Owning your own business can be a time-consuming undertaking. And despite many of us wishing for more hours in the day, time is finite. Everything we choose to spend time on comes at the expense of something else we will not have time to do.
To aid in the constant struggle to be productive, seven busy business owners plus one busy TAB CMO on how to make those hours go further and increase the productivity of your business.
1. Focus Resources on Solving Problems
I must confess the most powerful lesson I learned about productivity was from my own mistake! I owned a consulting business for about 15 years, prior to TAB. We did significant work for one or two companies at a time, and when I saw the light at the end of the tunnel start to dwindle, I would get to work on a new presentation, product, or piece of collateral. What I should have done was pick up that oh-so-heavy phone and make some calls to build relationships, identify needs (pain points) and offer our help based on their needs. If they didn’t hear themselves say they had a problem, none of our services were solutions.
I finally understood that by following a process like the above, life would have been far less stressful, our revenues would have been far more level and our lives would have been much more fulfilled. Take it from me, don’t open your sales dialogues by sharing all you can provide; ask questions to get the prospect talking, and for Pete’s sake, don’t crawl into a hole and create something instead of making the calls.
2. Use A Default Calendar
Two thousand years ago, Aristotle observed and wrote: “Nature abhors a vacuum.” He was referencing physics and determining how the universe works, but the very same can be said for time.
Your days will always get filled with stuff, often the whirlwind of urgent, ad hoc and often not-that-important activity. If you feel like you are often busy, yet not productive, start by using your calendar to make appointments with yourself and block out chunks of time to work on projects or tasks that have the most impact on your business or life. If you find yourself never having time for lunch, schedule it. If you know you are best in the mornings, schedule tasks and projects that get your best thinking for that time.
Time is your most limited resource. Start taking control of how it is invested each day by using your default calendar!
3. Protect Your Time
The key to effectively managing your time and getting things done is to clarify “busy” versus “productive.” Plan your week in advance, based on prior work defined in TAB’s Strategic Business Leadership® program. The better you become at selecting and defining your top priorities for a 90-day period, the more critical it is to protect the time needed to act on them. Ideally, the plan can objectively tell you when you are finished with an item on your to-do list - so you neither over nor under deliver.
Next, create blocks of time on your calendar. Begin with your key strategic items and any other commitment you feel is non-negotiable. Create a time slice each morning and afternoon to respond to urgent customer issues that cannot be put off. Communicate with your customers that you will respond to calls, voicemails and emails within a set period of time, to help set expectations. Reserve other activities (if you can't delegate, outsource or eliminate them) to non-prime time.
The better we become at selecting, protecting and blocking time - the better outcomes we will experience getting the most critical things done. Using these techniques, you will create the time to do the most important things, and that will drive progress.
As you proceed, keep a list of what you have accomplished. Sometimes our minds forget the effort invested once the item is completed. The list can give you a better perspective of time invested and outcomes achieved versus only seeing the list yet to be done.
Finally, adopt the mindset, "If we're not having some fun - we're doing it wrong..." Learn to pause to smell the roses and congratulate the team - even if the team is only you.
4. Build the Right Processes
Business owners of fast-growing companies are often so busy every day that they can't find time to write or update their processes.
This is the reason why they continue working without the right reference point (which are the processes) or use temporary fixes.
It is the “perfect” combination of lack of coordination and gradual loss of productivity with growth, while it should be the other way around. Growth means economies of scale that allow for greater specialization and productivity. Taking time to create the right processes to scale with your business will safeguard your productivity as you grow.
5. Plan the Week Ahead
Staying organized is critical; my main way of doing this is taking :60-:90 minutes on Sunday and updating my status report to plan the week ahead. My status report document - or my to-do list - includes:
- The key meetings I have each day of the week.
- Both personal and business tasks. Each task is prioritized by Impact, Effort, Priority and Due Date. It's important to have them on together so you don't have to manage two lists.
- A notes section of upcoming tasks or priorities for which I need reminders.
I print out my status report so it's visible to me at all times. I cross tasks off when they are completed and make notes on the report to add new tasks. At week's end, I update my list with the notes I've written on it, and then start the process all over again the following week.
My report is a simple word document. I tried using technology tools but they did not work the way I needed them to. While simple and low tech, my process works for me. There is no one-size-fits-all for getting and staying organized, so find or create a system that works for you.
6. Emails Can Wait
One of my colleagues in Brooklyn takes on a two-step approach to being productive during the part of the day when he is most focused - early morning. That is the time when he can get through an annoying task that would normally be avoided later in the day.
The first step is to start early. His idea was to start before the rest of the workday takes over his time - answer emails, focus on those tasks. The problem he found was that emails would drag him down a rabbit hole, and before he knew it, the day was starting for all of his employees. He was not getting the tasks done that he was expecting to get done. So, he stopped looking at emails until the afternoon! He is now much more productive in the morning and he realizes that emails can wait a few hours before a response.
7. Manage the Interruptions
As with a budget, time is not used up by the big items that we can control, but the multiple short interruptions that impact our productivity. If you think back on your day, what did you work on? A trick that I have used when I have seen my time getting away from me is to have a notepad next to me. Every time I am interrupted or change my focus, I write down what I did or what the issue was. I can then look back to determine if there is a visible pattern. I see if there is a group of ongoing activities that continue to disrupt and interrupt my time that can be delegated or dealt with in a more efficient way. Take back your day by trying to manage the small interruptions that happen continually. You can never eliminate them, but you can gain control over them and find ways to reduce those continual interruptions.
8. Time Block Your Most Valued Activities
There is one important truth for us to understand when we speak about time and priority management. The urgent things (those that, most of the time, are not important) will always be knocking at your door demanding your attention. They are highly possessive and stubborn. On the other hand, the important but non-urgent things (those that create long term value for you and your stakeholders) will be always waiting for you to go out, look for and take action on them.
With this being said, it is important that we allocate time to those important activities, and this is where time blocking makes sense. Once you have determined your critical actions, take your weekly calendar and block the time that you will allocate to work on them. I normally block out at least two hours a day to undertake the actions that I know are aligned with my most important goals. Now, take into account that there are two critical things here: first, respect the allocated weekly time as if it were an appointment with your most important stakeholder. Second, make sure that you have no distractions so that you can fully focus on the task at hand.
Do not be a hostage to your non-valued and urgent activities. Define what is important to you, block time on a weekly basis to work on it and transform your personal and company vision into a reality.