In November 2020, it dawned on me that I was working a whole lot more than I’d signed up for, especially considering that I was working for myself. Yes, as a solo entrepreneur, one of the chief reasons for even diving into this business was to be more answerable to myself. At the same time, I began to feel that I was a more terrible taskmaster than any boss I’d had in the past. Ever!

Breaks from work? I rarely took them.

Weekends? Always working.

Quick sneak checks on client e-mails/ social media tags on every coffee break through the day? Guilty as charged.

And for all of that extra time I was spending, did I actually have a great deal to show for it? Nope, quite the opposite.

I was trying to put out multiple fires while keeping others burning, all at the same intensity and the only two things getting burnt were my energy and my productivity levels.

It was time to make the change and start looking at ways that I could leverage my time spent on my business and actually turn it into a proper and sustainable model for income generation.

Since December 2020, I’ve managed to start working for just 4 hours a day.

What’s more? I’ve managed to build a decent income while doing that.

This practice has ensured I get more time for myself to do the following:

  • Read more books
  • Meditate regularly
  • Go for walks
  • Get in a quick workout
  • Stay in touch with family and close friends
  • Practice my music
  • Cook more dishes from scratch (which is a feat by itself)
  • Spend more time unwinding at the end of a long day

So, how did I do it?

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Laptop, pen stand, vase filled with red flowers placed on a table

Started Chalking out Time on my Calendar

Calendars and schedules are lifesavers when it comes to running your own business, especially if you don’t have a virtual assistant.

I started putting everything on my calendar: Workouts/ Reading time/Content creation/ Social media engagement/ Email checking and Replies/Networking/ Cooking/ Cleaning.

The minute it was on the calendar, I felt so much better.

That’s because I had dedicated time slots for each item on my to-do list. I was neither sitting around wondering what I should do next nor was I aimlessly picking up my phone to scroll through social media.

Calendars? Your best friend. Take it from me.

Started using Focusmate

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Focusmate or started using it yet, but if you haven’t, now is a good time to check it out.

Focusmate is an accountability tool that helps you stay on track with your chosen goals and tasks for the day/week/month.

You can block out 50-minute sessions and work with your camera turned on, while an accountability partner keeps you dedicated to your task.

I use Focusmate for ALL of my work-related tasks: From writing blog posts, to drafting emails to creating social media graphics to responding to client questions inside my courses and even my social media tags.

I generally do a minimum of two Focusmate sessions per day, every weekday.

For a more in-depth review of how Focusmate works, this fabulous article by Gracia Kleijnen  will answer all your questions.

Started observing how much time I was spending online

This was a tip I picked up from a blog post I read on the topic of ‘How to change an unwanted habit’.

In it, the writer references a tip he picked up from David R.Hawkins’ book, The Map of Consciousness Explained.

The fascinating learning using this tip was to just use a calendar at the end of the day and record how you performed a particular habit that day. No judgment; just observation.

For instance, if you spend too much time on your phone daily, this technique will ask you to record how many minutes/hours you spent on your phone each day.

  • Just use a calendar or a notepad.
  • Write down the number of hours you spent on your phone/looking at screens
  • Repeat

You’re just recording the stats; not actively trying to change them.

The beauty of it? You start observing a pattern or a graph of usage. After about two to three weeks of following this exercise your mind automatically switches into what I refer to as ‘kick that habit’ mode.

Knowing that there are certain triggers that make you pick up your phone, you learn to consciously avoid them.

You start looking for ways to actively pursue other, more fulfilling tasks.

Read about how I got back more time in my day and the 5 things I stopped doing online

Started working on more high impact tasks

This was the biggest shift of all. I learnt to understand that there were certain tasks in my day that were merely filling up my day with empty tasks that led nowhere.

For instance, if I noticed that I’d spent an hour looking at Instagram, was it spent usefully?

That would mean I engaged with clients, actively helped them with solving a problem and studied insights to see which posts got the best traction and conversions. If, on the other hand, I had spent time on Instagram and come away feeling like I’d gone down a rabbit hole, that was good time wasted.

Income-generating tasks don’t appear as such on the surface of it, all the time.

For example, you can tell that if you spent time working on a specific course that would help your audience, then you know that it’s time well spent. On the other hand, if you spend time on Instagram talking to a potential client who ends up paying for a coaching session, that’s also time well spent because that’s resulted in income for your business.

See what I mean?

Started retiring early to bed every night (including weekends)

I know. Sleep is for wimps!

But it’s the best decision I’ve made.

Lights out at my end happen between 9.30 pm and 10 pm every night. What I do instead is to wake up early, between 5 and 5.30 AM and find more energy to get through my work for the day.

Putting sleep on the top of your priority list is something I’d recommend for everyone, not just entrepreneurs and business owners.

