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10 Lessons
FROM DEBT TO 7 FIGURES

The Ultimate Guide to Business Productivity for Couch Warriors

Portrait of a businesswoman when working. Shot in studio.This post is a finalist in our Ultimate Guides Contest. Show your support for this, or any of the finalists by commenting, sharing and joining the conversation!

As a solo myself – web developer, writer, and aspiring novelist – I’m fascinated by the nexus of the solopreneur (I call us “Couch Warriors”) experience and the question of increasing productivity.

How we get our stuff done, why we don’t get our stuff done, how we make our choices about what gets done and when, why sometimes it seems so perfectly impossible to get it all done when others seemingly breeze through even busier and more jam-packed-with-stuff-to-do days … these are topics that endlessly intrigue me.

That fascination led to my creation of the Pajama Productivity site a few years back. It dawned on me that the Couch Warrior experience, by its very nature, creates an intensified set of obstacles to getting our crap done. Simply put: we’ve got it harder than your average cubicle dweller.

However, we also have some unique tools and assets that your average cubicle dweller lacks.

The stakes could not be higher.

Most of us choose the “solo biz” life because we can’t imagine ourselves being truly happy and fulfilled doing anything else.

Yet if we don’t get a handle on our own productivity demons – if we cannot get our crap done – then our businesses will fail. We might get a second chance, but odds are we won’t get a third or a fourth. It’s an unforgiving digital world, after all.

Simply put: If you can’t manage to get your crap done – to become truly, ruthlessly productive – then you’re toast. Hang it up and polish up the resume, my friend, ’cause you’re on your way back to W-2-ville.

But if we can manage to dig ourselves out of procrastination and overwhelm, and somehow find our productive stride? All those lovely dreams actually stand a chance of becoming reality.

Believe it or not, getting from panicked to productive isn’t all that rough a trip. I’ve made a bit of a study of all of the advice that’s out there – the various systems and programs, the books, the blogs – and it all basically boils down to three major areas: mindset shifts, setup and strategy, and tactics and techniques.

I.  Mindset Shifts

The foundation of any personal change begins with the stories you tell yourself. Your chance of success dramatically increases the more willing you are to think differently.

  1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You’ll have to do different things, and you’ll have to do familiar things differently, if you want different results. Some of these things may not feel all that awesome at first. Do them anyway.
  2. Understand that all productivity advice is going to end with the last step being “do the work.” There’s no way around it. At some point, you’re going to have to do the thing you’re trying to figure out how and when to do.
  3. Recognize we all have the same 168 hours every single week. Stop lying to yourself that “you just don’t have time.” That’s not true. If it were something wicked-fun or crucially important, you’d find the time. There’s no difference here.
  4. Get crystal clear on your ultimate vision. Productivity is all about creating something. What is it that you want to create? Make that vision compelling and detailed.
  5. Also get crystal clear on your whys. Willpower is weak medicine. Compelling “reasons why” something must get done – that stuff works, and keeps working.
  6. Stop thinking from the ground up. Instead, reverse engineer your vision into goals and then reverse engineer your goals into tasks and habits. Tasks are things you do once. Habits are things you have to condition yourself to do repeatedly. This process is what helps you get clear on your real priorities.
  7. Build your walls one brick at a time. Think about consistent, regular, mindful action. Even if it’s imperfect, it beats the crap out of the equivalent of an all-nighter sometime in the future.
  8. Forget about “work-life balance.” There is no such thing. It’s all your life. Moreover, even if it were possible, it’s not some static state that you achieve once and then just maintain in perpetuity. Think about those balance boards in the gym; you’re constantly shifting, adjusting, and compensating.

II.  Setup and Strategy

Now you can focus on practical productivity matters. We’re still working on a big-picture level here, but now we’re taking more concrete actions to set ourselves up for success, rather than failure.

