“I’ll get to it when I get to it.”
“I work better under pressure.”
“I don’t have the time for…”
Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I used to work as a trainer. I loved delivering time management sessions because I could empathize with the participants as a recovering procrastinator, and I think that time management is a skill anyone can learn.
However, one day, a guy came up to me after the session to complain about my approach to time management. He was pretty adamant about “I’ll get things done when I get them done, I don’t need time management, and I certainly don’t need deadlines!”.
In hindsight, that is his prerogative. Everyone has a method to manage their time — otherwise, we basically wouldn’t do anything, ever. He didn’t have to adhere to the same principle as I do, which is “if you don’t manage your time, it will find a way to manage you”.
And while this person’s philosophy may work for them, here’s why I don’t think that it’s the same for entrepreneurs:
Procrastination is the enemy of the course creator
Procrastination isn’t laziness. It’s your brain’s way of putting off doing things that generate negative feelings. Every time you have to do something out of your comfort zone, such as editing a video using new software, it’s much easier to dust off your bookshelves or clean your oven…
Since you’re mostly working by yourself, there’s nobody else around to hold you accountable for prioritizing less meaningful tasks.
There’s Parkinson’s law to consider
Parkinson’s law goes like this: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.
In other words, if I want to write a course module, it could take me anywhere from three to eight hours, depending on different factors. The most important one? How much time I set myself to complete it. If I allow myself an entire eight-hour workday, it’ll be done in eight hours.
On the other hand, if I eliminate all distractions and just focus on the task, I can easily cut that time in half. Which brings us to…
Distractions, distractions everywhere
Distractions make it so hard to do deep work. When you’re genuinely engaged with a task, there’s no phone buzzing and a hundred open tabs, one of which has pictures of cute dogs (I can’t help myself).
We live in a distracted world, so we need to intentionally make time for focused work.
That’s also what author Cal Newport is warning us about. Everything around us is constantly competing for our attention, be it distractors or other day-to-day tasks. He uses a tried and tested method called time blocking to organize his workday and teach others how to make better use of their time, increase their productivity and live a better life.
Apparently, Elon Musk and Bill Gates use time blocking as well, and… yours truly. I must confess that it had saved me during the pandemic when I turned to full-time work-from-home overnight.
How to skyrocket your productivity as a course entrepreneur
Testing a course idea, diving into content creation, and launching your course — all of these things take time and a commitment to deadlines. Being an entrepreneur means that you need to be more disciplined, learn how to prioritize tasks, and delegate if needed.
Here is how you can accomplish this and so much more with the help of time blocking:
Make a list
Most of us tend to make a list and then work our way through those tasks. We might even prefer a particular order or not, depending on what’s more important.
When you’re working for yourself, the list is never-ending and a bit daunting. You’ll most likely just add things to it as you go along, push some items at the bottom because you don’t feel like doing them, and so on.
Making a list is just the beginning. To make the most out of your day, you need a strategy. For example, some people prefer having at least one or two things that they will commit to doing per day, such as editing video lessons or creating a landing page. Then, you’ll add everything else to the schedule in a way that will accommodate your primary goals.
Think of it this way: by the end of the week, you will have accomplished at least five major goals.
Schedule the entire day
Only you can figure out why you need to increase your productivity. Is it because you never find time to do anything other than work? Or is it because you’re stressed about juggling a job and creating courses as a side hustle?
Whatever the reason, time blocking works best when you schedule your entire day, including your day job tasks. In this way, you’ll be able to figure out the best time to work on the course.
For example, a lot of entrepreneurs work on weekends as well. However, if you finish your regular job tasks earlier, you can dedicate two hours per day to your course during the working week and free up some time on Saturday to relax.
It’s a bit of trial and error, but once you get the hang of it, it’ll be much easier to manage your entire day.
Estimate task time
Sure, work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion, but can you build a website in one minute? You also need to give yourself a realistic timeframe to complete tasks.
The most significant advantage of setting aside dedicated time for each one is that you’ll be able to estimate better how much time it takes you to finish something. For example, after using time blocking for a while, you notice that creating a landing page takes around four hours. You’ll know how much time to allocate to a similar task next time.
