3. They use organizational tools to stay on track.
Jeanette Thwing, author of the blog J’s Everyday Fashion, uses a calendar to manage her projects and pencils in free time and vacations “to keep myself recharged.”
Gentile, who’s also author of the digital guide The Art of Earning: Because Making Money Should Be Beautiful, uses her calendar “to plot out goals and ‘in progress’ tasks.”
On a side note, when setting deadlines, Gentile purposely leaves herself less time. “I always offer up deadlines that seem just a little crazy to keep me from being tentative about the work I want to accomplish.”
4. They batch similar tasks.
Thwing, also a freelance writer and stylist, devotes one day to running errands and attending meetings and another day to taking photos for her blog.
McGraw also focuses her attention on a set of similar tasks: blog posts, business correspondence and then email. “By doing a single task for a stretch of time, I feel more focused.”
5. They delegate.
Jess Constable, the designer and founder of Jess LC and author of the blog Makeunder My Life (MML), credits a lot of her productivity to having extra help. “I have an assistant who makes the Jess LC jewelry orders and two interns who swap days working as managers for Jess LC.”
Gentile also delegates everything she can. She has a “virtual business manager that takes care of scheduling, correspondence and administrative tasks, so that I can concentrate on what I’m good at.” In fact, Gentile said that “most of my stress and just about all of the flubs in my business come from me doing things I’m not skilled at even if they seem straightforward.”
6. They work long hours.
McGraw gets asked all the time how she does it all. And her answer is simple: “I just never stop working.” She gets to her day job by 7:30 a.m. During breaks, she “squeeze[s] in writing and commenting on blogs, answering correspondence and other business tasks.” She leaves the office at 4:30 p.m. and breaks for dinner. After 6 p.m., she usually works two to five hours on her blog. (While she tries to keep her weekends relatively work-free, she still puts in at least three hours of writing.)
Thwing works 10 hours a day, six days a week, writing articles, answering emails and attending meetings. She breaks for dinner and exercise, “but then it’s right back to the computer for me!”
To many people this might sound grueling and overwhelming. But it depends on your style. McGraw described herself as an “inertia worker.” If she has too little to do, she doesn’t do anything, she said. “But when I’ve got loads of balls in the air, I’m energized and productive and happy…I love feeling busy, planning my next moves, knowing that I’m working toward a worthy end goal.”
7. They make time for what’s important.
Several of these entrepreneurs also juggle motherhood. But they make it work. For instance, during the workday, Gentile makes sure to check in with her toddler, Lola. (As her daughter gets older, Gentile does find it harder to get back to work because Lola misses her.) At around 4:30 p.m., Gentile wraps up work and makes dinner. She spends the rest of the evening with Lola until it’s her bedtime.
8. They tackle their most inspiring tasks first.
“I give myself permission to tackle my to-do list in the order that most inspires me,” Bowman said. Because she doesn’t accomplish her entire list anyway, she said, working on the projects that inspire her minimizes procrastination.
9. They build in boundaries.
Unless it’s work-related, Bowman, who has caller ID, doesn’t answer calls during her work hours. “Seriously — I let my mother’s calls go to voicemail.”
She does the same thing with email. She answers pressing emails but usually leaves about 30 emails unread each day. This means that Bowman wastes very little time during her workday.
Constable stopped checking email altogether on nights and weekends, because it proved so draining. “Now that I’ve set my email boundaries, I look forward to going to work in the morning and I can’t wait to see what’s new.”
10. They limit social media.
Social media can become a black hole for productivity. If you let it, a few minutes can turn into hours on sites like Twitter and Facebook. But when it’s your job to field questions and your passion to connect with readers, it’s tough to stop.
The key seems to be using social media mindfully and logging off when you’re working on something else. Bowman, for instance, doesn’t stay on social media sites for hours. She checks in and then shuts them down.
Thwing forces herself to “complete a task (or three) before checking those websites because switching back and forth can be a huge time-waster.”
11. They plan around busy times.
Inevitably, there are times when you’re scrambling to finish work — or have little on your plate. When Bowman needs to work evenings and weekends, she makes sure that her “husband knows that these periods are coming up so he can step up with parenting.” To make the most of her time during more relaxed days, she does fun things with her family.
12. They know their limits.
According to Gentile, “I’m very aware of where I’m at in my productivity cycle and I let it guide planning decisions, trying not to agree to responsibilities that fall into a rest period.”
As she put it, she works in “6-week bursts of craziness.” After a burst, she takes a break, whether that’s a few days off or a few weeks. (She does take off weekends and stops working Friday afternoons.)
Overcoming Common Obstacles
Like everyone else, these entrepreneurs also face challenges. Below, they spill their snags and stumbling blocks and how they overcome them.
Wanting to say yes to everything.
Gentile calls this the “shiny object syndrome.” She can get easily distracted with all the amazing opportunities coming her way. Her solution? She checks her calendar and “Instead of just saying ‘no,’ I can often say, ‘How about 6 weeks from now?’” Still, she does decline some projects in order to stay on track.
Bowman also wants “to accomplish more than what is humanly possible.” As a bestselling ghostwriter and co-author, she’s constantly getting offers. However, she’s learned to accept projects that are only a good fit both for her and the author. Plus, the perk of being inspired is being especially productive. For instance, she just wrote a 75,000-word book (Be Fearless, due in the spring) in about two and a half months. “I was able to do it because I loved the author and the subject matter, so it just flowed out of me.”
Working from home.
While working from home can be a luxury, the distractions also are dizzying. For instance, when Bowman’s family is around, she finds it especially hard to write. If she’s on deadline, “it can truly be a recipe for family discord.” Snapping at her daughter only makes Bowman feel guilty, which takes more time away from work.
Of course, there are tons of other distractions like a dirty house or piles of laundry. When Constable feels unfocused at home, she heads to a coffee shop or bistro.
Waiting on others.
Even though entrepreneurs work solo, there are many times you’ll have to depend on others to accomplish projects. And this can try your patience and become a time-waster.
Constable is currently working with local manufacturers to launch her products this fall, a process that involves many variables. She’s learned to become more patient and use delays to her advantage: “I can take that time to connect more with customers and bloggers via Twitter, blogging or focusing my energy on MML.”
To make the most of her time, Gentile keeps a list of tasks that need to be done but “that take very little time or energy. Those tasks get completed in those moments between bursts of productivity when I’m about to say, ‘Now what?’”
Running out of time.
How often have you said that there just isn’t enough time in the day? “I often wish that there were more hours in the day, that I could read and process blogs quicker, that my posts would mate and procreate on their own,” McGraw said. She overcomes this obstacle by “working ahead as much as possible.”
Ultimately, productivity is a personal thing. Take the tips that work best for you, and leave the rest.