11 Things you can do to get more done in less time.
One of the biggest problems of business owners or anyone else in the workplace for that matter is that there never seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything done. In fact, many business owners cite ‘not enough time’ as their biggest challenge and feeling under pressure is a well-known stress trigger.
The thing with time though, is that everyone gets the exact same amount of it, and it’s completely inflexible: you get your 24 hours per day and 7 days per week, and that’s it. Yet some people (the likes of Richard Branson, Barack Obama or Deborah Meaden) get lots done, and others are continuously overworked and behind schedule. So how does that work?
Highly effective people are good at managing their activities. After all, there is not much they can do about the amount of time they get, but they can influence how they use it. So I’m going to share with you the techniques that highly effective people use to get lots done, to give you the option to choose one or more of them for yourself and get more done in less time.
Do you have one long to-do list and do you just add new things at the end of it? And worse: do you start at the top and work your way down? In that case you might be spending a lot of time on things that are not even that important, and not enough time on things that are very important.
The first thing you should do is prioritise your to-do list by adding deadlines and priority numbers. There are only 3 options:
- High priority (needs to be done this week)
- Medium priority (needs to be done this month)
- Low priority (needs to be done this year)
The easiest way to organise this quickly (and after all, you don’t want to waste any more time!) is to put your entire list in an excel spreadsheet. Once you’ve done that you can add deadlines where applicable, as well as the priority number. Then you can sort the data by priority number and by date. Now you know what needs to be done first and what can wait.
At the end of the week you’ll need to go through your list again and move some of the medium priority items onto the high priority list.
2. Plan weekly not daily
Once you have your prioritised to do list, you need to start planning weekly, and not daily. A lot of people start the day by looking at their to-do list, and then trying to get as much as possible done. Invariably they get caught up in the day-to-day business or meetings, and they don’t get a lot done from their list.
If however you start your week (or better yet finish your week!) by looking at what you’ve got on the next week and then filling in tasks from your prioritised list, you’ll see that things get done much more efficiently. If you know you’re going to be out all day, don’t plan any additional tasks, as you won’t be able to do them anyway, and you’ll just get frustrated with yourself.
3. Learn to estimate correctly
This is a very important part of planning: estimating correctly how long something is going to take. This is where a lot of people go wrong: they think something is only going to take them half an hour, but in reality it takes an hour and a half. If they plan their day full of things to do, but they don’t get the timings right, they still end up with a long not-done list.
One way to get good at this is by keeping a record with the following information: task – estimated time – real time. Keep track of this for a week or so and you’ll soon get a much better idea of how long something is going to take.
And when you plan in tasks in your diary, always allow for some extra time anyway, say at least 25%. That way you’re more likely to plan more realistically, and actually get stuff done. This also emphasises why prioritising is so important: you have to make sure you do the most important things first as you definitely won’t be able to do everything at once.
4. Use alarms
Once you get the hang of correct timing, you can use alarms to keep you on track. When you know you’ve got an hour to do some work in between meetings, pick the tasks that fit in that hour and then set yourself an alarm to make sure you stick to it.
There’s a method called the Pomodoro technique which makes you schedule your time in blocks of 25 minutes (called ‘pomodoros’), which you monitor by setting a kitchen timer. The idea is that you spend 25 minutes of concentrated time on something, and then you have a 5 minute break. Or you have 3 or 4 blocks of 25 minutes and have an entire ‘pomodoro’ break. This method works well for things like studying, reading reports, writing marketing material or doing computer coding. If you’ve never tried it before, it’s well worth giving it a go, although it will not work for everyone.
5. Get unstuck
Sometimes you can just feel totally overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to do. In that case you can try a different technique to get unstuck quickly.
Take 30 minutes and do as many ‘quick wins’ as possible. Set your alarm and really work as fast as you can to get as many small tasks done as possible. This will not only clear your backlog, but it will feel like you’ve got lots done, and when you feel better, you’re more productive anyway.
6. Switch off your email
One of the reasons why many people don’t get enough done is because they check their email constantly. As a rule, if it’s really urgent people will not send it by email, but they will at the very least try to contact you personally.
