Solotasking: A Simple, Pen-and-Paper Technique to End Procrastination

StackTaskMulti-tasking is a myth. It sounds like a great idea, but it doesn’t work. Single tasking (or “solotasking”) is the “it” kid right now for good reason: your productivity explodes when you narrow your focus to one thing at a time. And while you may not realize it, chances are good that your to-do list is secretly eating away at your sanity.

Every time you take a look at that list, your mind starts working on every item simultaneously. So while you’re hard at work trying to focus on the first item, your brain is processing, “wow, how am I going to do X, Y & Z all by five today?”

The following is a simple, pen-and-paper solution for actually getting important work done now. I call it StackTask:

Step One: Make some cards
You can use anything you can write on, but I recommend using something substantial like 3×5 cards (cut into smaller pieces). I happen to have a ton of leftover cardstock I’m re-purposing and it works perfectly. I cut the sheets into 1″ x 2″ cards.

 

Step Two: Write each of your top-priority tasks on one card
Try to keep the total between five and ten. If you blow through all of these tasks early, just start this process again with the next tasks. Make sure the tasks are specific, measurable and short enough Continue reading

Time: Are you Penny Wise and Dollar Poor?

You’ve probably heard the expression penny wise and dollar poor. And you’ve heard that time is money. But time is also time, and unlike money (or any other resource) it is limited. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So you can get more money or happiness or fun, but you can’t get more time. As a wedding business coach, I help wedding entrepreneurs get a whole lot smarter about how they spend their time. It’s fascinating to me that someone who runs a successful business and understands the importance of investing money in the right places can still be somewhat foolish with how they spend their time.

Okay, let me give you an example. Most of the wedding business owners I work with think like bootstrapping entrepreneurs. When you’re starting out, you’ve got lots of time and no money. But now, they’re working with all of the brides they want (and the money is rolling in) and time is the scarce resource. The problem is that they still act as though there’s plenty of time and no money. So let’s say you’re a wedding photographer who’s now booked solid after a couple of years of hard work. Between photo editing, sales and client meetings and actually shooting the weddings you are slammed. Not to mention blogging, staying up on trends, trying to learn more about social media and everything else. You don’t delegate anything because you’re stuck in the old mindset of I-have-to-do-everything-myself.

So how do you break out of the penny-wise-dollar-poor mentality?

1. Know what you absolutely love to do (and are crazy-good at). Usually, for a wedding photographer, this is actually taking the pictures. This is where you want to spend the most time (because it makes you happy and it makes your life better).

2. Root out your time-hogs and give them to someone else. Many great photographers can outsource their photo editing to a cheap, but talented assistant. This isn’t just about saving time. If you dread doing your accounting chores each month, to the point where you are thinking about it constantly, imagine how much energy and time you’ll save by outsourcing that to a professional bookkeeper.

3. Know how you make money. Those time-hogs are sinister because they keep you from doing things that get you more business. Don’t try to do everything yourself just because you can. Outsource as much as possible so you can focus on getting more business (so you can spend more time doing what you love).

4. Love yourself. No joke. As a business coach, I don’t just give quick-fix advice (actually, I never do) – we explore why a coaching client isn’t being wise with their time. If you’re using up all your time on tasks you could outsource, ask yourself why. Chances are, there’s some fear there, or possibly the feeling that you don’t deserve to work just four days a week. It takes a strong person to love themselves and to say, “You’re worth it. You deserve to spend your life working on things that you love, instead of mind-numbing tasks.” Are you worth it?

5. Remember that this applies to money, too. I hear wedding business owners say things like “I can’t afford that” all the time in response to investments like marketing opportunities or (ahem) coaching. But what is your return on investment? If that marketing opportunity (or, ahem, coaching) will bring you ten times as much money as you pay for it, how can you afford not to? If it will save your sanity or give you ten more hours a week to spend on things you love, how can you afford not to make the investment?

It’s easy to think small and to make excuses. I do it all the time. But then I remember, there’s a better life out there for me. And for you, too. So if you are twice as productive on days when you hit the gym, can you afford not to hit the gym? I can’t.

