I was recently at a business coaching session that focused on time management and productivity for small business owners.
At one point, the coach posed this question to us:
How much more time does a billionaire have on his hands compared to you?
The answer is at once obvious and revealing-
“None whatsoever, everyone gets 24 hours in their day.”
One thing even billionaires can’t buy is time but you can streamline your activities to make yourself more productive.
Ri Web’s Director, Ryan, and I recently gave a talk to the Henley Business Partnership about blogging. Among other things we asked the room to give reasons why they didn’t blog.
The most commonly occurring answer?
I don’t have the time.
Fair enough, running a small business is hard enough without throwing 500 words a week on top.
But it got me thinking and, rather ironically, gave me the idea for this blog.
Because although most small business owners tend to be very time poor, there are others who are both successful and time efficient.
Impossibly, they seem to have more time than the rest of us and I wanted to know their secrets.
So I asked a few of these rare specimens to share their top productivity tips with us.
Here’s what they had to say.
1. Do the most important task of the day first–
In the morning we have the highest willpower levels, use this to complete the hardest task first. This makes the rest of the day’s tasks seem easy.
2. Learn how to say “No”–
Avoid being a people pleaser, say no to opportunities and favors and you will find yourself with more time to reach your goals.
3. Use the Pomodoro technique –
The Pomodoro technique is 25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break, quite simple it works.
4. Don’t start the day with distraction –
80% of smartphone users check their phones within 15 minutes of waking up. The first hour sets the precedent for the day so don’t start it with distraction.
5. Use the 6 list rule–
Every working day write down 6 tasks in order of importance and tackle them one by one. If some don’t get completed reorder into the next day’s list.
6. Drink more water –
When you wake up drink 0.5L of water immediately to replenish your body after a water-less night. Keep drinking water throughout the day to improve focus.
The 30/30 App
I use an app called “30/30” to increase productivity. All of my tasks for the day are timed, and an alarm sounds when its time to move on to something else. Because the timer is constantly counting down, it helps me minimize distractions and stay on task! Since downloading “30/30″ I’ve been way more productive. You could also get similar results by setting regular old alarms on your smartphone.
Learn to Delegate
One of the best, yet most difficult ways for business owners to increase productivity in the workplace is proper and thorough delegation.
Business owners/leaders must gain trust in their staff members’ abilities to accomplish tasks with minimal direct supervision. Management must learn to “pin the rose” on someone for some task and give them the necessary tools and authority to execute that task to the fullest.
Each action that is touched by the least number of people is an efficient process. In doing that one simple, but difficult task – proper delegation – businesses become more and more productive.
Keep a list
I suggest using an electronic tool, rather than paper-and-pencil. You can’t remember everything so you need to keep important things out of your head. In addition to your to-do list, have a “Project” list, containing your big-picture objectives. A Project has a specific beginning and end. So “Grow the company” might become “Add two new salespeople by third quarter.” Then you must ask yourself, “What’s the very first thing I need to do to move that project forward?” Specific action steps might be: “Review the budget to allocate the funds,” or “Request meeting with Sales VP to discuss resource allocation.” The idea is that if you had five minutes, and wanted to move that project forward, you’d know exactly what you’d need to do. If you don’t have a specific action identified, that task is less likely to get done, and as a result, that project is less likely to move forward.
Organize your To-Do list
First, centralize your task list. Do you have to check two different email accounts, the Post-it notes on your computer, your calendar and your voicemail to figure out what you need to do? Get your to-dos all in one place. Next, break it down. The items that sit undone on your to-do list are probably the big, scary ones like “get a new job” or “roll out the new product.” Your brain doesn’t know what to do with ill-defined tasks like these until you turn them into smaller, actionable steps that are very specific, like “email the team regarding a date for the kickoff meeting.”