Get into the habit of only checking your email three times a day: in the morning, after lunch and in the afternoon and you’ll know that nothing ever gets missed for more than 3 hours. You’ll be able to concentrate on your work whilst you’re not being distracted by often unnecessary emails and get loads more done.
Some people find this very difficult because they feel they need to be constantly available, but think about it: who’s in charge of your time? If you allow other people to dictate your activity schedule, you can’t complain if you feel overwhelmed. Take back control and manage other people’s expectations. Most people find it perfectly acceptable to hear back from you within 24 hours, as opposed to within 24 minutes.
Often you really do have too much to do for the amount of time you have, in which case delegation becomes your key tool. This can be to members of staff (although make sure not to overload them) or by outsourcing certain tasks.
You need to do the things that make the best use of your time (such as working on the business strategy, getting new customers or making new connections); the things that will have the biggest impact on the bottom line. However, there are many other jobs that need to be done, and often these can take up large amounts of your time. A good example is bookkeeping. This is absolutely necessary for the success of your business, but can easily be outsourced at £15-£20 per hour. If you know how much your time is worth, and it’s more than £15-£20, then outsourcing is the right decision for you.
8. Eat that frog
This is a very good technique to help you with motivation and procrastination and comes from Brian Tracey.
Question: “If you had to eat a live, ugly, frog, when would be the best time to do that?”
Answer: “First thing in the morning so you don’t have to look at it all day and you’ll know that the worst is over.”
The frog represents the item on your to-do list that is very important, yet somehow unpleasant. Maybe you need to make a call to someone you don’t like, or you need to do hours of research for it, but you know that if you did this, it would make a big difference to your life or your business. Most of the time when I explain this, people can immediately identify a few frogs on their list.
So, identify which item on your list is a frog, and then do that one first. You’ll be amazed at the difference this makes.
9. Do your 90 minutes
This tip comes from Nigel Botterill, who runs the Entrepreneurs Circle. The most important thing for most business owners is getting and keeping customers. That’s what keeps them in business, and that’s what will help them grow that business. So you would think that every business owner spends most of their time doing things that will help them get and keep customers, wouldn’t you? The sad truth is that very often this is not the case, so he’s come up with an easy, but very effective solution: spend 90 minutes every day on activities that are directly related to getting and keeping customers. This can be writing a sales letter, coming up with an email marketing campaign, developing new product packages, contacting lost customers, creating engaging content for the website and much more. During these 90 minutes, you turn off your phone and your email, and you instruct your staff not to disturb you. Ideally you do them first thing in the morning, so that you can then get on with the business of dealing with everything else.
10. Have a system for diary management
Highly effective people have a systematic way of doing things, and they stick to that system. It doesn’t even really matter what system you use, but you need to use it all the time. Nowadays many people have smart phones with calendars, and they are a great tool to use. However, the good old fashioned written diary works better for some, and that’s just as good (although you can’t set alarms with it, which are useful if you have a tendency to forget appointments). Outlook also has a way to organise tasks and set reminders, and there are many more. Pick one and use it.
I am forever surprised by people who regularly forget appointments, miss meetings or go over deadlines because they forgot it was there. Those people clearly do not have a system they use, and that’s where they go wrong.
11. Learn to say no
This is particularly hard for some people who like to please others. But remember that if you are overworked and burnt out, you won’t be able to please anyone, let alone yourself. Highly effective people are in charge of their own time, and they know (because they have planned well) what they can take on and what they can’t. They are able to say ‘no’ when needed, in a friendly but firm way.
If you find it hard to say ‘no’ to people, just ask yourself the following question: ‘By saying yes to this, what am I saying no to?’
Or if you find it really hard to say ‘no’ to people’s faces, ask for a bit of a reprieve. Say that you need to check your diary and that you will come back to them. This is also actually true (unless you have your diary perfectly memorised) and a very good way to manage your activities.
So there you are, 11 ways to get more done in less time. I hope that you will find this guide useful. You may not do everything on the list, but just pick the things that you find the easiest or the most attractive. The single most important thing you can do is to plan weekly instead of daily. So if you do only one thing from this list, let that be the one.