The Ultimate Productivity Guide for Solopreneurs

Today I don’t feel like doing anything.

I just want to lay in my bed.

Don’t feel like picking up my phone so leave a message at the tone.

Cause today I swear I’m not doing anything, nothing at all!

Have these famous words from Bruno Mars’ hit song “The Lazy Song” been ringing in your ears more often than they should? The pressure of being a solopreneur can take the passion out of what you do. You love the flexibility of working from home and living life on your own terms. However, the stress of finding and maintaining clients, tracking finances, paying taxes and just trying to keep sane often causes you to throw your hands up in the air and say, “Screw this!” 

I have a secret to share with you. It’s possible to be productive, even on the days when all you want to do is live each line of The Lazy Song. Here’s how. 

What Does Productivity Look Like For A Solopreneur?

No two people are the same. Similarly, productivity does not look the same for everyone. A broad definition of productivity is that it’s the process of getting things done. You double down and push procrastination aside. How this is done differs from one person to the next.

One person may need to stick to a strict schedule and start projects weeks in advance. Another person may work better taking 15 to 30 minute breaks. There are even people who work best under pressure. The trick is understanding your preferred work style and adjusting it to create your own productivity equation. 

Productivity (in Hours) = (Time x Project Value Coefficient) – Relaxation Hours

P=(Tk)-R

Plugging the T, k and W values into the equation provides a rough estimate of the amount of time that you will need to spend on your list of projects. It isn’t a perfect value but it at least gives you a better idea of how to structure your days so that you can be productive. 

Time (T)

William Penn once said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” A project deadline that is weeks away may paint a false image of the actual time needed to produce your best work. Don’t become a victim to the trap. Think carefully about the amount of work required and break it down into subtasks. Write the amount of time needed for each subtask and sum these values to get a total value for T.

Project Value Coefficient (k)

You probably have multiple projects to complete simultaneously. Arrange them according to deadlines and then give them a rank. Projects with the closest deadlines should get the highest values and vice versa. For instance, let’s say you have five upcoming projects with the following deadlines:

Project 1- December 1

Project 2- November 15

Project 3- November 30

Project 4- December 10

Project 5- December 6

This is how the projects would be ranked:

Project 2- November 15- Rank 5

Project 3- November 30- Rank 4

Project 1- December 1- Rank 3

Project 5- December 6- Rank 2

Project4- December 10-  Rank 1

The ranks would be the values for the coefficients.

Relaxation Hours (R)

You’re not a robot; you’ll need some time to relax and unwind. Estimate the amount of time that you will need to relax on a project by project basis. This number will vary depending on the intensity of the project. Only you can know this value based on how you work.

How Does Stress Impact Productivity?

There are two types of stress and each impacts productivity differently. Eustress, also called good stress, has the following characteristics:

  1. Short lived
  2. Energizes and motivates
  3. Something that you can cope with
  4. Brings a rush of excitement
  5. Increases focus and performance

This is the type of stress that you want to experience. Let’s put it into context. You have a deadline approaching and you haven’t begun the project. Eustress is about recognizing that you’re going to be pressured to get the work done but motivating yourself to get the adrenaline rush to pull through. You respond with excitement rather than fear and anxiety, thus improving your productivity.

Distress, on the other hand, is bad stress that can seriously impede your ability to focus and negatively impact your health. It’s often associated with boredom, apathy, burnout, anxiety, heart disease, elevated blood pressure, depression and a suppressed immune system. You signal to your brain that you can’t cope and then things start falling apart. You may finish the project on time but your work may either be substandard or not what you know it could have been. 

This graph from Positive Psychology sums it up nicely. 

Stress is a natural part of life and you have the power to determine whether it’s eustress or distress. Here are some strategies that you can use to reframe stress so that you can be more productive.

Know When and How You Work Best

One of our biggest challenges is that we don’t understand our work styles. What works for you may not necessarily work for someone else. Hive eloquently describes four productivity styles and it’s important for you to read the article so that you can identify your productivity style. The article also includes a work style quiz that will help you truly narrow down  when and how you work best.  

Form Good Habits

Habit formation plays a pivotal role in your ability to be productive. Bad habits, such as working with the television on when you know you work best in a quiet environment, are often hard to break. However, James Clear explains how to get rid of habits and form good habits in his book Atomic Habits. He argues that habit formation must be addressed at the smallest level and explains how you can realistically tackle it. 

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep? Pssshh, get away from me with that nonsense! There’s so much to do that sleep is the furthest thing from your mind. However, not sleeping is a big part of what is stressing you out. Most healthy adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Too little sleep affects your mood, energy, mental sharpness and ability to cope with stress. Stop trying to be a superhero and start getting the amount of sleep you need.

