In general, small business owners are time poor. Some are simply disorganised, lurch from crisis to crisis and seldom deliver anything on time. Most, however, have far too much on their to-do list(s) to complete in the time they have available. This is evidenced by the number of small business owners who work very long hours, week after week.
It is impossible to create more time. Everybody has exactly 168 hours a week. The only option you have is to make the very best use of your 168 hours.
There are three simple but effective principles to achieving the most in your 168 hours:-
- Focus on your most important tasks
- Apply the 80:20 Principle to every task
- Understand when your high productivity periods fall
By applying these three principles every day you will achieve the maximum productivity from your time. Tackling your highest priority tasks during your high productivity periods is like adding a turbo-charger to your performance.
Try it for a month and see how quickly you can clear items from your to-do list. Complement your turbo-charged performance by scheduling all routine tasks for your low-productivity periods.
Everyone has periods when their productivity dips. It is part of a natural cycle to encounter periods when energy levels take a dip and concentration levels also fall. If you attempt a high priority task requiring your full attention at this time, it will take much longer to complete plus you are more likely to make mistakes.
Many people encounter energy dips during the afternoon period and especially after they have enjoyed a large lunch!
Some of us are morning people and we tend to have our periods of high productivity at the start of the day. Our performance dips later in the day. If this is you, ensure you schedule your most important tasks before lunch. Get up an hour earlier and get stuck into your to-do list.
Others find mornings more of a challenge. This is the period when their energy levels and productivity are low. Their performance picks up during the day. If this is you, consider working more of a “late shift”. Start work mid-morning and work into the evening to capitalise on your high productivity periods.
Whether you are an “early bird” or a “night owl”, let’s look at how you can get the most out of every day.
Prioritise your work. The most important reality all small business owners need to come to terms with is that they will never complete everything on their to-do list(s). This is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy. It is simply a fact of life for business owners.
Once you accept this, some of the stresses you are currently feeling will melt away. Simply restructure your to-do list by assigning priorities to every task. Focus on your most important tasks.
Delegate or outsource the lower priority tasks to free up your time to concentrate on what’s important. If a task has been on your to-do list for, say, 3 months and you haven’t got round to dealing with it consider moving it to another list. A “Sometime/Maybe” list (to use a term from David Allen’s Getting Things Done book), holding tasks you might get round to at some time, prevents them from getting completely lost.
You might review this list every few weeks to see if any items should be moved up in priority.
Apply the 80:20 Principle. For me, this is the key principle for small business owners to adopt. By keeping this in the forefront of your mind you will develop a momentum to complete your important tasks in the shortest possible time.
This principle states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Applying this to your to-do list means that for every task you can quickly reach the 80% finished point, with the last 20% of every task taking 80% of the time.
In many cases, an 80% completed task is good enough. There is no extra business benefit in straining to reach the 100% completion point.
For small business owners who are also perfectionists, this is a hard concept to grasp. They strive to reach 100% completion on all tasks when the reality is that many of these tasks need only be finished to the good-enough stage. All the extra time (and effort) taken to move from a good enough finish to a perfect finish could have been put to better use.
Perfectionists don’t make good bosses as they drive their staff to achieve perfection rather than take a more pragmatic route and stop when tasks reach their “good enough” level of completion.
Know your high productivity periods. If you don’t know when you operate at maximum productivity, now is the time to find out. Everyone has cycles in their energy levels and this leads to periods of high and low productivity. To understand your productivity cycle, start to be more conscious of how long tasks are taking and how you feel when undertaking them. You could keep a log over a few weeks to record progress hour by hour.
If you are involved in just a few key activities, experiment by scheduling them at different times in the day. Log your performance each time and it will become clear at which times of day you make the best progress.
Armed with this knowledge, revise your schedule so you can maximise your productive “highs” and leave the more routine tasks to low productivity periods.
- Begin by setting up a to-do list in priority order. Add new activities as they arise, review priorities daily. Focus on your highest priority tasks.
- Apply the 80:20 Principle so that you can stop work on activities when they reach 80% (good enough) point wherever possible. Accept that for some tasks only 100% completion is acceptable and these activities must be completed in full.
Become more aware of your personal productivity cycle so that you can establish when your high productivity periods fall during the day.