If you enjoy non-fiction books, here’s a list of productivity books that I highly recommend reading.

Started a nightly wind-down ritual

Carrying your devices into your bedroom (or worse, your bed) signals to your brain that you’re not done for the day. Your brain then stays primed for continuing work well past your bedtime.

If you work from home, like I do, it’s very easy to blur the lines between work and home. When does work end and when do you make time for yourself?

News flash: You can never get everything done, every single day. It’s a fool’s errand.

If you have a specific cut off time, stick to it every night. In other words, once the clock strikes 8.30 PM or 9 PM, turn off the laptop, switch off the phone and don’t look at them again until the next morning.

Instead, write in a journal, fold your laundry or read a paperback at the end of the day to let your body gradually and naturally slip into sleep mode.

Working for yourself (or for someone else) doesn’t mean that you have to burn yourself out to the point of overwork. The truth is, the more you work doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re working more productively.

Instead, work with happiness, work within reasonable limits and work on those tasks that actually help move your business forward.

Before you know it, you’d be writing about how you’ve switched to working just 4 to 5 hours per day on your job. What’s more; you’d be loving the work that you do.

*I follow the principle of task batching to get through all my relevant tasks for the day. Try it. You’d be amazed!

How I started reducing my time spent online 

Thanks to the varied number of distractions online, it was becoming effectively difficult to get into what I called deep work mode, without going down a rabbit hole of distraction.

I think productivity fans are already aware of attention residue and how distraction impacts them so I won’t go into those things here.

The first thing I did was try and list out what my chief challenges were when it came to finding more time for deep work.

Here are 7 things that I did which gave me back so many more hours in my day

Decluttered my social media channels

It started off as an exercise born out of frustration in mid August, 2020. The sheer volume of people I was following had gotten out of hand.

Neither did I have the energy to engage with the people I cared about nor did I have the bandwidth to process the information that was relevant to me.

It was time to cull the channels.

I followed the tips that I have outlined in my post here.

Made my social media timeline intentional

I so wish I had done this sooner.

Thanks to the Facebook News Feed Eradicator , I now have a blank slate greeting me any time I go to this platform.

Similarly, if I was going to look at Instagram I started using the laptop version instead. How this helped was that it put my focus back where it belonged, even on social media.

If I was going to Instagram or Facebook, I had a specific intention in mind: Getting updates from people I was keen on following.

Eradicating timelines and the home feed meant that I had to rely on Facebook friend lists and following fewer people on Instagram to get updates from the people who mattered.

Since I wasn’t scrolling mindlessly anymore there was no reason to stay longer than required on any specific channel.

Started posting content with intention

Let me know if this sounds familiar.

You go on to social media to post something and then you end up hanging around, waiting for some form of validation in terms of likes, comments, tags, mentions or shares.

Instead, try this the next time.

Post something on social media and then quietly leave the platform. Even better, log out of the platform. That way, your brain won’t be tempted to stray to that open browser tab or to that app on your phone every time there’s an itch to get notifications.

Come back later in the day; perhaps an hour or two later and respond to comments at leisure.

Stopped picking up my phone on a whim

There are two ways you can curb this habit of picking up your phone almost as a reflex action.

A) Move the phone out of arm’s reach

Keep the phone in a different room from where you are working or at least 20 feet away from your workspace

Doing this ensures that your entire energy is invested in the task before you. You’re not squandering precious seconds glancing at your phone every time you pause in the middle of your task.

Plus you’d have to physically get up from your chair to answer a text or a phone call.

B) Say a simple intention out loud before you pick up the phone

The other thing you can try is to say aloud an intention every time your hand strays towards the phone when you are bored or tired.

*Intention said out loud: Why am I picking up my phone? Can this wait till after I have finished my task?

The beauty of this technique is that it doesn’t play on your guilt or make you feel bad about picking up your phone. It just asks you to observe the action dispassionately and answer whether it makes sense right now.

Started focusing on more productive tasks

At the end of every work day and the beginning of the next, I reviewed a list of tasks that were both productive and aimed towards income generation for my business.

If I noticed that there were tasks that were fun to do (scrolling Instagram/ checking email) I put them last on the list for the day.

If I observed that there were tasks that would help my business (writing quality content/ creating courses/ work on coaching material), those went on top of my list for the day.

Prioritizing the productive tasks ensured that even if I felt like scrolling social media later in the day, I wouldn’t feel guilty about it.

Working Less and Doing More is no longer a myth. It’s definitely doable. I just wish I had learnt this lesson 3 years ago and saved myself more time and energy, in pursuing the right tasks to help with my business.

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Shailaja V

I’m a content & productivity coach with over 14 years of writing, blogging and social media experience. Read my story & more about my work here.

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