Avoiding Disaster: 7 Tips To Plan Your Day As An Entrepreneur
As an entrepreneur, you’re a natural go-getter. The traditional rules of the 9-5 don’t apply to you. You’re more of a creative free spirit than a cog in the machine. While this is exciting, you also know that life as an entrepreneur gets hectic.
Every day, it can feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions. Maybe you thrive off this chaotic energy–it might be what brought you to entrepreneurship in the first place. But if you’re not careful, you’ll fall victim to early burnout like so many others before you.
As humans, we’re only meant to withstand so much pressure before giving out from exhaustion. No one wants that, especially when you know the level of impact you could be making.
In this post, we’ll dive into 7 ways you can successfully organize your day so you avoid burnout and excess stress.
Tip #1: Establish a Routine
When you first became an entrepreneur, the opportunity to create your own schedule was probably appealing. However, taken to an extreme, this flexibility can get you into trouble.
Studies consistently show that a daily routine facilitates a stronger and more peaceful mind.
Some of the benefits of a routine include:
- Lower stress levels
- Better sleep
- Greater ability to focus
But that’s not all.
Implementing a daily routine makes it easier to create boundaries in your business. It allows you to lead a healthier life physically, for example, if you set aside time specifically to exercise and prepare meals.
How do you go about creating a routine?
This is a question that worries entrepreneurs. “I already have too much on my plate,” they say. “I can’t afford to spend more time creating a routine.”
Well fine, but you know what you really can’t afford? Burning out or having panic attacks from all the stress you’re under. Plus, think of all the time you’ll save in the long run by taking a few minutes to iron this out.
The best way to create a routine is to start in small steps. For example, you might pick a set time when you wake up and go to bed each day. Commit to this for a week and simply observe your results. I guarantee that you’ll notice significant improvements in the way you feel during the day.
And if you still don’t know where to start, at least master your morning routine. Everyone has different morning rituals, but my opinion is that the first hour of your day should be protected at all costs. It’s your chance to check in with yourself before the world starts hitting you from every direction.
I like to meditate, get my heart rate going with light exercise, and read a few pages to stimulate my mind–all before I even check my phone. This time acts as my anchor for the rest of the day.
Again, everyone’s mornings look different. Tim Cook and Mark Wahlberg rise at the crack of dawn before 4 am, Richard Branson spends quality time with his family, and Kate Hudson dives headfirst into an ice bath (good luck with that one!)
There’s no one right way to win the morning, but the key is to figure out what works best for you and consistently stick to it.
Tip #2: Plan Your Day the Night Before
The most successful entrepreneurs are relentlessly organized, and the best way to stay organized is to plan your days in advance.
I know way too many entrepreneurs who wake up and immediately go into panic mode. They’re already behind the 8 ball because they have no idea what the coming day will bring.
This is a 100% losing strategy. Why in the world would you do that to yourself?
Instead, plan your day the night before. Identify the top goals you aim to achieve the next day so you can hone your focus.
“But a million other things pop up every day that I wasn’t expecting!” you might say. My response: BOO HOO! You have to learn to deal with it. The unexpected is a natural part of anyone’s life, let alone the lives of entrepreneurs.
However, if you build out a schedule the night before (and leave some room for the unexpected), then you’ll be able to approach your tasks with more calmness, patience, and confidence.
Even though it’s one of the most overused cliches of all time, Ben Franklin had it right: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Another recommendation is to conquer your 3 most difficult tasks first thing in the morning. This is when your mind is most alert to solve those challenging problems, and completing them gives you tons of confidence.
As Mark Twain said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” (Note: please don’t email me saying that you actually started eating live frogs and were dissatisfied. I can only hope we’re less gullible than that…)
By completing those challenging tasks early, you know that nothing will be harder than that throughout the day–unless, of course, an Oscars-style fight breaks out at the office (too soon?)
Tip #3: Batch Activities
Another challenge that many entrepreneurs face is narrowing their attention. I know you’re faced with a ton of tasks every day. But constant multitasking is NOT the answer. It sucks all of your attention and is a recipe for failure.
Instead, consider the art of batching–a phrase most used by Tim Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Work Week. Batching is when you gather similar tasks and complete them all at once.
For example, you could “batch” all your email responses. What this means is that you might take two 30-45 minute windows during the day to focus exclusively on reading and answering emails.
WAY too many entrepreneurs check their email all day long. This prevents you from getting into a state of flow for the more important creative tasks.
The power of ONE is a real phenomenon. Our brains are incredible machines, yes, but they’re not designed to focus on more than one thing at once. In fact, they can’t. Trying to do that is like trying to run in quicksand–you’re just going to sink deeper.
There are other techniques you can use to maintain focus. Here are two:
- Pomodoro Technique
- Invented by an innovative Italian, this is a time management method based on 25 minutes of focused work followed by 3-5 minute breaks and 10-15 minute breaks every half hour. Splitting your tasks up like this makes it much more manageable to focus for shorter periods of time and then reward yourself with a quick mindless break.
- 52-17 Rule
- Similar to Pomodoro, this technique’s name gives it away. Instead of 25-minute blocks, you complete longer 52 minutes of work followed by longer 17-minute breaks.
Both of these techniques are backed by science and help you avoid the dangerous trap of multitasking.
The trick is to try them both and figure out which one is best suited to your working style–only you can answer that question.
Tip #4: Delegate, Delegate, Delegate!
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you value independence and have little desire to rely on other people.
