24 hours. That’s all you get. But how do Bill Gates, Tim Cook, and Warren Buffett seem to accomplish so much more with THEIR time?
In this article, I want to discuss the 5 productivity habits you need to master to build your business on the side.
Between having a full time career, three children under age 4, and an already existing side business making over $30,000 per month – creating time for a new project seems like a daunting task.
I bet you’ve felt the same way about your own thing. Especially if you are trying to start blogging – it can be a notoriously slow ROI, with your first many articles being published to crickets…
But you got into your project for a reason – maybe it’s pure passion. Maybe pure profit. Whatever it is, you owe it to yourself and your family to see it through.
But don’t go it alone. You need a plan to stay productive. Let me share with you mine.
1. The Pareto Principle – Ruthless Elimination
“20% of the input is responsible for 80% of the output.”
So going back to Bill Gates, Tim Cook, and Warren Buffett – if they are achieving more than we are in the same amount of time, it must be because they are investing their time in more impactful activities. They are achieving a greater return on invested time than we are.
I love they way that Gary Keller words it in his amazing book “The One Thing”:
“What’s the ONE Thing you can do, such by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
You can’t do everything. But you can do Anything. What is the one thing that will move the needle further than anything else?
These are all different ways of saying the same thing. Keep what matters, eliminate the rest.
So how do you do it?
Step 1: Unload your thoughts
Let’s run through an example. Take out a sheet of paper and write down all the ideas and tasks you have on your plate, as well as your existing commitments. This list is going to be massive, but don’t worry. It’s supposed to be. You’re busy, and so am I 🙂
Just the act of clearing your head all on a piece of paper is therapeutic. You’ll feel like you can breathe, because finally all the tasks that are clogging your thoughts are now on paper and not using up precious memory. Your to-do list is the enemy. And it’s easier to fight an enemy when you know its face.
Here is a snapshot of mine:
- Day job project
- Family Dinners
- Finish Game of Thrones
- Write the productivity blog post
- Record that Podcast
- Make that Youtube Video
- Chat with friends on Social Media
- Make Pinterest images
Now not all of these tasks are created equal. Your Day Job is a hard commitment, it has to happen even though you are working on your own freedom with your side hustle.
Family Dinners is a part of my personal culture. Sure, they take a lot longer for me to do than if I heated up everyone’s dinner and retreated to my office to work while eating. But that is not an option for me and my family.
So take those out of the list because they are by default your priority. The remaining list looks like this:
- Finish Game of Thrones
- Write that blog post
- Record that Podcast
- Make that Youtube Video
- Chat with friends on Social Media
- Make Pinterest images
Now this is just a simple example, but in reality, you may hundreds of tasks and ideas on your list. Months of blog post ideas. Half finished chapters of that book you wanted to write.
Looking at a list of hundreds of items can be very paralyzing. Let’s make it easier to deal with.
Step 2: Separate Wheat from Chaff
Count all the items on your list and divide that number by 5. That number is now 20% of your total list.
Go through the entire list and start rank all the tasks on your list by overall value to you. The goal in this step is to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Which tasks, if not done, really aren’t going to hurt your progress to your goal? And what tasks are absolutely mission critical?
Using the example list above, I’m pretty sure Game of Thrones won’t be in the top 20% of things that I need to do. Unless I review TV shows on my blog, in which case GoT would definitely receive a 10/10…
So if your list originally contained 150 tasks and ideas, you would keep the top 30 tasks and put aside the remaining 120.
Now you have a more manageable list of tasks to tackle, and you know those tasks will create the greatest impact. You’re creating leverage with your time with the Pareto Principle! The time you spend on those 30 most important tasks will be much more rewarding than any other task you can do.
Once you have your list of focus tasks, how do you decide which to work on? Top to bottom? A-Z?
Enter Energy-based prioritization.
2. Energy-based Prioritization
Deciding what to work on is a bit different as a side hustler than in your day job.
If your life is anything like mine, you don’t have hours on end to focus on your task list.
Instead, you have to carve out small pockets of time throughout your day to focus on your thing.
Waking up an hour earlier. Going to be 30 minutes later. Working in the Fringe Hours of the day to pursue your dream.
