Sometimes working for yourself is a battle of the minds. There’s the mind that knows you have to get stuff done to make money. And then there’s the mind that wants to procrastinate or sit on the couch and surf the internet.
How can the efficient mind win?
Have you ever met one of those people that seems to get everything done. They work for themselves yet still seem to have a great social life? One of those people is today’s guest Amanda Brown.
Amanda runs a business called Homepreneur and is a social butterfly. She even has a course showing you how to save 10 hours in your working week.
Listen: 5 Time Saving Tips From The Homepreneur
Hello and welcome to the Blogcentric podcast. Today I have a very special guest, Amanda Brown from Homepreneur, and Amanda is super organized. In fact, she’s even got a course on how to be more productive and more organized, don’t you, Amanda?
I do indeed. It’s called the Homepreneur Productivity Course, but today I’m going to give you a few actionable top tips about how to get your business life sorted, really.
That’s great, because I think this time of year it’s like, we all are very enthusiastic over the Christmas period, or if you don’t do the Christmas, the holiday period, about how brilliant 2019 is going to be, and I think we get back to work and we sit at our desk and either we just get back into the bad habits or we just … it’s really hard to get motivated, isn’t it? So I thought this would be the ideal time to have you on to help us get sorted.
Amanda Brown:'There's a difference between time management and productivity. Time management's how you spend your hours and productivity is really the ratio of outputs to input.' @amanda_brownClick To Tweet
Well yes, I know. Everybody’s talking about New Year’s resolutions, and I believe that probably 90% of New Year’s resolutions have probably faded into the dim and distant memory by the time we get to the end of January.
You know, everybody finds it difficult to make changes to their ingrained habits, so I believe that it’s always worth starting off … So, tip number one. I’m going to give you five altogether.
Tip number one is to do a time audit. Now, don’t groan because audit is attached to those financials, but in fact, a bit like doing a money audit or an audit of how you’ve developed your business over 2018, it’s really worth, if you’re going to make changes, is to know how you’re spending your time at the moment.
It’s no good going, “Well, I’m going to make changes. I’m going to work an hour less or an hour more, and I’m going to pack more in,” if you don’t really understand how you’re spending your time at the moment and how that impacts your productivity.
Because there’s a difference between time management and productivity. Time management’s how you spend your hours and productivity is really the ratio of outputs to input.
We’re not going to go down the productivity route too much today, but a time audit really means taking a … Well, I would do it on a blank piece of paper. Go old school on this and for a whole week, and if you can manage it, for two weeks, is to really note down everything you do.
You could even record, actually, onto your phone, or use an app like Toggle to monitor your time.
But in essence, what you’re doing is spending a little bit of extra time for a week or a couple of weeks to monitor actually how you do spend your time, because so many of us get interrupted by telephone calls or we get down the YouTube rabbit hole.
We actually don’t really understand how we are spending our time. We think we do, but in fact actually it’s really worthwhile going, “Oh, that took me two hours longer than I thought it would.” Something that you were writing maybe didn’t take one hour, it took three.
Actually, I’ve done this exercise and it is quite revealing. I think the first thing is when you’re doing the audit you’re more efficient anyway because you’re very aware of the time you’re taking out to go and get a cup of tea, or the time that you’re wasting, so you become more efficient by knowing that you’re doing an audit.
Also, I got a shock at how long it takes me to do things like this podcast or to do blog posts. Where I thought, “Ah, that’ll only take me two hours,” across the week it’ll take four or five hours, which I think once you know, it’s not that I was going to stop doing it, but once you know you can schedule your time better. So I guess that’s what’s behind it, is it?
Amanda Brown:'If you're spending 50% of the week on non-revenue-generating work, actually you halve that daily rate.' @amanda_brown Click To Tweet
Definitely. So, once you know how you’re spending your time … For instance, networking. Networking is something that a lot of businesspeople do. Unless you’re a completely online business, most people go out and meet people.
Well, there’s the preparation time, the travel time, the time you spent at the meeting and the traveling time home and maybe the followup. So, something that looks like it’s an hour and a half may actually be three or more hours out of your day, so really understanding where you’re spending …
And the reason behind this time audit is that once you’ve analyzed the time, it’s not good just saying, “Well yeah, I spent that amount doing this and that.