  1. Invest in the best tools you can afford. Upgrade when you can as needed. The wrong tools will waste your time.
  2. You are your most important and valuable asset. Treat yourself accordingly. This includes the big three (nutrition, exercise, and sleep) but also includes things like spiritual needs and mental needs (in terms of both continuing your professional education and taking breaks regularly).
  3. Track your time and energy for a month, at several points during the day. This will give you critical information you can’t get anywhere else — i.e., when you’re most creatively energetic and alert, when you usually experience an energy slump. Use that information to schedule your creative work hours and your routine administrative tasks appropriately.
  4. Plan a year out in advance if possible. This helps you keep on track with big projects/plans/launches. Put it all on a big wall calendar that you can see at a glance.
  5. Create a mastermind group. You don’t need to spend thousands to join one. Just look for digital acquaintances in similar but not directly competitive niches. Arrange to meet by phone on a conference line or a Google Hangout twice a month. Each meeting, you can dedicate the bulk of the hour-long meeting to a “hot seat” and rotate so everyone gets a turn over the course of a few months. At the beginning of each meeting, start with a quick 2-minute check-in from everyone, and end with a quick “accountability commitment” round. Keep each other accountable. Create a Facebook group page for your mastermind group to check in with each other in between meetings.
  6. Think in terms of systems wherever possible. Marketing systems, work task systems, finance systems, email systems – try to identify every task or sequence that you perform more than once, and decide on one series of consistently-taken steps to follow for each. This helps you perform more efficiently, both intellectually and physically.

III.  Tactics and Techniques

Now that you’ve created the optimal conditions for increasing productivity, begin to incorporate the following tactics and techniques. Use what works best for you.

  1. Master the art of processing quickly. There are only four options for any particular task: do it, delete it, defer it, or delegate (outsource) it.
  2. Keep one list of tasks. Whatever you put on that list becomes a commitment, so don’t go adding things thoughtlessly. Instead …
  3. … Keep another list just for ideas. Use Levenger’s Circa notebooks, moleskine notebooks, or go digital with Circus Ponies’ Notebook, One Note, or Evernote. Periodically review and choose to transfer one or some to your commitments list.
  4. Use automation judiciously. BufferApp and other social media tools with automation/scheduling features can save a crap load of time, because …
  5. … Chunking your schedule helps you become more efficient. Don’t set a goal of “I’m going to research, write, and publish this blog post today.” Instead, try “Today, I research and outline the whole week’s worth of blog posts, tomorrow I’ll draft them, and the next day I’ll set them for publication and shares.” Chunking takes advantage of your brain’s natural tendency to get into a groove or pattern. Switching tasks takes time.
  6. Use the 2-minute rule. When something comes across your radar, ask “can I do this in two minutes or less?” If so, do it right then and there – you don’t even need to add it to the list (although if you want to, it can provide a nice psychological boost to add an item and then immediately mark it DONE).
  7. Create and use editorial calendars for all your blog and social media networks.
  8. From your tasks list, choose 3 “MITs” (Most Important Tasks) every morning to focus on. A good time to do this would be during your regular …
  9. … Review/Preview sessions. Every morning, preview the day ahead and choose your 3 MITs. Review briefly at the end of the day, and make notes for the next day. You can also do an extended version of this on a weekly basis, which can radically reduce the risk of missed deadlines and last-minute overwhelm.
  10. Schedule CEO time and make it non-negotiable. We all wear multiple hats as couch warriors. The CEO hat is the top-level vision-setting hat. Schedule some time regularly to put that hat on and raise your game. Think long-term about your business, your vision, your goals. Sketch out new ideas. Come up with new service/product lines. Then later you can switch to your “middle-manager” hat and figure out how to turn those new concepts/ideas into reality for growth.

Now Go Do the Work

The one major takeaway I can offer from my study of productivity is this: It is possible to get it all done , if you strategize and build in accountability steps along the way. You have to be willing to adjust and adapt, and to be brutally honest with yourself about your real obstacles and goals. And having some like-minded help along the way can be invaluable.

