6 tips to make the most of each work day

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If you can free up an hour a day, you’ll create at least an extra month a year for yourself. If you’re a business owner, that could be a revelatory thought.

What would you do if you were able to free up a month a year? Perhaps you’d use it to focus on growing your business. Or maybe you’d take four weeks’ extra holiday every year. It would be great to have the choice.

Here are six tips to help you overhaul your productivity — and make the most of each work day.

1. Work out what you should be doing

Many business owners spend too much time doing things they shouldn’t be doing. If your business is in start-up mode, it’s natural to get involved in everything — after all, the funds are not there to invest in more people.

As soon as your business starts to grow, it’s crucial that you work out how you can best contribute to your business and let others do the rest. Focus on just three big-ticket items that could make a noticeable difference. For example, as the business owner you might decide that you should be spending your time:

  • closing large, complex sales
  • nurturing major clients
  • developing your people

Whatever you choose, make sure you get everything else off your plate.

Start by making a list of everything you do over a two-week period. Then make a plan to remove all items but your top three from your list. It might take you a while to achieve it — perhaps at the rate of a few items per month — but when you get there, you and your business will see the benefits.

2. Plan your day the evening before

At the end of each work day, check your calendar for the following day and plan how you are going to get everything done. If you find that you regularly don’t get things done, it could be because you are overscheduling.

The best way to avoid overscheduling is to decide on just three things you will achieve the following day.

For example, one of your achievements might include making three sales calls. Don’t try to cram in more — you simply won’t have time to follow up on them in a timely manner.

3. Schedule everything

I don’t use a to-do list. I find they simply get longer and longer and very little actually gets done.

My approach is to schedule everything into my calendar. If I need to change a flight, I schedule half an hour to do so. If I have to write an article (like this one) I schedule an hour of time for it. If I am going to see a client, I make sure I schedule three things:

  • The travel time to and from the client
  • The client meeting itself
  • Time to follow up on any action points coming from the meeting.

If to-do lists aren’t working for you, try this scheduling approach.

4. Set yourself some deadlines

Think about when you are at your most productive. Many people tell me it’s right before they go on holiday. Everything miraculously gets done so that you can leave without worrying about what you left behind. What if you had such a deadline every week? You can do that by setting artificial deadlines.

In 2011, I wrote a book in six weeks. It was 48,000 words — a proper book. It took me just over 36 hours of writing time to do this. How was this possible? For me, it was the power of artificial deadlines.

My major deadline was a holiday to Hawaii, which came before the publisher’s deadline, which led right into the launch of my book at a conference. I had two choices: either write through my family holiday or finish it beforehand. The choice was simple, and with that self-imposed deadline set, I broke down the 10 chapters and created mini-deadlines for each to be completed. Then I scheduled writing time in two-hour blocks to get it done.

5. Learn to say no

Recently, I had the privilege of seeing the world-renowned business consultant Jim Collins speak in Sydney. During his speech, he said something that really resonated with me: as your business grows, you should find yourself saying no 20 times more than you say yes.

How many times do you say no? To customers, to new business, to your team? As your business matures, you should become extremely focused on exactly who and what forms your market and your ideal customer. You’re in control, and you should build your business so that you are doing what you want with who you want. Use the number of times you say ‘no’ during a week as a key performance indicator.

6. Change the way you respond to email and phone

Many business owners find their inbox is way too big and it becomes overwhelming. They also cite emails from customers as a major source of interruptions. There’s an easy solution: stop being a slave to your email!

I know of business owners who say in their email footers that they only check their email twice a day and if it’s urgent, please contact the office by phone. It’s a neat approach.

Turn off distracting email-notification pop-ups or noises. Never look at email when you are working on something else. There is nothing so urgent that it won’t wait a couple of hours.

Similarly, just because you have a mobile phone doesn’t mean you need to answer it the second it rings. I use mine as a voicemail service. I don’t give the number to everyone — but the select few who have it know they can call it and leave a message and I will get back to them within a couple of hours. I have found that is good enough. Again, if they have a more pressing need (it rarely happens) they can call my PA at the office. Technology is terrific, but don’t let it own you.

Getting on top of these six things should help you regain control of your business — and your life.

What would you do with an extra hour each day?

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