Do you ever get to the end of a busy day and wonder just how little you seem to have achieved? It is quite likely you have worked hard, but have prioritised the wrong things. You have been concentrating on tasks that ultimately have little impact on your goals and targets. As a wise old boss of mine once said, “You have been majoring on minors”.
The Pareto Principle states that 80% of your achievements will come from 20% of your efforts. This, of course, means that 80% of your efforts don’t achieve very much at all. It can be very easy to become distracted and you then find this 80% block of ineffective effort will grow.
This means, on average, when you work a 10 hour day that most of your achievements come from only a 2-hour period. It is easy to lose some (or all) of this 2-hour “high impact” period by distractions. If you only lost one of these two hours, your total achievements for the whole day would have halved.
Of course, if you can grow your “high impact” period from 2 hours to 3 hours, you will achieve 50% more in your day.
It is worth spending some time exploring where your time is going. Small business owners should look at not only protecting the 20% of their time that generates 80% of their results, but trying to grow that 20%. Work out what gives you the greatest return in relation to the effort expended and concentrate on doing more and more of these types of task.
To create the time to do more high achievement tasks, you have to stop doing some of the low achievement work you currently perform.
It is not realistic to expect small business owners to immediately ignore social media or emails or internal meetings. There are, however, ways to organise yourself to free up some time for more “high impact” tasks.
Let’s start with what are likely to be the two biggest drains on your time, emails and social media. Everyone has to handle email overload. You have to learn to prioritise. You have to work in short periods of highly concentrated activity.
There are many time-stealers to be aware of and each one will have an adverse effect on your productivity. The main time-stealers are:
- Responding to “new email” alerts. It is better to look at emails at set times during a day rather than look every time you get a “new email” alert. Pick 2 or 3 times in a day when you will check your emails and, for the rest of the time, focus on your “high impact” tasks.
- Allowing constant interruptions. Allowing your activities to be disrupted by interruptions will have a massive impact on your productivity. Every time you are interrupted, your brain has to quickly archive your current work activity to allow you to deal with the interruption. After the interruption, the reverse occurs as you pick up your original activity and get back into that task. It is this constant stopping and restarting of tasks that disrupts your productivity.
- Self-inflicted interruptions. After emails, the next most likely source of interruption will be an untidy workspace area. When you work in a cluttered environment, it is easy to spot something on your desk that looks important. Before you know it, you’ve switched away from your task in hand to deal with this important distraction. If you generate a handful of similar distractions for yourself, your productivity drops alarmingly.
- Attending unnecessary and ineffective meetings. We’ve all experienced lengthy meetings that could have been concluded in far less time than they actually took. Develop good meeting management skills and avoid going to as many meetings as possible. Find out the agenda ahead of the meeting and who else is attending before making your decision on whether or not to attend. Avoid all meetings without a properly planned agenda because these are the ones most likely to drag on and on.
- Picking the wrong tasks to work on. Without proper clarity, it can be easy to pick an activity to work on that looks important but isn’t going to help you meet your goals and targets. Prioritise your tasks and work only on your most important ones.
- Constantly switching between tasks. If you are handling several high priority tasks it can be tempting to switch between them. There is a subconscious pressure to work on all high priority tasks in parallel so as to complete them at about the same time. If you succumb to this pressure, it will destroy your productivity. It is far better to introduce the concept of timeboxing into your schedule. With timeboxing, you commit to do a single task for a set period of time. You decide how long each time box lasts and then work with your full attention and concentration on a single task for the duration of the time box.
If you can, avoid these common drains on your productivity you will soon find yourself achieving far more in every day. Your productivity will gradually increase as your confidence rises in your ability to both spot and handle the periods when you are not making the best use of your time.
- Study how you currently spend your time and determine what your “high impact” tasks are. Aim to spend more time on these tasks in the future.
- Make more time by not wasting it. Discipline yourself to only check emails at specific (planned) times during the day. Develop clarity on your priorities so you can identify the correct tasks to be working on at any given time.
- Experiment with timeboxing and working with total concentration on one task at a time.