To folks who work traditional jobs, having an online business sounds amazingly fun, liberating and suspiciously like an extended vacation.
Part of this is spot on–you really can’t beat working your own hours from the comfort of your own home and collaborating with colleagues across the globe.
It’s a dream job, but there is a challenging flip side– most of us online biz owners find that we’re perpetually working, constantly online, and eternally trying to sheild ourselves from the virtual tennis balls that are constantly being hurled at our heads in the form of email, IMs, phone calls, RSS feeds and a never-ending source of internet stimuli.
When your dream business starts taking over your entire life, something’s gotta give and steps have to be taken to get your life and your time back under control.
Here are 5 tried and trusted ways to get your online workday back on track:
1. Restrict your work hours to increase efficiency. In the past you may have had all day at your disposal to work when you chose, which sounds ideal, but it’s really just a situation that helps folks procrastinate and get side-tracked.
My recommendation is to severely limit your workday hours to something between 4 to 8 hours a day.
Now, I can hear what you’re thinking, “But if I can barely get everything I need to get done in 12 hours, then how the heck am I supposed to finish everything in 8 or fewer hours?!”
I know, that sounds nutty, but trust me, there is method to the madness.
Productivity guru Steve Pavlina says,
“Once your brain realizes that working time is scarce, you suddenly become a lot more efficient because you have to be. When you have tight time constraints, you will usually find a way to get your work done. But when you have all the time in the world, it’s too easy to be inefficient.
I’m telling you, this works. About 6 months ago I took Steve’s advice and restricted my workday to 4 hours a day. Yep, a measly 4 hours a day.
Remarkably, I was able to finish in half the time work that once took me 8 or more hours to complete.
After I got my efficiency built up, I was able to add on more tasks and increase the length of my workday. My workday is now an optimally efficient 6 hours long (you know, for the most part ;-)), and that includes client work, blog writing and admin, online socializing and internet surfing.
The hours can vary from day to day depending on what’s going on in your life, but the point is to be mindful of having some sort of limitations on your workday.
2. Create a map for your day. Let’s see a show of hands–how many of you hop online to get some work done, then before you know it hours have passed, and you still haven’t accomplished what you originally set out to do?
I know, me too. It’s a constant struggle to stay on task online because there are so many avenues of stimuli to pursue. Unlike reading a book or going to a movie, exploring the internet is an activity that has no end.
It’s like trying to take a quick stroll through the Amazon jungle. If you saunter in there without a map, you’re not coming out any time soon!
In order to resist the temptation to wander aimlessly, all you need to do is a little prep work. Write down a detailed list of what you need to accomplish for the day in order of priority before turning on the computer.
At the top of my own list goes client work, then work on my own business, then blogging writing time, blog admin, and finally participating in various online communities. Within each of these areas, I break it down to actionable tasks, such as:
- Client A–check email, write press release, contact so-and-so about possible JV…
- Client B–check email, do research on new book idea, renew domain names…
You get the idea–all of the things on the list are prioritized action-oriented tasks.
This is my map for the day. If I stick to it I can hammer out the tasks much more quickly than if I was to hop online and wander without direction.
3. Schedule times to check email. Now this is a biggie–email is the Bermuda Triangle of productivity and the major time sucker-upper for most folks.
One of the ways I’ve gotten my email under control is to only check it at certain times and not give the siren’s song of the incoming mail chime the chance to lure me away from what I’m doing all day long.
Of course the needs of your work determine how often you do your checking, but the goal is to check email as many times as you need to and as few times as you can get away with. I check mine twice a day, once at the beginning of my day and once near the end. At all other times my email program is closed and off my mind.
The object is to get yourself out of the constantly checking, checking, checking mode and to start treating your email like what it is: an information input tool, just the same as your voicemail, your inbox on your desk or your mailbox in front of your house.
Just as you wouldn’t stand out in front of your house all day long waiting for letters and packages to arrive, it doesn’t make sense to stake yourself out in your inbox all day.
4. Relax and don’t try to force yourself to work harder. When I first started overhauling the structure of my workday, I made the mistake of trying to cram 8 hours of work into a 4 hour time period, with disappointing results.
Learn from my mistake–trying to work harder doesn’t make you more efficient; it just makes you frantic, frazzled and frustrated.
There is some psychological strategy involved in this workday plan–you need to be relaxed and focused.
David Allen calls this having a “mind like water”, athletes call it being “in the zone”. Call it whatever you like–just know that if you put too much pressure on yourself to get a certain amount of work done in a restricted amount of time, then you’ll just drive yourself crazy.
The trick is to focus on relaxing rather than on gutting it out.
5. Cut yourself some slack. For those of us who are used to being online pretty much all the time, there can be withdrawl symptoms associated from cutting back on internet time.
When we set boundaries on our online workday, surprisingly the hard part is not working in a focused manner for 4 hours (or however many hours you’re going for).
- The hard part is stopping working when the workday time is up.
- The hard part is turning off the computer and resisting the temptation to turn it back on.
- The hard part is resisting the urge to check email compulsively throughout the day and night.
- The hard part is thinking mindfully about how you spend your time and not simply doing things out of habit.
The hardest part of all is stopping your mind from thinking about work after you turn off the computer.
Changing ingrained habits is tough work, so if you find yourself slipping up from time to time, don’t sweat it.
What we’re focusing on here is progress, not perfection. The overall goal is to start to make some healthy changes in how we approach our online work.
If you decide to incorporate some of these elements into your own online workday overhaul, I’d love to hear your take on things. Also, if you have any special tricks of your own, by all means, please share.