How Overworked Entrepreneurs Can Get The Right Things Done

Productivity means prioritizing important tasks and skipping the busy work.
December 15, 2011

If you’re like me, then you like to work a lot. I typically work seven days a week, routinely put in ten hours and rarely take holidays.

I have to admit that I’m not always that productive. Even though I may be busy, sometimes I’m not getting the right things done. Over time I’ve learned some secrets to help me manage my time so that I get the right things done on time.

The difference between real and busy work

Even though I’m about to share with you some ideas on how you as an entrepreneur can be more productive, it all boils down to this: avoid busy work.

What’s busy work?

It’s that stuff you do that consumes your time but doesn’t really accomplish much. Creating email filters for example. That’s busy work, because at the end of the day, especially with the data capacity of free accounts like Gmail and their robust search ability, spending time to create paths so emails end up in the right folder isn’t productive.

Real work, on the other hand, involves doing things that line up with your business goals. Creating proposals, leading your team and closing deals…now that is real work.

The secret to dealing with your email inbox

Basically, when it comes to email, your first decision is “Do I need to delete, archive or perform an action?”

Delete or archive it and you are done. If you have to perform an action, do it at that moment or schedule a time to do it. Here are other emails tips to deal with your inbox.

  • Schedule set times you check email. I know some people who do it at 10, 12, 2 and 4. You may have a job where you have to check it constantly. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it make more sense for people to call you?

  • Treat all actions you perform in your email inbox as one big task. That means reading, replying, deleting, archiving or performing some other activity like finding a report you didn’t finish, and finishing it because someone is asking.

  • Turn off social media notifications. Change all your settings on Facebook, Twitter, etc., so you don’t receive notifications. It clogs your inbox and can easily overwhelm you.

  • Create a custom signature. The signature should include a standard goodbye. This may seem like a small thing, but you can shave a few seconds off each email you send…and that time savings adds up. I even include a short note that explains why my emails have to be brief due to the volume.

  • Use dead time to check email. Sync your email with your smart phone so you can check email when you are at the doctor’s or waiting in the grocery line.

How to literally master your smart phone

Just about every entrepreneur I know has a smart phone. Very few of them, however, use it as a tool to help them be more productive. Instead, they are a slave to it. Would you like to master your smart phone? Then follow these tips:

  • Use Dial Zero. This app allows you to quickly dial the customer service number of 600 companies and skip straight to a person.

  • Create favorites. Have everyone who is really important to your business just one touch away. Again, when you can save a few seconds, that all adds up.

  • Direct select callers to voice mail. You don’t need to take every call that comes in to your phone, especially if it can wait. Imagine a small team reports to you and peppers you with phone calls throughout the day. Instead, have those calls routed to voice mail so you can check them at set times. 

  • Use document apps. Try to talk whoever you work with into exchanging documents or spreadsheets via apps (iPhoneAndroid or Blackberry) instead of through email. It’s just not as clunky and slow.

  • Put it away. That’s right. If you truly want to master your phone, you need to have the power to set it down and not answer it, whether it’s for dinner, a child’s basketball game or while you sleep at night.

Why you should move your office out of the building

Part of getting the right things done involves allowing those who work for you to get their job done, too. For example, it’s really easy to pop out of your office and run down the hall barking out orders, disrupting everyone’s flow.

But it flows the other way, too.

When you are not on the premises, people can’t just pop in and bother you. It’s like your phone and email become gatekeepers of your time, where people call or email asking to talk to you. When you finally get around to following up with them you can then schedule time that’s not disruptive for you.

Create a culture of curiosity

The last thing you want to do as an entrepreneur and leader is micromanage. That’s the epitome of not getting the rights things done. You hired your team to do the work for you…in fact, you hired them to even think for you.

But if you constantly insert your opinion and work in every task, project and process, you’ll create a culture in which people become passive and wait for your input. That may make your ego feel good, but you will always be overworked and frustrated.

Instead, create a culture where people think for themselves. You empower them and motivate them when you do that.


Just because you’re an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you can do everything. In fact, it’s healthy that you don’t since you’ll be more productive and, in the end, more profitable. And you want to be more profitable, right?

What productivity tips do you say to make sure you are working on the right things?