You then categorize it. So, how much time do I spend on revenue-generating work and how much time do I spend on non-revenue-generating work? And that’s where the analysis really starts to hit home, because say you have a day rate of, let’s say, £500 or euros or dollars, if you’re spending 50% of the week on non-revenue-generating work, actually you halve that daily rate.
So it really impacts your bottom line. The flip side of that is that when you start to shift even an hour from your non-revenue-generating work to your revenue-generating work, the impact over the weeks, months and years is huge, and that’s really the point of understanding how you spend your hours in a week.
So, say I discovered that I spend like to time on non-revenue-generating work, I suppose like marketing. Obviously it has to be done, so-
Well otherwise you won’t get more revenue, so yeah.
Exactly. Would I then be looking for tasks that maybe I could outsource? Is that the idea?
Well, outsourcing is a great idea. Once again, you need to only be outsourcing by analyzing … I’ve got a great long blog post about outsourcing, but outsourcing really requires quite a lot of preparation.
It’s not good just saying, “I’m going to get somebody to do my social media scheduling,” you really need to actually record exactly what you want that person to do. It’s the ideal, it’s the way to move forward. It’s to decide what you are no good at, what you don’t like doing, and what takes up so much of your week that you really should find a better what to do it.
Okay, perfect. I might just get a link from you and we can share that in the show notes for the listeners because I think that’d be really helpful. Right, so next.
I’m going to take you through the next one. The first one was, do a time audit. The second one is to … maybe if you’re working for home and you’re working on a project which requires quite a lot of concentration, and that’s to use what’s called the Pomodoro technique.
This is a technique whereby you give yourself a certain amount of time working, say 25 minutes is the traditional amount of time, and then you have a five-minute break.
Now, this may sound counter-intuitive because obviously you’re allowing yourself five minutes off of every 25, but in fact that five minutes, just getting up, moving, shifting, reflecting on what you’ve done, maybe go outside, take a big breath of fresh air, put the kettle on, drink some water, is actually really going to help your productivity because you know that you’ve only got another 25 minutes after that before you get yet another break.
So it’s a bit like a reward system if you like, and it’s very hard to concentrate fully on something for long periods of time, particularly if they’re quite intense, maybe analyzing data or researching a difficult topic.
Those sorts of things, it’s much better to do it in these sprints, if you like, because it’s named after those red timers. Pingers, we used to call them in the old days. They’re physical timers there are the in the shape of a tomato. If you go onto Amazon you can find a tomato timer. It was an Italian man that invented this idea.
We actually use the 50/10 Pomodoro technique. So I’ve extended it. I find 25 minutes is a little short, so I use the 50/10. It’s 50 minutes of concentrated work and then 10 minutes off. I just find that that works better than the traditional shorter period. So it’s a very simple technique to keep yourself motivated and on track.
I think for me, I know when I get into a task sometimes I’ll just keep going and going and going until my head hurts, and then when you come out of that it’s actually, you don’t feel good.
You may have completed the task but I think those intense times of maybe you do a couple of hours of mad concentration is not healthy.
So I think even from the point of view of not wrecking our own head, maybe splitting it into seconds and forcing yourself to take breaks is kind of a good thing, too.
Yeah, and I think it helps in your planning. You can assess how long something’s going to take and break it down, chunk it down into smaller elements so that it’s much easier to tackle.
Say when I’m writing a blog post, I will flesh it out in a skeleton form first of all. I’ll probably do the conclusion first in sketched form and then the body in five parts.
Then I roughly know how long it’s going to take me to write the content and then find the images and those sorts of things. So it does help in the planning if you know you’re going to have that 50 minutes concentrated work.
In 50 minutes, you’re going to go over it or you’re going to go under it. It doesn’t really matter, it’s having the framework to hang everything on.
Yeah. I want to get one of those tomato timers now.
Yeah, well you can always use an app on your phone.
I have an app. I have an app. I’m liking the idea of having a real thing.
Yeah, I’ve got a really old one, it’s just a green thing, but it’s fine.
Now, number three, if I’ll move on to number three, is the dreaded email.
Now, I’m not going to encourage everybody to unsubscribe to every single newsletter that they’ve signed up to because obviously email marketing for a lot of people is not only a very good way of gaining work, but it’s also a good way of learning new things.