So how do you make the most out of these valuable work opportunities?
I have found most success through energy-based prioritization.
What does that mean?
I bet you’ve already experienced it. Let’s see.
Have you ever had a really hard day at work, come home to a crazy household, and FINALLY when the whole house is quiet try to sit down and write a book or code a complicated app?
Doesn’t work too well, does it?
At the end of the day your willpower is sapped. Your ability to focus and think deeply has all been consumed by the trials of the day.
Don’t save your most focus intensive tasks for this time!
Instead, align your tasks based on how your body is designed to cope with them.
For example, I am writing this at 5:00 am, before my work day starts and before the kids wake up.
I know this is when I am clearest. When I can have more than 30 minutes of time to myself and allow myself to find a flow state.
So I save my creation time for the mornings.
How else can we utilize our fringe hours? Here are some guidelines:
Early Morning – Creative and Demanding
- Content creation
- Editing copy on important pieces
- Designing Sales Funnels / Website Design
Throughout the Workday – Quick hits
- Creating cover images
- Checking email
- Researching similar blogs for inspiration
Morning / Afternoon Commutes – Hands free content
- Recording audio for quick podcasts
- Interviewing over the phone
- Thinking of future post ideas
Late Night – Low Energy work
- Video editing
- Making images for existing posts
- Social media
- Checking email
- Outlining future posts
- Researching post ideas
This is an example of how I accomplish what I do while still performing at my career and family life. Your energy may ebb and flow a different way.
So track it!
For the next week, journal how you feel at different points of the day. Figure out when YOU have an hour + to focus on your passion project, and align the appropriate tasks for that time slot.
Don’t be THAT guy who starts his day with checking email. That is taking your most important and valuable time of the day and starting out in reactive mode.
If you want to build something great, you have to “Eat the Frog” – tackle the hardest task on your to-do list first. You give yourself the best chance of success by having your best energy, and everything else in the day should be easier to accomplish.
So now we have Eliminated unnecessary tasks and prioritized the remaining ones. But how do you actually get work done? Enter Pomodoro.
3. The Pomodoro Method – Focus and Flow
It’s so easy to waste time when you are working on tough, important tasks.
Literally, the ONLY time I ever want to trim my nails, vacuum the floor, and reorganize the layout of my computer desk is when I just sit down to write a post.
Funny how that works, isn’t it?
It’s because “writing a post,” is a massive goal. Intimidating. Demotivating. Daunting.
The best way to turn it around is to create manufacture focus. I do that with the Pomodoro Method.
The Pomodoro Method is a structured way to work, where you split your work time into 25 minutes of focused work, with a 5 minute break. After 4 work sessions, you take a longer break.
The power of the method for me is the concept of focused work. As you are planning to go into your 25 minute work session, set a micro-goal. Something that would be a challenge to complete in 25 minutes, but it is possible. That will require 100% focus.
And annihilate that goal.
It could be a word count. It could be a number of ideas generated. Or a specific section of a video edited.
The magic here is that by creating a micro-goal, you trigger a competitive part of your brain that isn’t always activated when you are writing a blog post early in the morning.
The distractions that normally slow you down become less interesting. You see them as the hindrances that they are and you are more powerful to say no to them.
And since you know you only need to focus for 25 minutes, you’re able to give it your all. There is a thrill when you start working and you hear the ticking of your egg timer in the background.
It creates a feeling of urgency, of being chased. And that is a good thing – time IS chasing us. We only have this one life, this one moment. Make it count.
If you’re going to give this a try, I recommend you pick up a free app called “Focus Keeper” from the app store. It is based on this principle and works well.
Flow state is that feeling you have when the words just start flowing – when you barely need to think, and you just feel inspired to create and produce at a higher level.
You want this whenever you sit down to work. There are different triggers for everyone, but here are some of the triggers that promote flow for me:
- Listen to the same playlist on repeat. All non-lyrical songs that keep me in the zone.
- Be in the physical space – comfortable and familiar where you don’t need to think about anything
- Keep the temperature a little colder than normal
- Have a drink with you so you never need to get up for anything
But like I said, everyone has different triggers. So for the first several days of working in the Pomodoro method, keep a quick note pad next to your work area.
