at estimating our time. If you’re in a services business or a product business, this applies equally. You may underestimate how much time it takes for you to create or deliver a product or a project. If you’re in a services business, you may underestimate how much time or the scope of work that’s involved for you to deliver something to your client.
What happens? You bill something out for 20 hours of work that actually cost you 60 hours to deliver, thereby making your hourly rate something like 53 cents an hour. I have seen this happen to so many clients. It’s devastating, because at the outset, they feel like they’re making a lot of money an hour, they’re making a lot of money on this project. It feels like a big giant number that they’re charging the client. When they look at the scope of work and what they agreed to deliver, and amount how much time it actually takes them to get it done, they realize they have absolutely undersold themselves and not gotten paid for what they did. Oh my goodness, is there a lot of heartbreak ensue right there.
If you are clear that this is a challenge area for you, if you habitually run late to every meeting because you underestimated how much time it would take you to get there, if you habitually see your clients expanding the scope of work that they’re working on, and you feeling like you’re scrambling and getting eaten in the process because it’s taking so much more time, then you need to understand that and own it, and start adding in a bit more of a buffer.
Add an extra five percent or 10 percent of time or of dollars that you’re going to charge a client. Estimating your time improperly throws you into chaos, because you don’t properly budget your time. Therefore, you wind up accepting more work or trying to fit a project into an already incredibly busy schedule. You’re draining time everywhere, because you’re running so fast and you’re [inaudible 00:19:28] you’re overwhelmed.
All right. Guys, these are the things that I feel if we can each, as an entrepreneur, own the time drains that we have, if we can see that, then we are ready to start making some changes and put some powerful productivity hacks in place to help us make better use of our time and be more productive.
I’m going to move on to the next slide. I’m just going to take a breath here and tell you for a second, as I shift into giving you these time hacks—I’ve got five on this slide and five on the next one—just remember I know I’m going fast, but number one, this call is recorded. The webinar is recorded, so you will receive these slides. They’re very basic, but you will receive them. Bplans does email them out to everybody. Also, I’m going to give you a link at the end that will give you a checklist that I actually have created for you to go over these time hacks. You don’t have to remember everything I’m saying, or if it goes too fast. You’ll be able to read up on it on the link that I give you to my website in a little bit.
Okay. Let’s go through these hacks. I tried to make it in a way that’s easy to remember. We have some little quick two-word phrases: chunk it, map it, calculate it, quarter it, and time it. Let me start with chunking your time. This is a fabulous hack. What a lot of us entrepreneurs do is we realize that we have an attention span, an ability to focus, for a certain chunk of time. What is really helpful is for you to figure out what your chunk of time is. For some people, it’s 25 minutes. For some people, it’s an hour. Some entrepreneurs go for eight to 12 hours at a time. They can really focus for an entire day, and then they need to take a day or two off. Whatever it is for you, learning how to chunk your projects into certain chunks of time really helps.
For me, I recommend, if you’ve never tried this approach before, I recommend you work in two-hour chunks. Pick a project. Pick a job. Pick something on your to-do list that you can get done in a two-hour chunk of time, and practice picking projects that fit into two-hour chunks so that you can organize your day and know that, “Okay, this morning from 9 to 11, I’ve got my first work block. I’m going to get da-da-da-da done.” Then after that chunk of time passes, you stop, and you take a break. That break can be 15, 20, 30 minutes, an hour, and then move into your next work chunk. Whatever the chunks are, this is a really helpful one, because it helps you practice estimating your time, getting things done, working on a deadline, and taking breaks so that you can rejuvenate.
Hack number two, map it. I am passionate about mapping it. This is what we call project mapping in the coaching world. In its simplest form, project mapping is just plugging tasks from a project into the available time slots on your calendar. You know how a road map helps you figure out how to get from point A to point B? A project map helps you figure out how to get things done in the amount of time you have in the day.
