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Ask the expert: Increase your productivity

The first year working for yourself full time usually means one of two things: You’re working ALL the time, with no breaks, no rest, and not coming up for air. Or, you’re lost, not knowing where to begin or how much work is needed, and you’re spending more time figuring things out than actually working. There is generally no in-between.

I went from working for someone else, nine-to-five for 34 years of my life, to suddenly being my own boss. I was completely lost—especially at the height of the pandemic! I found it difficult to focus on anything while my husband and I tried to work around our two children, who were running through our very small Brooklyn apartment. It felt extremely daunting to go from sneaking in a couple hours of work on my side hustle to having all day every day to get work done. With no deadlines on my calendar or weekly meetings to attend, I soon found myself in an unproductive cycle of “researching” on social media, which really meant endless scrolling. This led to feeling guilty for not getting any real work done for my business. I knew I had to break the cycle and figure out a way to become more productive on my own.

Set goals

When I worked my corporate job, I thrived on deadlines. Give me a project and tell me when it needs to be completed, and you’ll have it early. Working for myself, it wasn’t that simple. I didn’t realize how important deadlines were, so I initially didn’t give myself any at all. All I knew was that I had content to create, social posts to make, and a business to figure out how to run. Once I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere without a roadmap, I started setting goals, both monthly and weekly. My monthly goals were more macro: how much I’d like to make in sales, how many photo and video shoots I’d like to have completed.

My weekly goals dove deeper into exactly what I needed to do for the week. I started by planning what type of content I would work on for the week. Spelling out the exact type of video content, with outfit details, helped tremendously, because I spent less time during the actual filming figuring out what to do. This meant I was able to get my content done in a much timelier manner. What I didn’t account for, however, was being in work mode 80% of the time, leaving little to no time to give to myself or my family. I was constantly checking my phone, looking for more inspiration. I was responding to customer service emails when I woke up to work out at 6 AM. I didn’t allow my brain to turn off from work, and although my business was thriving, it was damaging my home life.

So, while I started my entrepreneurial journey in “figuring-things-out mode,” I quickly moved on to “working-all-the-time mode,” with little to no breaks. While setting goals was helpful, it still wasn’t enough to keep me focused and productive.

Manage your goals (and your time)

After setting my goals for the week, I needed to start breaking them down into daily goals, so that my work wasn’t spilling into my family life. That meant using one day as an administrative day and giving myself specific days for things like content creation, shipping orders, and errand running. Breaking up those weekly goals into daily goals gave me the deadlines I needed to get work done, which helped keep me on track.

Yes, there are days when not everything gets done or some ad hoc project comes up, but having my running list of tasks keeps me from getting overwhelmed. Plus, on those days, I make sure to communicate with my husband about needing extra time, or I stay up a little later (than my usual 10:30 PM) to get work done after the kids go to bed. Managing my time by creating smaller, more digestible daily goals has helped my level of productivity tremendously.

Ask for help!

This was a huge lesson for me. I’ve always been a “just do it yourself” kinda girl, so I was never really one to ask for help. I had to get over that quickly, because there were so many pieces of the business I just didn’t know about. More than that, there were things I just couldn’t do myself. Whether it’s paying someone to sort and ship orders, while I get other work done, or asking my husband to take the kids to the park on a Saturday morning, so I can focus on emails, being able to ask for what I need has been paramount to my success and productivity.

Don’t neglect self-care.

I always said travel was my self-care. But during a global pandemic, my only travel option was traveling from the living room to the backyard to my office. I had to figure out another way to take care of myself before getting completely burned out. I started waking up every day at 6 AM to have some time alone, when I wasn’t tied to a computer or phone. Whether I sat in silence, went for an early morning run, or did a workout in the backyard, I wanted to start my day doing something good for myself. This lifted my spirits and my energy, and it also helped me focus during the day.

What should you take away?

The biggest takeaway: Don’t beat yourself up too much. You’ll have days that getting through the work comes effortlessly, and others, not so much. But if you know this, you’ll have a much easier time bouncing back from the not-so-great days.

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