As a solopreneur, knowing when to start and stop your work for the day can be a difficult, and pretty subjective, judgement call. There’s no administration above you that sets hours, no punch card, really no accountability except for yourself.
Some of the best advice I received was from a Columbia-Harlem SBA small business advisor who told me, “If you work at something five hours or more a day it’s a business, less than five hours and it’s a hobby.”
While five hours has proven a helpful goal for me, it’s still a pretty vague metric. Five hours spread across an entire day (especially one without a commute) leaves quite a bit of time, so should I only work five? Should I do more? Am I allowed to do less? Should it be five hours straight?
This is a challenge I’m still learning to navigate, but I wanted to share a mock schedule of mine to give you a sense for my day. This is by no means a hard-set schedule, there’s flux from day to day, but this offers a rough idea for my routine when I’m not working on site at any schools or institutions.
I heard a professor mention at a Council for Exceptional Children conference that academics today need to “protect their writing time.” They suggested that faculty figure out when they write best and make sure that this time is slotted off just for work on publications and research, no meetings, no classes, no office hours, no distractions.
Taking this outside the realm of academia, it still has wonderful applications. Any career involves some kind of “deep work” (to use the buzz word coined by Cal Newport) or work requiring your full attention and creativity.
For me, that time is the morning. I find I’m most productive between about 8:00am and 11:00am, so I start my work day then and structure my mornings to be spent doing the deep work of my business: working on e-books, blogs, video scripts, lesson planning, new children’s poetry, and similar projects.
I take an activity and lunch break. I love getting my work out in during the afternoon, the movement reinvigorates me and helps me reset after reaching a kind of mental and imaginative burn-out from the morning’s deep work. On days I’m not working out, I might take a walk around the block, run an errand like grocery shopping or laundry, just do something that gets me out of my home office space to clear my head before coming back for lunch.
My afternoons are spent doing things that don’t require the same kind of attention as the morning. That’s not to say I slack on these, but they’re a little less creativity driven and more either standard office or teaching activities. This might include emails, phone calls, meetings social media and my newsletter, workshop material and activity prep, and the like.
I’ll end the day with a bit of learning, something I can passively take in that will require focus, but not so much activity or creative energy on my end. For example, right now I’m watching videos in YouTube Creators Channel to get a better sense of how to run an effective and professional channel.
Finally I’ll make tomorrow’s to-do list. I read about making your to-do list the night before in one of the many “productivity hack” listicles around and decided to give it a whirl. Now I love it! Having the list prepared ahead of time gives it a “set-in-stone” feel and helps me just sit down and get going rather than spending time and energy (especially during my morning deep work time!) deciding what’s most important today.
Around 5:30 I like to do something that pulls me out of the work world. That might be going for a walk or starting to cook dinner, but some little ritual that can signify, “the day is done.” It’s a kind of mental punch-clock telling me to stop. While some entrepreneurs might disagree and be willing to work whenever on whatever’s needed, I like having boundaries to prevent burnout and a workaholic attitude.
Anyone else with a schedule they’d like to share, leave it in the comments. I’d love to see what similarities and differences we share!