Again, using the chunking technique is really helpful. If I know that I’ve got to get a speaking proposal in for a client, if I’ve got to get that proposal done, I know that’s going to take me an hour or so of time. I’m going to pull up my calendar and say, “Okay. I’ve got to get this … It’s due on Friday. When do I have, between now and Friday, an hour of time for me to do it?” I’m going to actually schedule it in my calendar like an appointment. That’s what I’m talking about. Map it out. Take your project, break it down into little chunks, and map it out onto your calendar so you know you’ve got a map that tells you when you’re going to get it done.
Hack number three is calculate it. Okay, this one is really simple. What we’re talking about here is more like calendaring. You need to calculate how much time it’s going to take for you to get something done. It’s so obvious that it makes sense to have the most important things on your calendar. For real, if you take a look at that calendar and it is full of all kinds of stuff that pulls you all over the place, it’s got to go back to you having a really calculated decision about what goes on your calendar in the first place.
Calculate it. Ask yourself, “Does this deserve to be on my calendar?” It makes you think twice, when you have to be a really strong time manager, if you ask this question. Does it deserve to be on my calendar? That’s what we’re talking about there. Generally, we follow the rule that 80 percent of—you need to spend your time on—how does it go? I can’t even say it right now. That 20 percent of what you do leads to 80 percent of your progress. When you’re looking at your calendar, make a calculated decision about whether or not what you’re doing is that 20 percent that is going to get you towards your project. That’s where you need to spend 80 percent of your time. The rest of the stuff should not make it on your calendar. It is a question of priorities.
The next one we call quarter it. This hack builds off a Stephen Covey trick. Those of you familiar with Stephen Covey, he has the four quadrants. Do you remember? I always say to my clients, “Grab a piece of paper. Draw one line down the middle vertically, and then another across horizontally, so that you make your paper into four quarters. Label those going from top left, quarter one, Q1. Quarter two is on the right. Quarter three is on the bottom left. Quarter four is on the bottom right.” In these quarters, Stephen Covey says this is the urgent and important stuff, for those of you who have studied his work before. He helps you decide how to spend your time on the top priorities. You should be spending most of your time on the urgent and important.
We do it a little bit differently. I label Q1, quarter one, is the stuff that makes me money, because I’m an entrepreneur. I need to be really clear. Q1 is my most important area, and I’m looking for stuff that makes me money. When I look at all the to-do list tasks that I have on my list, I ask myself, I look at the four Q’s, and I say, “Okay, which of these tasks is going to make me money?” I write those down. Those get priority. That’s where I’m going to spend my time first.
In the next quadrant, the next quarter, we’re going to have Q2. This is stuff that builds money. It may not be making me money today, but this is like marketing. It’s the stuff I do that’s going to make me money in the future. I try to put as many things in there as I can. Quadrant three, the bottom left, is all about those must-do’s. These are things that have to get down as a business owner, like invoicing or training your team. They don’t make you money, but they have to get done. Quadrant four, guess what those are, guys? Those are time drains. Go back to the time drains we were talking about before. Look at the quarter, quarter four.
What I try to challenge my clients to do is to say, “I want you to put as much as you can, take your to-do list, put as much as you can in the first quarter and as much as you can in the fourth quarter, because generally, I bet you’ve got quadrants two and three handled pretty well, stuff that builds you money and stuff that you must do.” We often lose the focus on making ourselves put things into the first quarter. I can quit doing, let go of, delete altogether. I know I said that fast, but like I said, at the end, I will give you a link to my website that explains that a little bit better. I created a handout for you guys so that we don’t have to remember all that, because I know it was a mouthful.
The next one, time it, is a great hack. This one, guys, it’s not just about the time of the clock. It’s about the timing of things. As a business owner, I want you to really pay attention to your energy flow. Are you a night owl? Are you a morning person? For me, if I try to host webinars at 9 or 10:00 at night so I can reach my West Coast clients, because I’m in the East Coast, if I try to host things at 9 and 10:00 at night, guys, that’s just terrible for me, because I have such low energy at that point in the day. It doesn’t matter how many people I can reach. I’m not at my best. In fact, I’m at my worst. Don’t trust me if I’m on a webinar at 9:00 at night, okay?
