With more ways than ever to get our work out there – it’s harder to actually do it! For optimal performance, we need to create the equivalent to more hours in the day. So how do we do that? Here are 10 time-saving ideas to get you back on track or even more productive than you were before.
1. Define the Goals Within Your Goals
Vague goals rarely make history (or last past February if they were made for the New Year)! Why? The goals aren’t specific enough.
I love to remember the acronym SMART when it comes to goal-setting. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
Write down your goals in detail utilizing SMART. Hold yourself accountable to every detail within it. List every step. These are your dreams! Leave no stone unturned.
2. Use Time-Blocking
Time-blocking is an incredible productivity enhancer. This is the concept of scheduling your work day before it happens.
See, most people will just schedule their time-based commitments to others but they fail to schedule the million and one other things they need to get done in any given day. A failure to account for the scheduling of tasks means two things inevitably happen: 1) We end up not getting our highest priority activities done in any given day and 2) We end up having more things on our to-do list at the end of the day than we had at the beginning of the day.
Part of the issue is that without using time-blocking, our days end up happening by reaction rather than being proactive and it’s much harder to get optimal performance.
Writer and professor Cal Newport knows the power of time-blocking. He wrote about how just 10-20 minutes of pre-planning his days shows over 30% more productivity! His proof? A 40-hour time blocked week got as much done as an unplanned 60-hour work week.
Blocking time, Newport asserts, is possible even with life’s unpredictability. He compares blocking out time to a habit. I have found that to be true for myself. I have also discovered that it better prepares me for changes. With my schedule in front of me, I can work that new must-do task in.
Not only do I focus better, but I know I have ‘x’ amount of time to do something. Something about deadlines allows me more creativity. Try it for yourself. You can always go back to reactionary days, but I doubt you will.
3. Avoid Excessive Multi-Tasking
Some people take pride in their ability to multi-task. Unfortunately, they often fool themselves into believing that it’s an effective way to get work done.
This Forbes.com article shares some insight into how ‘multitasking hurts your brain’. It’s a great Q&A with author Julie Morgenstern. Morgenstern talked about how the brain can’t effectively switch between tasks. What happens are mistakes. We also remember less of what we learned when juggling multiple things at once.
It can be tempting to try to handle several to-dos at once. But, just like a to-do list, approach one thing at a time. Watch your productivity skyrocket.
4. Take Scheduled Breaks From Your Screen
Just like you schedule meetings and calls, make sure to schedule breaks. What your work to break schedule looks like is up to you. You may want to experiment to see what works best for you. Sometimes different types of work are more conducive to longer stretches of work and longer breaks while other work can be done in shorter stints with correspondingly shorter breaks.
For example, I take one day each week to focus on writing. I generally work best when I do a 90-minute writing session followed by a 15-minute break. So a writing day for me may have a total of 4 90-minute sessions.
It’s imperative that this break be taken away from the computer. But be careful that you using this break time to take a true break. Examples of some break activities: get a glass of water and a snack, walk your dog, read a chapter from a book, journal, etc.
5. Keep Your Email, Social Media and Phone Closed
I’ve tried a number of tools to help me keep email , phone, and social media distractions away to no avail. Ultimately, it comes down to willpower. It’s hard not to get sucked in by Facebook, texts, and email.
Our brains really are hardwired to addiction for these things. Researchers at the Freie University in Berlin discovered that positive feedback from Facebook activates our brain’s reward center. We enjoy the hit that an email, text, or Facebook message/comment/like gives to us.
Don’t leave Facebook and email open in your browser tabs – unless you need to be using them at that particular time. I turn off the ringer on my phone so all calls go right to voice mail. I’ll look at texts when I have time.
Reduce your use by allowing for a break to indulge at set times. Then stop.
If you have children or others who may need to have instant access to you, get a second phone! You can get a prepaid phone for $50 these days with a monthly plan that may cost you $20-25. Keep in mind, you don’t need to use this for making outgoing calls and text sending will probably be limited as well.
6. Delegate What You Can
Even when you are extremely focused, you are only one person! This Forbes.com article makes three solid points for delegating effectively. I found these two to be particularly helpful reminders:
- Establish deadlines. Juggling priorities is easy when you know what must be done today, tomorrow, or next month. Timeframes help your employees manage their workloads and produce what you need on time. Project management tools help tremendously. In the additional tools and resources below, I’ll list couple of my favorites.