But it’s how we manage our email inbox that is so important.
Say you’ve gotten into the habit of having your phone on your desk, your iPad on your desk and then your Outlook up there, or Gmail, and I’ve got all the notifications coming through. Every time you get a notification you are distracted.
Okay, notifications generally, I’m just going to say, is it a good idea just to switch them off?
I switch them off. There are the odd rogue ones that seem to come through at odd times, but in the main I switch them off.
I actually hide me phone. I hide my phone from myself. It’s behind me so I can’t see notifications. I do find them handy on my phone that … I don’t do email on my phone because that would be a nightmare, but on Twitter, for example, I can see without having to open the Twitter app and get lost, if there’s a notification that came in, is it something I actually need to address. So I find them helpful for that. I never have them on my desktop. I just don’t understand why you’d do that.
Amanda Brown:'Setting a precedent with a new client that you are on tap all day every day is very draining.' @amanda_brownClick To Tweet
Yeah, I tend to close the … I mean, there’s all sorts of ways of blocking certain websites for a certain length of time. I don’t go to that extreme, I have to say.
I think just recognizing the fact that some businesses you’re going to need to be on email a lot because it’s your bread and butter.
I’m not suggesting that anybody who really needs their eCommerce and needs to react to an order, I’m not suggesting that they should not look at their emails, not at all. But for say, as HR consultant who, obviously if there’s a crisis then their client is going to phone them for advice, but in the main somebody who is a consultant does not need to have all the notifications on their email going all day every day.
Setting a precedent with a new client that you are on tap all day every day is very draining.
If a client expects, because you’ve set the precedent, that you answer emails within say, 15 minutes … We all want to be helpful, we all want to show that we’re efficient, but actually it’s subconsciously setting a precedent that you haven’t set your boundaries.
And in fact, I wouldn’t expect somebody, unless it’s really urgent, to come back to me immediately. It’s just unrealistic, and that can put like to stress on you.
And we know that stress is one of the key factors in people burning out. It’s a key factor in ill health. It undermines your immune system and in serious cases it can lead to depression.
So, I really do think that managing these things … This is not a fluffy subject. This is a serious subject because these distractions are actually making changes within our brain. Research shows that our ability to concentrate has dropped dramatically over the last 10, 20 years.
And I think we feel like we’re getting away with it with email because things like social media we go, “Oh, well, I shouldn’t be using that and I shouldn’t be on there.” But email we feel like, “Well, that’s business so you can look at that.” So we almost make an excuse for ourselves that we’re allowed to look at our emails. I think that’s part of the problem.
Yeah, and definitely we get then caught by looking, oh my goodness, such-and-such a person that you follow has sent an email with a link to a video and off you’ve gone down another rabbit hole. This is difficult. It isn’t easy, so doing it bit by bit is really important.
Making changes, small changes that almost infinitesimal, it will build on one another. So maybe attach your … Say you do your social media review in the morning, just look at your email before or after that and then put that to one side before moving on to what I call real work.
Do you have a recommendation about how often … Like I so email three times a day. I do it in the money, like everyone, I do it around lunchtime and then I do it in the evening. Do you have a recommendation for how many times, or should you have a schedule like that, is that the best way to go?
I think having a schedule is a good idea, but I think it will depend on your business, so I wouldn’t be as prescriptive to say a specific number, but say you are continually checking your email, even to go from doing that on a random basis to maybe saying five times a day will be an improvement, and then work towards four times a day.
But it’s very personal. It very much depends on the sort of business, and maybe if you’re going through a launch you’re going to be fixed to your email rather a lot, so not only is it the type of business, but it’s in the cycle of the products and services that you’re selling.
You could have them filtered by somebody else. That’s an option if you have the resources.
Well, we’re moving on to number four, which is the lovely social media, which of course, I frankly have built a lot of my business surrounding aspects of social media and I really enjoy it, I have to say. It’s got its pros and cons, like every single invention that mankind has come up with, it’s for good and for evil, so most of the time … That’s a very philosophical discussion for another time, but seriously, social media is fun.
It’s also a drain on time, and I think that there’s a lot of advice out there which we should take seriously, about getting caught up in discussions, getting caught up in answering everything, being super helpful on social media because it makes you stand out as an expert, but you and I both know that it is a very time-consuming role managing, say, a Facebook group, for instance.
