Do you ever have days where you feel like you’ve been chasing your tail all day and not really got anything done? Like you’ve been wandering around in a fog and not quite able to put your finger on what you’ve actually accomplished today?
Whether you work 4 hours a week or 40 hours a week, being productive will let you accomplish more and feel like you’ve made progress towards your goals and mean you finish your day on a positive note.
Here are 6 things that successful people have stopped doing so they can be as productive as possible.
1. Stop! Accepting Interruptions
Do you have an email responder that you use when you go on holiday? Do you have a voicemail option on your phone?
Use them! Maybe not all the time, but when you need to concentrate on the job at hand, constantly being interrupted slows you down. Not only because when you stop what you’re doing to answer the phone or read that email/instant message you’ve broken your train of concentration, but also because emails often contain links, which leads to internet browsing or require some sort of response which because you’ve seen it, now deem to be urgent and need doing NOW.
Following the advice of Tim Ferris in the 4 hour workweek, I’ve had a permanent email autoresponder running for about 2 years now and it means we get so much more done. I check emails twice a day on working days, and outside of that time very rarely – unless I’m sat waiting for a train and just clearing out my inbox in lieu of getting my book out of my bag.
I’ve turned off the email notifications on my phone and don’t leave it running in the background on the laptop – so the temptation to check it goes away.
I put my mobile phone on silent if I’m working on important tasks or in meetings. Remember the old days where someone called you at home on your landline and if you were out, they either called back or left a message on your answerphone? Important calls still got made, so did social calls but there wasn’t the need for someone to be able to contact you 24/7 – and we all managed just fine.
I’m not going to suggest that you need to wait until after 6 pm to phone your friends on the ‘cheap rate’ like your mum used to make you do…but if it’s not convenient to chat when the phone rings, swipe it to voicemail!
2. Stop! Trying to do it all by Yourself
We can’t all be good at everything. Delegate things that either you don’t enjoy doing, or someone else could do better. I can spend 3 hours troubleshooting why my printer doesn’t talk to my laptop, but it’s a better use of my time to ask my PC guy to do it, and the £50 I’ll pay him, is more than worth the time I’ll save by not getting caught up in the task.
As your business grows, hire someone to do the £10 tasks, so you can concentrate on the £100 tasks. For every task you face, work out if you need to do it yourself or not. Could you train someone to do it or outsource it? If it will take you 4 hours a day to do your social media, would you be better to pay someone else to do it and free up the time for you to do client-focussed income generating activities?
3. Stop! Multi-tasking
Seriously, don’t do it – it doesn’t work. The only exception is that if you are doing something mindless like running/cycling at the gym then listening to an audiobook or catching up on your Netflix series may be a good use of your time. Not if you’re running/cycling on a road – you need to be aware of your surroundings so you don’t fall down a hole / get run over / get abducted etc.
If you try to listen to the audio of a webinar whilst typing your emails or checking your banking you’re going to mess something up – or most commonly switch off from the audio to concentrate on what you’re reading and miss something crucial. How many times have you been trying to read an email or article on your phone, and completely missed what your husband said to you as you just didn’t hear him? I do it more than I’d like, as I tend to zone out when reading and miss the world around me – great for reading a book in a noisy airport, but not as good when someone is asking you where their car keys are.
4. Stop! Working Without a Lunchbreak
We all do it, even though we know we shouldn’t. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve got caught up in what I’m doing and look at the clock to see it’s 2 pm and I’ve not stopped to take a break and stretch my legs. Or when I’ve been busting for the loo, but decided to finish the task I was doing first, only to still need to go 2 hours later having not quite got around to it.
Getting up from your desk to change scenery for a 15-30 minute break (ideally going outside) has been scientifically proven to boost concentration and clear the head allowing a much more productive period of work immediately after.
If you use the Pomodoro method to organise your day, you’ll take a 5 mins break at the end of every 25 minutes, followed by a bigger break after every 4 work sessions. You can get an app on your phone to help you with this. Even if you’d rather do it more freeform, taking regular breaks will actually boost your concentration and help you get more done, and if you’re anything like me you may bet your best ideas when taking a brief walk outside.
If you really can’t take a break, then at least bring in a packed lunch and eat it scrolling social media for 30 mins or so but switch off your mind, so you can switch on your productivity.
5. Stop! Procrastinating
It’s time to eat that frog. Is there that one task that must be done today that you’re dreading? Something that you’ll avoid doing at all costs?
You have 3 choices – pay someone else to do it, keep putting it off or get on and do it.
If it’s something that you can’t delegate, make it your first task for tomorrow and as soon as you get to work, do it. Before you get a coffee, check email, listen to voicemails, empty the bins, fill up the paper in the printer, hoover the floor or any other task you slot in to avoid the task in question.
The idea goes that if the worst thing you need to do today is eat a frog, surely the best idea is just to get it over and done with first thing – or you’ll be dreading it all day. It’s like ripping off a plaster, hurts a bit, but much better than trying to peel it off a bit at a time and catching all your arm-hairs in it!
If you keep putting it off, it will still be there tomorrow – and so will the dread of having to actually do it.
6. Stop! Not Having a To-do List
Take some time every day to dump all the stuff in your head onto a piece of paper and then look at it objectively. Use this page to work out what should be on your to-do list, what can be delegated and what can be dumped/deleted. If you want to, you can use an online notepad/app but I find it more therapeutic to be able to scribble on a bit of A4 paper so I have a spiral-bound notepad on my desk.
Your master to-do list may start with 10 tasks on it, or 30 and then you need to then decide what realistically can you achieve today and ring round those. Be sure that each task has been broken down into its component parts so that you know the very first step that you need to take, and ideally have an idea of how long that step should take.
Pick 3 things for today and then park the others to look at again tomorrow. As you do each thing cross it off your list and feel good that you’ve achieved a little step in the right direction. If you manage to do your 3 things, and still have time to spare decide if you want to add another task, or take some time off to do something fun instead.
I like to put my things to do on post it notes – as it helps me to see what still needs to be done at a simple glance.
There is no point leaving the task too big or too vague. Write my eBook or paint outside of my house are unlikely to be tasks that you can do in one sitting, which means that you’ll never feel like you’ve got anywhere and will be left feeling demotivated. Much better to break each down into component steps and then tick of each as you go.
Some people like to do this first thing in the morning, others prefer the last part of the working day so that they can hit the ground running tomorrow – the choice is yours – depending on how you prefer to work.
The next day add any new tasks to your master list and then decide the next 3 to be done, and so on. If there is a task that seems to stay on your list week after week you may want to ask yourself why. For whatever reason you’re not choosing to do it, and could that be because deep down it’s not aligned with your purpose.
Is it important? Is it urgent? If it’s not important and will not add value to your life or business cross it off the list. If it is important, then make time to fit it in before it becomes urgent and you end up working to 10pm to get it done. Break it in to manageable chunks and do one at a time, interspersed with something more interesting / rewarding / enjoyable.
If you need help breaking down your task into the component parts, get in touch to chat about how my START method might help you break down your goals into manageable steps and work out your very first step.