WORK SMART, NOT HARD: 5 HIGH-IMPACT PRODUCTIVITY TIPS

Pop quiz! Which is more important: Your relationship with {A} time or {B} money?

This may seem like a trick question. And you’re likely thinking, Both are important! And you’d be right.

Because, in my mind, they’re intertwined. Time, in fact, is money. And vice versa. One can’t exist without the other.

Let me put it more practical terms.

If you earn an hourly wage, you get paid for the time you work. And if you’re a salaried employee, chances are your experience (a.k.a. time you’ve spent in the field) played a role in your annual sum.

Even your benefits package revolves around time and money. Paid time off, sick days, performance bonuses—they’re all measured against time.

It’s why we pursue higher education. The prospect of a lucrative career in exchange for a four- to ten-year investment seems worth it.

But when you think about it, you rarely receive a monetary payoff upfront. You usually have to give time to get money. So it’s not off the mark to argue how you manage your time impacts how much money you make.

Too bad I didn’t realize this when I transitioned from fashion media to running a business.

I set my sights straight on money. It’s what would keep the lights on, allow me to build a team and pay myself a comfortable salary, I convinced myself.

But my obsession with money prevented me from showing time the love it deserved.

My productivity was piss-poor to say the least. I woke up early and stayed up late. I missed social outings and my weekends felt like two more weekdays because I always had work to do. And the worst part: I was losing money, not making it.

Something had to give. So I test-drove a few strategies to redesign my relationship with time. The good news is I’m bringing in more revenue now than I have in the past six months. Even better, these tips will increase your productivity, no matter your job title or function.

Click through to discover six of my very own time-saving, results-generating productivity tips.

1) BORROW ONE OF MY MOM’S PARENTING TRICKS

When I was younger, I would often interrupt my sister if I wanted our mom’s attention (such a brat, right?).

My mother usually asked if “it was an emergency”—ten times out of nine it was wasn’t—then advised me to wait quietly until she was finished.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized my mom knew a thing or two about single-tasking.

She never wanted my sister and me to feel like we were competing for her attention. We were deserving of her full focus. And while I don’t have children, I’ve applied the same concept to how I manage my client work and business operations.

Productivity Tips For Business Leaders – The Stylish Standout

Here’s how I single-task: I divide my work day into two blocks—business and creative/marketing (see the screenshot above). I then batch the tasks that fall into each category to complete them in one sitting.

When an email, notification or phone call interrupts me email, I ask myself if it’s an emergency. If the interruption is urgent, I move the current task I’m working on to Power Hour (more on that in tip 5) and handle the crisis. If not, I continue with what I’m working on.

On the business side, it could be following up on a client inquiry or developing material for a new product or service. I devote the second part of my day to creating content and campaigns to promote the business.

Because of the rush that comes with completing a task, I’m motivated to move on to the next one within a block to maintain my momentum.

2) USE THE MOST POWERFUL WORD IN YOUR VOCABULARY

If I’m honest, my lousy productivity was self-inflicted. All because I didn’t know how to say no.

An opportunity came my way? Yes! A friend needed a favor? Yes! A client booked me for a last-minute gig? Yes!

But for every yes to someone else, I was saying no to me. And my business suffered. So after reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown last year on how to recognize the “vital few from the trivial many,” I challenged myself to say no at least once a day for an entire month.

The result? People respected me for it.

My current clients were satisfied because I didn’t overbook or exhaust myself with other projects. And because of the boundaries I set for prospective clients and my personal relationships, it made it easier for me to manage expectations and get more stuff done.

I’ve also become closer with no’s first cousin, “not right now.” If the timing is off on a request but it’s something I’m willing and/or able to do, I’m honest upfront: “I can’t commit to this right now, but let’s reconnect in two weeks when my schedule has a bit more flexibility.”

It’s up to you to manage your schedule to optimize your productivity. And my friends No and Not Right Now will make it easier for you to do so.

3) STOP HOLDING YOUR BEST IDEAS HOSTAGE…

One of the first lessons I learned in journalism school was “you’re only as good as your last idea.”

And that was music to my ears because my mind spins a mile a minute with new concepts for my business. The problem is I tried to commit everything to memory. And if I did write something down, it was on a random page of a notebook. When I was finally ready to revisit the idea, by the time I found it, I was too exhausted to actually flesh it out into a business concept.

It’s punishment to try to remember everything. And your ideas are too valuable to relegate them to a sticky note or piece of scratch paper.

Instead, create a simple system that works for you. Remember, it’s just a centralized place to store ideas—you don’t need too much sophistication. To get your wheels turning, I’ll share mine.

Productivity Tips For Business Leaders – The Stylish Standout

In Evernote, I create Notebooks for the different parts of my business: Blog, Newsletters, my new weekly content series Allow Me To Explain, and my free Resource Library. Within each Notebook are Notes to jot down ideas for each topic.

