eCommerce Made Easy

Productivity Hacks for Online Businesses: GTD, Time Blocking, and Beyond

January 23, 2024 Carrie Saunders Episode 39
eCommerce Made Easy
Productivity Hacks for Online Businesses: GTD, Time Blocking, and Beyond
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As business owners, you may feel overwhelmed at times by all of the tasks and things you must juggle to succeed. I know I have! Over the past 20 years I’ve used several different Productivity methods to help me be more efficient, effective and productive. In today's episode we’ll be talking about 4 different methods that I’ve used, what they are, and how you could use them in your business. 

From sharing my experiences with David Allen’s Getting Things Done* strategy to avoiding burnout, these four productivity strategies have helped me throughout both my personal journey through school and parenthood as well as my business journey. Tune in to learn how I use these strategies in my work process and how you can start using them today!

Mentioned Resources

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen*

*Contains affiliate Links


Find out more information about the Business Visibility Made Easy Course at www.ecommercemadeeasypodcast.com/bvme

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Carrie Saunders:

As a busy entrepreneur or online business owner, you may be so overwhelmed with all the tasks and all the things to do. I know I certainly can be sometimes, and over the past 20 years, I've used several different productivity methods to help me be more efficient, effective and productive, especially since I raised our children at home and then eventually at our offices while running our business and, to be honest with you, I actually started the business. If you don't know their backstory, I had a nine-month-old. I was in grad school for electrical engineering, so I had a lot of things on my plate. So in today's episode, we're going to be talking about four different methods that I've used, what they are and how you could use them in your business.

Carrie Saunders:

Welcome to the Ecommerce Made Easy podcast. I'm your host, Saunders. When we started this business, all I had was a couch, a laptop and a nine-month-old. My main goal To help others. Now, with over 20 years in the e-commerce building industry and even more than that in web development, I have seen a lot. I love breaking down the hard tech and to easily understandable bits to help others be successful in their online business. Whether you're a seasoned e-commerce veteran or just starting out, you've come to the right place. So sit back, relax and let's dive into the world of e-commerce together.

Carrie Saunders:

Welcome back to the Ecommerce Made Easy podcast. I'm your host Carrie Saunders. So predict productivity and studying it has been something I've always been interested in and have studied various forms of it in the past 20 plus years of being in business, and one of the reasons that it's important to me is because when I started this business, like I mentioned in our introduction, I had a nine-month-old until, and shortly thereafter, I had another child as well. So not only did I need to figure out how to juggle being a business owner, but I also had to juggle being a new mom and then having another child. And I, honestly, was getting my master's degree in electrical engineering when I started the business. I had already completed pretty much all my classwork when my husband and I decided to go ahead and start a family, because we're high school sweethearts and we've been together almost 10 years at that point, married pretty much five when we decided to start a family. So it made sense to us for us to start it, but I had a lot of things on my plate. I had a new business, I had, you know, a baby and then a baby on the way. A few months later, after I started the business, I was needed to work on my master's thesis and get it written so that I could graduate, because all I had, like I said, when I started the business, there's a few more classes left. So I had a lot on my plate, and I'm giving you this as an example, because I know most online business owners and entrepreneurs also have many facets of their business and many things on their plates as well. So when you're looking at these methods, you can look at from a perspective of how can I use this personally and how can I use this professionally in my business too. So when you're reviewing and adapting many of these productivity methods, I want you to keep in mind you and how you work.

Carrie Saunders:

So not all the components of each of these methods work for me, nor do they always seem appropriate for me. I felt at first I felt like I had to do them exactly as they were prescribed by the person who is teaching the method, and what I found was that made it hard to implement and I tried to do some of the things that were against my natural nature, against the way my brain organizes things, processes things, etc. So one of the first techniques I found and I tried in a more formal way than I had ever before was the Getting Things Done Method by David Allen. He has a great book on this which we're going to link to in this show notes. So I stumbled upon this method. I want to say probably about seven-ish years maybe 10, into the business, I read the book, I just really embraced it and I thought, you know, I really need this because we had grown we were probably 14, I think staff members at the time of memory serves me correctly and we were really growing and I really needed to make sure that I was productive, I could help our staff be to prevent ductive etc.

