#32 How to build a free-flowing routine that works for YOU

  • Harness a powerful routine that flows naturally instead of forcing it
  • How to escape firefighting hell and gain control of your day.
  • How to design and stick to your ideal schedule
😍 Something I'm grateful for this week

I used to work all day yet at the end of the day I'd look back and realise somehow I'd done nothing meaningful. Here's how I escaped firefighting hell built a routine for natural, freeflowing productivity.

I start every day at 5 am by ejecting from my private jet at 1000ft,
For the first 5 minutes of my day, I hurtle at terminal velocity, sipping my morning smoothie through my helmet straw while reciting my day’s affirmations.
I land on the back of an awaiting jet ski and plan my day plan while I blast to shore at 60mph
I take my first £ million sales call on my Bluetooth headset while I march up the beach at a brisk job to get my steps up.

My assistants wait dutifully to strip me out of my wetsuit and into my tux for today’s award ceremony,
while I quickly share my secret formula for world peace on Twitter.
I then somersault onto the stage to deliver my keynote speech which is broadcast live to millions across the nation.
Brunch is a light meal of avocados and smashed eggs in the limo,
but I decide to blow off the world leadership summit, to spend the afternoon writing my amazon best seller instead.
I’ve been writing 10,000 words per day, because everyone knows consistency is the key to the universe.
To finish, I jump back on the jet to the Bahamas to enjoy watching Love Island in another country,
while I adjust my investment portfolio on the Ipad…

At least that’s what would have happened if I hadn’t slept in. 🤣
My actual day looked a bit more ordinary.

Not every day has to be extraordinary,
but having a good routine does set up you up for a good day.
Today I’m going to show you how to escape firefighting hell and gain control of your day.

What does your day look like?

Think about it, could you even tell me what an average day looks like?
Many freelancers don’t have a repeatable schedule they can stick to,
and therefore feel like they don’t have any stability in their life.
They have no idea what’s going to come up next week, never mind tomorrow.

When I first went out by myself,
I thought I would suddenly have plenty of time to achieve all my goals.

How could I not?
previously I had only evenings and weekends to grow my business, now I had 9-5 every day!

But instead, I found myself working like a maniac all day, ticking off menial tasks one by one,
and yet get to the end of the day and feel like I’d achieved NOTHING.
I was jumping from fire to fire,
jumping on whatever fresh task came across my inbox, dealing with client emergencies one after the other.

All my tasks simply expanded to fill my newly expanded free time.

That is until I figured out how to design a good schedule.
Once I figured out my ideal schedule I naturally work on the right things,
and take on tasks with energy and creativity instead of forcing myself out of a sense of obligation
I feel more rested and calmer through out the day, and my schedule installs me with a sense of purpose and clarity from hour to hour.

This is the power of a good schedule.
Your schedule is what you do every day,
and what you do every day = your life.

Taking fucking ice baths and setting grand goals looks great on your Instagram,
but stacking good days over and over again is what actually leads to success.
A schedule is a system to make sure you repeat those actions every day so they can compound into results.

 

the impact of a good schedule for freelancers

Your schedule should flow naturally from your ultradian rhythms.

A lot of tips on schedule design try to “force” you into a routine that goes against your own nature.
A truly good routine helps you to stay productive working with your natural flow.

Ultradian rhythms are the cycles of energy production, output, and recovery that occur in all humans.
Everyone is different.
Ignore anyone trying to tell you there’s a perfect routine or schedule.
Their schedule is only perfect for them. and only until their priorities change.
You have to work with the time you have, your own rhythms and your own priorities.

The 9-5 ignores this key fact.
As a solopreneur you don’t have to conform to a traditional work day.
Working with your natural inclinations will help you relax when you’re tired,
and build when your at your most productive.

Your schedule should help you avoid overwhelm

There’s another reason to review your day and keep a tight schedule:
it helps you avoid overwhelm.

Often when new priorities creep in I start to feel like I’m struggling to find rhythm.
When this happens I’m working hard but feeling like I’ve got nothing done all day.
This is when it’s important to go back to basics and do a hard reset on my schedule.
A schedule keeps me on track.