The ideas are hardly ever fully fleshed out. And they don’t have to be. Again, the goal is to have a reliable place JUST for your ideas. And Evernote works for me because you can use it via desktop or mobile so no matter inspiration strikes, I can document it.

4) … AND STOP LETTING YOUR INBOX HOLD YOU HOSTAGE

In Jocelyn K. Glei’s book Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distractions, and Get Real Work Done, she wrote one sentence that transformed my relationship with email: “Inbox zero is an addictive game, not a meaningful goal.”

She’s right. My workday used to be a race against the clock to see how quickly I could get to Inbox Zero. And because I knew it wouldn’t last, I would fixate on my inbox to zap away any new messages to get back to zero … for thirty-five seconds.

No wonder my business was at a standstill! Email is a tool to help you achieve a set of strategic goals. Your productivity plummets when you view it as the strategic goal.

With this new awareness, I installed a few checks and balances to make sure I was responsive and productive.

First, I created three thirty-minute blocks dedicated to emails. The first one is at 8:30 AM before I start my business tasks, another is at noon before I take a lunch break, and the other is at 5:30 PM before I close the business day.

Then I use Jocelyn’s five-bucket hierarchy to determine the order in and urgency with which I’ll reply:

VIPs (same day, within a few hours) The people closest to you whose messages need immediate attention—bosses, big-deal clients, significant others

Key Collaborators (within one to three days) People with whom you work closely who require timely responses for projects and relationships to move forward

Fun People (up to a week or two) Folks with whom communicating is more enjoyable than necessary

Potentials (within a few days or less) All of the people who could be important or useful in the future

Randoms (next day up to two weeks) People who enter your inbox uninvited and unverified by a trusted source

Most people organize their inbox by type (newsletters, invoices, project updates), but I sort my emails into folders by one of Jocelyn’s five people groups. But before I do that, I tag each email with a label, again inspired by Jocelyn’s advice:

Reply Emails that need a response from me

Waiting Messages that require a reply from someone else

Archive Emails I may reference in the future

Another popular trick is to set up canned responses in Gmail for messages that don’t require a specific response. I also make sure to forward progress in each email I send so the recipient is aware of next steps.

One more note: Once I gained control of my email inbox, I found myself distracted by text messages. So during the workday, I treat texts like emails.

5) EXPECT SOMETHING TO GO WRONG (BECAUSE SOMETHING ALWAYS GOES WRONG…)

I schedule my day at 75-percent capacity because I’ve learned the other 25 percent will schedule itself for me. Unforeseen situations always seem to pop up—a friend comes into town without notice, a client call goes a few minutes over, traffic is severe—so it’s best to plan for the worst and expect the best.

That’s where the Power Hour comes in.

It’s a daily 60-minute chunk of time I use to knock out any tasks that I couldn’t complete during my Business or Creative blocks.

For example, some days client work takes up the entire AM block of my day. So during Power Hour, I’ll work on the outline of an upcoming digital product launch. I also use my Power Hour to return phone calls that I missed throughout the day, reconcile story ideas in Evernote or update editorial tasks in Asana, the software I use to plan my content calendar.

Power Hour gives me the flexibility to focus on time-sensitive stuff or break big projects into small one-hour deliverables. So much of my day is dictated by my client needs. It’s comforting to know I have at least an hour for me.

A few recommendations if you plan to give Power Hour a try:

Set separate times for Power Hour and your lunch break Remember less multi-tasking, more single-tasking! (Refer to tip one for a refresher.)

Take a break before your Power Hour My Power Hour is typically around 4:30 each afternoon. By that point, I’m usually mentally drained. So I schedule a 30-minute break to go for a walk, catch up on social media, or check in with my loved ones before diving into my Power Hour task.

DEVELOP A RITUAL I look forward to Power Hour because I’ve created a process around it. I listen to songs from a specific playlist, drink the same beverage (usually a Passion Tea Lemonade from Starbucks or homemade Arnold Palmer), and close any windows or folders I’m not using.

DOCUMENT YOUR WINS—AND REWARD YOURSELF At the end of each day, I track what I completed during Power Hour on my calendar. Then I treat myself to something small (an episode of Scandal, a slice (or two) of pizza, or an hour of extra sleep on the weekend. Hey, when you work for yourself, you gotta find ways to incentivize your work.

CONCLUSION

Whether you’re chronically late, broke, stressed, mad or overwhelmed, your inefficiency costs you something. Your diminished productivity affects your bottom line, not just your business’.

And frankly, it’s not worth it.

No one looks out for you like you. Plus, the benefits of productivity outweigh the learning curve that comes with the five tips I offered.

So give ‘em a try. Then let me know how they work out.

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