Boosting productivity is a hot topic, especially for business owners and entrepreneurs who find themselves doing a ton of work.
The whole time is money adage is true, but here’s what your run-of-the-mill productivity article won’t tell you…
Productivity means nothing if you’re doing the wrong things.
This is where so many people go wrong. They focus on being efficient, but don’t stop to think about being effective.
In order to boost your productivity, you’ve got to do both. But before we go into how, let’s talk about what makes them different.
Efficiency vs. Effectiveness
So what’s the difference between effective and efficient? Effective is about doing the right things, whereas efficient is about doing things right — which means efficiency is part of effectiveness, but comes later down the line. Before we start thinking about how we do things, we’ve got to identify the right things to do!
Like any part of your business, how you spend your time should be approached strategically. Since effectiveness is about what you’re doing, start by working backwards — where do you want to end up, and what do you need to do to get you there?
Start by defining your goals, not just for your workday, but for the long term. What are you trying to achieve?
Once you have that nailed down, take a look and what you’re doing to get there. What is effective? What’s helping you reaching those goals? Whatever isn’t, put it away!
Then, Start Focusing on Efficiency…
After you’ve nailed down the tasks that are effective for your goals, then you can dive into efficiency (AKA doing things the right way/more productively).
Here are 9+ ways to increase your productivity to do your effective tasks more efficiently.
Manage Your Time
1. Don’t Let the Small Things Add Up (Two-Minute Rule)
It’s easy to put off small tasks. But after saying “I’ll do that later” to 10 small tasks, you’re suddenly looking at a very big task that’s gotten out of control.
Instead of putting off the small stuff, try the two minute rule from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. If it takes two minutes or less, just get it done.
This does two things: first and foremost, it helps you knock out small tasks immediately without distracting you from large tasks that require more of your time.
Second, it prevents the build up of distractions (AKA no more being a scatterbrain and wondering what that small thing was you thought you needed to do five hours ago).
2. Block Your Work Tasks
If you’re an entrepreneur or business owner who doesn’t have a strict schedule, it’s easy to find yourself working more and accomplishing less.
In reality, clocking more hours doesn’t mean getting more work done. If you’re working for hours on end rather aimlessly, chances are you’re actually doing less work than you would be if you dedicated a certain amount of time to a specific task.
Blocking your time can help. The concept is simple enough: work in blocks with predictable break blocks to refresh and recharge. The Pomodoro Technique suggests working in blocks of 25 minutes, but choose a time that works for you — 45 minutes working, 15 minutes off, 25/5, etc. Then rinse and repeat.
The goal here is to dedicate yourself to a work task for the scheduled block of time to quit multitasking.
You’ll find you clock less time but accomplish more!
3. Eliminate Distractions
Speaking of multitasking… let’s talk about distractions.
Distractions are everywhere, but they’re pretty much unlimited if you do the bulk of your work online. Hopping onto Facebook every 15 minutes is certainly killing your efficiency, as is checking your email 100 times throughout the day.
To fix this, block distracting websites like social media and even your work email during your designated working blocks. Nanny for Google Chrome will allow you to block certain websites during specified time frames, while RescueTime is a great way to see how much time you’re spending where (the first step is becoming self aware).
For your phone distractions, turn off notifications. These real-time alerts make it impossible to stay focused. Dedicate separate time to checking your phone (this goes for email too!).
Last but not least, remember it’s okay not to answer the phone or an email immediately. In fact, if it’s during one of your allotted work blocks, keep your email and phone out of sight. You can always return an email or call during your “break” hours or during a scheduled customer service/admin work time that you block in your schedule.
Manage Your Tasks
As entrepreneurs and business owners, we tend to have our hands in everything. If you’re looking at truly being more efficient, it’s time to look at the tasks you need to be doing.
What tasks require that you specifically handle them, and what can be outsourced?
Take time to do a quick inventory of what you do each and every day. To evaluate your tasks, ask yourself these questions
By determining which tasks are a priority for your business and success (either by directly impacting cash flow or making your job easier), you’ll be able to see what you need to be doing. Everything else? Outsource.
Small, meaningless tasks are an entrepreneur’s enemy. Enter automation, AKA your new best friend.
If a task doesn’t fit the 2 minute rule and doesn’t make sense to outsource, automate it! In fact, it may be cheaper and more efficient to automate certain tasks rather than outsourcing.
What can you automate? A whole host of things. Here are a few ideas and tools to get you started:
- Automate your social media activity for profiles you don’t need a large presence on (Use Buffer to schedule your posts)
- iMacros for Chrome to automate your repetitive web tasks such as checking and downloading reports, filling out forms, etc.
- Custom Google Analytics alerts to get notified when there are changes to your data
- AdEspresso to automate the creation of different Facebook ad versions and A/B testing and optimizing
- TailWind for Pinterest posting
- IFTTT (If This Then That) to automate interactions between your devices and apps (for example: automatically tweet Facebook status updates)
6. Break Things Down
If I could give anyone just one piece of productivity advice, it would be this: instead of trying to tackle one huge task, break it down into small, actionable steps.
This isn’t just a life lesson — it’s a business lesson, too.
Let’s say you need to write a long blog post (like this one). Instead of putting “write blog post” on your to-do list, break down each phase of the task into an actionable step and put those in your schedule.
For this example, that may look something like this:
- Research topic
- Create outline
- Write first draft
- Do images & formatting
- Do editing & polishing
By breaking down large tasks into small actionable steps, we’re less likely to get overwhelmed and more likely to knock it all out faster because it’s in bite-sized chunks.
Manage Your Mind
This one is pretty straight forward. You need energy… exercise gives it to you! It’s a vital part of productivity and having a clear and focused mind.
More importantly, as a business owner/entrepreneur, you likely handle intense stress, at least occasionally. You need an outlet — exercise is a great one.
Do what works for you here: go for a run, bike to work, get in a lunchtime gym session, take a swim, walk your dog, etc. Just get moving! Watch how it improves your mental clarity and energy, which in turn impacts your efficiency at work.
8. Take Mental Breaks
As I mentioned above, blocking your work time is an extremely effective way to boost productivity. But it’s not just about the time you’re working… it’s about the breaks in between, too.
Research has shown that taking short breaks during long tasks can actually help you maintain a constant level of performance.
So when you’re time blocking, focus all in on your task for your scheduled “work time”. Then, step away. Take a real mental break for your scheduled “off” time. Your brain will thank you for it.
9. Develop a Routine
At the end of the day, we’re creatures of habit, even in our businesses. So, we can either make a habit of doing the right things, or make a habit of wasting precious time and money doing the wrong things.
Focus your routine on doing the effective tasks efficiency.
Take a look at what you do each day. Which methods and techniques increase your productivity and are tasks that are effective for your goals? Keep those and get rid of the rest.
Putting a process in place for your work day is crucial. If you don’t know what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, or even what the right things to do are, your day is going to become a mess. Take the time to evaluate what you’re doing now and put the right routine in place!
Takeaways and Next Steps
Boosting your productivity is great… however, it means nothing if you’re not doing the right tasks. Before you dive into increasing your efficiency, take a look at what you need to be doing to be effective.
Once you have those tasks down, use the processes above to optimize the time in your work day.