Anyway, consider your energy. As I talked about before with the other hacks, chunking it, mapping it. If you work really well on the weekends when you have unstructured time, great. If you work really well one or two days in a row, and then you need a couple of days off, great. Consider your energy flow, and that is going to affect your productivity. Don’t schedule against your energy flow.
Onto the next slide. Question it…
Jonathan: Hey, Lara, I had a question for you, before we move into the five more hacks. What do you have to say, if somebody’s listening to the ways that you’re suggesting of how to improve their time management, these different minor things that they can do, what about if somebody says, “Lara, I already have trouble enough fitting the things that I need to do into my day. I don’t have time to do these other tasks beforehand to organize everything”? What’s the response to that?
Lara: My response to that is, that is really a cry for help. I get it. If your life is feeling like it’s totally in chaos and you can’t even plan … I do, I have clients who say, “Oh my God. That all sounds great. I don’t even the time to think about that.” First and foremost, I’d give you a hug. I’d give you a pat on the back. I’d take you out for a beer, because life is tough sometimes. When we are in that mode where we can’t even look up, I’m not going to lie, sometimes that’s really the way it is. Hopefully, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. That’s going to end.
I caution you, if that has become a habit or a way of life, if this is how it absolutely always is for you, versus it being a specific season in your life or a particular set of circumstances that has just created a bunch of chaos for you, then you may be dealing with more of a habit and a mindset. I really, really, really suggest you getting honest with yourself about whether or not that’s really going to work for you in the long run. Do you want to keep staying in that space and being frustrated? You might need to ask for some help, because it can become a habit, and we don’t even realize it. We think it’s everybody else, but really, we’re just used to operating that way.
Jonathan: Great. Thank you for that answer. I’m glad you brought up the “estimating it” time hack. That’s a real big one for me. My wife and I have different views of time. She wants to be there right on time or a little bit before, and I am constantly mis-estimating my time. “Oh, we’ve got time to do this first, or that first.” I have the habit of getting everywhere five minutes late, 10 minutes late, because I mis-estimated it. For people who have that same problem, what’s a great first step on how to re-estimate your time?
Lara: For me, the first thing is some awareness. What is causing that drive that’s causing you to be late? Is it that you’re just trying to squeeze one more thing in? Is it that you’re getting distracted? Going back to some of these time drains I’ve been talking about, Jonathan, it’s like each of us has a reason that we’re doing it. Sometimes it’s just that we just don’t move as fast as we think we’re doing. I got to say, I see that with my children. I think, “Dear God, how long can it take you to brush your teeth? Honestly, I gave you 10 minutes. You don’t have that many teeth.” For my daughter, who I’m giving the example there, she just needs more time to execute the things she’s doing.
I would just ask you to acknowledge, instead of fighting against it. In a relationship sometimes, that’s one of those things when we operate differently from our partner or our spouse. You can see somebody else, and it’s working just fine for them the way they do it, but I can tell you with my husband, it takes him an hour to wake up in the morning. He has to sit, and drink coffee, and read whatever blogs he reads, whatever, and then he gets moving, whereas I pop out of the bed, and if I’ve got somewhere to be, I’m in the shower. I don’t even get coffee until later. I can be out the door pretty quickly, because I can wake up and hit “go.”
Part of it, Jonathan, is really just really getting clear on yourself. What do you need? Do you have some needs that aren’t being honored that are causing you to be slowing down, or are you distracted? Are you not setting boundaries around the time that you’re leaving between when you say you’re going to leave and when you walk out the door? Are you not acknowledging some boundaries? Are you allowing some distractions and interruptions to throw you off course? By acknowledging what every one of pieces are, it’s going to help you be able to estimate your time a little bit better.
Jonathan: Okay, yeah. Thank you so much for that answer. That’s definitely going to be a great way for me to put some attention on that part of my life and help that out.
Lara: Awesome. Okay. I was just moving into the hack about questioning it. It’s great. Maybe this is another reason that we drag our feet or get slowed down, or whatever. If you’ve got a bunch of stuff on your to-do list, or even one particular thing on your to-do list, and it keeps getting bumped from Tuesday to Wednesday, to Thursday, to next week, at this point, it’s time to question it.