During the 5 minute breaks, note how it went. What distracted you? What song really got your productivity up?
Learn your body, and make the necessary adjustments. Flow is so valuable, it is worth tweaking and fine tuning. Once you get it down, you will be able to create consistently and at high quality.
It’s now just a question of showing up day in and day out.
4. Don’t Break the Chain!
How did Jerry Seinfeld become the comedy giant that he is today?
Is it because he is smarter than every other comedian? Was he just gifted at birth?
Not at all. How does he do it then?
Every year, Jerry buys a large “Year at a Glance” calendar and hangs it on his wall. And every day that he sits down to write a new joke, he will cross off that day with a big red X.
By writing every day, over time a chain of red X’s begins to build up. You start to become proud of your chain of X’s.
You don’t want to break the chain! You build up momentum, and each day you complete the task, you get a nice little shot of endorphin and are rewarded for your accomplishment!
This how you become great. It’s how you get your 10,000 hours into master a task. By working on it consistently every day.
You can use a wall calendar, a spreadsheet or app, or a notebook. But it’s important to use something VISIBLE. You need to be reminded to focus on your task.
How do you get started?
When you have 250 X’s in a row already built up, there is a great deal of accountability to continue the chain.
But what about when there isn’t a single X? How do you get that train moving?
You have to commit. Give yourself a challenge. For 90 days, you will wake up before the rest of your household and hone your task.
Enlist an accountability partner. Your wife, your friend, your dog. Whoever. But make your commitment explicit.
I think I’ll use you, the reader of this post.
For the next 90 days, I will be showing up every morning, putting in at least 1 hour into this blog before my day officially begins.
Momentum is a Semi-Truck
Isn’t it frustrating being behind a semi truck at an intersection? It takes them FOREVER to get up to speed!
But once they are on the highway, good luck stopping that thing!
It’s the same way with productivity. You have to allow yourself the grace to get up to speed.
And once you have found your stride, don’t let anything slow you down!
A Word of Caution
You have to be careful what you measure here. I have made the mistake by saying, “I will write a post on my blog every day!”
This is not a good idea.
A “post” is an output. You can’t always control your outputs. One post may only require 500 words and be done in 2 hours. One may be a pillar post (like this) and take a few days to complete.
Don’t settle for poor quality just to get your red X.
Instead, measure inputs. The number of hours worked. Number of words written, etc.
This is something you have complete control over, and even if you didn’t finish anything that day, you still earned your mark and can feel good about your accomplishments.
Set a target you can achieve every day. That’s how you build momentum.
Need an accountability partner for your own 90-day challenge? Post in the comments below!
5. Repurpose your Content – Going Deep and Wide
You’ve eliminated. You’ve prioritized. You’ve found flow. You’ve built momentum. And you’ve completed your masterpiece!
Don’t stop there!
As a side hustler, it’s important to milk an idea and topic thoroughly to get a full benefit from it. You’ve cultivated an idea and fleshed it out, so you want to maximize your reach with that idea.
Let’s assume you started out by writing a post on your blog.
Could you record a video of you talking through the same idea and post it on Youtube? And embed it into your blog to make it a multimedia experience?
Could you record some audio and upload it to iTunes / Anchor?
Could you take your outline and share it online as a powerpoint?
Could you make a mind map of the concept and make it a free downloadable PDF for subscribers?
You get the picture. You’ve got work to do.
There are many benefits to this approach:
- You have limited time – and cultivating an idea takes time. While the idea is fresh in your mind, maximize it.
- Search engines will see the web of content you are creating and consider you an authority on the topic.
- Since you are prioritizing your work, you are leveraging your reach by working on the most important ideas.
- Once you have exhausted the ways you can repurpose content on a single idea, you will likely have many more ideas sprout off for additional related posts, creating a virtuous cycle.
You know what you need to do. Go do it.
Eliminate. Prioritize. Focus. Build Momentum. Leverage.
We’ve covered a lot in this post. You have all the tools you need to start tackling your project.
No excuses. We all have 24 hours in the day. I know what I’m doing with mine. What are you doing with yours?
Post in the comments below!