When are you most productive? When are you most creative? If you haven’t asked yourself these questions, you’re probably giving away your most valuable time to things that aren’t your top priorities.

When I became an entrepreneur, I had to learn to maximize my time. I found that I was most creative in the early mornings. Before my kids were up, before the demands of the day started, that is when I could work on the website or create a marketing piece.  I learned that I was most productive after breakfast and my kids were out the door. That is when I could respond to emails, make a sales call or return phone calls.  I didn’t learn this the easy way, and I didn’t come to understand it based on the idea of just make a list, decide what you want to get done and then do it.

Actually, it was after days or sometimes even weeks of NOT accomplishing what I needed to do and feeling completely frustrated that I realized I wasn’t using my time correctly. If I let my creative window pass but still had a creative project on my “to do” list, I found myself walking in circles accomplishing nothing. Or, even worse, I found myself producing something that was far from my best work. It took me a bit of time to learn the difference between being creative and being productive and how to use my time accordingly.

Once I understood how my brain worked best and when, I learned to “time block.”  I looked at what needed to get done each day and then I “time blocked” those activities into my calendar. If I didn’t use my 9am to 11am time slot to “check off all the boxes,” it seemed like what should take less than 2 hours of concentrated effort now lingered around all day long. I found that if I didn’t use my “creative time block” from 5am to 7am to get writing done or things that needed me to have a creative edge, I couldn’t efficiently get those things done. What should be enjoyable became overcomplicated and exhausting.  Once I started really honing in on this practice, I got very focused on using my time properly. I didn’t want to be frustrated or inefficient any longer. I am still highly dedicated to the time blocks I place on my calendar.

Did I like getting up before 5am to start working? Not necessarily! But I did like feeling accomplished the rest of the day. It took some time to train myself, but what felt like a small “sleep sacrifice” to me also felt like a huge productivity gain. Did I get it right every day? What about when the kids were sick or something unexpected popped onto my schedule?  Most days I did get it “right,” but plenty of days I had to be flexible.  I use that word hesitantly; flexible doesn’t mean “wishy washy.” It means I wasn’t derailed by something unexpected. It means that I didn’t let unnecessary things come onto my plate. I was flexible only when it aligned with my priorities. Girls shopping trip? Tempting, but that was a “no thank you.” Daughter got stabbed below the eye in kindergarten, that was a hard “yes, I’m on my way!” (True story for another day!)

This doesn’t just apply to business scenarios, this is how I use my time for all areas of my life. Here’s an example: family dinner is a top priority for me every day. It’s very rare that we miss our evening meal together. All of us! Here’s what I’ve learned, if I don’t “meal prep” from 2pm to 3pm each day, we end up eating on the go or in a hurry at a restaurant vs a calm meal at home. There are evenings that eating out is all the schedule will allow when trying to coordinate around everyone’s evening activities, but most days, with proper planning, I can get a home cooked meal on the table (and by “I”, read Mike). So here’s how this looks: at 2pm or 2:15pm each day, I look at everyone’s evening obligations. Based on the times, I find a window that we can all come together, then I decide what we’re having, shop for it if I need to, let the family know and set Mike B. up to prepare it!!  (Don’t feel sorry for the man, he loves it. Or should I say, he wants to enjoy the meal and he has a better chance if he’s the one who prepares it!)

One school year I had very poor planning for my daughter’s Wednesday activities. I found that the only way we could get her from dance to tennis to church was if I did a drive thru for dinner and met the rest of the family at church. I’m still not sure why I didn’t change just her tennis lesson, but for one full school year, we ate dinner as a family on Wednesday nights in the church parking lot! The same meal every Wednesday (it was Chick-fil-A… no one was complaining)!  Was this the perfect scenario, no.  Was dinner in the parking lot enjoyable, not usually! I considered “cancelling” Wednesday night dinners and letting each child manage their own dinner, but that felt like a slippery slope to me. I needed that time each day to catch up with my kiddos. It wasn’t ideal but it worked.

When I coach other women, they will ask me to share my calendar with them so they can see how I schedule my time blocks. I’m glad to share it, but it doesn’t really help them because they aren’t wired like me. If you have a hard time being creative before checking off the “to do” list, then you wouldn’t be effective by my schedule.  If you aren’t willing to train yourself to be a morning person, my schedule would feel daunting to you.  In order to be “creative” and “productive” it has to work for you, it can’t be me telling you what you need to do… except that you need to figure it out! Because when you figure it out, your entire day will get better. Your sense of accomplishment each day will drive you to get out of bed again tomorrow. AND, you will find that every sacrifice you feel like you are making leads to a greater reward, and that will bring you closer to living your best life. We all say that’s what we want, but are we willing to work for it? When you do, you will love it.

If you want a glimpse into how I do this or a “road map” to help you get started, check out my Workflow Worksheet. If you are the most productive person you know, and somehow I just know that you are , share this goodness with someone who really needs it!!

Alright friend, ask yourself the tough questions, do the necessary things to make your time productive and share in the comments how you are working in your creative space and productive time blocks effectively.  Can’t wait to hear from you, we’ll chat real soon!

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