Highly productive people know the innate value of time management and maximum efficiency. When you’re running a business, you have to manage a ton of activity in a limited amount of time – so how can you improve productivity?
It’s not just a matter of working faster or harder – it’s about working smarter. Designing your days and your projects so that you get the most out of every minute of work. Time is money, which means boosting productivity is good for your business. It’s also a way to make sure you have enough downtime and family time.
People aren’t always naturally highly productive, but it’s a skill that you can learn with a little bit of time and dedication. Highly productive people cultivate habits to make that kind of productivity an automatic part of the way they operate. So, to improve productivity at work (and maybe also at home!), try working on these simple habits:
1. Plan Your Days The Night Before
The bottom line is that you’re always going to be more productive with a clear plan. Try setting aside 15 minutes or so every single night before you go to bed. This habit can improve productivity in a bunch of ways:
- You can organize your schedule in the most efficient way instead of winging it
- You’re less likely to forget an important task or appointment
- You have a head start on thinking about the work itself – your sleeping brain can do some of that processing for you!
- You’re more accountable for keeping up with everything you want to do – you want to make sure you hit your goals for the day
- You may learn that certain tasks take you more or less time than you thought, which can indicate tasks that you should delegate to someone else or that you can manage more of
- You don’t have to worry about figuring out your day in the morning (some of us have a hard time thinking clearly before a cup of coffee)
To get started, you can set a calendar event or an alarm on your phone to remind you every night to plan out the next day. Make a list of everything that has to get done and a list of everything you’d like to get done. Then plan out your day. Don’t forget to include travel time, lunch time, and breaks – they’re a necessary part of your day but it can be easy to overschedule yourself if you don’t expressly plan out that time. You can make a paper list or put your schedule in your calendar, whatever is easiest for you.
2. Productive People Prioritize Tasks – And Know What They Do Best
Productive people prioritize tasks for the most efficient outcome. It’s a combo of time management and task triage. You need to know what you’re best at and what’s the best use of your time.
Jump on those high-priority tasks first so that you’re fresh and alert. Having those crucial things taken care of will take a lot of pressure off for the rest of the day so you can focus on the next tasks.
And remember that there’s only so much any one person can do. It may make sense to outsource or delegate tasks that other people can handle (or even do better than you can). Tedious, easy tasks are a good target for outsourcing – it doesn’t make sense for you to spend 5 hours a day doing data entry when you have other high-value tasks to take care of. Highly specialized work is another good target – an accountant can save you a lot of time and stress.
The trick is to focus on the ways you bring the most value to your business. Focus on those areas. If there’s time left over, branch out into other tasks. If not, send those to someone else!
3. Productive People Do The Worst Things First
It’s easy to put off tasks that we dread, but that temptation may be so strong that the work never actually gets done or gets done poorly in a rush to meet a deadline. Instead of procrastinating to avoid the unpleasant stuff, getting it out of the way first can seriously improve productivity.
First, you’re going to do a better job if you do it up front, rather than rushing it at the last minute. In addition, this tactic frees up mental energy for more engaging tasks. Without the threat of your most dreaded work hanging over your head, you’ll find that your day is a lot more pleasant and a lot less stressful. Plus you’ll feel pride in having confronted the hardest thing right up front.
4. Productive People Turn Off Their Email
Productive people know that responding to every email and text as it comes in can distract and prevent from completing tasks. We’re so used to constant connectivity that it can often feel impossible to ignore a message. We feel pressure to respond immediately but it’s not actually the best way to handle it. Picking up and dealing with those constant emails and texts breaks up your concentration and makes it harder to complete whatever you’re working on. You may end up distracted entirely by some new issue or information and it will take a lot longer to get the original task done.
Of course, a lot of important work happens through electronic communications. You can’t (and shouldn’t) just ignore them. Instead, make it a habit to schedule out time to check your messages. Turn off the notifications and schedule in a few minutes between other tasks to go through and address whatever has come in. You may be amazed to find out how much less stress you feel without the constant threat of a message coming in and disrupting you.
You’ll also want to set up a contact method for emergencies; it may mean someone needs to come to your office in person or you may set up your phone so that calls or messages from certain people always come through.
5. Productive People Take One Step At A Time
Productive people know that the benefit of multitasking is a fallacy. Having a thousand things going on at once can make you feel like you’re getting a lot done, but it actually takes longer than doing one thing at a time. And with a lot of things going on in your head at once, you’re more likely to make a mistake or miss something important.
