By Harper Spero

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You’ve left your full-time office job to pursue your career as an entrepreneur. Things are coming together: your website just launched, you’ve landed your first few clients, and you’re working tirelessly to establish yourself as an expert in your industry.

And your office is coming together too — except your office is actually a tiny corner in your kitchen where your laptop is perched precariously on a table edge, surrounded by both important work papers and dirty dishes. (From breakfast? Last night?) In this scenario — all too real for some of us — it’s easy to imagine feeling overwhelmed. Especially in the beginning months of being an entrepreneur, it’s common to work long hours across days and weeks that lack any apparent routine. If that’s you, here are some ways to create structure and work smarter, not longer.

Letting yourself have a mini reset is just as important as tackling your to-do list.

1. Identify your golden hours.

Photographers refer to the golden hour (or magic hour) as the time shortly before sunrise or after sunset when the light is soft and perfect. Rather than constantly adjusting, they can take many photos in succession. We all have golden hours in our days — those periods of time where we are focused and the conditions are right so that we can work undistracted. For example, some people like to tackle emails in the evening, when they aren’t constantly interrupted by another incoming message. Some prefer to work on creative or long-term projects in the early morning hours when they feel refreshed from a good night’s sleep.

Everyone is different, but once you identify your hours of highest productivity as it relates to different tasks, you can begin to structure your day to capitalize on (and protect) those windows of time.

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2. Carve out time for yourself.

You need to sleep, eat, take care of yourself, and interact with the outside world. It’s counter-intuitive, but if you’re working from home, you can easily forget to get up from your desk and grab something out the fridge. Don’t let yourself sacrifice your well-being; think of self-care as an important part of your daily routine.

If you belong to a gym, take a break and get a workout in. If you meditate or practice yoga, find time for a quick session (and make sure you leave the room where you’ve been working). Go for a walk and breathe the fresh air. Letting yourself have a mini reset is just as important as tackling your to-do list. Scheduling a break ahead of time can help you feel in control, and it also reinforces the importance of sticking to the plan.

You have to protect your time in the way that works best for you.

3. Understand that not everyone will understand.

Entrepreneurs are a supportive bunch, and anyone who has embarked on solopreneurship will understand how important it is that you stick to your established routine, despite having the freedom to switch it up.

Some people, however, won’t understand that you aren’t always available, despite the fact that you make your own schedule. People generally have good intentions; they want to see you, grab lunch with you, or go on an impromptu adventure. Sometimes, family members, thinking that you’re free, will request an errand or a favor. Whether or not you change your plans is up to you — that’s the beauty of working on your own terms. But you shouldn’t feel any shame in declining plans, especially if they disrupt your schedule in a way that will be hard to correct and result in days of scrambling. You have to protect your time in the way that works best for you.

4. Switch it up.

If you’ve been working from home, try venturing out to a coffee shop or coworking space. A change of scenery can energize and focus you, and getting a coffee or pastry is a nice treat to change up your day. If you want to give coworking a try, search for spots in your city or make a date with a friend to have an informal coworking date. You can hunker down in a café, an apartment, a library — wherever, as long as it’s not your little corner in your kitchen.

When you work alongside a friend or colleague, you can bounce ideas off each other while keeping each other company and cheering each other on. At home, try adding desk accessories to your space. A splash of color or novelty can go a long way toward making your workspace feel productive again.

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