Just remember: all this productivity stuff is secondary. Your real goal is to produce something awesome. Don’t let “time management” or the quest to be more productive detract from that goal.

About Annie Sisk

Annie Sisk is a writer, code instructor, web developer and marketing consultant with a somewhat pathological love of Jolly Ranchers, Middle Eastern dance, Alice Cooper & classic Star Trek episodes. She writes about getting creative business crap done at Pajama Productivity.

49 comments

  1. Hi Annie,

    Besides all of your wisdom, these two are my favorites:
    1) Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
    2) Forget about “Work-life” balance. It’s really just work life!

    Thank you for a real-life treatise on couch-warriors. I’ve never read anything so sharp, true, and succinct.

  2. Annie, you have me sold. 🙂

    This is one of the finest posts on Productivity I recall. It’s really nice how you made it a blend of history and aggregation, plus your own fresh ideas.

    Now maybe I will be subscribing to AnnieFisk.com !

    Best, -hugh

  3. Extremely helpful! I have sticky notes posted on the backdrop of my desk. By the end of the day I’ll have them off the backdrop, organized and on paper. Editorial calendar, chunk scheduling (awesome!), it’s all fantastic.
    Thank you!

  4. This is very interesting.This is true productivity. I know when you said “stop thinking from the ground up” this is one area that I have problem. Whenever I was thinking from the ground up “guess what “. I will disappear for another one month. It is scary. I love your vision. I wish I could put my self in a bubble so I can see well. Well said.

  5. Well, I must say, for one who hangs in her PJ’s, you’ve MASTERED productivity. Your blog was SUPER-SIZED with great info that I’m going to implement. Plus, I’m seeking representation for my novel, so I love you for that, too. 🙂

  6. Fantastic, print-out-wall-sticking-where-you-can-see-it-post, Annie. I’m thinking you have a book title here. The 4D’s of Productivity, Do It, Delete It, Defer It, Delegate It and can I be first on your reader’s list.

    Thank you for this guide, I will really use it to remind me too of your first point which in and of itself will make a difference: ‘Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.’ Just reminding yourself that you can never clear the slate, nor should you try, is a salutary lesson in being thankful for what you do get done.

  7. I love lists. I love lists of lists. I love maps and charts and pictures of lists. Also, I don’t love staring at lists when nothing seems to come off them. But that’s another story. I love your section on tactics and techniques because sometimes the idea of getting started is more overwhelming than the thing itself. Keeping a list of ideas… awesome. Doing “the thing” that you don’t want to do if it’s a smallish enough thing… awesome. At some point you get on a roll and productivity sort of feeds itself. I especially like breaking things up into teeny tiny tasks so that it makes me feel like I’m getting a lot done and that in itself is enough to fuel the “getting stuff done” engine. To your point about mindset, it’s like a mini-mind game that works in the end. Good stuff!

    1. Carol Lynn, yes, there is definitely a point where being productive makes you MORE productive. That’s what’s behind that old saying “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” (I’d say “productive person” – ’cause “busy” is NOT the same thing at all.) And your last point is awesome – yes, it is pretty much on some level ALL a mind-game to trick, cajole, persuade, or bully yourself (kindly, we hope) into doing the work that needs to be done! Thanks!

  8. Annie! Yes! This is a wonderful article. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen productivity framed with the three different areas. It was very helpful and timely for me to read. I’m printing it! And Evernoting it! Thank you!

  9. Hi Annie! : )

    “Yet if we don’t get a handle on our own productivity demons – if we cannot get our crap done – then our businesses will fail.”

    I love, love LOVE this! So very true! Your post is excellent, and this saying, I’m putting it up on my work station for motivation.

    I absolutely love what you write about and what you promote. Your site is amazing. Looking forward to reading everything on it.

    Thanks for a wonderful, informative, motivating post!

