These twelve time tested techniques will help you make sure that every minute you invest in your business, creates value for your business...
1. Aim (Decide your direction and set your goals)
How else will you know what's important (i.e. takes you towards your goals) and whats distraction? Think about operational goals (e.g. your daily To-Do list) and strategic goals - growth, clients, scalability...
For the same reason that you should always buy your groceries off a shopping list, you should always work off a To-Do list:
Book in set dates, periods, times, and time limits, for key tasks so you don’t lose sight of them amidst all the other noise. This might mean you set aside an hour at the start of each day, to deal with emails, or spend every Monday morning scheduling your tweets for the week.
Don't just flit randomly from one thing to the other. Avoid the time leakage that comes with transferring and refocusing between tasks, by grouping similar tasks together. For example, wait until you have a bunch of invoices to send out before you pull out the client files and open up your invoicing system, and clear your desk (and headspace) and make all your calls for the day in one super-efficient blast. (Use some of the easier calls as a warm up, to get you into the zone so you can power through the tough ones!)
5. In-Days and Out-Days
Are you able to manage your appointments and plan out your days in terms of In-Days (e.g. at your desk working through your To-Do list) and Out-Days (e.g. where you’re out at meetings)?
Don't be shy about asking to reschedule (by time or location) your appointments so you can make your In and Out Days work best for you, optimising the time in each day and each working week.
Chunk your Out-Days into timeslots - e.g. if your meetings tend to be 2 hours plus travel, you easily have 4 meeting slots in a single 9-5 day, with a half-hour switchover between each.
Then tighten up - See if you can reduce the amount of switchover time you need - e.g. by being proactive and suggesting the meeting place (to be the same as, or at least more convenient to, your previous meeting).
And consider shrinking your time slots to get more chunks into each day - Could you achieve the same in a 30 minute meeting, as you would with 60 minutes? Sometimes, having a shorter time slot alone is enough to bring pace and focus to an otherwise rambling discussion.
Developing and nurturing your connections is an essential part of any business, and this requires (and warrants) an investment of time. But, what if you start thinking of the mediums you choose (face to face, phone, email...) as a hierarchy?
In the same way that you can save money on your grocery shopping by down-shifting the brands you buy, you can reclaim huge amounts of time by down-shifting the mediums you choose for certain communications. How much time could you save by shifting just some of your more casual face to face meetings to phone calls, or your group meetings to Hangouts and webinars, your information-sharing calls to emails, generalist emails to social media updates...?
This is not about de-personalising your communications, this is about focusing on where you can create the most impact, and along the way introducing efficiency for all involved. When done with transparency and focus, everyone will appreciate the shared benefits.
Then save the face to face for when you can make a real impact with your presence.
Think like McDonalds - Have a system (i.e. a step by step process or methodology) for all regular tasks. This stops you having to mentally reinvent the process each time. This applies to everything you have to do more than once, whether it's how you respond to a random LinkedIn connection request, or the time you spend creating client proposals, vetting prospects, devising marketing campaigns, social media planning, sketching out a new blog post...
As well as introducing consistency and quality of output, systemising will help you:
1. Tune out your brain during repetitive tasks (so you can focus it somewhere more productive),
2. Ultimately package and outsource these tasks to others, so you can concentrate on creating value in your business.
What can you set up to just run?
There are countless amazing (and usually pretty cheap) tools for: Managing your email inbox; Scheduling and auto-feeding social media content; Automating email lists and website signups; Promoting and collecting event bookings; Invoicing and sending and receiving payments...
As a starter, check out: Outlook Rules, Mailchimp, Aweber, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Eventbrite, and Paypal Invoicing.
Some of the most impressive business models I've come across make the owners money with barely a single touch from them.
You don’t need to break the bank to outsource some of the load - especially when a specialist will be far more effective and efficient than you...
If it takes you 4 hours a week to do your bookkeeping, and a trained bookkeeper can achieve the same (/better?) end result in an hour, then you should be outsourcing the work. ...Unless you think that your hourly rate really is ¼ that of the bookkeeper (in which case forget what you're doing and set yourself up as a discount bookkeeper!)
Focus on the tasks that need you, and only you - Those that use your unique talents, and warrant your time.
Settle for 'good enough'. Yes you heard me. Perfection is expensive and inefficient - and you don’t have the time to perfect everything right now.
This isn't about cutting corners. Simply deliver what you agreed, brilliantly, and charge accordingly.
12. Back the right horse
When you find yourself with all the time in the world, you'll be able to pursue every thought or opportunity that comes to you. Until that time, you will need to make some judgement calls as to where to direct your precious resources, to achieve the maximum outcomes. This means dropping or parking some of your To-Do candidates. (The alternative is that you risk diluting everything and delivering nothing.)
This isn't an excuse for short-termism; you still need a balance of quick wins and pragmatic investments. And similarly, this is not about flipping a coin - It must be a no-regrets judgement call, using the best intelligence available to you at the time.
Then back your own decision - Allow yourself to do this, with the confidence that those you do pursue, you will do so with focus and energy.
Final Word: Putting All This Into Practice
As with any regime, ultimate and sustainable success comes from:
My experience of using these techniques myself and with clients, is that you can more than double your productivity. What's yours?
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