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I want to paint you a little picture of what my life looked like just a few short years ago. Imagine this, it’s 9:30am and I am just rolling out of bed for the day, I slowly make my way over to the coffee pot, pour a cup of warm cozy goodness, mosey my way outside to go feed my horses, come back inside and sit on the couch scrolling through my phone for the next hour or so. Then after a while I decide it’s finally time to get ready for the day. By this point it might be around 11am or so. I jump in the shower, get dressed, do my hair and makeup or whatever look I am going for that day, and then eventually I sit down at my desk just to stare blankly at my computer screen not knowing what the heck I was actually going to work on.
I poke around my email inbox, make sure all my clients are up to date on where they need to be and then one by one a new tab gets opened until all of a sudden I have 30 at the top of my screen and I am bouncing back and forth from one to the other feeling like I am the multi tasking queen. After a several hours of this, I look up and it’s getting dark outside, I need to go feed for the night and I ask myself, “what did I even get done today?”
Feeling totally discouraged and unproductive and like I accomplished nothing in those several hours of what I considered to be work.
Can you relate???
What My Days Look Like Now
Now let me tell you what my days look like now. My alarm goes off anywhere from 3:30am to 4am, I start the coffee pot, make some breakfast, grab my bible and plot down on the coach for some quiet time with Jesus. A lot of times I will also do a workout before Bible time but if I am being honest I haven’t been too great at that lately however I am giving myself grace. After my time with Jesus, I go get ready for the day. Shower, get dressed, makeup, hair, the works. By the time I am done with all of that it is usually 6:30 or 7am. From there I head over to my desk and start my workday.
After hours of working, I am able to look up and feel confident to take a break if I want, or be done early for the day and I could tell you exactly what I accomplished that day.
So what changed??
Look, I have not always been the most productive person, clearly. And Procrastination runs in my blood. But over the past couple of years I became really committed to making small changes in my life and routine that create a huge impact and those changes are what I want to share with you today. If you have been feeling stuck in a never ending routine that holds you back from chasing down your big dreams, then stick around because these hacks I am giving you today are going to boost your productivity and help you work smarter not harder.
Let’s get stuff done today! Are you ready??
WAKE UP EARLY
I always thought being an entrepreneur seemed so glamorous. You work for yourself, there is no one to tell you what to do. There is no where you have to be at any given time. I envisioned my days looking like sleeping all day and working when I want to, and somehow still making a buttload of money. Yeah, if only. Okay while in theory there is some truth to that, the reality of entrepreneurship is working longer hours than a traditional 9-5, feeling overwhelmed by not knowing where your next paycheck is coming from, and having to balance out work time and personal time.
Now I became an entrepreneur to have flexibility in my schedule and not be so tied down like I would at another job, but this is still a job and I still have to work at it. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble who may have thought starting their own biz would be a get rich quick scenario.
I always would find myself feeling like there are never enough hours in the day, I had so much I needed to get done but could never get anything done at the same time. It was this vicious cycle.
But about 3 years ago or so, I really started to dive into the podcast world and listen to what people had to say. I heard from multiple people that I looked up to that they started to wake up earlier in the morning, and it increased their productivity so much.
Now, by nature I am a night owl. I love my sleep, but I would always get these weird creative itches at like 10pm. And somehow work my way to 3am and then sleep in late. And I would assume that a lot of you feel the same way. I definitely think I meet more night owls than I do morning people.
When The Habit Started
In 2019 I moved to North Dakota to be closer to where my Fiance, Tyler was working up in the oil field. And his schedule was really crazy long hours. Our sleep schedules were totally opposite so I hardly ever got to see him except for maybe like an hour in the afternoon sometimes. I decided that in order to be able to spend more time with him (literally the whole reason I went up there) was to put myself on his schedule so I gave it a shot cold turkey and started waking up at 4am. And y’all when I say I immediately saw the effects of this, I mean I really saw the effects of this and fast.
I would wake up early, take my sweet time drinking my coffee, and having time with Jesus, maybe sneak in an episode of my favorite show and then get to work all before 7am. I felt like I was getting so much done while everyone else in the world was still sleeping.
There is actually a science behind this. Now don’t quote me on any of this because I have no exact statistics to cite for you, but I know I have heard from multiple sources that your brain is the most productive first thing in the morning. Even though a lot of us would argue that we are sleepy and there’s no way we do our best thinking that early. But it’s true.
What If Your Life Is Busy?
A lot of the students I coach are busy. They are either college students or stay at home moms and they are like how I was. Feeling like there is not enough time in the day to get things done. My #1 recommendation to boost productivity is to wake up early and start when your brain is fresh. And that doesn’t mean go from waking up at 10am now to changing to 4am tomorrow.
