Getting to grips with time management and productivity is essential for small business owners, especially if you have to manage your workload alongside domestic stuff.
It’s very different from being an employee, where there are plenty of what Pete Williams of ProfitHacks calls ‘positive constraints‘ to keep you on track – turning up on time, getting things done and being accountable to your boss are what stops you getting fired. But you can’t fire yourself when you’re self-employed, so you need to learn new tricks and strategies to keep you on track.
A few years ago I discovered Think Productive who run practical workshops to help you increase productivity, reduce stress and gain greater control and clarity in your work and life. Their Productivity Ninja Lee Cottier is a firm believer in ‘downloading your brain’ and not overloading yourself with too much information.
The mind is for having ideas, not for holding them - worth remembering if you’re struggling with creativity as well as productivity. We can’t manage time – we need to manage ourselves, and in particular our attention – our most valuable and most threatened resource.
Here are a few of his ninja tips for reducing distractions, taming email and freeing your attention to get more done:
1. Know your enemy – know the things that distract you (Facebook, Twitter, websites, noise, hunger) and put your attention into managing them. Turn off the internet, close your browser, unplug yourself for 20 or 30 minutes and allow yourself to focus on a task without interruption. This is great for creative and detailed work.
2. Defend your sanctuary – set clear boundaries around your time, attention and environment, especially if you’re working from home and have to share your space.
3. Batch tasks that need a similar mindset – eg invoicing and expenses is a detail task. Look at the structure of your working day or week and balance these with creative tasks, errands, emails and phone calls so that you have a pick’n'mix to keep energy and attention levels high.
4. Have a good morning routine – adopt the same routine as if going to work and use the first 30/60 minutes of your day for getting ready, planning and getting an overview of what you need to do that day.
5. Practice sequential mono-tasking, not multi-tasking. Focus on one thing at a time, then rinse and repeat – you’ll get more done than if you try and scatter your attention over several tasks.
6. Working in dashes is good for big overwhelming tasks or something you’re resisting. Try the Pomodoro technique of 25 minutes uninterrupted work followed by a five minute break.
7. One of Think Productive’s most popular workshops is ‘Getting Your Inbox to Zero’. People now spend 30-40% of their working day dealing with email so it makes sense to develop ways to tame this particular beast. Don’t be afraid to turn it off – yup, the world won’t stop spinning if you unplug yourself from incoming mail, and it’s one of the most effective ways to control distractions.
8. Make email technology work for you – create labels, filters and rules to sort incoming mail and save you time. Search the ‘Help’ section of your email client if you don’t know how to do this.
9. Get the goodness out of the email – the details, information, dates etc that should be filed and stored where they’re needed. Put dates in the diary or print out information that needs to be stored in project files. ‘I might need it later’ means emails never get deleted – so don’t leave stuff in your email inbox, it’s not a to-do list.
10. Follow Think Productive’s Founder and Chief Productivity Ninja Graham Allcott’s experiment to check his email just once a week, and the impact that has on his own productivity and that of his team. Could you try this – how many more hours a week would you free up if you checked your email even just once a day? What benefits would it have to you and your business – would you pick up the phone more often, or speak to people face to face?
So remember, you can’t manage time – to be more productive you have to manage yourself and your attention. We’ll be bringing you more hints and tips from Productivity Ninja Lee Cottier later this month as well as a round up of software and apps to help keep you organised. February’s theme is Productivity and Time Management, so let us know if you’ve got a favourite tool or trick or an area you particularly struggle with – just leave a comment in the box below.
Think Productive run regular workshops in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Halifax. Their next ‘How to Get Things Done’ workshop is on 15th February in Bristol from 10.30am – 4.30pm. The cost is £150 for freelancers and businesses with less than 20 staff. To book visit www.thinkproductive.co.uk or sign up to receive information on upcoming workshops and monthly productivity tips by email.