Honestly, this can be such a helpful productivity hack. Is this worth doing at all? Is this task on your list worth doing at all? Do you want to do it? Do you have to do it? Does it help you move towards a goal? Is it serving one of your top priorities, or is it conflict with one of your priorities? Therefore, it made its way to your list, but you really don’t want to? I just ask you to be honest about that, because sometimes we just get caught up in putting things on our to-do list and running as fast as we can. Yet, it’s not the stuff that we want or need to be doing. I absolutely invite you to question it if you notice that there are some tasks that just never get done.
Okay. The next one, maximize it. This one’s really cool. Again, it’s so simple, guys. Nothing I’m saying here today is rocket science. It’s just common sense, but without some focus on it, you might not be doing it. These hacks work so well because they’re so simple. Maximizing it is one of those. The reason we call it “maximizing it” is it’s a technique to just group tasks together so you minimize transition times.
I think maybe everybody’s seen those emails and Facebook posts and Twitter posts about the adult attention deficit disorder. I sat down, I logged onto my computer to type up a proposal, but these emails popped up. Then I read the emails, and then I responded to those. One of them took me out to a link, so I wound up reading this blog post. That reminded me about this product that I wanted to create, and so I thought it would be really smart to include this, da-da-da-da-da. You go on and on and on and on. Your whole day has been spent bouncing around from one transition to another, from research to relaxation and surfing on the web, to really productively writing some emails or making client calls, whatever it is. Put on top of that running errands, getting out of the house, scheduling meetings, or even picking up, dropping off kids, whatever it is you do.
For me, I realize that if I chunk my work together, if I put like tasks together, I spend my time so much better, and I’m so much more productive. For instance, I put Mondays and Fridays on my “out of the office” days. That doesn’t mean I’m out of the office the whole day. It just means these are the days that I schedule errands. These are the days I meet with prospects. These are the days I try to find a network meeting to attend. By the way, I also drop off my dry cleaning on the way. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are booked solid with coaching clients, because I get in the mood, I get in the zone, and I have a lot of energy that I bring to those days. I don’t book errands that have me out of the house that would interrupt that energy. Maximizing your time by grouping like tasks together can really boost your productivity.
Okay, the next one, plan it. This isn’t going to come to a surprise to anybody. Obviously, we all need to plan. What I mean by that is, plan ahead. Just as a simple task at night, before you go to bed at night, take a look at your calendar for tomorrow. Take a look and see what’s coming up, how many appointments you have, when you need to be showered, dressed, ready to go, when you need to be out of the house, when you need to be in, what sort of deliverables you have. Go ahead and get your mind clear on that, so you can prepare for it and so that you understand how much time you have to get some more tasks done tomorrow.
All right, two more. Break it. As counterintuitive as it may seem, taking a break is really a very effective way to be more productive. This has been published in everything from the Journal of Consumer Psychology to any business book you’ll read out there. Guys, if you are hung up, if you’re hitting a wall or you’re facing an issue that seems insurmountable, giving yourself a break really helps you come up with solutions to your problems.
It could be taking a shower. It could be getting up from your computer and going to get a cup of coffee, make a phone call, go take a quick walk. It could be taking a day off, or a weekend, or a week. We entrepreneurs oftentimes turn into workaholics, and we just keep pushing. We deal with so much stress, and we become really not very productive, even though we’re very busy. Taking breaks is absolutely a hack to get you there.
The last one, focus it. Sometimes in order to be really productive, you’re going to need to narrow the focus of the work you’re doing, if you’ve got a big project. By “big,” something unusual, something different. For me, I just published my first book in October. I had to completely narrow my focus last year in order to meet the deadlines to get that book to the publisher. I had to let so many things go in my business, in my household management, in my family time, for a short period of time, because I needed to be laser effective productive. That’s what I did, is I narrowed that focus. I can’t do that all the time. I can’t drop all the other balls. I can’t minimize my business, my family, my household all the time, but I can for a short period of time in order to really bang out something and get it done.