Carrie Saunders:

But one of the downfalls I had for this was that when you do the Getting Things Done and when you get it started, many times it will take a day or two to get this kicked up and depending upon your situation, this could take a day or two, like I said, and can really feel overwhelming. I know it felt really overwhelming to me. I couldn't imagine, especially at that time in our business, how I could take a day or two and just kind of ignore everything and not answer emails to customers, not help my staff, and just really concentrate on getting everything organized for me. I did the best I could, but I still felt very overwhelmed with it. But let me back up too.

Carrie Saunders:

So the core idea of getting things done is pretty simple. They want you to capture everything, clarify your next actions, organize your task and regularly review those tasks and then take action on them. So, as you can see, it's a pretty important simple concept. But then he has some techniques on how you can really do this, and I restarted getting things done a few times over the years and what I found was that for me and for my situation, taking that day or two off wasn't really feasible and it made me more stressed and more overwhelmed. So what I found worked for me was dedicating a half a day for two to four weeks kind of depend upon how far behind I'd gotten.

Carrie Saunders:

Two to four weeks about a half a day really concentrated on the process of capturing everything and organizing it and doing all the things that we're going to be talking about here in a minute. So if you're not familiar with getting things done or who you are, and you've failed at this initial step off process, then I encourage you to look at realism for you and maybe something like what I did would work for you. Or maybe you take one day off and then use one of your weekend days to do the process. So really kind of think about how can I really effectively get this kicked off the ground? Okay, so there's a few stages in getting things done and I'm going to let you know. You know, I'm just giving you a high level of this. I recommend, if you're interested in this method and you're not super familiar with it, grab that book and read it. It is a great book. You're going to pull some great stuff out of there.

Carrie Saunders:

So the first stage is you want to collect everything. So you want to capture all your tasks, all your ideas and commitments into a central system. Now he encourages you to pick digital or physical, depending upon what works best for you and your brain, because we're all different. Right For me. I find a mix works best for me. I like to have what most. Everything is digital for me. I have all my tasks digitally. I have my calendar digitally, but then every day I use my paper planner to transfer onto there the most important things that I need to get done for that day, and then I also, you know, lay out what's on my calendar schedule. Wise would I have calls that I need to be attentive for, and things like that. So use paper or digital based upon what you need. You want to regularly review these collected items too that's very important in this system and you want to clarify the next steps and categorize the tasks based on context and priority. So, for me, the context part was not as effective for me, so I'm going to go to the next stage too, which is organized. I want to explain it a little bit more then. So you want to also organize your items once when you're processing them into lists of categories, of different types of tasks, and one of the things he encourages is organize them based upon your context.

Carrie Saunders:

So where are you? Are you at your computer? Are you driving? Are you running errands? For me, almost all of my tasks are while I'm sitting at a computer. If it's something I'm not don't need a computer for, then it's probably an appointment that I'm going to. To be honest with you, I don't really have a whole lot of errands around other than like normal grocery store runs and things like that, but I'm very, you know, delivered at my out, not just running the grocery store on any whim too. So I try to make sure I'm very organized on when I'm doing the things I'm doing, which I think that getting things done has really helped me do so. That organization based upon whether I'm doing phone calls or sitting at my desk wasn't as effective, because I don't generally do a ton of phone calls. I usually scheduled it on my calendar, so I don't really need to organize my tasks based upon context as much. So, like I said, we need to keep these things in mind as to what works for you.

Carrie Saunders:

And then the most important thing, that, besides email processing, the most important thing that I found for getting things done for me was the weekly review and the very importance and the much and how much David Allen stresses the weekly review, and I will say in all the years that I have been doing getting things done and not to a T I don't do getting things done to a T, but when I'm doing getting things done, that weekly review is pivotal in whether I'm really effective on my next week. So what a weekly review is if you're not familiar, is you want to really go through all your tasks. You want to look at the ones you didn't get done. You want to decide do I still need to do this item? And if so, then we need to put it into a different time slot on our next week and decide when we're going to do it. Could we delegate this item or do we not need to do it anymore at all?

Carrie Saunders:

So we need to evaluate all those things we didn't get done for the week and figure out what do we do with them. We also need to look at what did I get done and celebrate those things as well. So you need to recognize all those great little steps you're doing throughout the day, because, as online business owners and entrepreneurs, it's very easy for us to lose track of the wins that we have. So making sure you're putting down those wins is really important. And then you want to make sure that you're engaging and executing on the tasks that are on your system. So and that's kind of like a nuanced thing on how you want to do that and how you want to, you know, mark things complete and and feel you know good about the things you get done.

