Ever wish there were more hours in a day? We all do! But sometimes the key to finding more time is taking a look with the hours you do have and asking the age-old question, how can you be more productive?
We all know one of the top keys to success is good old-fashioned work. Thomas Jefferson said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” And Steve Jobs added his wisdom, “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.”
Along with hard work, we wanted to share eight proven ways to be more productive and make the most of your time.
1. Identify the Most Important Things First
This sounds obvious, but you have to tell your time specifically where to go instead of wondering where it all went at the end of the day. Start each day by honing in on the main thing you want to accomplish that day. We’re talking the #1 objective – “if nothing else, this is what I want to have accomplished.” If time permits, pencil in a #2 and #3 in order, up to 5-6. Why? A to-do list of 12-15 things will scatter your focus, keeping you from being most productive. It’s OK to have more than 2-3, but consider anything over that a bonus.
Now that you know what today looks like, what do you want your week to look like? What are the 2-3 most important things to have accomplished in a week? Look at your schedule in advance – where do you have the time penciled into make these happen? Don’t rely on leftovers or wait till Wednesday to get serious about your list. Identify the most important things to do with your time. If there are simply too many things vying for your time, consider delegating or eliminating some of the lesser objectives.
2. Eliminate Distractions
Here’s an easy one: if you work in an office, turn off your email notifications. Don’t stop to read every email that drops into your inbox. Check them every now and then. Alex Moore, Boomerang CEO, says it takes 64 seconds to recover from being interrupted by an email notification. That adds up to a lot of minutes over time.
Find a distraction-free zone to work, or as close to it as you can. Close your office door when you’re “heads-down.” Or if you’re in a cubicle, slip on noise-cancelling headphones to cut out the sounds of chatter that can cut down on your productivity. Headphones will signal to others that you need to concentrate.
Experts also recommend leaving social media for your “off hours.” If checking it throughout the day becomes a regular habit, you’ve lost a lot of valuable productive time. Many companies go as far as to ban it at the workplace, and for good reason.
There may be other distractions we haven’t covered – you know what they are for you. Maybe it’s getting up to get coffee and before you know it, 20 minutes have passed. Maybe it’s chatting every day with a co-worker here and there. The point is, know your distractions and eliminate them!
Know your distractions and eliminate them.
3. Set Small Daily Goals
You should have a large vision. You should aim high. But if your goals are too large without some smaller goals underneath, you’ll just wind up overwhelmed without seeing a lot of traction.
With shorter tasks, you’ll reach your milestones quicker and gain momentum with your increased motivation. You’ll feel like you’re more in control of your goal and it’s easier to stay on track with productivity. Maybe it’s a certain number of calls to make in a day, or a certain number of words to write. In sales we call this “critical success factors” – breaking a seemingly overwhelming goal of 200 calls a week into 40 calls a day (M-F), for example. Whatever it is, whether you’re calling on a new sales territory or simply cleaning the house from top to bottom, break your goals down into daily chunks to make it clear what needs to be done, helping you to be more productive.
Listen to professional sales and leadership coach Dave Brown talk about the power of accountability.
4. Work on One Thing at a Time and Track Your Progress
While we’re on the subject of goals, make sure you take one at a time. Juggling too many projects and tasks at once leads to dropped balls. Plus, when you try to work on too many things at once, you’ve got wasted time transitioning between them. Quality takes a hit when you spread your focus out.
As we like to say at Southwestern Consulting, “control the controllables.” You can’t control others or outside factors, but you can control your own activity and focus. Track your controllable metrics each day.
Control the controllables: You can’t control others or outside factors, but you can control your own activity and focus.
5. To Maximize Productivity, Attack the Smallest Tasks First
By knocking a few tasks out quickly, you’ll make some fast progress and your to-do list will become a lot more doable. Entrepreneur Steve Olenski calls it the “two-minute rule.” If you can complete a task you know can be done in two minutes or less, do it first thing, with the exception of running into your golden hour (see below).
6. Block Time and Guard Your “Golden Hour”
For the most important projects, make sure you block your time and guard the golden hour. That’s the time of day when you operate at your peak. You know when you’re at your best! For many people this is first thing in the morning, but whenever this is for you, make sure you tackle the most important items during the golden hour. Maybe it’s the hour or two per day when the most clients are available by phone. Maybe it’s the 1:00-3:00 zone right after lunch when you feel fueled and your creativity is high. Don’t let your golden hour be filled with meetings, distraction or goofing off, no matter what temptations arise. Block it on your calendar and guard it consistently!
7. To Stay Creative, Take Occasional Breaks
Plan out a few breaks a day and take a short 5-to-10-minute pause if you hit a creative wall. Clear your mind, recharge your creative engine, but then get back at it. Studies have concluded that regular breaks help concentration and improves your mood. Another smart move when you take your break is to move around. Take a little walk. Switch locations. If you were working at your desk, go to a table outside weather permitting, or maybe a spot in the office that offers plenty of natural light. Remote working has made this way easier! A change of scenery can boost your creativity and shed some light on those problems you’re facing.
Important note: You want to schedule in breaks without falling prey to what we call “creative avoidance.” This is when you don’t really need a break…you just come up with things to do to fill small chunks of time to put off what you know you really need to be working on. Know your productivity goals, respect your golden hour and don’t let procrastination stop you from being as productive as you can.
8. Make Meetings Really Matter
According to Atlassian, the average office worker spends more than 31 hours a month in unproductive meetings. Ouch. We’ve all heard the expression, “This meeting could’ve been an email.” Some are unavoidable, but try to keep them as brief as possible and keep your team on track. Have a time limit and stick to it. Have someone keep notes to record the most important takeaways and topics that need to be addressed at the conclusion of the meeting, to keep details from being lost and creating…you guessed it, more meetings. You may even want to consider making your meetings brief standups.
Boost Your Productivity With a Coach
Productivity isn’t a mystery. But it does require proactive attention. Start your day with these eight keys in mind. And learn more on how to be productive and make the most of your time with help from a professional coach. According to a recent survey, SWC clients who finished 12 months or more of coaching reported a 44% increase in productivity and a 58% overall increase in time management.
To see how a career coach can help you, get a free consultation from Southwestern Consulting today! One of our qualified coaches will listen to your needs and let you know if coaching might be the missing key you’ve been looking for.
My coach helped me not only professionally but just as much personally. We actually had our BEST sales month to date for Kelley Buick-GMC our first month [in coaching], breaking multiple records! … I tell everyone who will listen about the benefits of coaching and what Southwestern Consulting has done and is doing for my work production and life balance overall.