Exercise

I can hear you groaning already. Sure, it isn’t fun going to the gym to lift heavy weights or going for a run when all you’d rather do is lounge on the couch. However, exercise is important for your mental and physical health. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins- chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers- and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.” If you are truly serious about improving your productivity, exercise must become a part of your weekly routine. 

How Can Building A Virtual Team Improve Productivity?

As a solopreneur, you thrive on working alone.  Doing everything alone, however, means that you’ll end up having too much on your plate as your client-base increases. Additionally, you may be trying to complete tasks that you really just aren’t that good at. 

There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you need help. Delegating tasks to someone else may send chills down your spine because you’re wondering;

  1. How can I be sure that this person will produce the work exactly the way I want it?
  2. How can I be sure that I am hiring the right person?
  3. What will I do if I end up having to pick up the slack?

Creating a small team requires a high level of trust and a strong recruitment technique that increases your chances of hiring the right people. This is especially true when you’re building a virtual team. The best recruitment process has stages that can be broken down as follows:

  • Stage One: Post a job ad on a freelancing website such as UpWork.
  • Stage Two: Have shortlisted candidates complete a short test project so that you can gauge their skills. You could skip this step if their portfolio samples are sufficient.
  • Step Three:  Invite shortlisted candidates to a virtual interview using Skype or Zoom. Ensure that you ask a range of questions that help you get to know the candidates more and also help you see how they think. 

You also should consider the tools you need to manage a virtual team. Most of the tools you need offer free plans but it may be worth paying the monthly subscription fees for some of them so that your team can reap the benefits. 

What Are The Best Productivity Tools For Solopreneurs?

I have used three productivity tools that I believe all solopreneurs should have. However, this list is far from exhaustive and the productivity tools you need will depend on the areas of productivity that you struggle with the most. Hopefully, you can find some value in one or more of these three tools. If not, you can learn about more productivity tools for solopreneurs by clicking here

Pawductivity

Pros

  • Simple design
  • Easy to use
  • Manages phone usage
  • Helps users maintain focus

Cons

  • May be overly simple for some people
  • Doesn’t store progress on a task-by-task basis
  • Only one task can be tracked at a time

I love this app so much that I mentioned it in an article I wrote about being productive when you work from home. It’s a simple app that tracks your phone usage so that you spend less time on the phone and more time being productive. I have a habit of taking up my phone every 3 to 5 minutes so having this app really helps if I want to do focused work. The timer can be set for 15 to 90 minutes. The timer will stop running, and a warning message will be sent, if you use your phone for something other than answering a call. 

Tick Tick

Pros

  • Tasks can be grouped into categories.
  • Tags can be added to tasks to further group them.
  • It can be used with teams to assign tasks. 
  • You can view the calendar to see the tasks lined up for the day.
  • Tasks can be added using voice commands.
  • Priority can be assigned to tasks.

Cons

  • Subtasks don’t appear on the calendar.
  • The time tracking feature for tasks is only available on paid plans.

I discovered Tick Tick when I was looking for a program that would help me better organize my to-do list. I am often working on multiple projects simultaneously and keeping track of them all can be challenging. Tick Tick helps me better organize the tasks I have to complete for each client. Being able to set priorities for each task also helps. The only downside for me was that subtasks are not included in the calendar so I can’t get a visual of the tasks I need to complete on a daily basis without clicking on each main folder.

Money Lover

Pros

  • Easy to keep track of expenses
  • Visualize spending patterns
  • Keep track of income
  • Set financial goals

Cons

  • The goal setting feature is only available on paid plans
  • The monthly roll-over of balances is recorded strangely

Managing personal finances is particularly important for solopreneurs who have left the 9 to 5. Several personal finance apps exist but Money Lover is the app that I have used and truly love. It helps me keep track of my spending and income. The trick is that I have to remember to record all my transactions and income. Additionally, the closing balance of one month is recorded as a negative open balance in the next month. I guess the app is telling users that they should double their income but it can be quite confusing. How can I end with 220 USD in September but start October with -220 USD? 

Final Words

You choose to be productive daily. There are days when you will have zero motivation but it’s important for you to push through, remember your unique productivity formula and work style and complete your projects like a boss. Develop the habit of creating more eustress in your life and hire someone to help you if you really feel like you can’t manage alone. Finally, find the productivity apps that help you combat your weaknesses and be as productive as you can. 

Don’t forget to read the latest issue of our magazine. It features some exciting Jamaican entrepreneurs who are doing well both locally and internationally.

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