Have you ever had one of those days where you went from task to task all-day and there was never a moment to stop, but at the end of the day you felt unaccomplished and major projects still remained on your to-do list? There are a variety of reasons that cause this to happen, but often it is the difference between being productive and busy.
While the difference between productive and busy can be subtle, the results that each produce are very different. To understand this better, “busy” is when our day is filled with activity, but the completed tasks are lower-level and lead to short-term accomplishment which distracts us from working on things that would be more impactful in the longer-term. Productive would be defined as completed those tasks that move the business forward in a meaningful way towards the long-term vision for the company. The ability to have daily focus towards long-term goals will result in a more strategic approach to your day, but also results that be more impactful in the future.
Here are several techniques that you can use to help become more productive and eliminate being just busy:
- Delegate – This can be difficult to do when you are just starting out, but as soon as you can, you must delegate tasks that can be done by someone else. It is imperative! When you spend your time making copies, booking flights, and running errands for office supplies or to the bank, it takes away time that you could be updating a proposal deck, prospecting for new business, or improving your existing processes to help your business run more efficiently. Get the lower-level tasks off of your plate as quickly as possible. This will empower your employees as well as free up your time to work on the stuff that matters. In Perry Marshall’s book, 80/20 Sales and Marketing, he brilliantly asks and explains how you should look at each hour and how much it is worth. He breaks each hour into $10, $100, $1,000, and $10,000 hours and said our goal should be to eliminate the $10 hour tasks so that we have more time to spend on the $100 and up tasks. When you review your completed tasks each day, you should evaluate each for how much value they add and at that moment should determine if it should be delegated in the future to someone else.
- Prioritize – As much as your to-do list helps to keep you on track, it may also be crippling you. As you you review that never-ending lists of things that need to be done it is often a distraction as you try to determine what to do next. Unfortunately, many times we pick the tasks that are easier or we think we can knock out really quickly and delay in working the more meaningful items on the list. To prevent this, each morning before you get started working or even the night before you go to bed, identify the five(5) most critical tasks on your list that need to get done that day and put them on a separate list. Those are your marching orders for the day. Now schedule uninterrupted time on your calendar for you to handle these tasks. The strange thing about tasks is that some take longer than you expected them to and some are completed much faster than you thought it would take. By only focusing on the top 5 priorities, you are ensuring that there is time if tasks take longer, but also you will also have a productive day of moving your business forward for the future.
- Eliminate Distractions – Watch your time like a hawk! Every time you check your cell phone, refresh Facebook, skip a song on Pandora, respond to a text is taking you away from your business and costing you valuable time. It takes several minutes to get back on tasks after a distraction. It is estimated that an average person checks their smartphone 150 times a day! That is a huge amount of distractions and the reality is that all of that stuff can wait and it must if you are going to be successful. Your ability to control the time in your day will be the difference between success and failure. Turn your cellphone on airport mode and stay focused.
- Avoid Multitasking – At some point it became vogue to say that we are multi-tasking by handling fifty different things at the same time and what we are actually doing is not handling anything at all. Imagine if you had three shopping carts that you need to push from one end of the block to the other end. Would it be better to push one cart 10-yards and then push the next cart 10-yards, and then the same for the last cart until you reached the end of the block or would it better to push the first cart to the other end, then repeat for the 2nd and 3rd carts? In the first scenario, each time that you switch to another cart, you lose the momentum that you had developed on the previous cart. By staying focused on one task and finishing that one task, you have will have much better results than jumping from task-to-task in an attempt at multitasking. Multitasking is costing you time and killing your productivity.
- Pomodoro method – One technique that has been around about 30 years is called the Pomodoro technique. This is where you break work intervals into 25 minute segments with short breaks in-between. This allows you to be completely focused while working on a task and then gives your mind a short break to reboot. Then the challenge becomes how many pomodoros can you complete in a day. When scheduling, many times we carve hour 2-hour and 3-hour blocks of time, but our attention spans are not long enough for us to focus for this amount of time. The pomodoro technique basically says work for 50 minutes of each hour and take ten minutes off, but break them down to 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes off. Using this method will lead to increased focus and accomplishment as tasks get completed rather than inched forward along with 10 other tasks.
- Break tasks down into subtasks – This may seem obvious, but can be tremendously effective when working towards goals. Instead of listing a task that will take six hours to complete, it might be better to break it into smaller tasks or subtasks that can be completed in two hours or or three hours. This will give you a good stopping point and may be a better estimation of time than beginning with six hours in mind.
Your time is the most valuable resource that you have. Hate to use a cliche, but we all have the same 24-hours in a day. The difference between success and failure is heavily impacted by your ability to work on tasks that provide a lot of value and the most return on your investment. That can not be mailing letters and fighting with a broken printer. Use your time on the tasks that you know are most important to moving your business forward.
What tasks are you working on today that you can delegate to someone else on your team or need to hire someone else to-do? How much per hour are the tasks on your to-do list worth to your business?