Woo, I think I’ve finished. I promised you one final thing, and that’s a mindset shift. Here’s a funny ecard that I love. “I’ve had a really productive day pinning quotes about being productive.” I think that’s so funny. I think that’s a lot of us. We’re trying so hard to be productive, but here’s the mindset shift. If you want to feel really productive, if you want to be really productive, if you want to feel happy, satisfied, and successful, the trick is to make sure that you’re actually spending your time on your priorities, the things that matter most to you. That’s where it all starts, guys. If we’re spending 70 hours a week on things that really matter to us, we feel productive.
If we’re spending the same 70 hours a week on stuff that doesn’t matter to us, isn’t that important, really matters to somebody else but not me, we feel stressed out and overwhelmed. The huge difference between those two is whether or not your actions are aligned with your priorities. That’s a huge focus for me in all of my work.
That’s it. Thank you so much, guys. We’re going to open up for questions in just a second. I wanted to remind you that yes, indeed, you will get the recording, the slides from this presentation today. That will be emailed to you, because you signed up. You’re also welcome to go and grab the Productivity Hacks Checklist, which is a little bit more in depth and explains each of those hacks, in case I said it too quickly, I apologize, and you wanted to dive a little deeper.
Just go to my website, which is laragalloway.com/bplans, and you’ll find it right there. I’d love to connect with you. You can follow me on Twitter, @MomsMeanBiz, or on Facebook. Our book is Moms Mean Business, so that’s our Facebook page. Twitter or Facebook, MomsMeanBiz or Moms Mean Business. You can check out the book on Amazon or at momsmeanbusinessbook.com. Again, I’m Lara Galloway from laragalloway.com. I am ready for some more questions, Jonathan, if you have them.
Jonathan: Awesome. Absolutely. Thanks so much for the webinar so far, Lara. We have a good list of questions that I want to ask you about. When you discuss distractions and interruptions, that’s something that I can relate to, especially just wanting to always say yes to people and being a people pleaser. If I have trouble doing that, what’s a good first step to start saying no, especially if that’s the big fear of needing to say no to people and feel like you’re letting them down? What’s a good first step?
Lara: Okay. I have a great tool for you. It’s so simple. It’s just a little sentence that you can use when you’re trying to decide how or if you should say yes or no to somebody. It’s just a great mindset tool. It’s a way for you to check in. Here’s what you do. I’d like you to write out the sentence, “By saying yes to blank, I am saying no to blank.” For instance, if I say yes to answering the phone that’s ringing, because it’s my friend and I haven’t talked to her in two months, I’m saying no to finishing this proposal that is due tomorrow and is for 5,000 dollars that I get to go speak. If I say yes to this, I got to be clear what I’m saying no to.
Whenever you are faced with a decision and you’re feeling bad about not wanting to let somebody down, if you use this tool, it’ll help you just get clear, “Okay, there’s actually a really important reason that I need to say no. There’s something really powerful that I’m committed to that I’m saying no. It’s not because I don’t love this person or like them or want to make them happy. It’s just that I’ve committed to something really important, and I’m not going to let myself down or let whoever down that I’ve committed to.
Jonathan: That feels like a mindset shift in and of itself, to be able to look at it from that point of view of saying, “By saying yes to this, I’m going to have to say no to something else. Is that something that I really should be saying no to?” That’s a great way to look at it, so thank you.
Lara: Yeah, there’s no judgment. It’s like, “Are you okay with that, or not?”
Jonathan: Right. We had a question. If you could maybe elaborate more, you mentioned the 80/20 percent rule. If you could break that down again.
Lara: Sure. I did say that really fast and jumbled, so I’m glad you asked. Sorry that came out crazy. The 80/20 rule, if you go look it up, you can Google it. It’s called the Pareto principle, P-A-R-E-T-O principle. What it is, we hear about it all the time, but it means that in any situation, about 20 percent of whatever you’re talking about is vital, and 80 percent of whatever you’re talking about is trivial. You’ll see business owners apply the Pareto principle all the time. That’s how we applied it in our book.
