If you’ve ever looked at your watch and wondered where the day went; if you’ve ever had a list of things to do and haven’t accomplished much on that list in your week; if you’ve ever thought, “I have too many things to do and not enough hours in the day”—then you most likely have fatal flaws in your productivity and time management strategy.
I’ve been there.
I’ve had those crazy-long to-do lists and managed to get through a full day where I felt busy and thought I had accomplished a lot—only to discover that the list somehow actually got bigger!
And I’ve had projects for my own business growth that I wanted and needed to get done, but client work took precedence. My own projects were often left behind and incomplete. The most frustrating part was that I continued to generate more ideas, but never had the time to pursue them. Argh!
That’s when I discovered the five fatal flaws in my productivity and time management strategy, made the changes, and, voila! I went from the national average of 65% productivity to averaging 96% productivity. Here are five flaws that you need to fix immediately to improve your productivity and time management.
Fatal Flaw #1: You don’t have a successful schedule.
Even if you wake up at the same time every morning, it doesn’t mean you have a schedule. You might have a routine, but not necessarily a schedule that sets you up for success. Here’s the difference: a routine is what you do each day. You might not even do those things in the same order each day, but they’re things you do on a daily basis. But doing these things doesn’t necessarily set you up for success and productivity.
Instead of a routine, you need a schedule—a plan for specific activities that keeps you motivated and moving forward. I actually book time in my schedule to work on projects for my own business now, which means my projects become just as important as my clients’ projects (and I’m a lot harder to satisfy!).
Using a variety of tools, I’ve done a careful analysis of when I’m most productive and when my brain works best for certain kinds of tasks. As a result, I’ve crafted a schedule that takes advantage of my brain power for the right tasks at the right times. It’s all about blocking off time for specific purposes and being intentional about your day.
Fatal Flaw #2: You don’t have boundaries.
One thing I discovered quickly about being an entrepreneur and working from home was that my friends and family often didn’t understand that I was working just like they were—only I was working from home. There’s something about working from home that makes people think that you’re not doing “real work.” And that leads to middle-of-the-day phone calls and invitations that simply aren’t appropriate when you’re trying to grow a business.
I learned that I had to treat my home office just like any other workplace. It’s not appropriate to spend your day in a corporate office fielding phone calls from family and friends, and that’s how it has to be in your home office. Turn off the ringer on your personal phone and don’t let personal stuff filter into your worktime. And let your friends and family know what you’re doing and why—gently. Just these few actions will increase your productivity tenfold.
Fatal Flaw #3: You’re wasting time.
Do you know how you spend your time, really? I thought I knew, but I had no idea. The biggest time waster? Multi-tasking. Oh, I know, you’re one of those people who is “great” at multi-tasking. But the research shows that multi-tasking is a terrible idea, because essentially, you end up being bad at everything you’re doing.
When you try to do multiple work-related tasks at one time, none of the work you’ve done will be done to the best of your ability, plus, as the research shows
, you’ll waste even more time switching from task to task and getting your mind back in the game each time and you’ll become tired more quickly.
A mentor suggested that, for a couple of days, I set a timer to go off every 15 minutes and each time the timer went off, write down exactly what I was doing at that moment. Boy, it didn’t take long for me to see where I was losing time. Eventually I got a little more sophisticated and implemented some time management tools and apps, but this one exercise completely changed the way I was looking at my day, because I was more conscious of how I was spending my time.
As for multi-tasking, the only way that I’ve found that multi-tasking works is when I strategically plan household tasks into my day, and then it just becomes “intentional scheduling” rather than multi-tasking.
For example, when I walked into my office this morning, on the way in, I threw a load of laundry into the washer. At lunch time, I put that load into the dryer and put another load in. Sometimes I use a slow cooker to get dinner going before I’ve even had breakfast. That way I’m cooking while I’m working. That kind of multi-tasking works.
Fatal Flaw #4: You’re getting distracted.
You’ll find eight million things that can distract you throughout your day. Your email pops up notifications that you have new messages. Your phone chirps that someone sent you a text. Social media, The Great Distractor, just sits there, looking at you, daring you to ignore it. Your friends are out there in cyberspace, taunting you with pictures of their lunches and stories about their children, but you have to resist!
If you’re not using social media for marketing (and if this IS you, then I assume your target market isn’t in social media—if you’re wrong, though, we should talk), then you should probably stay away from social media pretty much all of your work day.
But if you are using social media for marketing purpose, then you must schedule your social media time strategically and intentionally. I schedule three “official” social media times throughout the day: once in the morning, once mid-day, and once right before I shut down for the day. In between tasks, I might pop in to check, update statuses, etc. I spend no more than a total of 45-60 minutes a day in social media, and that includes all of my social media channels, and it’s all purposeful and intentional.
Additionally, turn OFF the notifications on your email—no pop-ups, no sounds, just turn it all off. That goes for the text notifications on your phone, too. Turn it all off. You’ll be amazed at how turning off notifications will cut down on the level of distractions throughout your day.
Fatal Flaw #5: You start your day with planning.
Through my work with my clients, I’ve discovered that a lot of people start their day with planning and making lists of what they need to do that day. That’s crazy! Who was ever excited or inspired by planning? I’ll tell you right now, if you want to kill your enthusiasm for the day and ensure that you start your day with a feeling of overwhelm and stress, then planning your day first thing is certainly the way to do it.
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”
Instead of starting the day with a to-do list, finish your day with planning. That way, you close the day feeling like you’ve left no loose ends and you know exactly which frogs you need to eat first thing tomorrow. And if you eat the “frogs” in your list first, believe me, the rest of your day will be easy in comparison.
BONUS Fatal Flaw: You don’t have enough down time.
Just as our bodies have ways to signal us that we’re doing too much (because tired), our brains have a way of letting us know when we haven’t taken enough down time. When you start to experience real challenges in concentration where normally you don’t have them, when your mind starts to wander or you just have a lot of an “I don’t wanna!” feeling that you don’t normally have, that’s when you know you’ve been working too hard and you’re in trouble.
I don’t mean to suggest that you don’t need self-discipline to be successful, because you absolutely do. But if you’re struggling in ways that you don’t normally struggle, then that’s a big red flag that you need some time off. So take a day, do only fun things, be completely unplugged, spend time with your family and friends, and enjoy yourself.
When you return to your office, you’ll be refreshed and renewed, and your brain will thank you for the down time by being extra “on.”
Productivity and time management strategies aren’t things that come naturally to everyone. They’re the kinds of things that you have to improve and work on daily. But if you make it a regular practice to monitor how you’re spending your time and to spend that time more effectively, you’ll be shocked at just how much time you have on your hands.