aka “Getting Stuff Done”

As a solopreneur, you oversee your own time and can work when you want. However, this newfound freedom can come with a sense of not knowing what to do, when to do it and what to prioritize.  

Plus, the number of tasks you will find yourself managing can seem overwhelming.  There are times when it will feel like there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.  Despite the challenges, many solopreneurs still love to work by themselves, but it can be a challenge to stay focused and productive.

There’s no doubt that if you can maximize your productivity, you’re going to increase your bottom line.  

This post is part 1 of 2 helping you put into place a lot of tips and tricks to make that your time management structure work well for you.  Productivity can be fun!  Read on for more!

How Do You Manage Your Time?

To start, there’s a whole pile of thinking and feeling on being the master of your day outlined in the first two posts.  “On Being A SolopreneurPart 1 and Part 2 in this blog offer insight on how to think about setting up an overarching time management structure that consistently works on your side as an ally in your entrepreneurial journey.  

As a quick refresher, think of tasks and time as being fluid, connected.  To manage your time, use tasks to create consistent blocks of time for you.  To get any task done then, all you need to know is roughly how long you take to do any given task, and with this information, you can subsequently block out your time each day as tasks, preferably in half-hour chunks.  (Perhaps the whole “time is tasks / tasks are time” approach sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people underestimate how long things actually do take to get done, and underestimate how many tasks there actually are to do.) 

Once you have this task mindset firmly in place, you can use a time management technique, such as the Pomodoro Technique, to manage what you want to get done each day.  

The Pomodoro Technique was originally designed for studying, but anyone can use it to get work done, and many solopreneurs find it surprisingly effective.

If you research the Pomodoro Technique online, you’ll discover a few different versions, but below are the two most common:

  • Work for 25 minutes straight, take a five-minute break. 
  • Repeat this 4 times, and then take a longer 20 – 30 minute break before starting the process again.

OR you can do a longer work period:

  • Work for 50 minutes straight, take a ten-minute break.
  • After two work periods, you can take a longer break.
My experience:  Evenings are typically my best time for planning, so each night, I take time to review what got accomplished earlier in the day and what is coming up for the next day.  I decide on my three most important tasks to get done, making sure that I’m allocating an appropriate amount of time to get each done.  Then, I make note of lower priority tasks I want to fit into the mix.  My preference is the 25-minute pomodoro.  I dedicate one pomodoro to these lower priority tasks, two at the most.   Getting organized the night before prevents me from wasting time in the morning.  I’ve learned that if I don’t organize the night before, I will waste at least an hour of the morning, as mornings are my least productive window for planning.  It's helpful for me to start working without too much thought involved until I get my momentum up by the afternoon, and therefore I work in the early evenings as well, this being my most creative time of day.  I measure success as getting two of the three most important things done, because there are often roadblocks that get in the way of any given task and cause setbacks.  But if you are getting at least two mission-critical tasks that move your business forward, mission-critical meaning work that you can get paid for every day, that is solid progress!

Once you evaluate your own preferences, all you need to do to get started is set a timer for 25 minutes, and then work single-mindedly on only that task for the full 25 minutes.  You can use a physical timer, or you can use a timer app on your phone, or there are even pomodoro apps that install your browser, and YouTube videos that time it our for you there.  Then, once the timer goes off, you must take a short break – this isn’t optional, as it is essential to why the technique works so well over time.  Your body and brain need a little break, so get up, stretch, have a snack, bird-watch out the window, doodle, listen to a song or two.  By giving yourself a break from what you’re working on, you help to reset your energy and your thoughts.  This respite gives you a fresh focus for the next concentrated work session. Your break also helps alleviate postural strain that accumulates as you spend your day in front of the computer.

If you get interrupted during a pomodoro time period, get up, stretch, and then reset a new pomodoro.  

Using the Pomodoro Technique is a helpful way to get a lot accomplished and it works for many solopreneurs. When you sit down and decide to focus for 25 minutes on one task, you will impress yourself with how much you can actually get accomplished.

Grouping your tasks (in your grocery buggie)

When you go to the grocery store, you likely try to pick up all the items that are in the same aisle at the same time. You’re not going to shop alphabetically, as that would mean you would need to skip all over the store looking for each item, and this would waste a great deal of time.  You know that you’re going to more efficiently use your time if you shop aisle by aisle, grouping together as many items as possible as you pass through.  The same is true for your business tasks – doing them in a grouped fashion is going to be far more coherent.

