At one time I was running four successful businesses. At once. I get a lot of business questions: how much should I charge (as much as you can), is SEO worth it (of course) and will this ever get easier (I hope so!) But easily the most frequently asked question was “how do you have so much more time than I do?”
To be hyper-efficient takes time and dedication. However, below are a few of my top tips to get you started on your path to more productive work.
1. Tomorrow Starts Today
Tomorrow’s productivity is highly dependent on how you finish today. The last 30 minutes of your day should always be spent preparing for tomorrow and the rest of the week. What work is outstanding? What are the three most important things for you to get done tomorrow? What can you knock off early in the morning when you first walk in?
We all know the lesson about putting the big rocks in the jar first so that the rest fit, right? Don’t forget it. Every day should start with the biggest project you need to work on or finish.
Pro tip: do the one thing you are not looking forward to doing first every day. Do the most “fun” thing you need to do second. That way by mid-morning you are onto the work you are more passionate and excited about. If the last six hours of your day are the best six hours of your day, you’ll look forward to returning the next morning. If you finish with your dreaded task you instead go home and stay in that ‘funk’ longer.
2. Learn the Tools
A rock, a hammer and a nail gun walk into a bar …
Yes, you can bang a nail in with a rock. It’s not exactly efficient but it gets the job done. You wouldn’t want to build a house with a couple rocks and a handsaw, however.
A hammer is a great way to pound in a single nail. It would even knock in 15 to 20 nails fairly quickly. Did you know that it takes between 6,000 and 12,000 nails to build a new house? A hammer is a good tool for a specific purpose but again, you wouldn’t want to build your house with it.
Nail guns can fire 40-60 nails per minute or roughly one per second. The only way you’d ever want to drive 10,000 nails into anything is with a nail gun. The same applies to your own business. What tools can help you? Whether you’re using Quickbooks to balance your budget or a built-in WordPress plugin to custom generate lead forms on the fly, you need to learn the tools that save you the most time.
One tool I regularly use is Trello. Trello is an online project management “whiteboard” that saves my to do list, lets me organise projects and lets me share my pending work with my team. Find tools that save you time and use them regularly.
3. Learn to Automate
The one big secret to being successful in the digital age is learning to automate. You cannot and should not automate everything. Many companies have gotten into trouble by over-automating social media and posting insensitive posts at inappropriate times. Automation must be monitored.
However, automation is the #1 key to making huge changes with little time spent. Entrepreneurs are adopting tools like Zapier and IFTTT to help automate small details. For instance, on IFTTT you can update your Instagram, LinkedIn & Facebook photo whenever you update your Twitter profile. The more you update the more you need to automate this task.
With Zapier you can also setup a custom social media post and email to go out when a long-awaited product comes back in stock in your Shopify store. You simply update the product and your customers are alerted automatically through multiple channels that it is available.
4. Urgent vs Important
Your daily tasks fall into four distinct boxes based on two criteria: urgency and importance. Tasks can be urgent/important, urgent/not important, non-urgent/important and non-urgent/non-important.
Your primary job is to complete the urgent/important tasks first. These are crises and must be addressed as quickly as possible. If your computer is on fire put it before reading your email. Makes sense, right? We likewise know that non-urgent/not important are tasks that you can almost always safely ignore. Yet we spend so much time in this box. Reading Facebook is generally neither important nor urgent during work hours.
The two boxes that are the most confusing for people are urgent/not important and non-urgent/important. How do you prioritise this work?
Looking back at our example boxes, non-urgent/important tasks are labelled as “goals & planning.” You must make some time for this box. It doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow but without planning you will not likely hit your goals – weekly, monthly or yearly. Take the appropriate amount of time when you aren’t putting out a fire to plan.
Urgent but not important tasks are the ultimate time waster. These interruptions don’t feel meaningless but they aren’t important overall. Calling your main supplier back is both urgent and important. Buying that “limited time sale” website template is urgent but if you are happy with your site, not important.
The most important time-saving tips won’t mean anything if you don’t implement them. Pick one or two new habits and get them integrated into your daily routine. As you get faster and more productive, pick another tip and work that into your life. Once you’ve mastered these four tips, come back and we’ll have cooked up a whole new list.
About the Author
Matt Antonino is the Head of Product for Pay On Performance SEO – a digital marketing agency in Melbourne, Australia. When Matt isn’t saving time, he’s spending it on Inbound.org and Moz helping other small business owners as a marketing consultant.