An important tip is to divide course work into concrete tasks such as writing text, proofreading, designing lessons in the learning management system, etc. It’s way better than simply writing “work on the course” in your calendar. This tip helps you avoid getting overwhelmed or try to cram many tasks in a two-hour window.
Create time blocks
Creating time blocks is much easier than it seems. It all comes down to finding a time slot in your calendar to do things. Here is an example of what a time block workday could look like:
There are many apps and paper-based planners that can help you manage your time, but a simple digital calendar will also do. I prefer to be flexible and move tasks around. If I need to postpone something, I just drag the time block into the next available slot on my calendar.
The coolest thing is that you can simply set a time each day for recurring events such as lunchtime, workouts, or Zoom meetings. Setting daily events helps you maintain a good routine and healthy habits.
Plus, as a course creator, you’re much more likely to show up and do the work, even if it’s an artificial deadline created by yourself for yourself.
Figure out peak productivity times
There are many articles out there about time management versus energy management, so we’re not going to get into that today. However, there’s an interesting point that energy management advocates usually make: taking advantage of peak productivity times.
Peak productivity times are daily moments in which you feel most alert and focused. That’s why some creators wake up at six A.M. to work on their online course before anything else, and others find it easier to work in the afternoon. This can be a game-changer since you’re not forcing yourself to do work when you’re feeling tired.
On the other hand, you can make sure not to “waste” your peak productivity time on low focus tasks such as answering emails. For example, I never send and answer emails between 9 and 12 A.M, unless it’s something urgent.
I recommend keeping a journal for about a week and notice when you’re able to get the most work done.
Set aside time for smaller tasks
Minor tasks such as answering emails, making payments, or checking daily website statistics are no big deal — until they are.
They can become a problem once they pile up and sap your energy away, even if you’re not aware of that. For example, my biggest productivity weakness is having my inbox open in one tab because I keep checking it mindlessly. I have to allocate time at the beginning and end of the day just for that. Otherwise, I just keep disrupting my important tasks to answer an email that could have waited one hour or so.
If you also frequently check your course analytics (new learners, revenue, completed courses), just set aside fifteen minutes during the day or check it once per week. Plus, there’s always the option to generate reports that are sent to you at a specific time each week so you can focus on other things such as engaging with your learners.
Schedule buffer time
When you start out with time blocking, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you’ll quickly realize that tasks become a bit more manageable. Maybe you’ll also want to cram in a few more tasks during the day to improve your productivity.
However, remember that you’re not a robot that can do one thing after another without eventually burning out — schedule buffer time between tasks.
I usually take ten minutes every hour and a half to get away from my computer for a while, do some stretching, check my phone, drink water. Buffer time can also mean taking one hour after finishing your day job work to relax, have a meal, and then transition to one or two hours of focused work for your course. The secret of time blocking is about eliminating all distractions while working and taking as many short or long breaks as you need to re-establish your focus.
Add in leisure time
Course creators are busy and driven. They sometimes feel guilty for not “being productive enough,” especially as a course launch is approaching.
If you’re not like this, great! However, if you feel like you can’t relax when you’re supposed to be with your friends or family or simply watch a TV show, scheduling leisure time into your day can help a lot get rid of that guilty feeling (that is working against you!).
Once you’ve figured out essential tasks, think about the other things you do in a day, such as your morning routine, exercise, socialization, reading, or simply relaxation time, and add them in.
For example, I’m more likely to take half an hour to read per day if I allocate time to do it than if I plan to “read sometime during the evening”. Otherwise, I usually end up scrolling on my phone. You don’t even have to decide to read for an hour. It can look something like “Me Time from 8 to 9 PM” on your calendar.
The truth is that there is no “right time” to start working on your course and accomplish your dreams. And no amount of “motivational” quotes will make you beat procrastination. You need practical solutions to accommodate your work as a course entrepreneur.
Time blocking is a tried and tested method to help you increase your productivity and become less overwhelmed at the same time.
Give it a try, and let us know what you think about it!
Graham is the CEO and Founder of CYPHER LEARNING and INDIE. He is a serial entrepreneur, e-learning enthusiast, published author, and educator.