I can 100% empathise with the challenge of workflow and productivity management, as a coach for the past decade, at times managing a client load of 70+ individual online coaching clients whilst travelling around the world to deliver seminars, having a new baby AND still having time to train and continue my education it was of a baptism of fire to finding time management strategies. (Ones that actually work!)
There are two key principles that will underpin everything in this article:
“WHAT GETS MEASURED GETS MANAGED”
1.1 - ESTABLISH A BASELINE
If you feel like you’re working hard but not sure where your time is currently going, THIS is going to rock your world. According to Julia B. Austin's study, "The Effects of Time-Tracking on Productivity", tracking where your time goes can significantly enhance your productivity (Austin, 2016).
Step 1: Download and install a time-tracking app like Toggl (available on Mac/iPhone/Android etc)
Step 2: For the next 7 days, track EVERY task that you perform, this will give you an idea of time spent on different tasks (you can stick to just ‘working’ hours but it can be an eye-opener to track time spent outside of work also)
Step 3: Divide the revenue you made during that 7-day period (or take your monthly income and divide by 4.3 to get weekly income) by the hours that you tracked. You then have your hourly rate. We then need to subtract overheads and costs from that figure.
With all the things that need to get done, it can be easy to get distracted by the minutia of running a business, new systems, creating content, continuing education and more, through it all there is one key point to keep focused on...
SERVICE DELIVERY IS KING!
If you get nothing done in a day OTHER than serving your paying clients to the highest level possible, then it’s STILL a productive day.
Identifying the one thing you need to do each day to sustain and grow your business is vital to both productivity AND long-term success. Service delivery is the one thing you need to excel at every, single, day.
1.3 - EXPERIMENT WITH INTERVAL WORKING
There are a tonne of different recommendations when it comes to facilitating so-called ‘Deep Work’, one that I’ve found to be useful is the Pomodoro Method.
Essentially, you work in ‘chunks’ of 40 distraction-free minutes, followed by a 5minute break where you get up, away from what you’re doing, get some water etc.
You can read more on the Pomodoro technique here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pomodoro_Technique
There’s also a plethora of apps you can use to track Pomodoro intervals on your computer and phone, I use ‘BeFocused’ although there are plenty of others available.
“IF YOU’VE GOT MORE THAN 3 PRIORITIES...YOU DON’T HAVE ANY”
2.1 - THE EISENHOWER BOX
Eisenhower was a five-star general in the US Army, served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WW2 and was responsible for planning and executing invasions of North Africa, France and Germany.
He also served as President of Columbia University, became the first Supreme Command of NATO and somehow also found time for hobbies such as golfing and oil painting.
(You could say he was pretty busy...)
Eisenhower is also well known for his productivity, seemingly getting masses of work done and tasks completed with sustained periods of productivity lasting decades. His most well-known strategy is below, the Eisenhower Box.
I’ve been using this for the past few years to help me prioritise tasks and ensure that my business, clients and the coaches I mentor are consistently moving towards their goals.
DO THIS NOW
Put out the fire in the kitchen (extreme example….but you get what I mean!)
SCHEDULE A TIME TO COMPLETE
Your own training
Communication, feedback & emails
DELEGATE / SYSTEMISE
Creating graphics for social content
ELIMINATE / MINIMISE
Netflix / Watching TV
Eating bonbons on the couch
Using the box is pretty simple.
Write down EVERY task you perform on a daily/weekly/monthly/quarterly/annual basis into the grid above. From this you’ll end up with four different types of task:
This is something that I spend considerable time building out with the coaches I mentor. Ensuring you have sufficient time to work on education, service delivery, marketing, sales, administration and other aspects of your business is key.
2.2 - ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS
Smartphones are making us dumb. Make your phone distraction-free using the guides below.
Create a distraction-free iPhone here:
Create a distraction-free Android here:
3.1 - BATCHING TASKS
Batching or ‘time-blocking’ is a method that batches together similar tasks to be executed at the same time.
It’s the task equivalent of going to the store with a shopping list and knowing where EVERYTHING is. In the fruit & vegetable aisle? Cool. Get ALL the fruit and vegetables that are on your list.
NOT using batching is like going to pick up one apple, then going to frozen foods, then the bakery, then back to pick up another apple.