What we used it to mean is that 20 percent of what you do leads to 80 percent of your progress. In simpler terms, when we’re talking about productivity, we say, “Okay, you’ll get the most benefit from doing the most important 20 percent of your tasks.” If you have 10 tasks, eight of them are probably less important than two of them. You’ll get the most bang for your buck and the most satisfaction and the greatest feeling of productivity by doing those two most important ones.
Jonathan: That’s great. Thank you for elaborating on that. We appreciate that. We had a question from, I believe the name is [inaudible]. The question was, “How do you know if you’re taking too many breaks?” You talked about using breaks as a way to help make yourself more productive. How do you know if you’ve crossed that threshold, and there’s too many breaks, and now you’re unproductive? What’s the signal to know that?
Lara: I would say in general, one of the things that might be lacking there would be some sort of rudder that helps you steer and know that you’re on the right track. That rudder would be some goals or some deadlines. I have some clients. I work with a lot of creative entrepreneurs. When we first start talking about time mapping and goal management and project management, their eyes glaze over, and they want to run. All of a sudden, they feel like there’s no air in the room, because that feels really counter to an artistic mentality. Yet, as we’ve worked together, they’ve learned to really appreciate it.
What happens is sometimes if you’re taking breaks all the time, there could be a couple of things. I would say there are a couple things that could be a good rudder for you. Number one would be having some goals and some deadlines. I always say deadlines are your friend, because you don’t want to spend forever staring at this to-do list or the thing you got to get done. Dude, you want to get on the other side. You want to feel good about this. Set a deadline and meet it, and be done with it, because then you can celebrate it.
I would question whether or not you’ve actually created some deadlines for yourself. Not somebody else creating them, but you creating them for yourself. Are those deadlines actually attached to some goals you have? If you’re always doing things but you don’t really see what it’s adding up to, i.e., a big goal, then you can really lose some motivation. If you’re really taking a whole lot of breaks, I’m also going to question, to me, as a coach, that’s a symptom that you might not be that into whatever it is you’re doing. Maybe your priorities have shifted, and maybe you’ve lost your motivation. I would want to do some mindset work with you and just check in where you are. Has something shifted or changed?
Jonathan: That’s a great idea about the deadlines. That does come back to another question that we had back on the estimating time issue, which makes me happy, because I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. The question was, if you’re already having trouble estimating time, what’s a good way for you to accurately estimate time? If that’s something that you struggle with and then you’re going to try to fix it by estimating more, how do you know you’ve got the right estimates?
Lara: There’s no silver bullet, of course. If you’re really new in your business, it is so hard to estimate how much time it’s going to take. I have a client who does business consulting. She does these 40, 50,000-dollar organizational training workshops for 500 people. She’s trying to estimate how much do I charge, and how much time is this going to take, and how long do I need to take people through this, and how much prep time do I need. When she first started out in the business, she’s a perfect example. We worked a lot on this, because she underestimated her time again and again and again. She’s one of the reason I gave that examples.
You know what? What we found is that, number one, experience really helps. There is no teacher like experience. However, if you can talk to some other people. Again, one of the things I find about being an entrepreneur, so many people are really willing to mentor, and unofficially even, to mentor us. If we ask questions, they are willing to share. Whatever it is that you’re struggling with estimating your time on, see if you can find someone in your industry or in your community or network of friends who’s already doing that or something similar that you can just ask them, “How do you come up with how much time that takes?”
Then I would also challenge you, just when you’re looking at the big project, can you break it down into some smaller pieces so that perhaps you can, I don’t know, maybe estimate chunks of time again. Going back to my friend and my client who does the business consulting, she has to do quite a bit of research on the company before she goes in to teach them. She may need to estimate her research time, and so make that one chunk of time.
Then she needs to do prep of the talk that she’s going to give and the worksheets, the curriculum that she’s going to create. Workshop and curriculum development takes a good chunk of time, so she needs to estimate that. Then she needs to actually estimate how much time it’s going to take to create those deliverables, laying them out, paying someone to do so, having that back from the printer. That’s another. See if you can take whatever it is that you’re trying to estimate, and break it down into smaller chunks of tasks, and estimate those a little more carefully.