If you’re running a sidehustle, time is your biggest constraint, so it’s important to plan and use every hour wisely.
If you’re a fulltime solopreneur you may have too much time, so it’s easy to have an overwhelm of freedom of choice.
But that freedom of choice can be paralysing.
Should I call enquiries, or should I work on my social media content, or build a new admin system?
There’s a strange liberty in removing choices from yourself, and allowing your day to be controlled by a schedule you’ve already decided on.
You no longer need to agonise about what to do with each hour of your time.

When you achieve a good schedule, your life flows

This is what works for me:

🌞 Mornings: Deep focus work
🌅 Afternoons: Shallow work and maintenance
🌙 Evenings: Wind down and restoration

This is my ideal day.

  • wake
  • workout
  • breakfast
  • feed family
  • chores
  • coffee
  • walk dog / think and plan
  • focus work – writing, system building, lead gen, high level fulfilment.
  • coffee break
  • shallow work – admin, emails, comms
  • lunch
  • catch up with team on clickup
  • leisure / distraction
  • housework
  • dinner
  • garden
  • audiobook / read / tv

I try to design my schedule to boost creativity and prioritize downtime throughout the day.
But I also live in the real world.

In reality, things come up, my priorities change constantly.
If it’s sunny, I’m going to do more garden work.
If I have a work emergency I’m going to override some leisure time.
I rarely live out my perfect schedule.
But having a plan is half the battle.
Having a plan keeps you working intentionally, instead of reacting to whatever comes across your inbox.

So at least every few weeks I need to check my daily schedule hasn’t slipped and I’m still working on the things that are important to me.

I’m not going to go into my actual schedule design for solopreneurs, which is covered in #13 schedule of a 6 figure solopreneur,
Instead I’m going to show YOU how to find YOUR ideal schedule.
This is the process I used (and repeat every month or so) to uncover my ideal schedule.

How to figure out a schedule that works for YOU

What you do vs what you think you do

When you do this exercise you’ll probably discover, as I did, that your actual day is filled with a load of buggering about you weren’t even aware of.
Or that you spend most of your time buried in your inbox, as a way to avoid doing the truly important tasks.
So another quick and dirty method I use to uncover my actual day is list all the things you did that day in order.
As soon as you’ve done something, write it down.
This doesn’t include any time vector,
but it does give you a more easily comparable list view of your activities
You’ll have to do this every day for at least a week to get an accurate picture.

Fetch a notepad right now and write the day at the top.
At the start of each day write the things you’d like to do each day,
start noting down the things you are doing for each hour of the day.

1

A pretty good day overall!
I checked my emails more than I’d like but today was actually a good match against my ideal schedule.
There’s a good mix of work, personal projects and leisure, which is what I’m aiming for.

But some days I’m way off.
If you find your actual day is filled with things like “admin”, “emails”, “jobs”, “client calls”, “social media” and other shallow tasks, then you know you have to make more time for more valuable tasks.

Use timeblocks to analyse your day

Tasks expand to fill the time they are given.
“5 minute tasks” actually take 15 minutes, plus another 5 to pivot onto the next task.
An hour is too long, as due to distracting technologies most people aren’t actually capable of working for a solid hour on one task these days.

So break your day into 20 minute blocks which you can assign.
20 minutes is enough flexibility for small tasks,
but long enough to get meaningful things done.
Tasks can span multiple blocks.
But you can only have x1 task per block.

image

Compare your plan vs your actual day

Having a plan is great,
but it means nothing if you don’t stick to it.

This is why having a printed schedule is a must.
Don’t rely on todo lists, google calendars or fancy AI apps.
All of these are virtual.
Virtual calendars aren’t an accurate reflection of your actual schedule.

I design my schedule, then I print if off.
This allows you to be flexible and realistic.
I write everything I intend to do into each timeblock on the left.
Then to the right I write what I actually did during that timeblock.
I use a chime on my phone to remind me to check what I’m doing every hour.
This gives me an accurate picture of what I’m actually doing every day
You’ll see sometimes I’m more faithful to my schedule than others 👇🏻

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Notice how the accuracy of my routine deteriorates throughout the day?
Due to the natural chaos of life your routine will become less predictable as the day goes on.
This is why you do your most important tasks first.

