We all want to be more productive, more successful, and happier. And I really believe that most of us are trying our best. We are working hard. We are squeezing as many tasks into the workday as we possibly can. But something isn’t working.
I’m going to jump right into the juicy meat of this article and give you my deepest insight in the very first header! Ready for it?!?…
You can’t MAKE time. Period.
We all have the same number of minutes in the day and no amount of scheduling, or planning, or automating, is going to get you extra time.
It took me years to fully accept this reality. During those years I made GIANT to-do lists every day. Obviously, I thought my lists were helping me be more productive. But I was wrong. Those crazy-ass lists just set me up to feel like a failure because no matter how many things I accomplished, there was always something left undone. Sound familiar?
I made schedules so tight that five extra minutes in a coffee shop line up could shatter my world. The result? I spent most work days revved up, anxious, and annoyed at even the tiniest, time-consuming hiccup. FYI: If a slightly slower than usual internet connection makes you purple-faced, you are wound too tight.
The negative consequences of this behavior can be significant. When your priority is on getting the greatest number of things done in the shortest amount of time, your risk of making mistakes goes up and the quality of your work goes down.
Unless you are a bicycle courier, or working the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant, rushing is not going to help you be more productive.
That anxious, revved up feeling radiates off of you. As a professional, you want to be perceived as calm, rational, and in-control. To do this, you actually need to BE calm, rational, and in-control.
Perhaps most importantly, being fixated on time makes you subconsciously attracted to simple tasks that can be completed quickly, and fearful of longer, more complicated tasks. This fear of adding on to your workload may actually keep you from taking advantage of opportunities.
It has been three years since I conquered my to-do list addiction. In that time, I have seen my business grow and prosper, and I credit much of my success to the mindset changes I made in my approach to work.
Mindset Change #1: Adjust Your Definition of “Productive”
Stop equating productivity with the idea of “getting more done in less time”. This definition comes from the industrial revolution, when everything was about factory work and assembly lines.
If you are making buttons, then making the most buttons in the least amount of time is a worthy goal. But most of us aren’t making buttons.
When you measure the success of your day based on the sheer number of things you have done, you are using the wrong measuring stick. Quality trumps quantity!
“Quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”— Steve Jobs
To be more productive, you need a workday in which you:
- Accomplish something important– something that will ultimately make your company more profitable and/or grow your brand, and you
- Do high-quality work
Once you accept this definition of productivity, you will naturally begin to prioritize things differently. You will start to recognize the difference between truly important actions and “housekeeping” tasks.
Try This Mindset Change Exercise…
Keep an Activity Diary for one week. Schedule at least half an hour to review the completed diary. During this review, highlight housekeeping tasks in yellow (e.g. paying bills, purchasing supplies, checking emails). Highlight important accomplishments in blue. FYI: Important accomplishments are those that can be directly associated with generating more leads, making more sales, or growing your brand.
The next week, make sure your to-do list for each day starts with a “blue” item. On week three, try to plot out days with more blue than yellow.
You will be amazed by how quickly you will start to really be more productive. Your business will begin to prosper and your mood will improve. Being truly productive, instead of just “doing things”, is good for your bottom line and your soul!
Mindset Change #2: Embrace the Value of “Free” Time
When you schedule every minute of the workday, you leave no time for creativity, or introspection, or inspiration.
I schedule free time into every day. For me, it’s 1:30-2:30.
This is separate from my lunch time. It is a sacred hour when I either go for a swim or take my dog to the park. I don’t answer my cell phone. I daydream, I observe, and I get some exercise.
Most of my best, most innovative ideas, have taken root during these times. As an added benefit, the mid-day pause re-charges my mental batteries. It helps me be more productive (and happier) for the remainder of the afternoon.
There may be a voice inside your head telling you that a full hour a day of “doing nothing” is impractical. I remember when that voice lived in my head, too. It is hard not to hear it.
It might be easier for you to start a little smaller. Try half an hour mid-morning and another half hour mid-afternoon.
That’s what I did in the beginning. Over time, I recognized that my most creative ideas (and problem-solving) were happening in those “free” moments.
That’s what I mean by a change of mindset. Once I truly believed in the business value of having “free” time to think, it became only logical to make more room in my day for it. The same thing will happen for you. I promise!
Mindset Change #3: Take Off Your Superhero Cape
When you truly believe that the only real problem is a lack of time, your underlying belief is that if there were only enough hours in the day, you could totally do everything – and do it all beautifully!
But no one is good at everything. And that means there are likely at least a few items on that to-do list that might be done better by someone else.
For me, the hardest thing to accept was that I was not great at book-keeping. Sure, I could handle payroll and bill payments and Quikbook entries. But it took up valuable time in my week. And I made little mistakes that eventually had be corrected by my very expensive accountant!
Out-sourcing my monthly book-keeping to a professional was surprisingly affordable. In fact, it probably saved money because I was able to use less of my accountant’s time at year end.
Subsequently, I have out-sourced website development and some of the more technical parts of SEO. Again, it’s not that I can’t do these things. But there are other people who can do them better and faster. In both cases, out-sourcing improved my business outcomes and freed up time for me to focus on the things I do best.
To be more productive, you may have to let other people take over a few things. That’s okay.
Conclusion: Mindset Changes Take Time but it is Time Well Spent
Working hard is important but working smart is more important. At the end of the day, there is no award given out to the person who gets the most things done in a day. To be more productive, more successful and happier, you need to recognize – and prioritize – the important stuff.