When lockdown started, everyone was going crazy and wanted to get back to normal life as soon as possible.
But if you’re anything like me, now the worst is over, you’re probably feeling a little overwhelmed.
Your diary is filling up faster than you can say yes (or no!).
The chaos is overtaking you.
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As we move out of lockdown and back into normality, it’s time to learn how to be the gatekeeper of your own time and energy.
I’m good at this, but I’m not the best. I still need to learn to put the brakes on sometimes to decide to spend time on me, not on other people.
Here are some suggestions about how you can gate-keep your time and energy right now – it’s not about productivity so much as conserving your energy.
In lockdown, an upside for me was that it felt easier to protect my boundaries because there were fewer expectations on me. I’m always pretty swamped because I run two businesses. I’m also a very social person – I spend a lot of time with my friends and family, so during lockdown it was easy to default to staying home.
Maybe you're also interested in this: “These Three steps will turn you into a Time Management Guru – the CBA Principle”
If you feel like people are always trying to grab your time, it’s time to set some STRONG boundaries – also for my clients. An example? I have a Slack channel and they all know they can send me anything in Slack, but they shouldn't use Messenger and DM for messages, because otherwise everything will get lost.
That’s setting boundaries for me and also showing them to model strong boundaries for their own clients as well.
It’s also about quality. If I’m overwhelmed, I can’t deliver the best quality or be the best entrepreneur. That’s why I need those boundaries. It’s not harsh – but I get 300 messages a day so I have to have limits! The boundaries are not selfish – they’re just what you do. I still struggle with that.
How not to be constantly on
It’s not the best feeling and will not make you the best entrepreneur or best person. We’re not wired for that as humans. You turn off your lamps at night – you also have to turn off your on lightbulb, or you won’t sleep.
Last week I had a bunch of stuff on, and then when I finished it I slept well – the message being that I hadn’t been sleeping well because I was overwhelmed. My mind was finally able to shut off.
I’m taking the next few weeks as a coaching break to get some rest.
So you know you need to set boundaries, right? The next question is: how TF do I do that Amy?
Turn of all your notifications
Let’s start with the basics. I’ve said it before: Instagram, WhatsApp, Gmail… so many ‘pings’ distracting us all day. They can even function like an addiction.
Having your emails on or dealing with customer service enquiries is like when you don’t unfriend your ex from Facebook. They pop up and you see they’re engaged to someone, and you get really depressed. Notifications do the same thing. You default to answering, which puts you in a reactive mode all day long. If you do that, you won’t have moved the needle in your company. Don’t have your phone with you if you’re working.
You are not working ON your business – just IN your business the entire time.
Set a limit. My own limit is 8pm, when I stop working and turn off all screens. My preferred limit is 6pm, so that I can shut down.
Social media is not your life. It’s also not your business. Just shut off and be in the moment with the people around you.
Build structure into your days with fixed hours
Normally I have a clear structure, so that’s been difficult during lockdown. As we go back to normal, it’s the perfect time to put in place an awesome structure with fixed hours that work for you.
Many self-employed people don’t do that, but I’ll tell you something that doesn’t work: chaos.
We all need structure – fixed hours like sleeping rhythms for babies, or routine for school kids.
Self-care is treating yourself as if you’re a baby. No phones before going to sleep!
Here’s an example day:
- 7am: Wake up and stretch
- 8am: Workout
- 10am: Start work
- 1pm: Lunch
- 6pm: Wrap up work, define tomorrow’s priorities, and cook
That’s my structure. You could only do calls or meetings in the afternoon – or some days you can decide to be online all the time, and others not. Here’s the key thing: you need to keep revisiting it because you’re evolving all the time, and so is your company. It’s stupid to assume that everything stays the same.
If you’re struggling with a routine, here are some hacks you could try:
- Wake up with a partner, and force each other to get out of bed.
- Workout with a personal trainer, or in a group class so it’s always at the same time
- Go for a walk with your mom, or go swimming with a friend
Work with fixed hours
Instead of revisiting when you call or catch someone, make it fixed times. I promise you, this will make life easier for everyone.
How much time do you waste with clients going back and forth on when you’re going to speak? Just pick the same time each week or month!
