Ignore whatever and whoever is not scheduled.
As an entrepreneur, it’s your responsibility to plan how you’re going to spend your time. You can watch binge-watch Netflix all day, but that’s most likely not the best use of your time. Additionally, you also have to set boundaries and keep yourself motivated day-in-and-out. In some way — you want to find a direction to follow to gain that balance between work and your personal life.
As overwhelming as that may feel and sound, it’s not impossible. From my own experience, the best way to achieve a directional balance to your work and life goals is to organize and maintain your calendar correctly Here are 12 of the most effective ways to guide yourself to better choices with the resulting organization for your work/life balance.
1. Schedule everything.
Yes — I do mean schedule out everything from tomorrow’s to-do-list, to what you have planned for next week. It sounds excessive. But, when you’re self-employed, you need to have deep-structure so that you can remain focused and productive.
My colleague and co-founder of Calendar John Hall does this by creating a zero-based calendar. A zero-based calendar is “where you account for every second of your day. This way there’s no blank space in your calendar,” says Hall. “If something isn’t scheduled, it doesn’t deserve your attention.”
2. Break down your activities into simple problems.
“Utilizing your consciousness requires more energy and can be avoided by simplifying your problems,” writes Mario Peshev in Entrepreneur. “Excellence in time management revolves around establishing a process and breaking it down into small, automatic operations that are easy to grasp and don’t require intensive resource consumption.” Entrepreneurs are known for their ability to take any “complex task and decompose it into pieces, thus making the remaining process easier to comprehend and follow.”
The same is true when organizing your calendar. Writing an eBook, for example, doesn’t translate well into calendar-sized chunks. To make an extensive job more manageable, you can set aside a block of time daily to write a certain number of pages — such as blocking out two hours to compose five pages per day.
3. Color-code your calendar using the chakra system.
Color-coding your calendar is a proven and effective way to create balance and differentiate all of those items you scheduled on your calendar. While you’re free to use any colors that you like, you should at least give chakra color-coding a try first. A “chakra” is one of the seven energy points found in the body. Each of these energy centers has a color (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, or violet) that is associated with it.
For example, because red is the root chakra symbolizing survival and safety you would want to use that color for all work-related tasks. For creative tasks, you might choose to use orange; yellow would represent the items that help you grow; green is reserved for personal events like lunch with a friend; blue equates activities that express your mind like writing, and indigo is meant for activities that deserve your attention. Using this organizational method prevents you from becoming overwhelmed. As you look at your calendar it creates an easily seen balanced and stress-free day.
4. Choose strategy over opportunity.
Entrepreneurs can’t spread themselves too thin by chasing every opportunity. Everything from money, time, and attention are in short supply when starting a business. All of these are in short supply when running a business, too. Frankly, — time, money and attention are in short supply no matter what you do in life. Use your calendar — full of activities — and make sure that you focus on strategy. Your calendar will be your success strategy.
“Time and energy are best spent on activities that align with the company’s core values and strategic plan, both of which are defined by the needs of the customer and the internal team,” says Sean Hinton of SkyHive Technologies Inc.
5. Eat that frog.
Championed by Brain Tracy, this favorite time management technique is where you work on your most important task (MIT) for the day before anything else. According to Tracy, conquering your most challenging job will allow you to “go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worse things that are going to happen to you all day long,” Science has found that we often have the most energy and focus in the morning. It’s also the best time of day to keep distractions at bay.
If you have several important tasks, Tracy advises that you “start with the biggest, hardest, and most important task first.” He also recommends that you take action immediately and keep practicing until perfect.
It took a little bit of time for me to master this. But, when creating my calendar, I always block out the from nine am to noon for my top priority for the day. While I do take breaks, and often finish before noon, this creates a routine in my schedule and ensures that distractions won’t get in the way.
6. Consider time blocking instead of to-do-lists.
While to-do-lists can be an asset during your time blocks, they can become a source of stress and disappointment. If you go over your list at the end of the day, and only crossed off a couple of items, how do you think you’ll feel? Research has found that 41 percent of to-do-list items are never completed. Additionally, Kevin Kruse author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, found that top performers don’t rely on lists. Instead, they build time blocks into their calendars.
Time blocks are merely chunks of time used for specific tasks. For example, blocking out two-hours to “eat your frog” in the morning, an hour to clean your inbox following lunch, and an afternoon block dedicated to a meeting. Organizing your time, as opposed to tasks, forces you to prioritize, reduces distractions, and eliminates multitasking.
To get started, identify when you’re most productive so that you can block out that time for your MIT. Track how long these tasks take you to complete so that you can allocate enough time. Most importantly, create a schedule around these blocks and stick to your schedule. Schedule your work — and work your schedule.
7. Create an “optional” calendar.
I wasn’t aware of this concept until I came across a Muse article written by Caroline Liu. The idea here is that you make an “optional” calendar that includes everything that isn’t mandatory. For example, an elective could be a social event or attending a class that can improve a skill. “These are events that, ideally, I’ll be able to fit in, but they’re the first to go when I’m feeling stressed,” explains Liu.
Instead of continually adding and removing events and activities from your personal and professional calendars, you have a third calendar that’s full of options when your schedule changes at the last minute. Now you don’t have to worry about how you’ll spend that time because you’ve already made that decision in your “optional” calendar.
8. Build unstructured time into your calendar.
“When you’re constantly busy and have no free time — as in every minute of every day is scheduled back to back — you max out your brain’s bandwidth: your cognitive abilities decline, you become more prone to making errors, and you’re less insightful,” writes Jocelyn K. Glei.
To counter this, add two to four hours of unstructured time into your calendar daily. You can use this time to think, learn, meditate, or explore. I know that as an entrepreneur this may seem like a waste of time. But, this free time can also boost your creativity, make you happy, and will allow for more flexibility in your schedule.
9. Use the right tools.
Finally, if you truly want to stay on top of your game, then make sure that you’re using the right tools. The appropriate tools include:
- A calendar app. Whether it’s Google Calendar, Microsoft Calendar, or an app like Fantastical2, this allows you to add items and manage your calendar anytime, anywhere.
- Scheduling tool. Calendar is a smart calendar that uses machine learning to make smart suggestions on when, where, and how to schedule a meeting.
- Time tracking software. If you want to keep your calendar organized, then you need to know how you’re spending your time. Tools like RescueTime and SmarterTime can track your activities throughout the day.
- Note-taking apps. Whenever you have an idea or thought, get it out of your head by using an app like Evernote or Google Keep.
- To-do-lists. If you love them: Todoist, Things, Remember the Milk, and Wunderlist are each part of just a handful of apps that allow you to create, manage, and share your lists.