Our society is obsessed with being busy, but being busy and being productive are not one in the same. Often, when we’re too busy, we’re far from productive. This is why even on our busiest days it can feel like we have accomplished nothing.
As the head of your company, you may understand this feeling more than anyone. The good news is that with a few small changes to your daily routine, you can start being more productive and less busy.
Identify Your Most Productive Hours
Your energy most likely comes and goes in bursts throughout the day. Knowing when you have the most energy is key for figuring out when to schedule tasks or meetings that require intense focus. For example, you may notice you tend to get the most done in the morning after your morning coffee or in the early afternoon after you’ve eaten lunch.
If you’re unsure about when you are at your most productive, don’t worry -- there’s an app for that. Time tracking tools, such as Toggl or Harvest, can help you pinpoint how you are spending your time and when you are the most and least productive.
Schedule Uninterrupted Blocks of Time
If you’re struggling to get anything done due to a full calendar, start making meetings with yourself. Schedule blocks of time on your calendar, such as an hour each day or a 4-hour block once a week, where you don’t take calls, answer emails or attend meetings. This “do not disturb” time can be used to focus on a task that needs your individual attention, but often gets pushed aside due to other commitments. Ideally, you will use the hours you’ve identified as your productivity peak to maximize this time.
You can also use this time for things that aren’t “work,” such as a workout or long lunch. As the boss, it can be just as important to schedule time to stop working. Doing something other than work for an hour or two can be great for recharging and returning to the office in a productive mindset.
Block Out Distractions
For your focused time to be truly effective, you need to aim for zero interruptions. Research shows that it may take up to 25 minutes to refocus on a task after an interruption. So shut your door, silence your phone, sign out of your email – do whatever you need to signal to your team that you are unavailable.
If you end up being your own worst enemy when it comes to getting off task, try out one of these apps made to minimize distractions:
Stop Treating Email Like a To Do List
As much as email has made doing business easier, it has also made many of us its slaves. Keeping your email open all day essentially puts you “on call.” You can break this cycle, but it takes discipline and planning. Repeat after me: You don’t need to respond to an email as soon as it hits your inbox.
Dedicate a few times a day to check and respond to emails, such as the beginning of the day, before lunch, mid-afternoon and end of day (block these times out on your calendar if necessary). Unless you are expecting something urgent, avoid checking email outside of those times. Provide another way for people to contact you if something needs your immediate attention. A quick phone chat is often less time consuming and more effective than an endless email thread.
Be sure to send out an email explaining your new policy to anyone who regularly communicates with you via email. Once your staff and contacts become accustomed to expecting responses from you during these windows, rather than immediately, you will feel less pressure to get to “inbox zero.” In fact, they may be inspired to stop giving constant attention to their inbox, too.
Tweaking your unproductive behavior may be difficult at first, but will be worth it in the long haul if you can stick to the above changes. Soon you will find yourself putting more energy toward decisions that really matter – like those that improve your business.