Carrie Saunders:

But I do want to go back a little bit to that weekly review, because one of the things you need to keep in mind too is, typically a weekly review is going to take you one to two hours. I would say probably two hours really do effective one. If you're really on top of everything and have a lot of buffer room in your weeks, then maybe one hour will be enough. But you want to pick the time that's most effective for you to do that weekly review. For me, I find that Friday afternoons mid to late afternoon, probably starting about three, two or three is my best time to do a weekly review. That's when I get the least questions from customers, that's when I get the least questions from my employees and that's when I can really just sit and focus on my priorities what I've gotten done, what do I need to defer, what do I need to delegate and things like that. A lot of other people like to do it on Sunday evening before the week starts, or they like to do it on Monday morning right as the week is starting. For me, I feel behind if I do it on Monday morning.

Carrie Saunders:

I've tried Friday night and Monday morning and I used to be a workaholic, honestly, and I had several staff members bless them really helped me get out of that habit. So I really try to, besides recording the podcast I will admit many times I'm recording the podcast on a Sunday or in the evenings because I have a room in my house that's much better for sound for podcasting. So, besides the podcast, I try not to do any work on off hours. Unless it's an emergency for a client, no problem, I will drop things and do my best to help a client. But in general, I try not to do regular work on the weekend. So for me, sunday night, weekly reviews is not ideal for me, but Friday afternoons is Okay.

Carrie Saunders:

So for getting things done too and we're gonna spend a bit of time on this and this is gonna be my last main point on it but for getting things done, email it really, really helps me with email. So one of the things that they have whether it's email or a task that comes across your plate is they have basically a decision tree for you. So you need to look at each of these things with these questions of mine. So the first question is is it actionable? Can you do something with it, or is it just information? If it is actionable, then we're going to do some other decisions after that. If it's not actionable, then what you want to do is is it trashable? Do you need this information at all or do you maybe need it in the future? So you need to put it somewhere where you're going to see it later.

Carrie Saunders:

For example, we can apply this not only to our email, because there's sometimes, you know, emails that come in. You can just hit delete as information. You don't need the information anymore. You hit delete. Or maybe it's spam, which we talked about in some previous episodes.

Carrie Saunders:

Or let's take another example. Say you're getting the mail you know sometimes there's things that you need, like bills, and you need to decide to do something with them at a certain point in time, ie pay them. Right. If you don't have mail, you're going to also probably get some junk mail too. There's no point in you making a pile on your kitchen counter with the junk mail. Just throw it away. You don't need it. There's no reason to touch it again.

Carrie Saunders:

So this process he's got is tries to minimize the number of times you touch something, and touch means look at it, review it, think about it. So we want to do this with our email, and then we also want to do this with the things around us, like our mail or papers that come across our desk. So when you're getting those emails in first question, is it actionable, like we talked about? If it's not, then we trash it or defer it for later. If it is actual, then what is the next action? What do we need to do with this?

Carrie Saunders:

You want to identify the specific physical or mental tasks that you need to do to move this forward. If it can be completed in less than two minutes, so consider doing it immediately, just like when that junk mail comes, you're walking in the door and you got the junk mail on your hand. It's going to take you less time to throw that away immediately or recycle it. Really, you should be recycling it Then to sit it on your counter. Have it sit there chewing in your mind as you're cooking dinner. You kind of see it out of the corner of your eye. You just want to get rid of it right away, similar to when you're processing your email. If you know you don't need something, delete it right away. If you know you need it but it's reference material, go file it right away. It takes less than two minutes. Do it right, then You're going to find that you're going to look at it less often, it's going to have a less mental load and you're going to waste less time.

Carrie Saunders:

Also, then, when it's not trash, obviously we want to see if it's actual, it's a delegatable. Can you have somebody else do this task for you? Really think about who you can delegate it to and then clearly define the desired outcome and any specific instructions with it. So I know this is something that a lot of business owners like me need to be more conscious of and think about more, because sometimes you think, well, I can get it done faster. Well, maybe, but then you can't be doing these other things that somebody else can't help you with, because only you could do those things. So this is something that's always a consistent struggle for me as a business owner, and I'm sure, for many of you. I'm sure you can relate to that, because it's just more natural for us to do the things we're doing because and it's kind of what an entrepreneur is we just kind of do right. So you really need to be consciously thinking can I delegate this task? Can somebody else do this task? Do I have to be the one to do it? If the answer is no, you don't need to be the one to do it, then figure out a way to delegate and train somebody else on it, okay. So then here's the question too If it is an actual item and you can't delegate it, but it's more than one step to get it completed, then it's a project.

