One of the key topics my clients ALWAYS want to know about is how they can get more done in less time. They’re tired of working 12 hour days, tired of missing out on family and personal events because they’ve got too much work on, and tired of feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and they want some solutions.
Luckily, I have LOADS of tools to help with this. After being in a very similar position myself for the first 8 years of being a business owner, I burnt out completely with Post Viral Fatigue after a bout of Glandular Fever. That was when I started studying High Performance, and looking at how I was going to get the same amount done in 20-30hrs a week, that had previously been taking me 70-80! 5 years later and here I am, helping other business owners to implement those tools and avoid the mistakes that I made in those early years.
So, in the interests of keeping this post relatively short and sweet (I know you don’t have much time!), I’ve picked out my top 5 tips for kick-starting your productivity so you can start to achieve better results in less time.
1. MAKE A PLAN. When you have a never-ending to do list, the thought of taking time out to plan your day can sometimes feel counter-productive. In fact, many high-performance strategies can feel counter-productive as they can be perceived as “yet another thing added to the list”, but it’s important to realise that it’s exactly this time spent AWAY from the business (or ON the business) that means you’ll perform so much better when you’re IN the business. One of the biggest causes of stress and overwhelm comes from being in a reactive state; you’re constantly fire-fighting, lurching from client demands, to staff needs, to meeting deadlines, and the problem with this is that it means we’re dealing with what’s urgent, but not necessarily with what’s really important. It’s easy to get swayed by someone else’s urgency, someone else’s agenda, into thinking something is more important than it actually is. Taking the time out to make a clear plan about where you want your business to go, and what needs to happen to get it there, will allow you to see what steps need to be taken so that you can refocus where you’re spending your energy and your time. It’s that brief pause before your day begins, that allows you to take a breath and make a clear decision on what YOU need to get out of YOUR day to move your business towards its goals. Now that’s not to say that every day will go exactly to plan, unexpected things will always crop up, but if you start with a plan you’ll feel clearer and more confident, you’ll stay focussed throughout the day, and because you KNOW exactly what needs to get done, you’ll be much less likely to procrastinate.
Ideally you want to have a clear business action plan in place, so that you and your team, all know what needs to happen to achieve your business goals. If you don’t already have one you can download my free report with 7 easy steps on how to create yours here.
You’ll want to use that as your starting point and then break it down until you have a clear, specific action plan for the week (and ideally day) ahead of you. Setting yourself these small, achievable targets along the way will keep you motivated and on-track, and highlight it quickly if you start to lose focus.
2. PRIORITISE. There are only so many hours in a day, and unfortunately as a business owner the list of what COULD be done is never ending. There is always more we COULD be doing, if we had unlimited energy and no desire to have a life outside of work! Personally, I think running a successful business should be an enjoyable PART of a balanced lifestyle, and that means that somewhere along the line we have to draw boundaries. That, in turn, means that the activities we choose to do whilst we are in work, need to produce the maximum results, so it’s really important to consciously prioritise where we want to be spending our time, energy and focus.
This is again where starting with a clear plan will really help you to focus and prioritise. You can download my free report here if you’d like a hand creating yours. Once you feel clear and confident on what you’re aiming at, where you need to be spending your time will become more obvious.
It’s important to ascertain what are the key tasks that are going to drive your business forward towards those goals, and where are you currently spending time on lower-impact tasks that could be delegated to someone else either in your team, or outsourced externally? As the business owner we are at the head of the chain, and it’s our responsibility to deliver those High Impact Tasks that will have a significant impact on achieving our long-term goals. It’s so easy, especially when we’re feeling tired or stressed, to fill our time with the “easy” tasks, because they’re comfortable, and to justify it with “well it all needs to get done at some point” but whilst it may need to get done, it probably doesn’t need to get done by you. Focus your energies on the high growth tasks, hit your targets, and build a team (in house or outsourced) that can handle those other tasks for you.
Another key here is to tackle those key tasks first thing in the morning, that way if your day does get derailed by something unexpected, you’ve already completed the most urgent tasks to move the business forward. This way you’ll be tackling them when your energy’s highest (not drained after a long day) AND you’ll get anything difficult over quickly, meaning less time wasted procrastinating and a great boost of achievement early in your day.
3. WORK IN POWER BLOCKS. Once you’ve gotten into the habit of planning your day and prioritising your actions, I then advise introducing something I call “Power Blocks”. This means that rather than structuring your day as a flat 8hrs (or more) ahead of you, which can feel draining even before you begin, and is not a productive structure, you instead start to break your day up around several 90 minute blocks. You may have anything from 3-5 of these across your day.