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Your most important task

The reason why I used to feel so crap about my day?
Because there were important tasks I KNEW I should be doing,
yet every day I would find a way, an excuse, some reason, why I’d failed to do it.
Something would always come up.
Until I introduced a system that helps me complete my most important task every day.

Give yourself only x1 task that you MUST do that day.
Turn on DNB on your phone.
Put on noise cancelling headphones.
Close your emails.
Only after you’ve done this task can you work on other things on your list.

If you don’t know what your most important tasks are,
I suggest you take my “Goals to Actions” Workshop

Your MIT should be a task that makes everything else easier in future,
or that grows your business.
If you get that task done, the day is a win.
Anything after that is just a bonus.
You can sit down at the end of the day and call it a success.

Notice how often you complete this or not.
Use a habit tracker to track this.
I’m going to cover habit trackers in more detail next week as this free app can genuinely change your life.

You can easily avoid your MIT for weeks on end without noticing unless you track it.

Track your habits

When I tracked my Most Important Task habit, I found I had failed to take action on my most important task for weeks on end.
Instead, I busied myself with admin and emails.
I felt like I was being productive, ticking off tasks,
when what was actually happening is that I was using shallow work as a guilt-free way to avoid difficult tasks that would move me forwards.

image

Review your day

At the end of each day, I do a daily review
What gets measured gets managed.
At the end of each day, I sit in a magic little spot in my beanbag by the window and take 5 mins to review the day.
It’s a pleasant little wind-down habit too.
I also track this habit

image

  • what went wrong?
  • what went right?
  • How can I repeat my wins and avoid my failures?

I note any high points and low points
I note energy boosts and drains

  • When do I have the energy
  • When do I have my best ideas?
  • When do I need to recharge?

image

If you force yourself to reflect and to notice,
if you observe yourself repeating the same mistakes over and over again,
or failing to take action over and over again,
then it’s easier to realize and make a change.

Review the above

Repeat the exercises below every day for a week.
Don’t cheat.
Yes, it’s annoying and takes time.
If you’re already manic it’s easy to dismiss them.
But if you don’t take the time now, you’ll always be manic and never figure out how to escape the firefighting stage.

This will give you a better overview of your actual week.
Now you can start to make changes to your schedule.

Are you scheduling important tasks in the morning, when in reality your getting distracted by screaming children?
Did you plan to work out in the afternoon but find you’re always too tired and skip it?
Adjust your schedule to move these into quiet or more energy-rich time blocks.
You may need to face reality and accept that you won’t be able to do some tasks at all.
This is also fine.
Or if your goal is to grow an audience, you may realize you need to insert a time block to keep up with your social media engagement.

Adjust your schedule bit by bit, until you have something that flows naturally with how you actually feel throughout the day,
and aligns with your actual goals.

You won’t get it right the first time

This will take a few weeks to perfect.
Don’t assume you can design your schedule and get it right the first time,
It takes adjustments and tweaking to get it right,
and you will be adjusting on an ongoing basis depending on the season, your priorities, your energy etc.

Be realistic

Don’t try to cram x3 activities into the one-time block.

Schedule downtime

If you want to take a Friday afternoon off,
put it in the schedule or it won’t happen.
If you want an hour at lunch to play video games,
put it in the schedule or it won’t happen.

Build in Flexibility

Allow gaps between activities,
and leave blank spaces for flexible things that come up during the day

Subscribe for instant access to my 6 figure solopreneur schedule template.
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💡 Key Insights for solopreneurs

A lot of tips on schedule design try to “force” you into a routine that goes against your own nature.
A truly good routine helps you to stay productive working with your natural flow.

🛎️ Daily reminder for solopreneurs

Your tasks will expand to fill your free time.
Remember to design your schedule,
or someone else will design it for you.

💥 How to take action in the next 5 mins

Fetch a notepad right now and write the day at the top.
At the start of each day write the things you’d like to do each day,
start noting down the things you are doing for each hour of the day.

Picture of Nicholas Robb

Nicholas Robb

Founder, Design Hero
Author of Life by Design

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