Not enough hours in the day to complete your projects and follow through on your ideas? Here are a few productivity hacks that I recently shared a few productivity hacks with PA Business Support, a boutique recruitment firm offering executive virtual PA support for companies based in London and internationally.
One of the realities of owning a business is that it comes with an endless to-do-list. There are always more tasks to complete, more ideas to pursue and never enough hours in the day. Sound familiar?
Hiring a Personal Assistant is a great way of freeing up your time to focus on core activities in your business. Yet one of the symptoms of our hectic lives is that, as soon as we free up time at one end, it’s soon taken over by other demands.
Executive Coach Hans Schumann suggests you get rid of the fantasy that you will ever be on top of everything. You will probably never have a clear desk or the luxury of focusing on just one thing at a time. You probably know this already!
So where does this leave you? Hans’ approach is to focus on the art of prioritising: becoming smarter about the way you use your limited time and letting go of activities that do not add value to your business.
Here are his top productivity tips:
Have clear goals
Productivity is not just about getting more done. It’s about getting the right things done. Those are the tasks that are most effective in supporting your personal and professional goals. Hans recommends having clear annual, quarterly, monthly and even daily goals. If you have clarity about what they are, you also know what to focus on each and every day. If you don’t have this clarity, you may well find yourself wasting time on activities that seem productive but in reality do little to support your bigger life and business goals.A
Apply the 80:20 rule
So you know your goals but there is still an endless list of actions on any given day that could support them. Where to start? Hans recommends applying the 80:20 rule, also called the “Pareto Principle”. Vilfredo Pareto was a well-known economist who suggested that, for many events, roughly 80 per cent of the effects come from just 20 per cent of the causes.
For your business this means that of all the activities you do in any given day, it’s likely that 80 per cent of your results come from just 20 per cent of your actions. If you can identify that 20 per cent of actions in your business, you can apply laser focus to the things that really matter.
Hans does this with the following daily routine: Each evening he writes a to-do list of possible actions for the next day. Once completed, he asks himself: “Which are the top three items on this list that will have the biggest impact on my business goals for this month?”
If you focus on your top three items each and every day, your productivity will sky-rocket for sure.
Start with the big tasks!
You may have seen this conundrum: if you have a pile of large stones and another pile of small pebbles that must all fit into one jug, what’s the best way of fitting everything in? If you start with the small stones, there will not be enough space left to fit in the large ones. However, if you start with the big stones, you will find that the small ones fit easily around and between them. You can watch Hans demonstrating this puzzle in this video “How to get the most out of your day”.
How does this apply to your productivity? Well, the pebbles could be minor activities like email checking, social media browsing, online chatting or those “quick wins” that we sometimes like to get out of the way first, but which don’t have a big impact on our business.
So how do you decide which activities are equivalent to the big stones in your business? They are those activities that are aligned to your primary business goals and fall within the 20 per cent of actions that will have the biggest impact on your business. Hans suggests tackling them first thing in the morning. Shut yourself off from distractions and hit those actions head on. Maybe they are the ones that you dread most, but once you have completed them you will probably feel an immediate sense of achievement followed by an energy boost.
You can then turn to the less important tasks on your list. If you don’t have enough time left to complete them, that’s OK. You prioritised what’s most important to you.
Touch everything only once
Hans admits that the biggest time-waster in his legal career was “touching” items over and over without doing anything about them; for example, checking emails but deciding to respond to them later; picking up a contract, browsing it for a minute but then putting it back to move to an easier task; or printing out short articles from the internet to read later, although he could have done so on the spot and within minutes.
If you also find yourself touching the same items too often, try a different approach for a few days. Whenever you look at something, deal with it immediately. You either:
- Do it – you complete what is required on the spot
- Ditch it – you decide that you won’t do it at all, not now and not later
- Delegate it – you give it to someone else to deal with
- Delay it – you decide that it’s not effective to do it now, and you schedule it in your diary for another time.
Delegate, delegate and delegate
Speaking of delegation, it’s an essential skill of any business owner or leader. There’s also an art to doing it well. To delegate effectively, we need to stop micromanaging so that we free up time for strategic work.
A great productivity exercise is to maintain a diary for one week in which you write down, hour by hour, what activities you spend your time on. At the end of the week you can analyse the data and ask yourself for each activity: Am I the best person to do this? If not, think of people who you can delegate this activity to. Maybe there is someone in your business who would thrive on the opportunity to take over the relevant task or process. Maybe he or she will be even better at it then you, if you just let them learn and grow into their new responsibility.
If you do not have anybody in your organisation to delegate to, you could hire a personal assistant for a few hours each month to help you. Alternatively, you may be able to outsource any processes or even automate them.
Take frequent breaks and have weekends
What? Taking breaks? How is this a productivity hack? You may think that you have no time to take breaks.
Hans knows all about failing to take breaks! In his previous life as a city lawyer, he and his colleagues frequently worked through nights and weekends because “the deal just had to be done”. Yet if we don’t take breaks our productivity will drop, as will our ability to concentrate and perform well.
As counterproductive as it may seem, if we take a solid break or enjoy a relaxing weekend we can calm down, take a step back and return to work with a better mindset and possibly a few new ideas.
There will always be more to do in your business and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by your workload. That’s why it’s important that we establish boundaries and look after our wellbeing, both for the sake of our productivity but also for our own happiness. At the end of the day, you are the most important asset of your business.
Hans Schumann is an accredited coach and published author providing Executive Coaching, Career Coachingand Life Coachingin London and via Skype. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org| website: https://www.hansschumann.com| telephone: +44 7795450710