How To Actually Own Your Schedule

When many people fantasize about running their own business, one major draw is the idea that they will be able to make their own schedule. But for people who own their own businesses, this can feel pretty far from the truth. Without any forethought to the structure of your schedule, managing the team, meeting deadlines and attending to never-ending administrative duties, work can feel like you are working in full-time emergency mode. Hello, stress!

As a coach, I believe effective business owners need to be able to have a good handle on both the big picture vision and the smallest details of their company. Attending only to the task that is calling out the loudest is a sure recipe for feeling out of control and bogged down by work. By planning out your week ahead of time, you can work through your to-do list while making sure there is time for you to attend to both the vision and the details.

To make your own schedule, it helps to know when you work best and what is most important to you and your business. To get started with a mockup of your most productive week, get out a piece of paper, draw six vertical lines on it, and label each space with a day of the week. Then, follow these steps:

1. Notice when you work best.

Perhaps you are most detail-oriented in the morning, collaborative in the afternoon and creative after dark. Therefore, you might spend your mornings on accounting and administrative work, afternoons in meetings and take after-dinner dives into big-picture planning. By building these natural tendencies into your structure, you are working with your internal grain, instead of against it. Everyone is different, so pay close attention to when you work best in order to get a real fit.

2. Block off non-negotiables and have-tos.

If yoga Monday morning is what you need to kick your week off right, then by gosh, hold that time sacred by drawing a box over that time on your mockup. Any standing meetings or tasks without wiggle room can get locked in this way as well.

3. Designate email dead zones.

Choose several hours each day when you will not check email or text messages. In my experience, people will become accustomed to your dead zones and know not to expect anything from you at that time, thus allowing you to get more done and have more time for whatever you want.

4. Chunk similar tasks.

If you are working on several projects, you might devote Monday to project A, Tuesday to project B and so on. I believe that when we keep switching gears, you might find yourself wasting more time getting into the groove of whatever you're working on. Minimize the stop and start by doing similar tasks on the same day.

5. Schedule tasks.

On your mockup, include each item on your to-do list — and set aside time to get them done. This will force you to estimate how long each task will take and give you a realistic handle on how much you can expect to get finished.

Now it's time to take your mockup into real life. Look at the coming week and schedule according to your newly found structure. It can be awkward adjusting to a new way of working, so allow yourself a month to try it out. This will give you a chance to see what works and what needs tweaking. By building this framework, I believe you will be able to breeze through your week, take back your time and — finally — own your schedule.