Start slow, set your alarm for an hour earlier each day and go to bed an hour earlier. That’s the other key thing. In order to be able to wake up and function at 4am I go to bed around 8pm or 9pm. Just depending on how I feel.
After a while, it becomes a habit. On days where I don’t set an alarm, I am still usually up by like 6am because my body is just used to it.
I challenge you to try this for a week or even a month and see what waking up early can do for you and your business.
START THE DAY WITH YOUR TOP 3
So once you are up and awake, take a look at how you schedule your day. A productive work day needs to have structure and guidance. And for entrepreneurs that is not always easy. We tend to gravitate towards the fun parts of our business and push off or neglect the things that are intimidating or boring.
I want you to start leaning into a new concept, one that I use every single day. The top 3. This is something that I use to ensure that my days are intentional and I am getting done the most important tasks first, before moving on to something that I would consider to be more fun or easy. These can also be known as the needle movers in your business.
Making your website pretty, or designing a new logo is not a needle moving business move. But content creation, working on client projects/tasks, and other forms of marketing are.
The whole idea for the top 3 is that you have to do them before you do anything else that day. These 3 things should have a direct impact on your profits and/or your overall growth.
Example Top 3
Let me give you an example of my top 3 for today.
- Batch create 3 podcast episodes
- Deliver contracts and proposals to some wedding clients
- Create the outline for my new online course
Right now as I record this it is a little after 8am and I am recording this, then I have a few more shows to plan out and record. If I stay consistent with this, I should be able to get 3 episodes scheduled and done by lunch time or right around then. After that, I will send over contracts to my brides that need them which doesn’t take too much time and then I have the rest of the day to sit down and map out my new online course.
When you structure your day around these top 3 things, you know that even if nothing else were to get done that day, you at least accomplished 3 needle movers in your business that will have a greater impact than any of the fluffier stuff you could have been doing.
It’s such a great feeling to know that you have done things that will play a big role in the success and growth of your business. This has also helped me separate work time from personal time. It’s really important as a business owner to be able to turn off our work brains, even though I know how hard that is sometimes! Especially if you love what you do. But we do not live to work my friend, we work to live. So by having these top 3 tasks I know that once they are done, I can choose to be done for the day and go spend time with my family or my fiance or go ride my horses.
I am not perfect at this and it’s easy to want to just keep going but make sure you are giving yourself permission to take a break and recharge after you had a super productive day.
Another tool that has helped me get a lot done, and what also plays a bigger role in association with my top 3 things, is batch working. Now you have probably heard other business owners talk about this but just in case you haven’t, batch working just means to focus on one particular thing at a time and get a bunch of that one thing done.
Okay that was probably the worst explanation, so here’s an example instead. If you have a blog and your goal is to post one blog post every week, then when you sit down to write those blog posts, write 3 or 4 at a time. Don’t just write one, and then call it a day. Get several done at the same time so that you can schedule them in advance to post and never have to think about them for the next several weeks.
So when you are planning out your top 3 for the day, if one of those things is to type out this week’s blog post, I challenge you to write the next 3 weeks worth of blog posts. When you do this, you are going to save yourself so much time in the long run instead of having to wake up every day and type out a new post, you can just do it all in one day and focus on other tasks on the other days.
This can also apply to things like instagram posts. Try planning out a week of posts, including the photos, and the captions so all you have to do is click a button to post them instead of spending all that time sitting there thinking about what to write.
I have a planning app where I can design the layout of my feed ahead of time called UNUM and I actually talk about this a little more in episode 010 so go check that out if you have not yet, and for my captions I usually just type out a bunch in the notes on my phone and then I can copy and paste onto whatever photo I am posting that day.
This saves a ton of time plus it ensures that my caption is well thought out and curated and will serve someone the best vs. something I had to come up with in 5 minutes and isn’t all that well thought out.
Batch working is important because it allows you to stay in one headspace and get a lot done instead of doing one thing and then having to shift gears onto the next. You will get so much more value in your content if you batch work. I promise!
IGNORE THE DISTRACTIONS
Okay now let’s talk about the actual workspace and environment you are putting yourself in. one of the biggest reasons people tend to procrastinate is because we as humans become easily distracted. Our phones are our lifelines at this point and are pretty much glued to our hands. And in a world where so many of us are working from home these days, more and more of us are finding ourselves still wearing PJ’s at 12pm and working from our couches.
This has got to stop if you want to actually start getting stuff done.
In my typical work day I go off of two main rules. Setting boundaries and creating before I consume.
Now let’s be honest, sometimes there is not much you can do to control certain distractions. We are human and sometimes things just come up. But there are other things in our lives that we do have control over that can help limit those distractions and allow our days to be more productive. This can be things like turning off the instagram notifications on our phone, or all notifications in general. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a full on working groove but the second I hear my phone “ding” I immediately fall apart and have to check it out.