I also have different calendars for different things. I like to use iCal and custom-labelled different calendar types: work, personal, health etc. I can see at a glance what’s happening in my day and what kind of day it is. It allows me to structure things in a very specific way and prioritise what’s important.
Respect your calendar
Self-employed people sometimes don’t respect their calendar – and that’s really important to do.
It’s like a religion to me.
I never cancel on clients unless it’s an emergency – or they’ll start cancelling on me. You need to respect your calendar so it respects you back.
Make sure you’re being realistic about this. Everything you do needs to be in your calendar – if it’s not in, it doesn't exist. I don’t have huge to-do lists anymore. Instead, I put it straight in my calendar so I see if I have the space to do it – or I say I’ll do it in two weeks.
The biggest mistake you can make if you want to be the gatekeeper of your time and energy is to just say “yes, sure” without checking. Yup, I’m looking at you…
Take a moment to plan your day and week
The busier you get, the more you need this.
I take 30 mins or an hour at the start of the day to plan everything – it’s rigid, sure, but I need it.
I used to not trust myself and my calendar because I wasn’t realistic. I kept moving things around. You need to plan in everything like lunch and self-care. You can also over or under estimate how long stuff takes, so be mindful of that. Make sure you’re also planning your tomorrows as well.
As you might know, I’m a mega fan of business and management books, and they all say track the time things take you – but to be honest, that doesn’t really work for me. Instead I choose iCal and if something spontaneous comes up like a call, I will add that in afterwards, so I can log it and know that I did it, so looking back I can see where my time went.
I like to look at people a couple of years ahead of me for inspiration – so take Bill Gates. He will know what’s up this week, with everything planned out. If you want to build a serious business, you have to be serious using your time properly.
Work with an online appointment calendar
I only recommend software I personally use. I might receive a commission when you buy anything through one of these links!
Online tools can be super helpful for gatekeeping your time and energy. I love Acuity: it helps my planning and gatekeeping of my time exponentially. There’s a free trial through www.fastforwardamy.com/acuity
I use my online calendar for planning in everything from interviews to coaching calls – there’s no emailing back or forth because that’s a waste of time and energy for everyone.
It’s super efficient, because people book into the slots I’ve made available on my calendar, so there’s no need for people-pleasing… and therefore no risk of me overstepping my own boundaries.
Don’t be afraid also to say ‘in a month from now’ rather than ‘this week or next week’. Things aren’t always that urgent. And don’t give clients too many options as that can overwhelm them.
Don’t fall into the fake urgency trap. A lot of stuff that feels urgent can happen in a week or so. If people want to meet with you, a few weeks is also probably fine. You don’t have to fall over your own stuff to make other people happy.
My biggest tip on scheduling appointments? Look at your calendar and offer 2 slots – even if you have 10 options. You’re making a choice and helping them too by making it easy for them.
My biggest energy gatekeeping hacks
- No phone – I’ve had it with the phone. It’s a timesuck.
- Use Acuity with deadlines built in. People can’t schedule something less than 36 hours beforehand. No surprises for me!
- Work with theme days – for me that means creation days, coach days, team days etc.
- Plan in your meetings – Plan these far in advance. Don’t be too responsive, and batch stuff to be more efficient.
Here’s the thing.
It’s my time, my energy and boundaries. So I decide.
I am so inclined to put other people before me, particularly when I’m tired and have low willpower.
It can help to ask yourself this question: Do I want to do this? Or am I doing it because someone else is asking me to?
As a leader you need to decide what you want. Keep to your plan otherwise people will try to trample you.
We are the boss of our own calendars because if we don’t run the day, the day will run us. If we don’t work on our business, we are working in our business and then we are our own employee. We want to be the boss.
To be the best version of yourself, you need time and energy. You can’t be giving it all away to other people.
If you’re a start-up entrepreneur or freelancer and trying to build up clients and make stuff happen, you want to be flexible, but make sure you work in a structured way as well by offering a structured plan. Let’s all put clients’ needs first by modelling strong boundaries.
Oh, and the last nugget of wisdom when it comes to time? You are the only person who can say no. If you say yes to something, you’re often saying no to yourself. You should say yes to yourself because that’s what you deserve.
Want to dive deeper into the world of time management? You can check out my time management checklist at fastforwardamy.com/timechecklist.
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