It’s pretty clear which is the most efficient use of time.
You can batch tasks in a number of different ways and it’s down to personal preference and personality type.
3.2 - TO-DO LISTS
Todo lists can be great for the right person, for the wrong person they can mount up and cause all sorts of overwhelm and anxiety. It’s important that you use only the methods you find that work for you. If you’re more data/outcome driven you might love a todo-list. If you’re more sensorial/process driven then it might drive you crazy.
However, remember the Zeigarnik Effect, a psychological principle suggesting that people remember incomplete tasks better than completed ones. Therefore, it's essential to manage your to-do lists carefully to prevent them from becoming overwhelming (Zeigarnik, 1927).
Personally I use an app called ‘Todoist’ the premium version syncs with Momentum dashboard on Google Chrome and maintains a distraction-free desktop with a clear plan of action for the day to keep you on task.
“WORK EXPANDS SO AS TO FILL THE TIME AVAILABLE FOR IT’S COMPLETION”
4.1 - CHRONOTYPE
We’re all genetically designed to function best at certain times of day, whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, structuring your schedule (where possible) to suit this is key for maximal productivity.
You’ll probably have some idea of where you sit, based on when you feel the most energy during the day when you feel most creative and the opposite, where you feel the need to rest and unwind. If you’re naturally suited to being most creative late at night, then Jocko Willink-esque 4 am starts will probably drive you into the ground.
You can take a free chronotype test here: https://thepowerofwhenquiz.com/
4.2 - CNS TAP TEST
In addition to the Chronotype test above, a valuable exercise to find your peak time of day for mental acuity is what’s called a CNS Tap Test.
This is a simple test where you tap your index finger on a screen (using an app) or a pencil on a piece of paper, as many times as possible in a 10sec window. You count the number of taps (or dots) and use this as an indicator of CNS readiness and in some cases can be used to track recovery/readiness to train.
For productivity, I would recommend performing this test every 2-3 hours throughout the day for 3-4 days which will allow you to see a clear distinction of highs/lows and where it may be best to put periods of focused, deep work. Also, keep in mind that caffeine and other stimulants will affect these outcomes!
4.3 - WHAT’S YOUR ‘ONE THING’?
Identify what the ONE thing you need to do is. For me, getting my ‘one big thing’ done early in the day is key to ensure that other tasks don’t end up detracting from the most important thing I do each day.
I tend to colour code activities on my calendar for quick distinction:
You’ll notice that my ‘one thing’ is program design - this is the one big thing that I need to complete each day to ensure service delivery. My communication is all batched to one 30-minute window in the AM and one 30-min window in the PM (this includes social media use, emails, client feedback, messages etc.)
You can also see in this screenshot that I have my Monthly Review scheduled in where I’ll look at numbers in the business and make adjustments for the coming month.
If you’re running your own business, coaching clients, continuing your education and more - there can be a lot to remember and keep track of.
Feelings of overwhelm are common among coaches and one of the greatest tools I found to combat that is using an ‘external brain’.
This can be a notepad, whiteboard, journal, diary, app or anything where you can get tasks, ideas and thoughts OUT of your head and into an external brain.
Personally, I use Evernote (the premium version is something like £3-5/month and well worth it) and have notes in there going back 5+ years from courses, client program design, events I’ve attended and more. It allows you to take photos of text (both print and written) and will make it searchable, super helpful for lots of different things.
CONCLUSION & FURTHER READING
I hope that you’ve found some value from reading this and that it’s given you some ideas on how you can win back some time drive up productivity, help you manage a larger client load and spend more time on things you love OUTSIDE of work.
If you need some help working smarter, harder and delivering an outstanding service to your clients in less time, click here to check out our 5-Day Online Coaching Foundations Workshop
Austin, J. B. (2016). The Effects of Time-Tracking on Productivity. Harvard Business School.
Eisenhower, D. D. (n.d.). Quoted in R. I. Rotberg (Ed.), The Quotable Eisenhower (2000). DIANE Publishing.
Zeigarnik, B. (1927). Das Behalten erledigter und unerledigter Handlungen [The memory of completed and uncompleted actions]. Psychologische Forschung, 9, 1-85.