5 Habits to Build When You're Just Starting Out
This post contains a couple affiliate links. Just wanted to be upfront about that. They are marked by an asterisk (*).
When you are just starting your business, there are so many things to think about and do. And I get it. I was there, hustling while I still worked at 9-5. Trying to build my design biz in the evenings and on weekends. Trying to still give 100% at my full-time job. All while running my household & trying to have some sort of a social life.
It was exhausting!
And I could have saved myself lot of heartache, late night cry sessions, and general feelings of not being good enough to make it all happen if I had just done things a little bit differently from Day 1.
1. Start a running to-do list
You've got about a thousand and one things to do and keep track of as you start your business. And that number is only going to grow as you start booking more clients. Start yourself a list of everything you need to do, including your biz projects and client projects. Get it all out of your head and in a list somewhere - a notebook, a google doc, in a project manager like Asana (my personal fave) or Trello*, etc. Just get it down.
Group these tasks into projects or by date - whatever works for you. Just make sure that it is organized in a way that makes sense to you and that you are checking it daily. At the very least, I like to group client tasks together and biz tasks together and make sure I'm making progress on both groups each week.
(I have A LOT more to say about this list and how to make it work for you, so stick around the blog. More will be coming.)
2. Set & Stick to Office Hours
Set aside dedicated time that you will meet with and work on client projects. For me these office hours are used for any consultations, client meetings, and client work I have to do. I try not to work on these tasks outside of those hours (although, we all know it happens from time to time, especially when creativity strikes at 10pm).
Also set aside admin office hours. These are the times when you will work on the behind-the-scenes pieces of your biz, like goal setting, brainstorming, content creation, website maintenance, financials, proposal/agreement templates, etc.
Get creative with these times. You don't (and shouldn't) stick to the traditional 9-5 schedule. My current office hours are noon-7pm on most days. Getting up at 9am and stopping at 5pm just doesn't work for me, and never really has. (Just ask my family - teenage Chelsea was a monster in the mornings!) By starting later in the day, I am able to wake up without an alarm and do some self care in the morning to set me up for a positive day, instead of rushing around and starting the day in a stress mode.
Now I hear you over there saying that you left your 9-5, and the last thing you wanted to do is have a set schedule again. But trust me. A little bit of structure will give you the freedom you're looking for. I promise! And it'll set you up for success when you start booking more and more clients.
3. Take Breaks
If you only listen to one thing in this post, listen to this. You need breaks throughout the day! Even if you have to set alarms to remind you to take them, make breaks a priority. Your brain needs to rest periodically throughout the day and you need to get out of your chair/away from your computer screen. I promise you'll be more productive if you give yourself frequent breaks.
Allow yourself a 10-15 minute break after every couple hours of work and at least a 30-minute break for lunch. During these breaks get out of your chair and move your body. Walk around the block, do a few stretches, or even do a quick workout. But do not work.
You're your own boss for a reason - give yourself permission to have a little bit of freedom and to get away from work every once in a while.
For some (like me), this will take practice. While I was developing this habit, I would set alarms on my phone at break times, for lunch & dinner (yes, I would often forget to eat during the day), and for quitting time. I even had an alarm titled "For real, it's time to stop working!" because I would silence my "Quitting time" alarm and keep working. Don't be me! Take your breaks.
(If you are interested in the research behind breaks. Just google it! You'll find some AMAZING research out there on just why our brains need to have breaks, need to get sleep, and we need to give ourselves space to process. Here's an article from the NY Times and an article from Scientific American you might like.)
4. Develop a Weekly Schedule
There are some things you are going to have to do every single week. Pick a day of the week and always do this task on this day. For example - You may have heard of "Financial Fridays." This is a fun term that just means you balance your financials on Fridays. Many people also do their admin tasks on Fridays along with their financials.
Here's how I have my week structured:
- Mondays: Client work
- Tuesdays: Biz Development & Networking
- Wednesdays: Admin work & Content Creation
- Thursdays: Coffee Chats & Client Work
- Fridays: Client Work
Know that you probably will need to tweak your schedule from time to time, and that is totally normal! I can't tell you how many times I've changed my schedule! But I think I found a winner with my current schedule. It's been working for me for almost a year now.
One thing that has helped me stick to this schedule is using an appointment scheduler (I love Acuity Scheduling*). I set up my appointment types & scheduling rules and then I don't have to think about it. In fact, when I want to schedule a meeting manually, I usually have to check Acuity before I schedule it. It has taken the burden and responsibility of keeping to my schedule off of me.
5. Create Routines
Have you ever noticed how when you take out your contacts and put on your glasses you get sleepy - even in the middle of the day? This is because you've trained your brain that when you do this routine, it's time to go to bed.
The same is true for other routines in our life. You can use these pavlovian responses to your advantage. To condition yourself for certain activities.
- Try creating a "Get pumped for work" routine to get yourself in a productive frame of mind.
- Or a "Whoa there! Let's take it down a notch" routine for when you need to relax or let go of a frustration.
- Create a "Refocus" routine for when you're feeling foggy or like you're spinning your wheels. (I love meditation and a walk for this.)
- One of my favorites is a "Time to wrap it up" routine to get you ready to stop working and transition into home life.
- Create a morning routine to help you kick start your day and an evening routine to help you get ready to rest and prepare for the next day.
For me, these routines have made a HUGE difference in my productivity and my mood throughout the day, when I remember to follow them (that's the key!). I use my morning routine to help me wake up, fuel my soul, and prepare to start work for the day.
I have a relatively long morning routine (it takes 2-3 hours) and includes taking my dog on a walk and breathing in the crisp morning air, fixing breakfast & coffee, either listening to an audio book or watching an episode of my current tv show, doing some stretches and meditating for 15-30 minutes, and showering, doing my hair, and putting on a nice shirt and some mascara. (The mascara makes a big difference! Even if I'm wearing yoga pants.) When I sit down at my computer, I take a few deep breaths and write out my top 3 tasks to accomplish that day. And then I'm ready to dive in and rock the day!
This is what I've found to work for me. Find what works for you. And don't be afraid to try different things. It has taken me a long time and I needed help (still do somedays) giving myself permission to create these non-standard routines. But I'm loving having them and I wish I would have started using them earlier.
Go get 'em!
Remember, you're your own boss now. Be sure to take advantage of that freedom! And allow yourself to create some structure that will help and support you as your business grows.
Sometimes being boss means asking for help when you need it. If you'd like help developing these habits, I'd love to chat with you! There's a special place in my heart for new biz owners that want to set themselves up for success.