The Accomplished Solopreneur

Issue 24.09

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Image courtesy of DALL-E via ChatGPT

Power Checklists for Solopreneurs

I first came across Atul Gawande’s Checklist Manifesto way back in 2013 (thanks Amazon for reminding me when I bought it). The book opened my eyes to the power of checklists, and I can highly recommend it not just to learn about checklists—it’s also an entertaining read.

Today I use checklists and routines to help me be as effective as I can. I’ve learnt (the hard way) that relying on my memory is an almost guaranteed way to forget some small, critical detail - and combining checklists with routines is my key to getting stuff done.

What are these routines and checklists worth?

Probably the biggest advantage of these routines and checklists is that I have to remember (and worry about) far fewer things. When I start my week, my mind is far less cluttered and stressed than if I had to remember to do all the stuff.

If I didn’t do the things I do (using these routines and checklists), my life would be chaotic. Stress would haunt me every day, and frankly I won’t enjoy life.

I can’t imagine working any other way. So here they are, and how I use them.

Daily Routines and Checklists

Aside from personal stuff like going to the gym, I have two routines I go through every day. These are my startup and shutdown routines, each with its own checklist.

Startup Routine

By the time I get to my startup routine, I’ve showered, my second cup of coffee is in hand and I’m ready to tackle the day. This routine can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on what’s in my inbox.

My startup checklist is as follows:

  • Process tasks, notes and bookmarks
  • Check calendar (for today and the remainder of the week)
  • Clean inbox
  • Review my plan for the day

In brief, here’s what I do for each of these:

Process tasks and notes: During the day I capture tasks, notes and bookmarks in SoloBOSS. Processing them assigns them to a Space (category) and/or sets an action date or due date. Doing this every day keeps everything organized - this usually only takes a couple of minutes.

Check calendar (for today and the remainder of the week): A quick look at my calendar for today and the rest of the week is a good reminder of upcoming meetings and whether I need to prepare for any of them.

Clean inbox: Open my email and process everything in the inbox. I use the TRAF method: Trash it, Refer it, Action it (a quick response goes out immediately, something that will take longer is scheduled in my calendar) or File (archive) it.

Review my plan for the day: Take a quick look at my tasks and meetings, set my top 3 tasks for the day. Here we go.

During the day

No checklists here, but a couple of things to note about email.

  • I check and process emails 2-3 times a day.
  • Outside of that time, I shut down email, Messages and WhatsApp.

I can do this because I’m not a first responder or help desk. If you’re not one of those either, I recommend you shut down all email and communications apps—there’s nothing in your world that can’t wait a couple of hours.

I also (try to) spend at least 30-45 minutes a day interacting on LinkedIn. More about that later.

Shutdown routine

My shutdown routine takes 10-15 minutes:

  • Review the day / gratitude
  • Calendar check

By the end of the day I don’t feel like doing a lot more admin, so there’s only two things I really need to do:

Review the day / gratitude: I force myself to do a quick check on my top 3, what I got done, and write down what I’m grateful for. My attitude and mindset when I walk into the house is vastly improved from just getting up from a vexing problem.

Calendar check: A final quick look at my calendar to see what’s coming up tomorrow. Bleary-eyed early morning meetings is not how I want to show up.

Weekly Routines and Checklists

My weekly routines are blocked out in my calendar.

  • Weekly article
  • Bulk marketing
  • Finances
  • Weekly review & planning

Weekly article: 2-3 hours every week to craft and post articles like this one, usually on a Tuesday. I try to get as close to a final draft as I can, and polish and post on Fridays.

Bulk marketing: Two hours every Monday morning to craft and schedule my LinkedIn posts for the week. I use the LinkedIn Marketing module in SoloBOSS to make this quick and easy.

Finances: Every Friday morning, I download all the bank transactions from my personal and business accounts. These go into a spreadsheet, get categorized, and I make sure transactions have an invoice or receipt filed away. (I have some nerdy tech magic that automatically turns email invoices and receipts into date- and sender-stamped PDFs.) This process takes abut 15-20 minutes, and saves days when it comes time to do my taxes.

Weekly review & planning: Block scheduled at 3:00 pm every Friday. This is where I review the week that was and plan the next week.

Monthly and longer-term routines and checklists

The last Friday of every month I use my weekly Friday afternoon to look further ahead and think about whether I’m still on track. It’s easy to get busy with day-to-day stuff, and I find taking out time for a review does wonders for my focus.

Here’s the checklist I use:

  • Invoice clients (monthly retainers / contracts)
  • Goal / progress check
  • 3-month lookahead

Towards the end of each year, I get together with my Mastermind group and we present our plans, goals and ambitions to each other. This is an informal half- to full-day exercise, and forces each of us to declare where we want to go, and we ask for accountability partners if we need to.

Does this work?

I guess the first question is do I really do this stuff? The answer is yes—most of the time, but not all of the time.

What works

My daily and weekly routines are pretty much just how I do things. I’ve learnt that if I don’t do the small things every day, chaos seems to take over, I slow down to a crawl, and stress starts building up. Bad stuff will happen—not today, or perhaps next week, but it will show up some time when I least need it.

The things I do without fail:

  • Daily startup and shutdown routines
  • Weekly finances
  • Weekly article

What doesn’t work

Things I’m not yet that good at:

  • Bulk marketing (LinkedIn posts)
  • Interacting on LinkedIn every day
  • Monthly reviews

I’m hyper-focused on getting SoloBOSS to market, so I’ve slowed down (substantially) on the marketing part of my business. I know I will pay the price for this, but on the flip side I don’t want to do marketing that leads into a black hole. When I do market, I want leads to show up to a polished, ready-to-use product and website.

Many will argue against this, and they may be right. It’s just where I am right now.

No silver bullets

These routines and checklists are not the answer to all your problems (or even just productivity problems). But I do know this: without them, I would not be producing nearly as much as I do, and my life would be a lot more stressful.

There’s one recommendation I would like to leave you with:

Don’t aim for perfection. Start small, and accept there will be ups and downs along the way. Adopt and adapt, but stick to the routines even if you miss a few here and there.

Like I said, I can’t imagine working any other way.