We both manage … you manage more than one Facebook group …
Not for long. Don’t tell anyone, but not for long.
Ooh, exciting news. And I manage the Homepreneur community and it takes thought and it takes effort. You don’t want to always be the person hosting first. You want to encourage other members of your group to participate and feel free to interact with the other members, so it does take planning and time.
What I’m talking about here is not the social media that we do to run our businesses, but it’s the social media usage that we do for fun.
Now, if you’ve got all the time in the world then I’m not going to tell you how to use your time. That’s absolutely fine. Everyone’s got free will to do whatever they like, but in terms of somebody who is really busy and trying to save time, then looking at your social media, your audit will have told you how much time you’re spending on social media, and it is eye-watering.
The statistics are just … are huge. It’s hours and hours a day. Three hours a day, some research shows. I think the research is quite flaky. I think you can take a lot of it with a pinch of salt, but it’s certainly, in cumulative terms, it is taking up a lot of time.
When you add in all the different platforms, I’m a great fan of WhatsApp and Messenger. Well, that’s communication, that’s social media, too. Then all the YouTube videos I might watch. If I fix anything I’m going to YouTube first to find out “How do I …” whatever it is. So, examining your social media usage is an important thing to do.
I think actually the … I don’t know if you’re an iPhone user, but iPhone in the last update introduced this Screen Time, and it will tell you every week how much time per day you spent online, and then you can go in and you can see which apps took up the most time.
Obviously social media is always top of that. I think that’s really helpful because actually even just getting that report makes you go okay … and this is only for mobile. It’s not including what I’m doing on the desktop.
It does make you go, “Well actually, I need to cut that down,” and I find that I am cutting it down as a result of getting that report, so I found that really helpful.
Yeah, I think that’s a good idea and it’s good that some of these phone companies are actually taking some minor responsibility for reporting our usage.
Now, it is very difficult to … It takes discipline, and we all know that human beings are not so good at the discipline thing. I think just merely recognizing what you’re doing is going to help a lot. I think leaving your phone at home when you don’t need to take it out is-
Yeah. I go to choir and I leave my phone at home. I don’t need it.
I did it accidentally twice recently, and the first time all I was worried about is because you become so used to relying on phones for when you’re meeting people, was that what if I got to the place where I was meeting my friend and she wasn’t there? What was I going to do?
Well, that’s true, but I was going to a choir rehearsal where I was going to sing for two and a half hours. I don’t need my phone so I just leave it at home. People are still using their phones in their cars. If you cannot keep away from a phone in the car, just throw it into the boot. Just put it in the boot. You don’t need it right next to you. I did survive for many years without a mobile.
Yeah I know, we used to.
But the thing is, unless you’ve prepped someone in advance that you’re not going to have your phone, which was that situation, I just forgot it, it is kind of like … Because if you told them, “I’m not going to have my phone,” you’d be looking out for each other, but there is that expectation there. So actually, that is something you could do. You say, “I’m not going to have my phone with me,” when you go somewhere. People have to just watch out. I’m going to be there, that’s it.
You know, if you’ve got family then being able to put your phone away at mealtimes, and maybe when you’re watching TV you don’t need to be on your phone, as well.
It just means that we’re multi-screening. We know that this is … despite research saying it doesn’t damage us, it doesn’t damage children to have technology, which is a report that came out recently, it reduces, or it changes the nature of our communications. I wouldn’t be without it completely. I’m not saying that at all, but recognizing how long you’re spending on social is really important.
So, that was number four. So far we’ve done number one, a time audit; number two, the Pomodoro technique; number three, manage your email. I’ve got some good training on email inbox management.
Number four was social media. Really thinking about the platforms that you’re using, how long you’re spending on them.
Then the last one is a bit strange. The last one is called contingency. Now, what do you mean by that, Amanda?
Amanda Brown:'We're not really very good at estimating how long things are going to take, and this planning fallacy means that we're always optimistic. As human beings, we have an optimism bias.' @amanda_brownClick To Tweet
Once again, I did a lot of research about planning fallacy. I don’t know if you’ve looked at statistics on how long it took to build something like the Sydney Opera House or the Shard or all these big projects. They all had massive budgets, they all had huge long time scales, and very clever people hopefully planning and project-managing these huge infrastructure projects. And in essence the majority of them go over time and over budget. So, this is called planning fallacy.