Now it’s time to roll up your sleeves. Where have you been penny wise and dollar poor in your life (when it comes to time or money)? More importantly, what the hell are you going to do about it?

Just Say No

Are you one of those people who says “yes” to every single thing someone asks you to do? It’s hard to say “no,” especially when the project sounds interesting (or the person asking is a bully). It sounds good (or we don’t want to turn someone down) so we say, “Yes!” But then another project comes along, and then another. And pretty soon we’re in way over our heads and we have no time for ourselves or to really focus on our passion.

Why We Can’t Say No

I think most people are afraid to say no for a couple of reasons:

1- We are afraid to miss out on an amazing opportunity.

2- We don’t want to let others down.

Why No is Necessary

Taking on everything all of the time is exhausting. You will burn out. The problem is that there will always be someone who wants to drop something on you so they don’t have to do it. So you need to start sticking up for yourself and for what you really want. What are your big goals, your dreams? If you want to have a super successful business doing what you are passionate about, you’re going to need to STOP doing a lot of the things that are preventing you from focusing on that. We can’t take on every project. When we try, the things that are most important to us (including our health) suffer the most. Not only that, but we run the risk of turning into a frazzled mess that no bride wants to hire.

How to Say No

Saying “no” doesn’t have to be painful. If you are someone who is afraid to miss out on an opportunity, think of the greater opportunity that will come from focusing on your passion and your ultimate goal (and know that other opportunities will come along). Recognize that many before you have sacrificed their own good stuff for the sake of the best stuff.

If you have a hard time turning people down, be honest and get creative. Tell them the project sounds awesome, but that you are choosing to be very selective about what you take on because your time is limited. (That should knock their socks off and encourage them to consider saying “no” more in their own lives.) If you’re up for it, take a moment and reach out to someone who would really love the opportunity. You help two people out and you don’t take on any new projects.

That’s Not All

It’s not enough to know how and when to say “no” to new projects. What obligations are already in your life that you need to say “no” to so that you can say “yes” to the best?

Best Time-Tracking Web Apps

Where does the time go? If you work from home, you’re all-too-familiar with that sinking feeling you get at 5pm (6pm, 7pm or 11pm) when you realize another day has gone by and you’re not totally sure what you’ve accomplished. Often, it’s not the obvious time wasters that suck your time, it’s those sneaky this-is-kind-of-productive activities that are the most sinister. After all, they aren’t unproductive, right?

If you want to take back your day and find out where the time goes, I’m going to give you three of my favorite web apps for tracking and managing your time.

 

Passive
RescueTime.com

This one is awesome because it’s totally hands-off. Once installed, RescueTime just hangs out in the background and tracks how much time you spend on different computer activities (and websites). There is a little bit of management on your end (you sometimes need to re-categorize activities), but for the most part, it’s “set-it-and-forget-it.” After a week, take a look at where the time has gone. I mean, facebook is great, but is it 20 hours a week great?

 

Active
SlimTimer.com

This sweet app is a skinny little timer you keep open all day to track how long each activity takes. It’s definitely more hands-on and the benefit here is that you have to consciously switch between activities, instead of just slipping into the blogworld vortex unawares. You can create your own categories so it’s very personalized. I recommend keeping it simple – sticking to, say, four categories. Maybe even the four quadrants from the self-development classic, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

 

Proactive
e.ggtimer.com

Once you have a good sense of where your time is going, you can take control of how you spend your time. This web app is simply a digital kitchen timer. The cool thing is that you can quickly set it by entering the amount of time after the url (for example, http://e.ggtimer.com/20min will take you straight to a 20 minute timer and starts the clock immediately). If you know that writing that blog article should take you 45-minutes of totally focused productivity, set the timer at e.ggtimer.com/45min and get crackin’!

These are my top picks. I hope you find them helpful as you take back your day. Remember that to make the most of your day, you need to sacrifice the good to focus on the great – those super-effective tasks that make you money and grow your business. Please share your favorites and how else you keep the day from slipping away.