As business owners and leaders, we often find that we have more things to do than hours to complete them. Here are 4 practical ways to help you become more productive and on top of your game:
Set Your Top 3 - 5
Years ago, I met with a colleague each morning to set our top 3 priorities for the day. We worked in a fast-paced environment where interruptions were frequent, so we'd ask ourselves, "If I accomplished nothing else today, what 3 things would make today feel like a success?" We would have this brief 5 minute check-in before we opened emails, checked voicemails, or participated in any other meetings. This allowed us to get clear on what ourpriorities were, before allowing others' priorities in.
The 3 priorities for the day were aligned with the top 3-5 priorities we set for the week, which trickled down from the priorities we set for the month, quarter and year. Getting clear on your objectives and the tasks that support those objectives will help keep you on track.
Time Blocking is a technique used by a lot of organized sales professionals - it allows them to optimize the time spent on sales activities. For example, parts of their day will be blocked out for prospecting, cold-calling, sales meetings, social media activities, networking, and administrative tasks (although hopefully comparatively little time spent on administrative tasks).
The beauty of time blocking is that it is a proactive exercise. It forces you to review the time in the day and dedicate time to what is most important.
Track What Actually Happens
Time Blocking is great in theory, but if you're falling behind on deadlines or failing to accomplish your Top 3 - 5, take the time to track what is absorbing your time. And I mean down to the minute.
I recommend using a spreadsheet to begin with and track your time for an entire week. I even go as far as color-coding for a quick visual of what has transpired (green for what I had intended to do, yellow for unscheduled but important events, red for unscheduled/unimportant (ie. time wasters!).
What do you notice? Do meetings consistently run over? Are you not booking in enough time for travel between meetings? Are you constantly interrupted? Are you spending more time than you realized on time-wasters?
As you can see in the example, the hour I had dedicated for writing was interrupted by a 9 minute client telephone call (unscheduled but important), followed by a 7 minute social media scroll (unscheduled and a time-waster!) By completing this exercise, I was able to see that the 60 minutes I had scheduled to write was quickly dwindled down by 16 precious minutes!
Once you notice the trends, you can make some choices. For example:
- Add more time if the task is value-add. If a certain meeting consistently runs late because 10 minutes is spent talking about the latest Game of Thrones episode, set an objective to keep the meetings on-time and on-point. (But make sure your organization schedules time for "play" and social chitchat - that helps foster a healthy culture!) However, if a meeting runs late because of value-add debate or discussion, perhaps schedule a little more time moving forward.
- Unplug to focus. Turn off email and social media notifications. If you can, silence your telephone. Record a voicemail greeting to inform potential callers when you'll be available to call them back or provide them with an alternate number if the call is urgent.
- Look for new ways to do things. If something is essential and adds values, but takes too long to do, get creative and find another way to do it.
Take a Walk
Sometimes we reach a point where we're just not going to be productive. Perhaps we have too many thoughts jumbled in our heads, a tough decision that we're stuck on, or have been distracted from our mission due to an unforeseen event or incident. At this point, it's time to go for a walk. Step away from your environment and allow yourself to clear your head. (And track it to find if this is a regular occurrence and needs to be built into your schedule to optimize productivity.)
Too many times, we force ourselves to plow through - all too aware of approaching deadlines or stubbornly determined to complete our task. However, the quality of the work we produce in that space is often not optimal, and the benefits derived from a 30 minute walk can be huge. You can often revive your productivity by simply putting one foot in front of the other.
Try these 4 tips and see your productivity and performance reach new levels.
Shannon Johnston is the Chief Consultant for SBMO Consulting. As sales and marketing growth experts, we help small and medium organizations become mighty.