You gain grocery-shopping style efficiency by grouping similar tasks within your to-do lists together. In your daily planning (whether that’s at the day’s end or first thing in the morning) look for all the tasks you need to accomplish that are related to each other.  For example, e-mails are related, social media posts are related, checking your PayPal account for your latest sales is related.  Group these tasks into chunks – and then, using the time management technique you favor, you can do them all at the same time.  If you’re using the Pomodoro Technique, set a 25-minute timer and get those e-mails done.  

Your distractions are significantly reduced because you're not jumping from app to app or browser window to browser window.  (How did I start looking at social media again?)

When you group your tasks together, your mind does not have to shift gears and jump around from function to function. This enables you to better manage your workflow and capitalize on the energy that comes from staying focused on one task (in this case, we treat all the small tasks as one, and get the same benefit.)

Simplify Your Communications

What kind of time are you currently spending on meetings, e-mails and other communication?  Do you feel like your meetings are a long, sprawling waste of time?  Do you feel like you’re writing novels instead of concise e-mails that get to the point quickly?  If this is the case, your feelings might be pointing you to make some changes and reclaim some of this time.

Tally up the time you’re currently spending on meetings.  If it’s over a couple of hours a day, and you don’t feel like anything really gets done or solved, you’re going to lose too many workable hours to meetings.  Clients can be significant time wasters.  Try setting a time limit on your meetings and focused on solving only one problem in that time frame.  It’s interesting how much can get done and done quickly when there is only one problem to solve at a time.  Try setting a 30-minute meeting with a clear one-point agenda and see what happens.  Once there is a solution (in terms of the issue being discussed) end the meeting and plan for implementation.  If you have clients, you might find that this feels a bit direct, but if you don’t manage the time, clients are often only too happy to keep talking and expand the scope of the discussion, and this is time you often can't invoice for.  Take charge of the issue, take charge of the time, solve it, move on.  

You might find that this straightforward approach brings relief not only to yourself, but everyone involved.  Shorter meetings are often preferred, keeping energy up and reducing conflict.  As long as your meetings still encourage open communication and participation, no one is going to feel shortchanged spending less time of their workday on Zoom.  You get the benefit immediately with more time to be productive.

As for e-mails, some of the same points stand as well.  Only discuss one issue per e-mail.  You have probably worked with people who notice the first thing mentioned in an e-mail and seem to not notice (or forget) the rest – one of those people might actually be you!  Your brain is wired to only be able to process so much information at one time.  Point out one problem or solve one thing in each e-mail message, and you’ll notice that more gets done and in a faster time-frame.  Everyone benefits from this type of clarity.  

You can even use some of the new AI tools to help ou write more clearly and concisely.  You tell the AI tool what your business communication message is for, and the AI puts together a framework that you can use in your messages.  It can even write the whole e-mail and you simply need to add some polish and personalization.  The newer versions of these tools can frankly put together some very specific and professional replies, so you might wish to trial some of these and see if they work for your business.

Try the three-minute rule

Here’s a handy little rule that can quickly help you knock off some non-essential but must-do tasks.  Use the Pomodoro Technique and set a 25- or 50-minute time block.  Then, invoke the 3-minute rule:  you do only those tasks that will take you three minutes or less within that pomodoro. This could be for anything during your workday that typically takes time away from your most important tasks (the ones that move you closer to your business goals.)

This includes responding to e-mails, throwing a load of laundry in washer or the dryer, taking food out of the freezer to thaw.  If you can do it in three minutes or less, keep going!  Put shoes away at the door, tidy up some files on your desk that are in your way, you name it!  The benefit of getting a pile of these small things out of the way, especially at the beginning of your workday, is that you deal with far less clutter once you get started on work that requires more concentrated attention.  Plus, by specifically identifying quick hits, you get the motivation of knowing you just got a pile of small clutter taken care of relatively quickly, freeing up bandwidth in your mind for your more important tasks.

You might find this works well for you first thing in the morning, or later in the afternoon when your energy to focus is waning.  Take advantage of knowing your own natural rhythms and save your best energy for the tasks that matter most to growing your business.

Next up .. part 2! Click here.

About the Author Irene Fulton

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