This is a trait that serves you well in your life and in your business. But like anything, it can be detrimental if taken to the extreme.
You might think you need to be a “white knight” for your business–always doing everything by yourself and trying to save the day alone.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret: this is NOT a sign of strength! Turns out that it’s incredibly stupid and nothing but pure ego to take on everything solo. You’ll simply burn out before you really get going. And for what? So you can impress your “friends” at the bar with how much you juggle. Drop the ego. Trust me, both you and your business will be better off for it.
Letting go of the need to do everything yourself is one of the most important stages of growth for an entrepreneur.
The solution is to create a training framework for all positions. You can even train people by yourself at first if you’d like. But once you’ve trained someone in a given skill, you must give them a chance to show you what they can do. If you’re hiring the right people, I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
As a human being, your attention is limited. As the old saying goes, “jack of all trades, master of none.” Unfortunately, this is where many highly skilled entrepreneurs end up. They think that they can balance everything by themselves. Let me save you the experiment: you can’t!
Delegating responsibly allows you to focus on the essential needle-movers of your business. And that’s where the money is made.
Tip #5: Write When You’re Stressed
The mind is a tricky beast. It can send you down a rabbit hole of negative thoughts, especially when you’re stressed and overwhelmed.
Sometimes it has you focusing on bad things that happened in the past while other times it has you worrying about a potentially disastrous future.
Both are unhelpful because they remove you from where you are now. When you’re experiencing these thoughts, keep this phrase in mind: “Fear has no place on paper.”
The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, I want you to try something: take a few moments to write exactly what you’re feeling and thinking on paper. This allows you to escape the confines of your own mind and see what’s really going on.
From this exercise, you’re able to get to the root cause of your stress. Then you can deal with it from the source rather than let your mind spin out of control.
Many people think they need to be Hemingway-level writers for this exercise to be useful. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Think of your mind like the oil tank in your car (with somewhat healthier materials). If you let the oil build up for too long without emptying it, your whole car malfunctions.
The same holds true for your mind. Allowing anxious thoughts to build up without letting them out keeps you from ever reaching your full potential.
Tip #6: Learn to Say No
Who better to lead off this section than Warren Buffett himself? Here’s what he has to say:
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
Powerful words from the world’s great investor, but why the heck is it so important?
Well, unfortunately our culture has also glorified “yes.” For some reason, the people who (try to) juggle the most are often labeled the most “successful.”
“How are they able to do all of that??” we ask as they silently (or not so silently) congratulate themselves.
Here’s another secret: they CAN’T do all that stuff! No one can. And even if they are juggling a million things, their attention is so fragmented that it’s nearly impossible to do all of those tasks well.
The answer? Learn how to say NO! You should only say “yes” to the opportunities that will certainly drive your business forward. This usually comes down to 1 or maybe 2 things at most.
The problem is that many entrepreneurs are addicted to chasing the next best thing. We call this “shiny object syndrome.” But being a ruthless time warrior is actually a far more effective use of your energy.
I know a lot of you have hang-ups about being people pleasers. “I want everyone to like me!”
Well, tough S@&%! Turns out you actually have very little control over whether people like you. They’re so wrapped up in their own minds that they’re usually not even responding to you anyway. They’re just reacting to their own patterns.
If an opportunity comes your way that you know isn’t the best fit, let the person down gently, thank them for the opportunity, and say that you hope you can work together in the future. BOOM, that’s it. That’s all it takes.
And if they don’t respect that? Well, they’re probably not someone you want to like you anyway.
Want to truly get ahead in business and stay sane doing it? Become an expert at saying “NO”!
Tip #7: Manage Interruptions
The final tip on how to plan your day is to manage interruptions. A common theme in this post has been the importance of focus.
Here’s a promise: as an entrepreneur, you WILL be pulled in a million directions. You WILL have to manage crises as they crop up. This is a given side effect of the life you’ve chosen.
In order to navigate it successfully, you have to manage interruptions. You need dedicated blocks of time when you can work uninterrupted and get into that magical state of flow.
Now, some interruptions are inevitable. If you’re working from home and your baby starts crying, that’s probably something you need to prioritize.
But I’m talking about the interruptions you can control–like the never-ending “ding” of notifications on your phone.
You NEED to master your relationship with your devices, there’s no way around it. If you’re one of the billions of people who can’t stop checking their phones all day long, then you need to figure it out.
Remember the story of Odysseus and the Sirens? Odysseus knew that he was powerless to resist the Sirens’ calls. So he literally had a buddy tie him to the mast. He forced his own hand because he knew the limits of his willpower.
If you’re someone who constantly gets interrupted (especially by your devices), then you need to (metaphorically) tie yourself to the mast. Put your phone in a completely different room if you have to while you’re working deeply.
No shame in that–these devices are addicting by design! Know thyself, get your distractions under control, and seize the f*%&@# day!
“In the case of cabin pressure emergency, put on your own mask before assisting others.” Every flight begins with these words. Now, why am I including this random instruction here?
Because it’s also an important metaphor for entrepreneurship. In order to truly serve others through your business, you need to take care of yourself first.
As an entrepreneur, it’s tempting to get caught up in “always being on.” The lack of boundaries between work and personal life can make it difficult to transition from one to the other.
But in order to be a successful entrepreneur in the long run, you must take care of yourself. Spend time with your loved ones, pick up a hobby just for fun, and plan out your day effectively to minimize stress. These investments in your most important asset (yourself) will always pay the biggest dividends.