We all wish we had more time, right? It’s especially true for anyone who works for themselves as a service provider: Time means money in the bank.
If you’re struggling to get the most out of your days and to be productive, there’s no shame in asking for help. With a few mindset changes, a solid plan, and an assist from some inventive apps, you can revolutionize your productivity and start getting more done—without breaking a sweat.
Here are five techniques to optimize your work day, along with the top 20 productivity apps that will help you get there.
1. Find your ideal work schedule.
Are you the type who’s ready to take on the day while the dew is still fresh outside your window? Or do you come alive when the sun goes down, feeling energized late into the night?
The best part of being your own boss is that you can set your own hours—and instead of fighting your natural inclination towards morning or night, lean in. Everyone has their own natural biorhythm, so pay close attention to yours and plan your work schedule around the times you’re naturally more productive.
If you’re a night owl, consider scheduling your appointments from noon until the evening and then taking care of administrative tasks into the night. If you’re a morning person, start your appointments or busy work when you wake up, and be home in bed on the early side.
Understanding the best time of day for you to tackle certain tasks could be the difference between getting tasks done—or having tasks left on the back burner.
Apps That Monitor Your Sleep and Get You Moving
- Sleep Cycle wakes you up when you’re in your lightest phase of sleep, ensuring that you aren’t jolted awake from deep REM sleep. The app also tracks your movement as you sleep (you leave the phone in your bed) and gives you insight into the quality of your sleep as the night goes on.
- Smart Alarm Clock lets you record your sleep stats in a database, which the app uses to learn about you and give you sleep pointers.
- Alarmy goes out to night owls who can’t get up in the morning: The alarm won’t stop ringing until you take a picture of something not in your bedroom or solve a math puzzle.
- F.lux is made for night owls—the app changes the color of your screen as the day progresses, fading the blue light and turning redder as it gets later. This ensures that your night hours in front of the screen don’t keep you up any later than you need to be.
2. Automate processes like scheduling.
One of the fastest and easiest ways to maximize your work schedule is to automate and streamline as many processes as you can—like marketing, scheduling, and deliveries.
Take scheduling, for example. Instead of wasting time doing scheduling over the phone or digging through long email threads, online scheduling software can automate that process—and so much more. Any online scheduling software worth its price tag will handle almost all aspects of client management, from booking, to appointment reminders, to payments.
Cutting down on the busy work needed to keep your business up and running will free you up to focus more on your clients—and charge for more appointments.
Apps that Automate Scheduling
- Schedulicity (that’s us!) is the perfect fit for service businesses like hair salons, spas, fitness trainers, dog walkers, and so much more. Our features include class management, waivers and alerts, marketing tools like email marketing and business listings, online payment processing, data analytics, and a super easy booking experience for your clients.
- Vagaro comes with a website builder, email marketing options, invoice and form generation, and customer tracking in addition to booking and calendar management.
- Mindbody offers online booking, marketing, and point of sale options.
- Wellness Living features the typical scheduling options and lets clients book through Google—making it especially easy for new customers to find your services.
3. Limit wasting time online at work.
We can all admit that we can get distracted at work from time to time. Hilarious cat videos on YouTube, crazy gifs on Twitter, even the antics of a funny co-worker can provide plenty of entertainment.
For most people, the biggest time-waster is their phone. According to a 2018 market research study, Americans check their phones an average of 52 times per day.
Do you feel totally addicted to your phone—or to technology in general? You’re obviously not alone, and you’re not without options. There are tons of apps you can download that limit your screen time, gently pushing you back into your workday—distraction-free.
Apps to Help You Limit Your Screen Time
- Offtime blocks apps like Facebook and games of your choosing on your phone. It comes with specific presets like a Work mode, so that you can keep the apps you use at the office within reach but ignore the apps that distract you.
- Flipd gets pretty serious—it allows you to lock your phone for a period of time, and you can’t unlock it no matter what you do until your time is up.
- Cold Turkey blocks whatever websites or apps you choose from your computer, so you can’t access timewasters like Facebook or Reddit. Need to get to a blocked site? Simply turn off Cold Turkey.
- Self Control is a little more intense—you set a time frame where certain sites are blocked and nothing will allow you to go to those sites, even if you restart your computer.
4. Plan ahead with to-do lists and schedules.
When you have a ton of things to do floating around your head and on random notes all over the place, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed. It’s much less stressful when you can visualize exactly what you have to do, because then you can make a plan.
Start by making a to-do list, where you write down every single thing. Then break down your tasks into small, bite-sized sub-tasks that you can easily tackle and cross off your list.
Now that you have a list, batch similar tasks together. Phone calls to vendors can happen all at once, and the same goes for paperwork. By batching similar tasks, you can get into a flow without feeling totally scatterbrained.
Instead of being crushed by the pressure of tackling one enormous project, your breakdown makes your tasks seem a lot more manageable—meaning you can get way more done.
To-Do List Apps
- Google Tasks is my favorite because it’s so simple and integrates with Gmail and my Google calendar.
- Todoist lets you organize your tasks with due dates, and integrates with just about every email and calendar out there.
- Remember the Milk is easy to use and full of keyboard shortcuts, if you’re into that kind of thing.
- Any.do’s most exciting feature is the Plan My Day option, where you can schedule your tasks and integrate with Google Calendar or your Outlook calendar.
5. Take breaks while you work.
Taking breaks during the day may seem counterproductive at first, but it’s a key factor in maximizing your work schedule.
Breaks should include food, water, and getting up to stretch—all of which bring renewed focus to your workday. Do what you can to take a real lunch break if possible, and throw in a walk around the block.
Apps to Help You Remember to Take Breaks at Work
- Time Out lets you decide how often you take your breaks and for how long they last—and a message pops up on your computer to remind you it’s break time.
- Tomatoes gets you set on the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks work into blocks of—usually—25 minutes with five-minute breaks. After two hours of work, take a longer break of 30 minutes.
- Eye Care 20 20 20 combats eyestrain: Every 20 minutes of screen time means a reminder to take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away.
- Awareness is a change from a pop up window reminder—this app instead pings the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl whenever it’s time for a break.