How to be productive when you work for yourself

If you’re reading this post, I’m going to assume that you might also feel the same frustrations that I do about getting your business off the ground and being overloaded with information. I mean, I just wanted to live a quiet life, copyediting the books of new authors, the websites of small business owners, and the essays of college-bound students. I had no intention of getting my Internet degree in “Landing Pages,” with a minor in “Click-through Rates.”

How to be productive...For me, one of the hardest things about starting my business has been getting stuff done. There are about a dozen things at any given time that I should be working on, but without hard deadlines,  a boss or colleagues to be accountable to,  and the certainty that what I’m working on will literally pay off, I have admittedly found it difficult to be productive.

Recently,  I’ve been suffering from decision paralysis. Should I be focusing my services more on this target market or that one? Should I write a blog that addresses the issues unique to small business owners, or people needing copyediting in general? Should I be making a free download to build my list, or should I be working on an information product that people will buy?  Should I be using light green or royal blue for my landing page to get more conversions?

I get distracted by all of the different resources available from people who are “killing it” online: free webinars about creating the perfect Facebook ad, how to get the most out of my WordPress plugins, discussions in small business forums, e-courses on how to “brand yourself,” and don’t get me started about all the auxiliary business add-ons that everyone else seems to be doing. (Did someone just say, “podcast”?)

…and down the rabbit hole I go.

Did I mention that I have a full-time job that I cannot leave until I’m making a living wage from my “side hustle.”

I found myself completely frustrated and on the verge of a minor breakdown a couple of weeks ago with all this white noise getting in the way of me actually working on my business. I’m a smart person, a motivated person, a relatively confident person…but I just couldn’t get over all the business-y stuff I didn’t know how to do. I had 12 tabs open in my web browser, I had just downloaded a handful of entrepreneurial related podcasts to listen to during my morning commute to work, and I had just transferred about 100 pages of an ebook about product launching to my Kindle to read before bed. It was the definition of information overload. Queue the panic attack.

That’s when I closed my computer (this alone made me about 10x more productive), picked up a pencil, and turned to a new page in my notebook. I wrote down the days of the next week and skipped a few lines between them. And then I slowly filled in the lines with just 2-3 concrete and actionable to-dos that could be crossed off as I completed them.

Simple, I know. But it was the most productive business week I had in a while.

If you’re a small business owner like me, I’m sure you also feel that burden of wanting to learn everything you can in order to be successful and make a living. But there comes a time when we have to stop learning and start doing. We’re all going to make mistakes along the way, but I would much rather fix my e-cart when I have a customer trying to buy something, then have a perfectly working e-cart with nothing to ship in it.

I’m going to share with you exactly what I did to pull myself out of the quicksand and get back on track. I’ve even included a handy little worksheet for you to download and print off if it helps.

How to be productive when you work for yourself:

1. Close the computer and back away slowly. Right now, this is not a machine of efficiency, this is an evil porthole of sabotage. Close it and walk away.

2. Just Think. This is one of those suggestions I see in other people’s articles that makes me angry because it’s a vague and obvious “tip.” (I could have thought of that suggestion myself, Mr./Ms. Asshat! Thanks for wasting my time. Enjoy your worthless click-response data.) But seriously, try to just think for a few minutes and see what happens. Stare out the window. Walk around in circles. Pet the dog/cat. My best ideas come when I’m out jogging (and frustratingly not able to write stuff down).  For some reason, just giving myself the time to think about my business and the direction I wanted to take it was actually the last thing that I was allowing myself to do. Creating my website, writing blogs, reading marketing literature, etc., are important, but about worthless if you don’t have a clear objective to focus that energy on.

3. List, List, List: Not to toot my own horn, but I am so good at list-making. If I could get paid for writing lists for people, I’d be the happiest, richest person in the world. Making lists is really the key to getting stuff done. Here’s what I do:

  • I write out my list on a sheet of normal paper with a normal pen.List
  • I write out each day of the next week and skip just 3-4 lines per day. (I also usually make a separate weekend list because weekends are special.)
  • I then decide on 2-3 actionable, concrete, specific things that need to be done each day.
  • The list has a perma-home right next to my laptop where most of the work gets done.
  • I cross things off as soon as I finish them (the most satisfying action in the world, btw).

I’ve included a fancy picture of one of my lists. Look at this beauty! Look at all the things that are crossed off!

4. Google iCal is your friend. For the past month, every Sunday evening I open up my Google iCal and block out time for specific activities. The key is specificity – I don’t just block out time to “write a blog post,” I make sure to note what the topic of that post is going to be so that I’m not starring at a blank Word document for 15 minutes.

  • I block out time for professional development (ex: I will finish modules 3-4 of the Udemy course I’ve signed up for)
  • I block out time to write my blog, and I write the planned topic for that post.
  • I block out specific hours to work on clients’ projects
  • I block out time for exercising
  • I block out time for my weekly Happy Hour (very important!)
  • Shoot, I’ve even blocked out time for a nap



You can see from the example above that I scheduled my gym time (and what exactly I was planning on doing while at the gym), what I planned on making for lunch (tuna and hard boiled eggs!), and what I was going to do specifically to work on Ghost Editorial (GE). I also like to use the iCal to remind me to do stuff since I set email reminders with most of these things.

5. Look up how to do things when it’s time for you to actually do them: This is super important because it can be a major time-suck. If you don’t have an information product or ebook ready to be sold, then you shouldn’t be wasting time watching webinars and downloading info on the best shopping carts to use or how to upload your book to Kindle or Amazon. If you don’t have an offer to give people who come to your site, then don’t spend time looking at landing pages. This is the rabbit hole. Stay away from it. Sure, it’s good to know that there is a way to upload your digital products and sell them through your site. It’s also good to know that there are easy plugins to use to create landing pages, but you’ll cross those bridges when the time comes. Believe me, anything that you are planning on doing for your business, someone has already made a webinar, cheat-sheet, downloadable something-or-another. Just hold off until you are actually ready.

*ProTip: Create a bookmark folder for good websites that you’ll need when the time comes. I have folders called

Just a few bookmarks

Just a few bookmarks

‘Trep Education and ‘Trep Blogs where I bookmark pages that I come across now that I know I’ll need in the future when I’m ready.  Pinterest is also a great way of making a visual folder for all the good resources you’ll come across.

OK – time for you to stop reading and start being productive!  If you have any great productivity tips, I’d love to hear them. Just leave a comment below and share how you have gotten through the information overload as a small business owner.

You can download my productivity to-do list template here: GhostEditorial_ProductivityToDoList

If you like this post and my To Do list, please let me know by leaving a comment and signing up for my newsletter.

Now, get back to work! 🙂

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