    1. Thank you, Lynn! I’m glad you liked it! Motivation – such a loaded word, isn’t it? We start out all fire and purpose, and then we … fizzle. Hopefully this helps folks remember the former, and avoid the latter! Cheers!

  10. Annie this should be required reading for all entrepreneurs, and not just the newbies. I wish more people followed, “Invest in the best tools you can afford.” Penny wise, pound foolish will never make you successful.

    The other one is something that I only recently discovered myself. The idea that your energy – creative and physical – really does wax and wane throughout the month.

    I’d give this more thumbs up if I could find them.

    1. LOL – thanks, Nicole! I do agree on the whole notion of “invest in yourself” – both fiscally and physically and every other which way. Sometimes the budget might be limited,but the right tools – the right education – the right self-care – they’ll all pay dividends far above the initial investment.

  11. Hi Annie
    I really loved this post. Just what I needed to read right now. I have been working at building a coaching business and now I realize I haven’t really been working at it. I have been fiddling with it.
    I definitely need to follow your advise and since it is written so well I am sure it will be much easier for me to do NOW.
    Thanks
    Louise

    1. Louise, I have so much empathy for that situation and that feeling, I can’t even tell you. Start with the first principles: You’re here to CREATE something. Get clear on that first and foremost. Everything else on this page is here for one sole purpose: to support that effort at creation. Good luck to you!

  12. Great post! I feel like I’ve been a lifetime Couch Warrior–even most of my college education has been completed from the couch. But, of course, I fall prey to procrastination constantly. I’ve read dozens of articles like this and this is one of my favorites. (Plus, you’re a Star Trek fan, so that’s auto-points in my book.)

    Previously I’ve been a student and freelance writer online. However, I just picked up an internship creating and implementing a social media marketing plan for a local publication. Means it’s really time to start cracking down! Thank you for your insight 🙂

    Alexandra

    1. Procrastination is a killer, seriously. There are a bunch of tips here that can help conquer it – mostly the “reasons why” (and its corollary “reasons why not to put this off”) and the “MITs” and “chunking” strategies. Hope this helps you – live long and prosper, Alexandra!

  13. I have been a Newbie for almost a year now and have about 5 reams of white paper on what and what not to do in and about my “Little” business. If I took all of that info and distilled it down to just a few pages it would still not be as complete as your recent Post. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Now I can move on and grow past being a Newbie and from a little business to a Conglomerate. (( well maybe just a (big) business)). Again Thank You. Michael

    1. Michael, I’m so very glad you found something useful here. I hope it helps you create an awesome new “Little” biz, and I can’t wait to see what you do with it!

    1. LOL – thank you Alexia! I’ll pay ya later. 😉 In all seriousness, I love seeing the work you and I do together give you back your time and energy. You’re brilliant at what you do, and all you needed was a little adjustment here and there so you could do it and still have a brilliant *life* to boot.

  14. Great post, thank you so much! I’m not earning money online yet, but even just writing and promoting my books has my head in a spin with all I need to do and where to start. I was just thinking I need a way to get organised, and there you were – reading my mind!

    The other Guides have all been great advice on individual topics, but this is the one that ties it all together. I’m bookmarking this and implementing it tonight.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words, Ann Marie! Please don’t hesitate to drop me a line through my site’s contact page if I can EVER be of any assistance to you in your endeavors. I love supporting my fellow authors in particular. 🙂

  15. Commuting from bed to coffee pot to computer every morning often has me still in pajamas at 11:00 a.m., scouring social media and yet to get the marketing done. Great post, Annie! Now, if I can just follow it.