During each of these 90minute blocks you want to focus ideally on 1 task or project, or at least tasks requiring the same type of energy (ie. Creative/analytical), and you want this to be focused, uninterrupted time where you really get your head down and get some great work done – that means ideally no phones, no emails and no staff interruptions. As humans we can naturally focus well on any task or project for around 90 minutes before we start to wane and get distracted, so scheduling these blocks allows us to harness that; because it’s a short, sharp burst we’re less resistant to focusing intensely and putting all of our energy into the task because we know it’ll soon be over. It’s also therefore important to make sure that you give yourself a break afterwards, and a chance to rest and mentally recuperate, before you move on to the next task. If you’re heading into another power block I’d suggest at least a 20-30 minute break, away from the office.
4. CREATE STRUCTURE. This is something that many business owners find tricky, particularly in the early days, they’re so driven by meeting deadlines, or so over-worked because they don’t have the right systems in place, that they fall into the “working all hours” trap and the lines between Work Time and Personal Time become completely blurred, especially with modern technology making it beyond easy to still be checking emails at midnight in bed! But having boundaries is so important, it’s crucial that we give ourselves time to switch off, rest and de-stress from work. For most of us we started our businesses because of a personal motivation – for me it’s always been about freedom to live my ideal lifestyle, for you it may be about having time to spend with your kids, or your partner, or your dog! Or about travelling the world, or having time to volunteer with a local charity you love. And it’s important to create some structure so that you can start to live some of those goals right now.
Ideally, where possible you want to create a start time and an end time for your day (that 2nd one’s the most important!) By setting a final deadline on when your work day will be finished (AND STICKING TO IT), you’ll force an increase in your productivity to make sure you get everything urgent done before you leave. There’s a law, Parkinsons Law, which states that any given task will expand to fill the time available, which means that if you’re not setting a deadline on when you’re going to finish work, your work will just expand – you’ll dawdle, and be less productive, and it will take you all night. How many of us have seen this in action when writing papers for school or university? We have 3 weeks to get it done, and the night before it’s due we bash out our essay out in 10hrs straight!!
By creating a structure to your day, a beginning and end time, chances are you’ll get just as much done and you’ll have an evening for yourself! On top of this, by giving yourself time away from work and setting a boundary that means you’re not checking emails or answering phone calls, you’re allowing your brain to properly switch off from work and rest. This will have a big impact on your productivity when you get back into the office the following day. It’s also easy, if you feel like you’re working 24/7 with no end in sight to get very demoralised and lose your motivation, after all, if there’s never any reward then what’s the point? By creating some structure so that you do get a work-life balance, and time off to enjoy yourself and feel stress free, and start living some of those “goals” right now, you’ll boost your motivation and be much more keen to get back in the office the following day.
5. LOOK AFTER YOURSELF. This one is absolutely key and again is so often overlooked by people trying to do too much with too little time. Ultimately as a business owner, YOU are your businesses biggest asset. If we have a great day the business will move forward quickly – we’ll tackle those key tasks quickly and easily, manage our staff and our team well, deliver better customer service and perform better in meetings. Equally if we have a crappy day, where we’re tired, stressed and distracted, we won’t propel the business forward very well, we’ll probably be more inclined to procrastinate on the big jobs, we may be irritable with staff, less creative at problem solving and we won’t connect with people as well as we could in our meetings. So if you really want to get more done in your business, one of the easiest ways is to look at improving your personal performance and that means looking after yourself so that you’re performing at your best.
In the way that an athlete looks after their body to ensure they can perform their best in a race, we need to look after ourselves so that we can perform at our best in the office. One of the main areas to improve here is sleep, for many of us we’re just not getting enough sleep and that means we’re showing up tired and performing below par. Whilst again it may feel counter-intuitive when you feel like you’ve got too much to do, getting to bed even just 30 minutes earlier can have a MASSIVE impact on your productivity the next day (thereby more than making up for leaving the office those 30 minutes earlier!)
Something as simple as making sure you’re drinking enough water can also have a huge impact on your performance throughout the day. One of the main signs of dehydration is tiredness, meaning if we’re not drinking enough water throughout the day we’re simply not performing at our best, and it’s all too easy when we feel that mid-afternoon energy slump to reach for the coffee pot, making the situation worse. Try something as simple as keeping a large jug of water on your desk and aiming for the recommended 8 glasses a day, and just see what difference it makes to how you feel throughout the day.
Other small changes like paying attention to your sugar and caffeine slumps and working to reduce or eliminate them, and making sure that you’re getting fresh air daily, regular exercise and regular breaks throughout your day will all have a big impact on your performance, and when you start to combine several of these areas the impact on your overall performance (and happiness) can be startling.
So those are my 5 top tips for boosting your productivity. There are of course many more I could go into, and much more detail, but that would be a book not a blog post! If you do want to find out a bit more you can check out my free webinar “How to HALVE your working hours AND Achieve MORE than ever before!” here, which goes into more detail.
See you soon