You start your day and you get a call out of the blue – a client needs something right away. You look up and it’s 1pm and time for a quick (hopefully healthy) sandwich. Three bites in one of your staff comes to your office and needs to see you right away. You look up again and it’s 4pm…quick check the “To Do List” and no check marks….we’ve all been there. Whether you are a solopreneur or work at a large company it seems we are losing control of our days.
The answer isn’t to work longer hours and we can’t actually “manage time” so we need to organize our efforts to make the best use of the time we have. Here are the top 10 productivity hacks that I use:
- Getting up early – many of us aren’t “morning people” but having two hours before the rest of the world descends on us is life changing. I like to break-up the time between exercise and planning. A half hour to 45 minutes of exercise gets the blood moving and the brain engaged. Before the end of the previous day, create your to-do list for the next day. Before starting your day at work, look over this list as well as your calendar and map out how to get through your list.
- Create Lists – most of us have some form of to do lists. What works best is to have two lists….one for the tasks of the day (no more than 5 items) and a second for longer term projects and goals. Having the same long term goals on our daily list waters down the feeling of completion….it’s better to focus on the top 3-5 items that should be done that day and look over the longer term list once a week.
- Do the hard thing first – we all have things on our lists that we dread…..that call to a difficult client, the difficult performance review, etc. These tough tasks tend to percolate in the back of our minds and somehow never get done. Bite the bullet…..do the tough task very first thing. It will clear your mind and let the other tasks flow much more smoothly.
- Time block – writing a proposal for a client or developing a marketing campaign takes concentrated effort. If you can, close the door and set aside a specific time when you will only work on that project. It’s also a good idea to batch similar tasks together….your brain tends to get on a roll which makes completion easier.
- Deadlines – we are all used to deadlines. We do some of our best work under time pressure. If you block a half hour to complete something, you’re likely to be more focused than if it’s just an item on your to-do list.
- Multitasking – many of us are convinced we can do more than one thing at a time….on a conference call and writing a proposal, on the phone and answering a text. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as multitasking….our brains can only handle one thing at a time so we jump back and forth between tasks believing we are doing both well. We are not! Focus on one thing at a time even for a short burst…get it done and then on to the next.
- Delegate – many of us (especially entrepreneurs) tend to be “control freaks” and want to be in the middle of everything. Some things absolutely – positively must be done by you. Try delegating the rest. Give some general instruction as to how you would like it done and by when and let the person handle it themselves. This not only relieves you of the time element but allows your staff member to feel part of the team with some degree of autonomy.
- No – a difficult word. Many of the top business leaders credit the ability to say no to their success. We cannot do everything….be everywhere or attend every meeting and event. Look at your short and long term list – if the requested activity is not helping with any of your goals….politely say “I’m sorry I don’t have time to do that” it will free you.
- Use a calendar – a bit obvious but having a calendar that syncs with your phone is basic organization. Bits of paper and postits are distractions – it’s best to keep lists and the calendar clean and simple. If you have an assistant, be sure to give them access to your calendar. This is very helpful as they organize meetings and conference calls…please don’t forget to put your time blocking on your calendar so nothing else gets scheduled then.
- Avoid meetings – we seem to be meeting crazy. Usually time waters….try to avoid these by using email where you can. If a meeting is needed, use an agenda to keep things on track and have as few participants as possible and ask them in advance what they plan to cover.
There is much discussion of work-life balance….we all have the same 24 hours in the day. Try these tips and end your day at a specific time (after creating your daily to do list for the next day). I’m sure there are other ideas you may have…..please add to the comments.