If you’re like me, then you probably wish on a daily basis that you had the power to stop time just so you can get everything done on your to-do list. Or maybe you’ve fantasized about living on Mars so you could have just one more hour each day to get items checked off and move your business forward…
Well try as I may, I have yet to develop any super powers. And last time I checked, Mars is still uninhabitable… So how else can you find the time to get everything done? And not just that, but to prioritize your list so that you get the important things (not the easy things) done first?
These are questions I have struggled with for years, despite the hundreds of Pinterest productivity boards I follow… But this year, I decided to implement a few targeted strategies that have already improved my productivity 3X over, and have made me feel like I have more time to accomplish my goals.
Overwhelmed by the traditional to-do…
For years I worked off a handwritten to-do list that sat on my desk or kitchen counter… It was a strategy I picked up in college when studying for an exam or preparing a research paper. My to-do list system worked fairly well for some time, and helped me stay organized through various jobs and outside responsibilities…
It wasn’t until I entered the world of starting a business, that this system became utterly unbearable! I quickly realized just how much it takes to get a business off the ground, and my handwritten to-do lists became 3, 4, and 5 pages long, with no real prioritization and a looming and constant sense of overwhelm.
#1: A Reason For Every To-Do
A wise man once told me that a confused mind does nothing. Well let me tell you, a 5 page to-do list with no clear starting place or direction generates confusion in a big way…
So for me Step 1 in re-gaining control was to go through my list and determine the WHY behind every item on that list. Your WHY is the reason you want or need to complete each item. Figuring out your WHYs will help you prioritize your important tasks over your filler tasks!
How? Well, once you determine your WHYs you won’t just see a task to get done, but the purpose behind that task. This provides a clearer picture of your priorities moving forward.
Let’s look at an example…
Let’s say one of the items on your To Do list is to update your business’s social media… Why is that important? You know that by engaging frequently with your audience, your social media followers are more likely to participate in your business and refer your business to their friends. So let’s say your WHY is to increase your prospects.
Now, let’s say another item on your To Do list is to send an email update to your existing customer base… Why is that important? Well, the more you engage with your existing customers, the more likely they are to continue doing business with you. So we’ll say your WHY is to attract repeat business.
So now we’ve identified two reasons for tasks on your list:
- Increase your prospects
- Encourage repeat business
Now that you can plainly see the reason behind each task, you can determine which is the higher priority. For instance, if you have lots of followers on social media, and a small customer base, you might prioritize engaging with your followers in order to convert them to customers.
See what I mean by a clearer picture of priorities? Know your reasons for doing what you do!
#2: It All Starts With A Schedule
Now that you’ve prioritized your list, it’s time to take action… As good as it feels to cross items off a list, I’ve found that I need the most help combating outside distractions!
The best method I’ve found for staying focused is to review my prioritized list, and then physically schedule those tasks in my calendar at the start of every week… Not just the meetings and events with others, but the little stuff that you need to do yourself!
For instance, schedule your social media updates each morning for 20 minutes. That way, you won’t find yourself in social media time-suck hell, which we all know and love… / hate.
Need to update your blog? Schedule a two hour window in the afternoon…
Have prospects or customers you need to follow up with? Schedule 15-minutes for each one…
The more I schedule and pre-plan my day, the less likely I am to get distracted, and the more productive I become. The weeks start flying by (in a good way), and come Friday, when I look back at my week I am more and more impressed by the progress I’ve made.
Pro Tip: Use a calendar app with great visual representation. I use Elify Edge (http://elifyedge.com) which I’ve screenshotted below. My favorite feature here is the ability to mark tasks as complete… If I don’t physically mark a task as complete, then it turns red, and I know that I’m falling behind!
#3: Tackle The Monsters First
You know those to-do items? The ones that make you cringe… The ones you know you should have done weeks ago… The ones you know are crucial to your business, but yet stay sitting on your list because they will take the most time and be the least fun?
The monsters! Yeah, I have those too.
Recently though, I’ve figured out two simple strategies to tackle my monsters first. Two simple strategies that help me conquer the beast instead of letting it become bigger, uglier, and scarier. So here we go…
Monster Strategy #1 – Break It Down
Monsters are usually monsters because they require a series of tasks… A series of tasks which takes time and energy that you probably feel like you don’t have. So when you identify a monster (and you’ll know… you’ll feel it in the pit of your stomach… and it will probably make you cringe), tear it apart!
Stop looking at it as one big, scary thing… and start breaking down the series of tasks it will take to accomplish the whole. Start by identifying your Step 1… Then your Step 2… etc. From there, each Step becomes a task to schedule in your calendar (see “#2: It All Starts With A Schedule” above). Boom! Progress.
Monster Strategy #2 – 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…
Now that you’ve torn apart your monster, and you know your Step 1, there’s still a chance you’re feeling reluctant to get started. Can you relate? It’s like getting ready for a run… But it’s not just a run, it’s a marathon… And you know you’re about to tackle the first mile. It takes gumption to start down the path!
So try this simple technique to clear your head and amp yourself up: Take a deep breath. On the exhale, count backwards from 5, and and when you pass 1 tell yourself “Now.”
5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Now.
Now is the time for you to take action on that first Step. Now is the time to open your computer and start typing… Or pick up the phone and start dialing… Or go through your piles and start sorting…
For whatever reason, this stupid simple technique works for me. It’s like I get to be my own business / life coach, and tell myself that I can tackle anything. I just have to take that first Step!
So there you have it! By determining the reason for every task on my to-do list, scheduling EVERYTHING (even the little things) in my calendar, and tackling my monsters first, I have found more time in my schedule to accomplish my goals.
I still wish I had the power to stop time… But not because I’m overwhelmed. Just because that would be pretty cool. 😉
Leave us a comment if you’ve used any of these strategies for your business, or share your best productivity tips below! Thanks for reading…