Make an effort to cut the multitasking in your life. If you’re answering emails, focus on that. If you’re making a phone call, then talk without distractions. By giving yourself fully to each task at one time, you’re allowing yourself to do your best at each one.
6. Productive People Take Care Of Themselves
Productive people know that putting their health first is vital to top work performance. Proper nutrition and regular exercise can greatly benefit energy, focus, and well-being. Some studies have even linked exercise to greater creativity.
Running a business is hard and you need to be at your best. It’s not just about fewer doctor’s visits and sick days (although that’s also important). It’s about the fact that you can do more and better work when you’re feeling your best. And when you’re putting a ton of work, taking care of yourself is doubly important so you don’t get run down.
As you set up your daily schedule, don’t forget to make time for meals and breaks. And schedule in exercise and a full night of sleep, too. If you want to improve productivity, you have to keep your own tank full.
7. Productive People Take Breaks From Work
Productive people work hard when they’re in the office, so they know how important it is to recharge when they are away from it. It may seem like the best way to improve productivity is to work straight through your day without stopping, but that’s a recipe for burnout. You’re likely to run out of gas sooner in the day and lose your ability to fully focus on the task at hand.
Try to commit to eating lunch away from your desk. Make lunch dates or eat outside and don’t bring any work with you. Take a walk – getting the blood flowing and moving around can actually improve your creativity. You need that time to recharge so you can come back ready to tackle your next task. That time should go into the schedule you create each night.
How much time do you need to take? Experts suggest that working for around 50 minutes and then taking a 10-15 minute break is the best rhythm for staying sharp. Set a timer and stick to it as much as possible.
8. Productive People Focus On Their Passion
Productive people allow inspiration and passion to drive their goals. Work isn’t always easy, but highly productive people channel energy intro creating something, helping others, or building a legacy though business. You started this business because you were inspired – don’t lose sight of that through the long hours.
If you find yourself losing motivation or feeling drained, take time to stop and remember why you started your business in the first place. Evaluate your goals and whether you’re moving toward them – you may be feeling apathetic because your business isn’t moving in quite the direction you want it to be. Consider putting up visual reminders of your goals and your reasons for doing this so you never lose sight of your passion.
9. Productive People Set And Stick To Deadlines
Productive people know that without deadlines, tasks will slip through the cracks. And they don’t have to be external deadlines, like getting your order ready in time to get it to your vendor. You should also set up internal deadlines. Promise yourself that you’ll finish a given task or project by a certain day or time. Those hard goals give you extra motivation and keep you accountable for how you spend your time and for getting everything done.
For quick tasks, the schedule you set up every night acts as a deadline – you know you have 2 hours set aside for this task and you’ll get it done in that amount of time. For longer-term projects, don’t just set an end date. Instead, set up measurable goals at regular intervals so that you don’t leave anything until the last minute. For example, say you’re planning to expand to a new location. You might give yourself a week to set up a budget and a plan. Then another week to set up appointments to look at different locations and another week to actually go see them, etc. That way you don’t end up pushing tasks off indefinitely.
10. Productive People Take Advantage Of Technology
Productive people know that automation and technology can cut a lot of time and effort out of administrative tasks. Once upon a time, we had to answer mail by hand, keep the books by hand, write out and check our calendars by hand – you get the idea. Now, we can automate a lot of the tasks that used to be so time-consuming. Accounting software can keep track of your budget and your payroll. Your phone is your own calendar/reminder/mail management system all in one device. You don’t have to worry about checking your appointment book every hour to make sure you’re not missing anything – your phone will automatically remind you about it.
To make sure you’re making the most of technology to improve productivity, make a list of every task you do every day for a week. At the end of the week, look it over. Is there anything that you can make easier with an app or a program or a device? Are you tracking anything by hand that could be automated? Cutting out tasks that can be handled by technology frees up your time to focus on the work that only humans can do.
Good Habits Improve Productivity
Productivity can be learned, and you don’t have to turn your life upside down to do it. It just takes a few small changes and they’ll add up quickly. Start with just one at a time (remember Tip #5!) and once you have the hang of it, start working on another one. Creating a schedule for the next day is a really good place to start; it’s easy to do and gives you a chance to really think about how you spend your time. By learning to work smarter, you’ll have a more rewarding work – and personal – life!