How many of us either find it increasingly difficult to fit every thing into a day, never mind a week, while feeling tired and stressed when urgent deadlines or life events plop into our laps? Or perhaps we struggle with procrastination and waste time on non-important things?
Time is the most precious resource we have and once spent, it’s gone forever.
Like every one else, I’ve suffered from both of these afflictions over the years and one day, I decided to do something practical about it rather than moaning. I embarked on a productivity journey that surprised me by many twists and turns along way, nearly all of them positive and learned a lot about myself in the process. Today, the end result is much more productivity in less time and more paying projects on the go. I’m also 20lbs lighter and much fitter too because I found the time to exercise, which clears the mind and improves productivity. That can’t be bad, right?
So what did I do to make these changes?
To begin with, I recorded my activities for a month using an app to see what I really doing online rather than what I thought I was doing. The results can be quite shocking. I used Rescue Time, but there are many other apps you can Google for this purpose and find one to your liking.
While this is a useful starting point for rational self assessment, you can skip this step if it seems a bit extreme and take a look at my top tips for creating more time and less stress below:
1) DITCH the mindless TV shows
These might seem like harmless fun, but the reality is if you crash on the couch every night after work and dinner, that’s three hours gone doing nothing useful and if there’s drama, angst or negative news involved, it will affect you mentally and emotionally the next day.
The best thing I ever did was not replace the old tv when it died in 2005. This doesn’t mean that movies or shows are banned, quite the reverse. I still watch old movies or British detective shows such as Morse or The Sweeney occasionally, but the point is it’s limited and doesn’t take up 3 hours every single day. Everything in moderation isn’t a bad motto to live by.
2) Don’t open your email UNTIL you’ve done your critical tasks for the day
This is a controversial one but it is VERY effective. The inbox is not your friend – it’s where other people deem to impose on your time with their emergencies. If you are a nervous or insecure enrepreneur then you will attract nervous, insecure and demanding clients.
These days I check email twice a day. Very few things are truly urgent and can’t be scheduled at leisure to a more convenient time slot. Same thing with phone calls. I no longer feel compelled to answer them just because someone is interrupting. Voicemails can be picked up later.
The hardest thing to do is train yourself on these two skills. There are a few tricks that help with discipline and focus here, though:
- In your mail preferences you can usually hide the horrid red button that shows how many emails are in your inbox. This reduces temptation to check constantly.
- Don’t keep email open all day, this is lethal. Open it at times you have scheduled in your calendar.
- Same thing with voicemail and SMS – check them at scheduled times to reduce interruptions and being swept into other people’s panic vortexes.
3) Use FILTERS to organise your emails into labels or folders
This is a Godsend. I like to see the wood from the trees when I do check my mail. Have a bill due and don’t want to miss it? It will show up more visibly this way.
I use Gmail and MacMail to organise email from clients, bills, friends, newsletters etc. This makes it easier and more importantly faster to process. Obvious spam mail can be highlighted quickly and efficiently and deleted. Using this approach, less time each day is spent loss in inbox hell. The other advantage is that clients know you’re busy with work and bother you less with piddle problems. When that happens, you’ve started to train them – well done!
4) Write down the 2 or 3 important things you MUST do each day
Do NOTHING else until these have been completed! You will be surprised how much more focused and productive you will become with this simple trick. Training this habit is critical for long term success. It also helps with focus and avoiding procrastination.
My hack for achieving this one is simple and low tech – I use a bright sticky on the open page of my Moleskine and tick them off as they get done.
Of course, we all have long To Do lists but they are best hidden somewhere less obvious in an app like Reminders where you can access them by category and see what can be done that day AFTER you have finished the 3 important things.
5) Schedule time in your calendar for YOUR projects
This sounds so obvious but many people don’t schedule their writing time with themselves or time needed for their important projects. As a result, they spend all day dealing with other people’s urgent demands (see above) and it creates a vicious cycle. By 3pm you wonder where the day has gone and sadly, nothing got done on the things you really needed to do for your business!
Working on skills 1-5 will autmagically mean that you create more time, are more productive and effective and most importantly, get (the right) things done.
What’s your top tip for saving time and improving your productivity?
Please do comment below and share your efficiency hacks…
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