Jonathan: I’m glad you brought up the chunking your time again, because that relates to a question that Paul had. He said that he has trouble concentrating on an activity for long, and he wanted to know how he could change that. I think what you brought up in the webinar was chunk your time out. Give yourself smaller chunks of time to focus on an activity. Maybe a follow-up question to that is, how long do you know you should be chunking your time? Is it appropriate to chunk for 10, 15 minutes at a time, or is that going to be an unproductive amount of time?
Lara: Oh, yeah. Oh, man. I’m so glad you asked that, because we actually dig a little bit deeper to this in our book. Again, as entrepreneurs, we’re very different kinds of people. Paul, you may want to check out something called the Pomodoro Technique. I’ll spell it. P-O-M-O-D-O-R-O, Pomodoro Technique. This is a really famous time management technique and hack that a lot of entrepreneurs use.
Basically, I think it’s 25 minutes. What you do is you set a timer, literally set the timer on your phone for 25 minutes, and work, whatever it is. If you’ve got to write a blog post, if you’ve got to get an email out to a client, if you’ve got to respond to customer service, if you’ve got to work on product development, whatever it is, give yourself 25 minutes, set that timer, and go. You bang it out for 25 minutes, and you literally are racing yourself against the clock. When that timer goes off, I don’t care where you are and what you’re doing, you stop.
This is tough for some people, because we don’t want to interrupt our flow. I’m telling you, here’s what you do. You stop. You stop when that timer goes off. Give yourself a five-minute break, physically get up, move, get out of wherever you are. Then go sit back down after five minutes, set your timer again for 25 minutes, and go. Again, hardcore, no distractions, nothing but the single task at hand, because if you’re struggling with getting distracted, Paul, having your mind wander and have too much going on, try using this technique.
Again, it takes practice, even if it sounds weird, it takes practice to train your brain to stay focused for just 25 minutes of time. You can teach yourself to do that if you also teach your brain and your body that you’re going to get a five-minute break after you really focus and work hard. A lot of people use the Pomodoro Technique. For anybody else on here listening to this today, you need to figure out your body’s rhythms. I mentioned that in the timing hack. Figure out your body’s rhythm’s, because for me, 25-minute chunks of time would drive me batty. I would feel so interrupted and distracted.
What you want to do is just take a notice of how long you can stay focused. If it’s 10 minutes, if it’s an hour, if it’s half an hour, whatever it is, notice when your mind starts wandering. Take a break at that point, and then set your timer for the next chunk of time to be that same amount of time that you were just able to stay focused. That’s a good way to just tweak it until you figure out what works for you.
Jonathan: Excellent. That brings up another question about time that Harvey had. I think he echoes what a lot of people feel, especially probably CEOs and entrepreneurs. As a CTO, he noticed this. He says he works best in crisis management mode, but then realized that sometimes he’d be sitting in front of four monitors for over eight hours. Especially with entrepreneurs and small business owners who have a lot going on and a lot that they’re running, can you maybe talk about the other end of that spectrum of time, of maybe having too much on your plate, 16-hour days, 12-hour days, and really how to start managing that better?
Lara: Yeah. The crisis management. I’ll just say, Harvey, I did not write a single paper in my master’s degree that was not under the complete power of adrenaline-induced, “Oh my God, it’s due tomorrow” chaos. Every single paper I wrote, honestly, the only way I could produce the quality of work I wanted as a writer back then was to give myself some sort of chaos. I would wait and avoid and deny and not do the work until it became a crisis. The honesty there is that I am a little bit of an adrenaline junkie, and I needed that adrenaline to be able to focus my thinking and do the work.