How does this relate to us as individuals? In fact, we’re not really very good at estimating how long things are going to take, and this planning fallacy means that we’re always optimistic. As human beings, we have an optimism bias.
If you’ve ever done a business plan, most people will overestimate their revenue and underestimate their costs, and you can see that that can be really serious when you’re trying to plan for the future. Equally, when it comes to managing your time we tend to underestimate how long something is going to take. So we tend to have optimism bias. “Oh, this is only going to take us X amount of time.”
So you’re saying the reason I never finished my to-do list is because I’m optimistic? I like that.
Yeah, you are optimistic. You’re going to pack all that stuff into a Monday morning and get it all done. Yeah, that’s another topic for another day.
In fact, the traditional to-do list is pretty unhelpful because it doesn’t put a priority on things necessarily, and it doesn’t put a length of time you do estimate how long that task is going to take. And we get better at this estimation of how long things are going to take as we do them more frequently.
Now, clearly if you’re an osteopath or you have … it’s set by the time that it takes to deal with the patient. It’s very much a formula. You see a patient for three quarters of an hour and then there’s a 10-minute break in between two patients. So, that is determined by the nature of the role.
For a lot of people whose work is more flexible or if you’re working on a project basis, knowing how long something is going to take can be really, really difficult.
So always add in a contingency, like all those programs we see where people are building all these grand designs, where people are building these amazing homes and it always takes much longer than planned. And I mean, significantly longer and usually costs twice as much as they had budgeted.
I mean, it wouldn’t make for good television if everybody was on time and in budget, but it’s a miracle how they always seem to pick projects that are significantly way out of kilter. So, having a contingency, I think is really important because this helps reduce your stress levels.
Okay, so how would that look, then, if you was to put that in my contingency. Say, at 10:00 AM I am recording a podcast with Amanda Brown. Where’s my contingency there?
Well, your contingency would be I have got to examine the risk that the tech might fail. Like we had on a call the other day, where we just could not get Skype to work on my computer, so we overran because actually the tech failed.
But that’s quite a simple example. Say you were working on a project with two or three other people and you were waiting for somebody to send you data so you could move onto the next part of your involvement in a project, if they were late.
The knock-on effect on your ability to continue starts to make this project spiral out of control. So, there’s less impact where you run over if it’s just you working on something.
When you start to add in other people it can become quite a serious thing. So always thinking about … any forecasting should never be a forecast of one number.
There should always be a high number and a low number, because otherwise it’s unrealistic. We’ve seen time and time again, even those really big companies can’t get this right.
So, I would add in at least 10%, particularly when it comes to writing. Writing really is a drain and I usually underestimate how long it’s going to take me to say, write an article or write a report.
It’s the writing that takes the time, and the finishing off of things like PowerPoint presentations because you’re lining everything up, you’re making sure all the font sizes are the same, making sure that you’ve got all the footers correct.
Those sorts of this, that can be really, really time consuming, particularly on things that you don’t do as part of your routine. It’s really the one-off things or the new projects where a contingency is really useful.
Okay, that’s good to know. So that’s our five tips. We had a time audit, we had the Pomodoro technique, and I’m totally buying a tomato now; email marketing … or no, sorry, just email, not email marketing, social media, and having a contingency, I’m going to call it a time budget contingency.
That’s five things we can do straight away now to make our productivity better. Tell me more about you, Amanda. Where can I find out more about you and the course? Tell me more about the course.
The Homepreneur Course, the productivity course, is a nine-module course which helps coaches, consultants, freelancers, trainers, save 10 hours a week by going through a series of exercises, that’s worksheets and templates, checklists that you can go through to really look at how to either save that 10 hours to switch from non-revenue-generating to revenue-generating work, or really to get control of your work/life balance.
Because as I see, there are a lot of people particularly with children who are really burning the candle at both ends, working all hours and not switching off when it comes to family time.
About Amanda Brown
Amanda is a business consultant and founder of Homepreneur, a blog, course, podcast, resource guide and community helping you benefit from her experience of the past 20 years of working from her home office.
The new Homepreneur Productivity Course teaches you how to save 10 hours a week, increase revenue and gain control over your work-life balance.