Carrie Saunders:

So the next question is is it a project? So if it requires more than one action step, it's considered a project and you need to put that in your project system and you need to define the next physical or mental action for each project. This is something I sometimes get hung up on is defining the next physical or mental action needed to get a project moving forward. But when I sit down and think about it, it's really not that hard and I'm like why didn't I do this before? So to make sure this is something that's in your mind a lot, because it's something that isn't always naturally in entrepreneurs minds, I've found. And then, lastly, is it reference material? Is it information you might need later? If it is, then file it in your email system or file it in your paper system. If it's paper, then file it in a reliable way so you know where it's going to be if you do need it Okay. So that's the core general overview of getting things done. It's kind of a lot because it's a big system and it can be super, very effective. So I just want to make sure you had a really good overview of it and how, examples of how I use it really to hopefully help you think through the system on it.

Carrie Saunders:

Okay, so the next three productivity methods that I want to discuss I think go together and actually support the getting things done method in many ways. So the first one is time blocking. So just like I was talking about the weekly review and how I like to do it, starting at two or three in the afternoon on Fridays, that's considered time blocking. I have blocked that time out on my calendar. I don't schedule any appointments, I don't schedule any phone calls during that time, unless it's absolutely critical to do it during the time. It's kind of a no zone. Nobody stops on my weekly review, so I time block that for that's when that gets done. So time blockings when you allocate specific blocks of time to focus on specific types of tasks or categories of work. So what this helps you do is it helps you avoid multitasking. Now I find that multitasking you know they say multitasking is not effective. There are some times I find multitasking is effective, but I would do agree that most of the time multitasking is not effective. So this allows you to do deep work and concentrated work. So some other time blocks that I have are quotes. You know we have customers that send us requests of things that they need. So I have a specific time on my calendar several days a week that I look through the quotes and go over them with a staff member. So that's again another example of time blocking.

Carrie Saunders:

You might want to do a time blocking in the beginning of your day and have a weekday start-up routine where you're doing certain tasks during your weekday start-up. You probably also want to have a workday shutdown routine as well, so you may want to block that time out. You might want to have time blocking for emails, for when you want to look at your emails, because emails can be such a time sink. I find that my days are much more effective if I pick specific times of the day where I'm going through and checking or reviewing my emails. So that's another way that you can time block. So what you can do with the time blocking is it helps you set boundaries. It really helps you say no, I'm not working on this question that somebody just asked me, or this email that just came in, because you're not looking at your email. It's not email time, so that you're really setting boundaries of this focus time. Right here is time for me to review quotes from my customers, for example. I'm not doing anything during this hour. I'm going to look at quotes with customers and I'm going to respond to my customers, for example. So that's one of the time blockings I have.

Carrie Saunders:

You might have time blockings for staff meetings or you might have time blockings for reviewing your online orders. That way, you're not checking them constantly, kind of like email, right. So make sure you what are those time blocks you really need to do? And sometimes you can find what needs to be time blocked by what are you constantly multitasking and going and doing frequently and you can like decide, okay, no, I'm only doing this during this specific time and you're really kind of crunching all those little tasks into one block. They're very similar tasks and you're going to be a lot more effective if you do that.

Carrie Saunders:

Okay, so I alluded to this a little bit. Similar to time blocking is batch processing. So I find that time blocking plus batch processing is super powerful. So what you can do with this one is like I alluded to when we talked about time blocking is you want to group similar tasks together and handle them during dedicated time blocks right, so this reduces the cognitive load associated with task switching. So if you dedicated a half an hour to doing just your email, and only your email, and only the quick email, going back to the getting things done only your quick email then you're going to really plow through that inbox, delete those items that need to be deleted super fast, move the items that are referenced materials out of your way super fast, and then you can have maybe a secondary 30 minute time block to process those longer emails. That takes a bit time to respond. It might take you a time to decide who to delegate the task to or when you're going to work on the task, etc. So doing time blocking and batch processing married together can really just so greatly increase your productivity. It's just really great for helping you eliminate distractions and really being a lot more efficient with your time, because you're grouping these similar things together so you're not running here and there you know going to get this supply or that supply, or asking this person a question, or asking that person a question or waiting for this person. You're really just doing the things together that you need to be doing.

