Whether you are a just starting out as a one-man band or you are on track to join the Fortune 500, productivity is king. So why is it so difficult to stay on task, keep your priorities in order and make time for your personal life? We have all done it; we have all fallen into the trap of working harder rather than working smarter. This inevitably leads to becoming frazzled, fed up and in dire need of some R&R with friends and family that you dare not take for fear of dropping a ball in business. It’s obvious that this is a downward spiral, so how do you escape this self-imposed trap?
Improving productivity begins with breaking the bad habits that we have collected over time. Here are some of the most common habits that are holding you back:
Too Much Browsing
I know, there are very few businesses that can live without being online for a large portion of the day, but being constantly plugged-in to a never-ending source of entertainment, news and social media sites, or as you might call it ‘very important business research’, is a major distraction. In terms of my own business, being online is critical, but it’s easy to meander from researching trending topics for my client’s social media strategy to being absorbed into a meaningless (albeit amusing) abyss of tweets, Facebook posts and eye-catching news items. Even five minutes here and there soon adds up and can end up robbing you of valuable hours each week. If you can, put yourself on a strict regime and limit your online activities. You probably already know which sites you need to ignore, so set aside specific times of the day when you are allowed to browse for fun and when it should be business only.
The Noisy Workspace
Background noise is an invasive niggler that wants to rob your brain of its train of thought. Whether you work in a shared office with a boisterous sales team or a cosy home office with a pneumatic drill outside and the neighbour’s baby piercing your eardrums, noise pollution will drive you crazy. Don’t just plough on through it and expect to be productive. You can’t always control the noise around you, there is no diplomatic way to tell Janice from accounts that her shrill laugh is destroying your day, but you can choose whether to stay and listen or move to a quiet space. Even if it takes you an hour to get across town to a tranquil spot, the time will be won back and multiplied with the new-found efficiency of your day.
Obsessive Message Checking
Your clients, your business partners, your team and your suppliers all want a piece of you and you want to keep on top of it all. Checking your emails every ten minutes, responding to every messenger pop-up immediately and answering the phone in the middle of a complex task can wreck your concentration and leave you reeling. Your important to-do list gets forgotten and prioritisation goes out of the window. Most people in business do not really expect immediate responses to every communication. You can make it known that you are only available on chat tools at certain hours and limit email checking to perhaps four or five times per day and still give an excellent response time. If you need to get your head buried into a tricky task, there is no harm in diverting your phone to voicemail for an hour or two, closing all of your communications down and just getting the job done. You will feel better for it, do a better job, get it finished faster and have more time to respond thoughtfully to all of your enquiries.
Not Taking Breaks
You might get an extra hour of work done in that lunch break, but at what cost? How often have you had a stroke of genius while making yourself a cup of coffee or taking a short walk? Stepping away from your to-do list can put it into perspective and allow your brain the freedom to wander and think creatively. Even if you don’t get a light-bulb moment unexpectedly while tucking into your well-deserved lunch, you will at least be refreshed and ready to face the rest of the day rejuvenated and refuelled.
Refusing to Change
You have a system, a schedule, a process. It’s worked in the past and you still trust it despite the fact it no longer fits your evolving business. If you are struggling to keep on top of things then it is time to admit that the system is out-dated. It’s scary trying new things but employing new processes, changing things around and adjusting your routine could save you so much more time in the long run. You might take a few wrong turns along the way and lose a little time here and there, but if you just blindly keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same results. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Engage with that entrepreneurial spirit that got you started and take some risks.
Working with a virtual assistant can improve your productivity, not only because they will pick up the smaller, menial tasks you don’t necessarily like doing but they are also great at helping you create systems and processes.