I used to wake up mornings with my to-do list well in check and plenty of early morning time planned to work on the projects that were most important for moving my business, Unlocked Box, forward.
Typically, though, ten short minutes in and my plan got shot to hell.
And it was only because of one small thing I used to do right after my Starbucks and right before getting started: Open my email.
At the time I had a military-like NO EMAIL LEFT BEHIND policy that served keep service high and make sure nothing fell through the cracks.
It was perfect, except for one thing.
NO EMAIL LEFT BEHIND meant that even small requests or issues were dealt with very quickly, trumping time that I’d prioritized for my most important projects, projects that would benefit my clients, too.
My quickly out-of-control to-do list got me thinking about how much I was dying to create and realize an ideal morning routine which, for me, would include early morning time for projects requiring creativity and innovative thinking (rather than spending that time responding to email).
I wanted to know: What are the best strategies for making time for creativity and innovation? How do you make sure what’s important gets tackled?
Here are three of the answers that have helped me most:
Adopt a Big Rock Mindset: You’ve probably heard the concept that if you have a container you need to fill with rocks of varying sizes, you have to get the big rocks in first. Otherwise, they’ll never fit. Same holds true for big projects. If they aren’t scheduled and tackled first, it’s likely small things will leave no room in your schedule. For me, opening email first thing was a small rock activity that filled up my canister fast. Since I get up very early anyway, I’m better served if I wait until 9 or 9:30am to open my email for the first time. Knowing that as long as no email is left behind at that point, all will be well.
Action: Ask yourself, what are my big rocks? What are my small rocks? Becoming more conscious of what truly is important to you can make a big difference. Figure out, too, what time is your ideal big-rock time – when in the day you’re most creative or most strategic (pending what your big rocks are). Also, the transitions between tasks take more time than we think they do. Consider chunking your small rocks together so that you don’t lose time in the transition between activities, and so that you don’t allow your bigger blocks of time to shrink thanks to small-rock activities creeping in around the edges.
Ditch 9 to 5 TOTALLY: For lots of entrepreneurs and small business owners, there are not enough hours in what’s considered the regular work day to get everything done that we want and need to. While the 9 to 5 rules may have been fine when we worked for someone else, or before we got super busy, or when we didn’t need creative think time, many of us have to expand beyond 9 to 5 in order to have all the time we actually need and to match activities with the time that is best for them. But doing this doesn’t have to look like working late into the night, neglecting self, family and friends.
Action: Think about how you can bend and stretch time more creatively. For example, can you work on your big rocks from 5am-8:30am, break until 10am, start doing the work of your business at 10am, stop at 3pm, spend an hour or so of personal time, commit to consistent family or significant other time from 5:30pm to 7:30pm and work again on your big rocks from 7:30pm-9pm (and maybe for only a few days a week). I’m not saying this schedule is ideal for you, but just that rethinking when you start (especially if you’re someone who really likes to work early mornings or at night), and committing to consistent blocks of social time can increase what you’re able to get done and how you feel about yourself (whether you’re full of guilt because you feel you’re neglecting those you love, or whether you don’t even have to think about that because you’ve made a commitment that works for everyone).
Unplug: Technology is such a distraction. It used to be that we drove to our offices with no access to phone or email until we go there, and now we’re constantly connected – and constantly bombarded. Setting a schedule for turning the phone, email, internet, tv, etc., on and off can free up all kinds of time that we don’t even know we’re losing.
Action: Decide how many times a day you need to check your phone and email and turn them off until those times. This got easier for me when I realized that I don’t ever answer my phone during a client session, so why should I answer if I’m working on a client or business project. It’s the same thing. We all need time to work and it wasn’t that long ago when our clients, family and friends could not reach us at all because we weren’t at home or in the office. Somehow we survived being disconnected back then. Why not now?
To having a BIG ROCK strategy!