    1. Ken, cf. I.2 – It always ends with “do the work”! LOL – and don’t mistake me, I still have to be deliberate about this stuff and often I drop the ball, too. We’re all human – but yay for being comfortably pajama-clad while doing so! Thanks for commenting, Ken. 🙂

  16. This is a great guide, Annie. Simple but powerful concepts. It’s easy to forget this stuff when we get mired down in the business of business but “EVERYONE has the same 168 hours a week” is always a super reminder for me that we all start with the same unchangeable time constraints! And it’s our choice how we use those hours. Thanks! 🙂

    1. Stephanie YES, absolutely- that is one revolutionary concept. For similar reasons, I absolutely loathe the phrase “time management.” You’re not managing time – you’ll never get one single second more or less than what you start out with. You’re managing your SELF, your CHOICES. Thanks for commenting!

    1. Thanks Sharon! There’s so much more I wanted to write but this post’s first draft clocked in at over 3k words, LOL. I agree with you, though – that brutal self-honesty is absolutely crucial.

  17. Fabbytastic post, Annie, and you’ve, no doubt, raised the bar in this competition!

    I am SO going to steal several of your expert pearls of wisdom and plug them into an upcoming blog post I’m working on (with your permission, of course) 🙂

    “Forget about “work-life balance.” There is no such thing.”
    Thank heavens I have an ally in this world who speaks to reality! As a solopreneur, if I hear the words, “work-life balance” one more time, I’m going to implode and explode, simultaneously. It just ain’t so and it just ain’t possible. At least, not from my experience of being self-employed for the past 30 years.

    Best of luck in this competition. You definitely have my support. 🙂

    1. ARGH, I KNOW RIGHT?! That phrase drives me crazy. That and “time management.” But that’s a whole ‘nother post. 😀 Thank you so much for your support, Melanie!

        1. Oh I swore I wouldn’t do this .. but OK, you convinced me: There is no such thing as “time management.” Not because we can’t possibly change how we spend our time. But because you will never get a second more than you already get. We don’t manage time – we manage OURSELVES. And that’s why I hate that phrase!

          1. Even though you swore you wouldn’t do it, I, for one, am sure glad you did! You’re SO right, Annie … we manage ourselves. Thanks, again, for a totally awesome … no … make that outstanding post!

  18. Excellent guide Annie, thanks for compiling this… one additional step I’ve developed into my routine (would probably fall under III T & T) is to pause for a moment before I start anything (writing, the computer, research…) to check where my attention is. It just takes a second and brings my focus fully to the task at hand, which makes a marked improvement in the quality of my work and productivity.

    1. Thanks Lorna! I love your suggestion – mindfulness is one of the most useful qualities a solopreneur can strive to develop, in my book. Another extension of that you can add on is to take a few more seconds and set an intention for the task. I find that especially helpful whenever the task at hand involves communications with other people. Thank you for the comment!

  19. Annie – This is an awesome post. You get right to the heart of what we are dealing with, and what we need to do. I think I’ll print this out and keep it handy!

    This has been the best post of the bunch.

  20. As a marketing coach, one of the biggest complaints I hear is “I know what I need to do, I just don’t have the time to do it.” So your post (as well as your further ideas and assistance) are right on target for those who feel overwhelmed by “all the marketing things.”

    Great job, Annie!

    1. Thank you, Tea. For those who don’t know, Tea Silvestre is the genius behind two awesome brands – and she is without a doubt my productivity hero. Tea gets more done – seamlessly, and seemingly effortlessly (though I know different – I KNOW how hard she works) – than most of us dream of doing in a week.

  21. Annie, yours is my personal favorite of the Ultimate Guides Finalist posts.
    This year I want it to be super productive and this is such a simple list to follow and I know it will create massive results for me and anyone that follows it. After a long time building my business, I see that all advice ends with do the work (seeing us we are yet to have robots to do it for us 🙂 )
    You should win the contest.
    Thanks a lot for sharing your success formula.
    Am off to do the work!

    1. David – WOW. I am honored – having read and shared every one of my co-finalists’ amazing pieces, I consider that high praise indeed. I’m so glad you found something helpful here! Thank you so much for sharing and commenting!

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