- Give the project a lead. If you ask two or more people to get something done, sometimes no one does it. It’s not that they didn’t mean to, they just didn’t know who was leading. This also points to project management but these lack of leads often happen in quick one-off assignments. Be sure to assign a lead every to every project, every time.
Clear communication is the key to any delegation, which brings me to the next tip.
7. Keep Tabs on Your Team
I am not suggesting you micromanage. Be accessible is my advice. It’s vital for my business because I know that each member of my team is working on entirely different things and they may hit speed bumps along the way.
Because we work remotely, checking in is a conscious decision I make daily. I use Skype to actively engage with my team. I make sure that all engines are moving ahead at all times. I avoid halts in production by being available to address bottlenecks.
Slack is another great tool to allow for improved communications with your team.
Here are a few tips to make sure that you can balance accessibility with productivity:
- Set parameters for interrupts. Team members should understand urgency levels so that they can know when to go to you directly versus commenting on your PM tool. It’s a good idea for any bottleneck for them to give you a heads up, even if the comment is in your PM tool.
- Give team members at least 2 tasks. By doing this, if they ever get bottlenecked because of needing input from you, they have something else to work on.
- Have daily huddles. Daily huddles can be done in chat, video, or voice. The idea is that you do a run through with everyone on the team so that they know what their assigned work is for the day. If anything is unclear then, you can answer questions on the spot. You can also mention who the primary first point of contact should be if they run into issues so that not everything has to go to you directly.
- Schedule time for team interactions. I bet you’re not surprised to see me saying this, right? I always take 5-10 minutes between calls or other scheduled activities to do a team check in.
8. Use 2-Week Sprints
I’ve come to love the idea of using 2-week sprints over the past 6 or 7 years. I wish I’d known about this concept even earlier!
Here’s how I use 2-week sprints:
- I lay out my overall goals for a 2-week period.
- I’ll map out the tasks and time required to reach these 2-week objectives. This ensures I don’t overbook resources.
- Each day, an analysis is done and the next set of tasks are pushed through.
- Once this cycle has been completed once, I’ll use the data in the previous sprint to make adjustments to actions based on actual results.
The benefits of using 2-week sprints like this is that it allows you to be hyper-focused on the short-term activities needed to get long-term results, you can self-correct if you see things are not working as planned, and you’re not over-scheduling resources.
9. Keep a Time Log
I highly recommend keeping a time log so that you’ll know exactly where your time is going and to know what you can delegate. You may not need to do this every single day, but I’d recommend doing it at least 2 weeks out of every quarter.
There are a number of different tools you can use for time logging. Personally, I just use a timer tied into my project manager (without logging time unless it has to get logged) and putting the entries in an Excel spreadsheet.
I have 4 columns where time gets logged: zero value (time wasters), low-value tasks (like checking email, voicemail, etc), medium-value tasks (responding to client emails, performing deliverables, etc), high-value tasks (delegating work to team members, writing content, recording content, etc), ultra-high value tasks (mapping out funnels, creating systems, and anything else where you can create high leverage).
The idea is pretty basic: Anything other than high and ultra-high value tasks, I should be delegating where and when I can. The more time I can spend on high and ultra-high value tasks, the better!
Going through your time log can be incredibly insightful for other reasons. It can help you see bottleneck issues, problems with specific team members, where too much of your time is being spent without a corresponding return, and many others.
10. Traditional Project Management Tools Can Slow You Down
The final point I want to cover here is one that may be surprising to those who know me. I think it’s important to understand that under certain circumstances, traditional project management tools can slow us down.
What I mean by traditional project management tools are ones that are milestone and task-oriented. The problem with using them in some cases is that it can take a considerable amount of time to set everything up properly and along the way you may discover that plans have to change. It can also get messy when you may have multiple iterations of review/tweaks to get done on the same task.
Using the agile methodology with Kanban boards can be much better in cases where you (and possibly other team members) are primarily focused on one big project and working that through to completion rather rapidly. You, or a project manager if you have one, can be responsible for maintaining the overall flow of work.
I hope that you’ve found these tips useful! Let me know in the comments below what you think of them!