A friend of mine recently Twittered “anyone else overwhelmed with their life? please tell me it isn’t just me.” (If you don’t know what Twitter is, stay tuned to this blog. For now, just know that’s is a way to communicate with a lot of people who care what you’re up to). Anyway, her lament is one that is shared by many small business owners. There are so many hats we have to wear, even if we’re good at outsourcing, the successful small business owner can still be left with more work to do than seems humanly possible in an 8-hour work day (16 hours if you’re single with no kids. :-) This is an issue that I constantly deal with. It seems like no matter how many tricks I employ to manage my email, I always end up with hundreds of emails in my inbox, many unopened and untouched. (Even with two other people who help me process sales and customer service inquiries and contracts). A few days ago, I had enough. Coming to my desk every morning, feeling scattered, my brain pounding, with a million projects staring me in the face, it was time to take back my life!
I’M A BLOCK HEAD!
You heard me (er, rather, read me) right. A block head. As in block schedules. The concept is simple. Set aside blocks of time during the week when you are committed to doing particular activities that you must do routinely. And be unabashedly faithful to sticking to that schedule. Okay, every now and then, you’ll have to make an exception. I get that. But, the idea is that you must be purposeful with your life. If you don’t take control of your life, it will take control of you.
If you run your own business, heck, even if you work for someone else, it’s easy for email, meetings, phone calls, etc., to get the best of you. It’s up to YOU to change the score. By implementing block schedules, YOU determine, based on what’s best for your situation, when you’ll check e-mail, schedule phone calls, edit videos, post-process, blog, etc. Whatever it is you do. Then you stick to it. Unapologetically.
Below is a snapshot of my recently created block schedule (click on image for larger view). I may tweak it as time goes, but based on what I’m currently obligated to do, this is what I’ve come up with:
I’ll give you a brief description of each:
- Client maintenance: responding to client emails; meetings with clients; prepping client packages; etc.
- Admin: pay bills; file; update my block schedule; etc.
- Editing: self explanatory.
- Sales and marketing: writing up proposals; calling and following up with leads; sales calls and meetings; working on marketing or advertising materials; etc.
- Podcasting: F-Stop Beyond interviews; writing FSB blogs; prepping for the podcast; etc.
- Blogging: writing or working on any of our blogs: WeddingFlix.com, this one, FSB audio show, or FSB video show.
- Process e-mail: this is NOT necessarily answering email. It’s processing it. That means I comb through my email and tag them as action items. Some may be tagged “Client Action,” in which case I’ll answer them during my next “Client Maintenance” block. Etc. It’s basically working to get my inbox down to zero (or pretty darn close). I don’t want to live in my inbox anymore. This has helped me break the chains.
You’ll notice that I have nothing before 10 am. That’s because I leave that as “free for all.” By the time I finish walking my little boy to pre-school (a much needed balancer in my hectic life), it’ will be anywhere between 8:30 and 9:30. I’ll use that time to either start the first block early, or finish up some work from the last block. I stop work at 5 to go pick my son up. Then, when necessary, I’ll work in the evenings, but I try very hard to limit those occurrences.
STICK TO YOUR ALLOTTED TIME
There’s a project management term called “Parkinson’s Law.” It says that work will expand to fill the time allotted. The longer you give yourself to do something, the longer it will take. Now, if you never set a time limit on something, theoretically, it could go on forever. That’s a problem I have. If I don’t set a time limit for a particular item, I’ll keep working on it until “it’s perfect.” That’s the perfectionist artiste in me. However, the pragmatist business man in me (or perhaps more correctly, my dutiful wife who has to constantly remind me I’m a business man as well as an artist) knows that that’s not a good way to run a business. It’s imperative I stay disciplined with my time. And so should you.
I encourage you to try a block schedule approach to your daily activities. Take control of your schedule, so that it doesn’t take control of YOU.