1. Plan the following day at the end of each day. This is the time your mind is most clear. If you try to plan your day in the morning, you become distracted by your e-mail, your voicemail, the telephone, your employees, your customers, and so forth. It’s nearly impossible to think rationally about your priorities when you’re being pulled in 10 different directions.
It’s also a good idea to plan the following week at the end of each week, plan the following month at the end of each month, and plan the following year at the end of each year. Make this part of your regular routine. If you follow no other piece of advice on this list, follow this one. I guarantee you this simple change will increase your productivity more than you can imagine.
2. Prioritize your work. Choose the one most important task you need to accomplish each day, put a star beside it on your to-do list and don’t leave work without completing it.
3. Use a gatekeeper. If at all possible, have someone else screen your visitors and your phone calls. They can then set up appointments for you that fit into your schedule rather than allowing you to be disturbed at random throughout your day. If this is not possible for financial reasons, voice-mail and posted office hours are a good start.
4. Do one thing at a time and complete it before moving on to something else. Most entrepreneurs move and think at an accelerated pace. Consequently, they often do not have the patience to finish what they have started. They want to get on to the next thing right away, so they tend to leave a wake of unfinished projects behind them. Unfortunately, this approach can be highly unproductive. Successful entrepreneurs realize this, and though it may initially feel against their nature, they make a conscious effort to complete what they have started. They know that the value in an activity cannot be fully realized until it has been completed.
5. Organize your meetings. Whenever possible, schedule meetings in advance, rather than holding them spontaneously and always use an agenda. Also, make sure your meetings have both a starting time and an ending time.
6. Learn to say “no”. This is one many entrepreneurs have trouble with. They know they can solve nearly any problem an employee brings to them, so they are inclined to do so. It just seems easier to say “yes” and take over, than it does to say “no” and leave the problem with their employee. “No” doesn’t mean you are not interested or that you are not willing to help, it just means that you are not willing to take your employees problems off of their shoulders and pile them onto yours.
7. Delegate everything you can. This needs to become part of your ongoing behaviour. New work will show up on your desk on a regular basis. If you don’t need to deal with it, don’t. If it is important that it gets done, but someone else can do it, then 9 times out of 10 you should pass it along. Keep the true value of your time firmly in mind and you will easily be able to decide if you should take it on or not.
8. Outsource everything you can. Occasionally it may be prudent to delegate work to an outside expert. If you are having computer troubles, for example, it may make more sense to hire a consultant to solve them for you than to waste time trying to solve them yourself. If a problem can be solved with money, don’t think of it as a problem, think of it as an expense.
9. Clarify your communication. Miscommunication is responsible for vast amounts of wasted time and money. Not only does it cause mistakes, but those mistakes also need to be repaired at the company’s expense. So make sure that when you say something, you only need to say it once. Also, be clear and include all details when leaving vocal or written messages. A lot of wasted time can be avoided if people don’t need to engage in telephone tag just to find out information that should have been made clear in the first place.
10. Do some “strategic planning” every week. If you don’t start doing this now you will never get around to it, so schedule some quiet time on your calendar and let your employees know you will be unavailable. This makes many entrepreneurs nervous at first. They imagine that if they are unreachable by their employees for an hour then everything will fall apart. If this describes you, then try it for two weeks as an experiment. You may be surprised to find your business still standing when you open up your office door at the end of that hour.
Mark Wardell is President and Founder of Wardell Professional Development, a business consulting firm, focused on the unique needs of small/mid sized growth companies.