Time Keeps on Ticking
For years like a mantra, I would repeat 'you can't outsource the hustle.' I kept telling myself this over and over. Every night I stayed in the office past 7 pm, every drinks date I cancelled with friends, every time I told TL I'd be running late, again. Sorry, I've got to hustle. In the startup world, being a hustler is a good thing. It's something that elevates you and makes you stand out above the rest, or at least it used to be.
In my prior roles, I remember having hustle competitions. Who could stay later, who clocked in more weekend hours, who slept at the office (I did, twice!) I used to read stories of hustlers and think wow how can I be as hard working as them. Now when I read these stories, I cringe a little bit. What about their family or friends? What about taking some time for self-care?
Over the last year, I've begun scaling back on my hustle all the time mentality and instead started finding ways to give myself a work-life balance. Finding ways to ensure I'm getting tasks done but also knowing when to stop.
So, my friendly readers, these are some of my tips of the trade to stay hustle but also stay sane.
I learned this trick early on in my career but never really put it to work until the last few years. Block scheduling is as easy as it sounds, you block out specific times within your schedule for particular tasks. If you were to look at my calendar on any given day, you'd see large times that are labelled BLOCK scheduled. Usually, I also assign a function for that specific block. For example BLOCK - WHITEPAPER or BLOCK - EMAIL FOLLOW UPS. For me, blocks are times that I can use to catch up on email or get any high-level thinking tasks done. If anyone wants to book a meeting with me during that time, they have to ask me. Usually, unless it is an important meeting, I say no and ask the person to find an alternative time. This also keeps me from booking myself back to back in meetings all day. Although meetings are essential, so is getting tasks that need to be done. You have to be able to dedicate time to doing so. Otherwise, you will always feel behind. Before I begun doing this, I used to schedule myself back to back with meetings and then reserve the evenings for email catchup and other tasks that needed to be done. This led to low-level burnout. Not having downtime caused me to shut down.
Don't Be Controlled by Your Email
Remember when Inbox Zero was a huge trend? I do. Every day I strived to get my inbox down to zero emails. Hoping and praying that I could do it. Almost every day I failed. Someone once shared the wisdom with me to sit on emails. Delay a response. This gives you a) time to think about what you want to say and b) won't set expectations that you are always on call. Having 'inbox freedom' has been well, freeing. Instead of getting up early to respond to requests or staying up late doing it, I now prioritize my inbox and use filters. Anything that is a newsletter goes into one folder, things from the team a different one. I use the rule that if someone emails me twice asking for a response, they get bumped up the list. One thing I have to remind myself about is that no one is waiting with bated breath for your email. This isn't brain surgery; if you don't respond in 2 hours, no one is going to die. I've heard of people using their inbox as their to-do this. If this works for you that is great. For me it causes stress and in my role isn't very productive.
Pomodoro Method/Productivity Planner
Back when I worked in a FinTech startup a co-worker introduced me to the Pomodoro Method of working. Essentially, you work for 25-minute intervals with 5-minute breaks in between. When I first heard this back in 2012, I scoffed at the idea. What about getting into a flow? I will admit there are some items that I start and get annoyed when my 25-minutes are up, but frankly, I now enjoy the breaks in time. It allows me to get up from my desk and go back a bit more refreshed. I also coupled this with a productivity planner. This will enable me to map out my day based on importance. I was recently found I was getting behind in tasks and was overwhelmed with the amount I had to do in a day. This helps me plan out my week and stay on track. If you want a free version, you can easily replicate one using the free version of Asana (which I also love).
Learning to Say No
I will say this is something I still struggle with. I am a people pleaser at heart. Sometimes though you need to say no. I've learned not to be afraid to say no to specific items or events. Figure out what your priorities are, does this fit in with them? If it does then figure how to make it work. If it doesn't then evaluate. Will it add value to you? Will it make you more stressed out? Once you figure this out decide if you should do the task.
Manage Your Meetings
In my job meetings are sometimes endless and constant. Don't get me wrong. I LOVE meeting people. In my role, I am a master connector. I find great people and match them. It's a lot of fun. It's taking me time, however, to learn how to master the art of a meeting. I've begun scheduling 30-minute meetings vs. 1-hour meetings. 30-minutes should be enough to get to know someone, figure out the next steps and move on. There will be times that you need to block off more extended period, but evaluate and move forward. This might sound cold, but when you only have 30 minutes, you get right to the point. Do I want to catch up of course? Can we book a coffee to do that opposed to when we need to get work done, you better believe it.
Knowing When It's Time to Shut Down
Is your head hitting the keyboard? Can you no longer focus? Then it's probably time to take a break or just shut down for the evening. I used to be in a space where I'd work and work until I almost fell asleep at my desk. It wasn't healthy. I'd only have to go back the next day to re-do what I did when I was exhausted because it just wasn't up to snuff. Some people can work longer than others but take an in-depth look and figure out how long you can work for. For me, that's usually about 10 to 12 hours. It seems long when you write it down but usually around that mark I begin to grow foggy. I know when my brain needs a break and it's time to check out for the day.
Will these tools work for everyone? Probably not. My advice is to find out what works for you. Try different things and don't be afraid to switch up when it's not working any longer. For years I would lean heavily on my asana for all my tasks. Eventually, I felt like I was treading water trying not to drown. So, I decided something new and found a system that worked.
So now I'm asking you, fine folks, what works for you? What tools and practices have you put in place to make your day a success?