Do you find yourself saying you are “busy” a lot?
If so, take a moment to consider if busy really means overwhelmed. Busy is a feeling, and although it can sound good to say that we are busy it doesn’t always mean we are getting things done. Being productive rather than busy is the real goal and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
Busy leads to burnout and it’s a real problem these days. For the sake of your mental health, physical wellbeing, and the success of your business, you should deal with it before it gets the best of you.
Work life online often has a lot of complexity. From remembering passwords to dealing with technical problems and scheduling lessons, you will find yourself being assaulted with a constant stream of interruptions if you allow it. With so many little things to deal with it can be very easy to respond with a mixture of procrastination, scattered efforts, and immobilising burnout. Eventually you will find yourself in a spiral of frustration, self-pity, depression, and defeat.
The answer to this very real 21st century problem is not to throw more time at the issue. More “busyness” will not clear your plate. The answer is to be found in goals, focus, systems, and organization. The answer, is to learn how to be productive while using less effort and freeing up more time to live your life away from the computer.
The path to productivity
1. Setting Goals
Know where you are going and if you actually get there.
If you are busy all the time you will get somewhere (eventually) but without a goal you really have no idea where you will end up. Furthermore, if you have no way of marking your goal complete then you will forever feel the pressure of being busy to get there.
Setting good goals can change your life. A good goal will enable you to follow on with the other elements in our path to productivity. Not only can they turn your feeling of frustration to a sense of achievement but they can also defend you from distraction.
- SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Use this popular acronym to build your goals.
Setting a long term goal is both challenging and important because it will impact all the actions you take as you work backwards to smaller goals and shorter time frames. Take your time to create your long term goal to make sure it fits in with your mission and it is something you feel passionate about working towards.
A long term goal might span 5 to 10 years but in order to achieve it you need to work backwards and fill in the steps to get there. It might take a while to create these goals but as you do this you are not only setting a destination for yourself but you are also creating a map of how to get there. This way you time and effort is all working towards your ultimate goal and although you might get off track every now and then, a detailed map will help you get back on track.
Distraction is the 21st century enemy
You are fighting a formidable army of distractions everyday. We all are. These distractions splinter your attention and drain your energy over the course of a day. We all know that feeling of sitting on the computer for hours and not actually getting anything done. That is busy, not productive.
To vanquish the army of distraction you need to pro-actively take control of your focus. It is not a passive action because the odds are stacked against you. No, you need to make a serious effort to stay focused these days but it is possible.
The first step is to have your goals established, with those in place you can use micro-management tools to keep on focused.
Checklists are simple but powerful tools that can make your work more productive. These checklists will often come in two forms: a set of repeatable tasks or a to-do list.
Repeatable tasks are incredibly useful to document. As an individual these tasks are the ones that stack up and start to feel overwhelming but with a list that you can work on you will get positive reinforcement as they get completed. More than that, however, you can assign these tasks to other people. Perhaps you might not be in a place where you have someone work with you right now but the time will come when you need some help and if you have these repeatable tasks documented you will be more prepared than most to grow a team.
Daily to-do lists are a little more precarious because they can easily become too big and out of reach. If this is the case you start to feel the frustration build again and we want to avoid that spiral. Be mindful of this as you write your to-do lists. Make sure they are achievable in the time that you allot them and order them so that you complete the impactful items first.
Many of the most helpful aides for your focus are a mixture of common sense, self-discipline, and self-knowledge.
The most important thing is really going to be the time you take the assess the way you get distracted and effective methods that help your focus. I will put a list of common approaches below but in the end it is about you taking action and exerting some self-discipline. Remember, you have to make an active effort, it will not happen by itself.
- Setting up a work ritual (coffee, repeatable tasks, timed)
- Using a timer to work in focused chunks
- Removing things that distract you (closing browser window, turning of the wifi, turning off your phone)
- Investing money to make you feel more accountable (renting a workspace)
- Work with others (investing in an assistant or working alongside someone else can keep you focused)
- Deadlines that have consequences (nothing like a deadline to keep you focused!)
The key to growing a business
Brute force will get you part of the way but if you really want to grow a business then you will need to build systems.
As a freelancer and practitioner you are familiar with working hard and getting things done. The hard work you put in is usually counted with hours but as you are already aware, there are only so many hours in the day and only so many hours you can work until you burn out.
Systems allow your business to grow beyond yourself. They allow a business to scale, your work to be productive, and they can leverage your time. Systems are all around us but if you have not studied the art of business until know you might not be too aware of them.
In its simplest form a system could be a repeatable set of tasks on a checklist. That daily, weekly, or monthly system exists because you have identified tasks that need doing on a regular basis. By merely existing, this system has saved time and energy by clearly identifying these important tasks. The next step would be to document a way of completing these tasks. Now the system is more refined because you have both the task and the process figured out. The final version of this is where the task and process are so well defined that you can delegate it to someone else. This is how you grow a business!
How about one more example: are you frightened of your email? Does it make you feel stressed to think about the people you forgot to get back to and fires that are burning on the procrastination pile? If so, you might benefit by creating a system to deal with your email inbox. It can be as simple as dedicating a specific time of day to deal with email and ignoring it for the rest of the day. If you are responding to pings and notifications all day long your email is controlling you, not the other way around. How could you create a system of inbox sanity to improve your productivity?
4. Get Organized
Do your computer files reflect the state of your mind?
Systems get your process and tasks in order but to complete them without getting derailed you are going to need organization. We have already established that focus is a precious commodity and if you are having to dig around to find lost files, dig up old passwords, or figure out what time you were supposed to meet you are basically welcoming distraction into your work.
Organization comes naturally to some and less so for others but it is available to everyone. Once again it is going to require that you take a step back, look at what you use in your work and make it easily accessible. It will save you time and keep you focused on the goals that are important.
Example #1 : Passwords
We all have a mountain of passwords floating around that are either insecure (because you use the same one all the time) or unmanageable because you can’t remember them. The latter results in time wasted getting password recovery emails and talking to tech support. By using a password manager you can have all your passwords in one place and save yourself a fair chunk of time over the course of a year.
Example #2 : Files
Files accumulate quickly and unless you have an organized structure to find what you are looking for you will waste ton of time. There is not a perfect solution to file organization but it needs to be intuitive and it needs to be in duplicate.
Do your best to write down everything you use in your business. In general, a business can be broken up into three main sections: Product, Sales & Marketing, and Operations. Product is anything that is part of your service or product. It could be schedules, videos, downloads, worksheets, or audio. Sales and Marketing will likely include social media account, any public materials, and customer contacts. Operations refer to legal, tax, procedural, and financial matters. These three buckets can provide a starting point to organize your materials but you will likely have a system that is better customized to your business.
Take control: be productive not busy
In the end it is all about re-taking control of your time and energy. Being busy is often synonymous with being out of control. Take a deep breath, a step back, and take control of your work.
Goals – Weekly and quarterly
Focus – People are distracted because their brains want to be distracted. That is why you see people on their smartphones outside of work. The human brain craves distraction. One must train their brain to ignore what it craves so that attention can be focused on what needs to be accomplished.
Organization and Systems – Important for productivity, but, surprisingly, can be very counterproductive to creativity.