You can install apps for it, buy books about it and make resolutions to improve it, but the key to productivity is actually pretty simple when you reduce it to the proven techniques.
Sure, we’re all busy, and we have more items on our to-do lists than there are hours in the day; however, the solution to being overloaded is out there. The key is minimizing distractions and prioritizing effectively. How can you do that?
1. Walk away. Literally, fight inertia by getting up and taking a walk. Physical activity will help refresh and reset your brain, and a change of scenery will do you a world of good. If I’ve been working in my office for several hours, I find that even moving down the hall to a conference room can help me refocus and get back to work with renewed vigor. Stretch your legs, get your blood moving, and you’ll discover that you’re better able to handle complex tasks.
2. Sort tasks by dollar signs, smiley faces and infinity symbols. Everyone I know has to-do lists that never get completed. The key to real productivity is attacking your list with a plan to accomplish the most important tasks first. Mark tasks that directly bring in money with a $, tasks for existing clients with a smiley face, and tasks that will become automatic—systems that will be able to run themselves after you complete them—with an infinity sign. Some of your tasks will have all three signs, and those are your top priority. Making money, keeping your clients happy and building systems that run on autopilot should be the tasks you tackle first, leaving the least profitable tasks for after you’ve crossed off all the others before it.
3. Use a pen and paper. Going old school can be the ideal solution when you’re stuck in a rut, especially if you’re overworked. Just like a change of scenery can help you focus better, using different tools to help you brainstorm or finish up a project will get your mind working differently. For example, jotting down a quick reminder note on paper is quick, and can help you resist the temptation to piddle away your time using unnecessarily complicated applications to track your progress or collect your thoughts. Frequently, simple is better.
4. Put the pressure on. Set a deadline. If you agree to a deadline, then you’re motivated to keep your promise. Pressure can be a good thing, and you’ll surprise yourself at how quickly you can knock out that project you’ve been procrastinating when you’ve put your reputation on the line.
5. Get someone else involved. Collaborating with a colleague will keep you accountable in a different way than if you're working solo. If you’re committed to follow up and report on the status of a project, then you'll manage your time differently. Not only will you feel the pressure of your colleague’s expectations, but you'll also benefit from the fresh perspectives.
6. Delegate or subcontract. When you find yourself getting bogged down with tasks that don’t suit your skill set or prevent you from dealing with your dollar sign and smiley face tasks, farm those tasks out. If you’re in a small office (or even at home), you may have to get creative when it comes to delegating. My favorite solution is Elance—an online marketplace that connects you to contractors who are freelance experts in their fields. You post your job, hire your expert and get back to the work that makes you money. Elance and other freelance marketplaces give you access to a full staff without the expense of paying full-time wages. If you do have staff in your office, use their skill sets to magnify yours. Letting your staff work to their strengths not only yields a better finished product, but will almost always boost morale as well.
What all these tips share is the means to get you focused on what’s most important and the best use of your time and energy. We all get overwhelmed from time to time, and running through a checklist of options for streamlining your day can be just the solution you’re looking for.
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