Carrie Saunders:

So you can, like I said, with asking people questions and stuff like that you can batch those. You can batch all your questions to your staff or to your your peers all together too, or answer the questions all together. Sometimes I'll do that. Sometimes I'll be focused on what I'm working on and I'll know that I've had staff message me on Insta Messenger. So, even though many of us work in the office, some of us work remotely and this you know, we're all in the city of Athens, but some of us work remotely. I will sometimes purposely not really ignore them but decide right now is not the time I'm responding to people. I'm focused on this other thing and I'm batching this right here and I'm working on this task right here and then later I'm going to batch, answer all my employees and the questions they have. So this can really really make you super efficient. Okay, and then the last technique that I want to talk about that can really tie all these together and go. You know it really works well with the getting things done.

Carrie Saunders:

The batch processing, the time blocking, is the hopefully I pronounced this right Pomodor Technique P-O-M-O-D-O-R-O. If you want to look it up Technique you're probably heard of it. So this technique is working in short bursts, usually 25 minutes of time and then followed by a short break. So this enhances concentration and prevents timeout. Now you might say, well, that's just like time blocking and batch processing. It is, but the caveat here is what really makes this effective and I have is a kitchen timer.

Carrie Saunders:

I have a really super cheap kitchen timer at my office desk and I actually have one at my house desk as well and I'll set that timer sometimes for only 10 minutes or only 15 minutes, and I'm like okay, I am going through my email and I'm getting rid of as many emails as I can in these 15 minutes and I will batch process with this technique of timing myself and it kind of gamifies it. It makes me want to go faster, it makes me resist getting stuck on those emails it's going to take more than two minutes, like the getting things done method. It's going to help me just really plow through quickly and effectively and get through those ones that are really quick and just really don't need to be in my inbox at all, and then you can do this again with those emails that you knew were going to be slower. And I'm giving emails an example, because I feel like that's a lot of our overhead we have as business owners. Many times is the communication that we will get emails one example of it, and so I will use it. I set another timer and blast through the longer ones. Now, for the ones that are taking me longer to do, I might bump that time up, to say 20, 25 minutes, for example, and then do the longer response emails in the longer time, so I don't feel quite as pressured. I do find a really short time, though really works well for the emails that are really, really short. And the whole point of this one, too, is you want to take a break, you want to reward yourself after one of these chunks of time, you want to get up, you want to move, you want to stretch. Go get you some water, get you a snack if you need it, but really get your body flowing again, and that helps get your brain moving. So the goal is to not sit there for hours on end and not get up and not move, and we want to focus our time on what we're working on and use that timer. It really really does help.

Carrie Saunders:

Okay, so those are the four methods that I use pretty regularly, pretty much every day, in my business, so I want to hear from you. There are so many productivity methods out there. I could have talked about a whole bunch more, but I felt like these really tied well together, and if you missed the first episode of 2024, go back and listen to episode number 37 I believe it would be, and it is on the 12 week year, which you can actually overlay into the topics that I talked about today, and getting more things done or more of the right things done is really what it should really be said. So hopefully this was helpful. We do want to hear from you, though. I am really curious what productivity methods do you love and use, and I want to hear why you do, because I'm always curious about these things and I'd love to hear from you. So drop us an email at podcast, at bcseengineeringcom we would love to hear from you, or you can find us on social.

Carrie Saunders:

Just look up BCS Engineering or BCSE Solutions. Those are our two current names. We're brand transitioning if you're listening in real time to the BCSE Solutions. We just needed to rebrand. There's more about that in the podcast if you want to listen to some of the older episodes. So we are working on rebranding because we found people really confused by the engineering word in our name. Long story short, we just came up with the name without even knowing what we're going to do when we first came up with the name. So we're rebranding right now. So just look up BCS Engineering or BCSE Solutions. You'll find us in either place. We would love to hear from you and if you're listening to us on the YouTube, please hit that subscribe button. And if you're listening on the podcast, hit the subscribe button there as well, or follow whichever your app shows you so that you don't miss out on any more upcoming topics on making e-commerce and online business easier so that you can be more productive, serve your customers better and really just help your business grow. See you next week.

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