As a business owner, I often find myself struggling to make sense of my time. How did two hours just vanish into my inbox? Did that weekly catch-up call really end up taking an entire hour? Why isn’t my Seamless order here yet, and who’s responsible?
Seriously, though -- it pays to pay more attention to how you spend your time. But instead of listing out ways to be more productive or get out of work one hour earlier, I’m going to take a look at what really successful people do instead. Specifically, people who make it their business to make all of us more productive.
Here are five ways that productivity entrepreneurs make better use of their time:
1. Cancel recurring meetings.
Slack, the team messaging platform, has helped a lot of people be more productive. It’s no surprise that the company’s worth just keeps going up. In fact, it may be somewhere close to $4 billion.
Obviously, you can’t build up a productivity company worth that much money unless you’re a productivity wizard. Here’s what Slack’s founder, Stewart Butterfield, has to say about staying productive -- "We just went through this process of canceling almost every recurring meeting that we had to see which ones we really needed.”
Wow. When he puts it that way, it really does make sense, doesn’t it? What about meetings in general? How can we make them more efficient? The short answer, Butterfield said, is not to make meetings routine.
"One way that empathy manifests itself is courtesy," Butterfield said in a interview with inc.com. "Respecting people’s time is important. Everyone should try to make the lives of everyone else who works here a little bit simpler. So if you’re going to call a meeting, you’re responsible for it, and you have to be clear what you want out of it.”
Takeaway -- Meetings really don’t have to be recurring.
2. Delegate more, and relax more.
Hootsuite lets you manage your social channels in one easy-to-use platform. It saves social media managers so much time that I doubt most of them would have their jobs if it, and/or Buffer, didn’t exist. (Hootsuite and Buffer are competitors.)
Here’s what Ryan Holmes, Hootsuite CEO, has to say about prioritizing tasks and managing expectations -- “[Prioritizing what needs to be done] is round-robin, and by relative importance.”
Okay, easy enough. I think by “round-robin” he means delegating tasks to the right people, rather than doing all of them yourself. I’m sure most of us know this intellectually, but we could all stand to delegate a bit more and micro-manage a bit less.
Takeaway -- Not all tasks are equally important. Prioritize, then delegate.
3. Hang out and work with productive people.
Leo Widrich, Buffer CEO, has this to say about sticking to daily routines -- “I think the key to a good daily routine is to have a great environment. I think Jim Rohn’s quote applies: ‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ This is something that I believe makes all the difference of whether you can stick to a daily routine or not... Finding others who also have an interest in a great and productive routine really is probably 80-90 percent of what you can do to set yourself on the right track.”
This one’s definitely a keeper. Leo’s arguing that one of the keys to productivity is just spending time with productive people. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that piece of advice in a project management workshop before, but it totally makes sense.
Takeaway -- Want to stick to a daily routine? Hang out with people who are productive.
4. Break up tasks into smaller tasks. Then breathe.
Zapier, in a nutshell, makes connections between apps and software so that you can use shortcuts to save time. It helps busy developers and project managers automate certain tasks.
Here’s how Zapier CEO Wade Foster tackles big, unwieldy tasks -- “My biggest ‘hack’ for productivity is to break a task into the small piece that’s actionable. That way I can get started. As soon as I do that you start to realize big tasks don’t feel quite so big.”
This one really resonates with me and my experience building up Tailored Ink. Sometimes, we’re all stuck at a wall at work. We may even feel what I like to call a “spiritual unwillingness” to do a specific task, even if it’s easy.
Takeaway -- There is no such thing as a big task. There are only small tasks.
5. Don’t waste time on temporary fixes.
ZipSchedules helps users create Gantt charts for teams. Project managers can stay on top of each team member’s contributions and deadlines in a visual dashboard. That way, project leaders can easily identify timesucks and focus on priorities instead.
Mitesh Gala, CEO of Altametrics, has this to say about choosing between competing tasks -- “What you choose not to do is more important than what you choose to do. Before you do anything, take time to think it all the way through... Thinking things through will save you tons of time versus when the idea or initiative fails and you have to recommit all the effort again. If something is not sustainable or structurally aligned, don't do it, you are just running in circles.”
I couldn’t agree more. Beyond the initial kick-off meeting and the final deliverable, many managers have little insight into what individual team members are actually doing.
Even if they do, they might not be able to identify where team members could shift priorities to better complement each other’s tasks.
Takeaway -- Before you commit to something, ask yourself if it will have lasting value.
How often are you productive at work?
If I learned one thing from these collected tips, it’s that being more productive is an ongoing process.
Nobody’s really figured it all out yet -- that’s why there are so many books, seminars and workshops on the subject. But it’s also not rocket science. By taking small, sensible steps towards improving your workflow and by trimming the fat off team meetings, just about anyone can get out of work a few minutes to an hour earlier each day.
My personal tip? Make a running to-do list at the start of each day so that you can forecast your weekly workload and earnings. Prioritize each task and, by 5:00 or 6:00 pm (whenever your work day is supposed to end), push all the remaining low-priority tasks into the next day’s to-do list.
This will help you make sure you’re doing what’s important every day, but will also keep you from overworking and help you leave the office when you’re supposed to.
Takeaway -- Be accountable to yourself. No one else is more responsible for your success.