Tweak your environment
Start by decluttering. Talk to me all you want about messiness and creativity, but in my work I’ve seen over and over that clutter = stress. Your clutter sends the message (to yourself and others) that you’re overwhelmed and not in control, and that there may be things buried in the clutter that need your attention. Tackle electronic clutter, too. When you have lots of application windows and browser tabs open, you’re setting yourself up for constant distraction and task switching, which leads to scattered thinking and mistakes.
Control your attention
How much of your day is spent being reactive? If you often feel like the day flew by but you didn’t make any real progress on your plans, you might be allowing too many distractions to steal your attention. If you’re always distracted, you’ll get used to being always distracted, and you’ll find yourself bored in the “quiet times.” And as a result, you’ll unintentionally seek out the distraction! Ensure that you have times in your day when you can support your focus. Put your devices on Do Not Disturb, close your email, and spend time working on the things that are important to you – find your flow!
Create little rewards for yourself. It can even be something as small as treating yourself to a gummy bear after every paragraph you read, but these rewards create a stronger incentive to finish the task at hand. Not only does this extra push help you efficiently reclaim your time, but it makes it more enjoyable.
Structure your day around your mood. You know yourself best, and if you feel the most productive after that 2 PM cup of coffee, then plan your most important tasks around that time. If you’re not a morning person, don’t schedule early meetings. It sounds like common sense, but truly adapting your day around your natural, fluctuating energy levels can drastically change your productivity levels.
You are what you wear. Studies from Northwestern University have shown that the clothing we wear influences our psychological processes, namely our perceptions of our own abilities and skills. The more professional we dress, the more professional we feel and act. Although it may be tempting to work in those comfy sweatpants, try dressing the part of a focused, clean-cut professional instead, and your actions will follow.
Blocking Times in Google Calendar
Every Sunday night, I write out all of the major tasks that I need to complete that week, along with the most important meetings that I need to attend. From there, I schedule out rough time blocks during which I will accomplish each of these.
This technique has allowed me to come into the office every day prepared to proactively take on everything that I need to accomplish.
I wouldn’t really call this a hack because that would imply it’s something different or something I invented. I have set aside quiet times, no phone calls or emails, every day when I work on my list of the most important tasks I have in order of priority. It’s that simple, set aside time to work on your most important tasks and don’t do anything else and don’t let anything else distract you or take you away from them during your blocked off times.
Streamline Internal Comms With Slack
I’m always trying to figure out ways to collaborate more effectively with my team in order to be more productive and meet tight deadlines.
Streamlining communication plays a large role in that and I’ve found that the most efficient way to keep in touch with everyone is through an app called Slack. Instead of trying to communicate through phone calls, texting, email, and Skype, everything runs smoothly as its integrated through the app.
It’s really cool because I can talk about various subjects in different channels so that everyone on the team is able to see any updates, pictures, files and more. I can’t tell you how many times I struggled to maintain email threads that were a mile long. This tool has really helped condense all of that. It’s really easy to find content as well. Everything is searchable from one main search box.
My favorite productivity app is EverNote. I really like it because I can create to-do lists for projects, write down reminders, take pictures, brainstorm ideas, create timelines, and so much more. I can save things from the Internet, and everything gets synced to all of my devices. It’s really cool because I can draw, write, type, record audio, take videos and create PDF’s. Then everything is organized into notebooks. I’ve found it really useful when collaborating with team members, especially when feedback is needed on projects.
1) Throw important follow ups into the calendar immediately. That way, I am reminded when I need to follow up and not forget important follow ups.
2) Have three piles of documents. Extremely urgent, Important, and Not Important. Anything in the extremely urgent pile gets dealt with first, important gets dealt with when the urgent items are done, and the not important goes to the garbage or on my holiday reading list.
3) Learn to ignore communication that doesn’t occur on the right channels. We use email, slack, and an internal chat tool. If someone starts a conversation with me over email, i ignore them. My team starts learning how to communicate with me and my inbox is much cleaner.
What do you think? Are there any productivity hacks you use to save yourself time and get jobs done efficiently? If there are, share them below!