Turn off those notifications or the volume, or heck, put your phone on airplane mode until you finish what you are working on. Make sure you are getting your stuff accomplished before you allow yourself to get lost down the scrolling rabbit hole of Tik Tok or Instagram.
Remember Your Purpose
Remember your overall purpose and why you do what you do. It will hopefully motivate you to push through those temptations to check your inbox or send that quick text. And I get it, it can be hard setting boundaries. I am a “yes” person. I want to please everyone, so that means if my phone rings in the middle of my work time, I will likely answer it, and then get completely thrown off by the time I can finally get back to whatever I was doing before the call.
I don’t know about you but once my iPhone started sending me weekly screen time reviews I had a bit of a reality check. I was hitting like 7 hour marks a day. Seven whole freaking hours of looking at my phone. That was disgusting and sad to me and I had to restructure my days to avoid ever getting that deep in my tiny screen ever again.
My Fiance Tyler is no where near as bad as me when it comes to looking at his phone but he actually sets a timer on his phone that notifies him when he has been staring at his screen for more than an hour per day. If that is something you think would help you, then I say go for it.
Setting solid boundaries for yourself will keep you more accountable and it also sets the precedence that you are not on call 24/7. Those emails and DM’s can wait. You do not need to be available at someone else’s convenience, so make a schedule that works for you and stick to it.
HAVE A DESIGNATED WORKSPACE
Another huge thing I have done to eliminate distractions and boost productivity is by choosing to work at an actual desk in a designated office area in my home.
There were plenty of days where I would work from my bed or from the couch and I would feel like a total slob and get not a single thing done. Or it would at least take me way longer. There is something about sitting up straight, at a desk that instantly makes you feel like you can take on the world.
If you do not have an office or a desk, the kitchen table is still a great option! Basically just anything that is not “too comfy” and makes you want to fall asleep.
If your office space is boring, here are a few ways to make sure that your workspace is inspiring you and not just adding to your negative subconscious thoughts about what you have to work on.
If you are working from home you have a lot more control over how your workspace looks or is set up but even if you work at an actual office there are minor changes you can do that make a big difference. One of my favorite things is to get a plant, and set up lot’s of pretty photos.
My office space is not the most organized thing ever and I will be the first to admit that. But right above my computer screen is a collage of pretty pictures that fit my aesthetic and I use that as a mood board to keep my mind on track of my bigger goals.
I also have been really into playing music while I work lately. Try to avoid songs with words, but there are playlists on spotify for productivity that have instrumental sounds or just very quiet and calming music. I think this is huge in helping boost your productivity levels.
Natural light is a huge one too. If I could work from outside without having to fight a bunch of sun glares on my screen I totally would. So as a compromise I like to work near windows and have lots of natural light shining in on me. It makes me feel happy and it’s nice to be able to look outside every few minutes while I work.
Make Yourself A Compromise
And while working from home is amazing and has so many benefits, it also comes with a lot more distractions. I mean come on, that TV with Netflix is just calling your name. So here is typically what I like to do when I work from home.
My top 3 things I need to get done for the day are almost always done at my desk. Those are the most important tasks that require the most focus so I hold myself accountable to doing them in a space where I know I am more likely to get them done the most efficiently.
But then when it comes to dreaming, or responding to messages, or writing down ideas, I give myself grace and decide that it is okay if I want to do that in a more comfy place. Whether that be on the front porch swing or snuggled up in a blanket on my couch.
Also make sure that you are taking a few minutes out of your day to take a break. Go outside and get some fresh air. Listen to what your body needs. Sometimes a few minutes outside is all you need to get re-inspired and re-motivated to finish the task at hand.
GET AFTER IT FRIEND!
I hope that after listening to this episode, you feel like you have the tools you need to get through your workday in the most productive and efficient manner. I know that this will not all come at once and it won’t always be easy but I promise that if you start to implement these tips into your daily routine you will notice major changes in how much you are getting done, and how much better you will feel with the direction that your business is moving.
Was this helpful? Head over to Instagram… you know, after you are done with everything else for the day, and let me know what your biggest takeaway was and what episodes you would like to see in the future! I would love to hear from you!
I'm Sarah Elrod
I'm a Cowgirl turned serial entrepreneur.
I'm a horse trainer, western wedding photographer, business coach and ranch wife.
I help women in the western industry grow thriving businesses from rural America.
When I am not strategizing new marketing tactics, you will find me riding my horses, cuddling my cattle dog, or kissing my hot husband.
There is also a good chance I am buying way too many outfits from western boutiques.
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