Harvey, I do want you to check in for yourself and just see if that resonates at all. Are you an adrenaline junkie? Do you need a lot of chaos in order to keep you excited and stimulated? Some of us do. If so, own that. Be clear about that. You can still set some healthy boundaries around it so that you can get the stimulation you need. A lot of the clients I work with, they get bored really easily if they only have one thing to focus on. They need to have eight balls in the air, whereas some other people I work with, obviously like some of the organizers, organizational consultants that I work with, oh my God, not those people. They want one single thing done well.
Just check in with yourself and see, again, if there’s a little bit of a habit. Are you making yourself wrong for it? If this works for you, great. I’m not your judge. If that helps you get things done, great. If it’s not, if it’s negatively impacting you and you want to change, then I would say that it’s probably a long-standing habit of, number one, feeling the need to be busy. Maybe a belief that being busy is productive, which can be a negative belief. Maybe the need to have people seeing you be busy that makes you feel successful. Again, I’d really check in with some of that mindset stuff. It might be helpful to work with a coach to get some clarity around that about what’s driving you to keep recreating that in your life.
Jonathan: Excellent. Thank you for that answer, Lara. Laurie brought up a good question. I’m going to give this to you as a scenario that you can maybe walk us through how you would handle it. She brought up the idea of a pile of paperwork that has already been neglected and now needed to come back to it and handle this pile of paperwork that needs to be done, filing, record keeping. How are you going to approach that? Do you go through some steps to organize the whole pile first, or do you start looking for the have-to’s, get the urgent things done, and then organize?
Lara: First, I got to say, Laurie, I hate piles of paper so bad. Talk about my nemesis, my Achilles heel. It’s piles of paper. I feel your pain there. I don’t know if this is exactly what you’re asking, but I’ll just give you my first gut response, because this actually really happened to me last year. I had a pile about a foot high, because I’m a stacker. I just, piles that I need to deal with, papers that need to be piled, whatever, to the point that my husband got pretty ticked off with me that I had not handled this pile. I wanted to burn it. I wanted to shred it. Honestly, that was not an option.
Whenever I have something like the mutinous pile of paper that must be dealt with, that shows up in a category of things I absolutely hate to do but have to. See also: housework. Okay. Whenever I have something like that, a task that must be done that I hate, again, I seriously use a timer. I do this with my kids, too, I realize. Something about making it a race and seeing how fast I can get it done really, really helps me get it done. I’ll set a timer and say, “Okay, Lara. Ten minutes. You can handle ten minutes of furious filing. That’s it. When 10 minutes is up, stop.” I’ll get as far as I can go. Sometimes, man, I can absolutely get whatever the horrible thing is done really fast.
I would just suggest that the first step that I always take, if it’s something I hate, is, what can I get done in 10 minutes? Then I may have to repeat that task several times over the next day or two or weeks, whatever it is, but I know I can do anything. I can handle 10 minutes of suffering to finish the job.
Jonathan: Excellent. That’s a great way to end. I know we have a few more questions, but I want to be respectful of everyone’s time today. It’s especially important on a webinar about time management. We’re going to take our time to pause here. Lara, I want to thank you so much for your webinar. I think a lot of people found some really useful tips. Just thank you for being here.
We want to point you in the direction of a few resources. If you want Lara’s Productivity Hacks Checklist, make sure to go to laragalloway.com/bplans. You can download that there. You can find Lara on Twitter, @MomsMeanBiz, or her Facebook page, which is Moms Mean Business. That’s related to the new book that she co-wrote called Moms Mean Business. You can buy that now on Amazon, or you can go to momsmeanbusinessbook.com. Again, lots of resources for you to check out. I’ve posted a couple of links in the chat window, so if you want to click those, you can do that.
Other than that, we want to thank everyone for attending. Thanks for all the great questions. We will be sending a recorded version of this webinar with some links to those resources. In about one week, you’ll be receiving an email with the recorded webinar and some links. Lara, any final thoughts?
Lara: I’d love to hear from you guys. If you do have questions, I’m very approachable, so please do reach out on the Twitter or Facebook handles that we shared. I would love to answer your questions if we didn’t get a chance to answer them today.
Jonathan: Thank you so much. Everyone have a great day implementing some of those time management tips and productivity hacks. Thanks.