Has the speed at which business is transacted in the 21st Century completely overwhelmed you? Now that we’re approaching the end of the year, have you been as productive as you’d hoped for? Do you find yourself flirting with disaster by constantly brushing up against deadlines? Are your work hours increasing without a corresponding increase in income or satisfaction? Do you wish you had more time in a day? Boosting personal productivity is virtually the only way for professionals to meet their earnings expectations, keep their sanity by maintaining a balanced life, and meet the ever increasing level of customer expectations. In today’s post I’ll provide some tips for how to manage your day instead of having your day manage you.

Let’s face it, productivity is the standard by which most of us are judged in the business world. Whether you like it or not, in most business environments your destiny is likely to come down to a “what have you done for me lately” type of evaluation. My question to you is this: Are you as productive as you think you are, or even as productive as you used to be, and would your co-workers agree with your assessment? In the text that follows I’ll share my thoughts about the things that adversely affect your ability to produce, as well as some of the key items that can leverage your ability to optimize productivity.

Even though entrepreneurs and executives are typically bright, talented and motivated people known for being highly productive, studies have shown that most professionals, when objectively assessed, are found to view themselves as being more productive than they really are. This is even true with the classic over-achieving type “A” personalities. So, what separates the productive from the non-productive? In working with countless executives and entrepreneurs it has been my experience that those professionals who like to cover a lot of ground and consider themselves masters of multi-tasking are not nearly as productive as those who have an ability to focus (see previous post entitled “The Power of Focus“).

Okay, let’s examine an all too common scenario: A senior executive has 30 minutes before the beginning of a strategy meeting which he/she is facilitating, and as the executive begins to prepare his/her final thoughts they receive an e-mail from legal asking them to review the latest version of an important contract before they go into the meeting. As they begin to redline the contract the executive receives an IM from the CEO asking for their immediate attention on a key issue. As they start to respond to the CEO their assistant informs them that an important client is on the phone and needs to speak with them immediately. As the executive begins to take the phone call they glance out their window only to see a small line forming outside their office door, and just then their Blackberry goes-off with a 911 from their spouse…

The sad part about the aforementioned illustration is that for many executives this is standard operating procedure. The pressure to become a multi-tasking phenom is in my opinion at the root of a decline in executive productivity. Multi-tasking is choosing to deal with perceived “urgent” matters rather than focusing on truly “important” matters. My father once told me that “part-time efforts yield part-time results” and I have found that with rare exception his premise is correct.

Inbound telephone calls, voicemails, e-mails, instant messages, meetings, drive-bys (unscheduled interruptions), cell phones, social media interruptions, faxes, and any number of other items that compete for your attention will consume your day leaving you wondering where the time went. The reality is that more executives and entrepreneurs are overwhelmed by technology than actually demonstrate an understanding of how to leverage technology to their advantage. The key to boosting productivity can be found by taking the following four steps:

  1. Have a clearly articulated vision: It is absolutely critical to understand what you’re playing for…If you don’t have a well defined vision, then you won’t understand the mission. If you don’t understand the mission then you won’t develop a well conceived strategy. Without a strategy it is unlikely that you’ll set the proper goals, and without accurate goals your tactical execution will be flawed and inefficient. It is the constant alignment and realignment of your actions to your vision that allows you to focus efforts based upon the right prioritization. I often counsel clients that the first step toward failure is ambiguity, while clarity of vision is the first step toward success.
  2. Leverage Down: While you can be lucky, you cannot create sustainable success without understanding the principle of “highest and best use”. Your efforts should be focused on those activities that maximize the leveraging of your time and skill sets leading to the attainment of your goals. Any activities that don’t meet that definition should be delegated to management, staff or outsourced to contractors.
  3. Focus: I have written before on the power of focus. No other single trait leads to a certainty of execution like focus. Those of you who know me have probably personally experienced my “gut-check” strategy which I highly recommend to all my clients. For those of you not familiar this concept it is one of my key pillars of success and it goes like this…Every hour on the hour (no exceptions) I ask myself “Am I doing the most productive thing possible at this point in time pertaining to the achievement of my objectives?” I have been known to terminate meetings, conversations, phone calls etc. based upon conducting this gut check. It keeps me from losing focus and being distracted unless I choose to do so. When in doubt FOCUS!
  4. Order your world: In today’s business world it is impossible to be productive without a well thought out workflow process. You must take yourself out of reaction mode wherever and whenever possible, and focus (there’s that word again) on proactively addressing workflow. The following list is a high level overview of a suggested workflow process:
    • I am a huge believer in quality administrative support…If you are a senior executive operating without admin, or not effectively using admin, you are cheating yourself and your stakeholders. If you don’t value your time why should anyone else? Leverage Down!
    • Where possible strive for a paperless environment…Paper is little more than inefficient, costly, clutter that is distracting. Virtually anything you can do in hard copy you can accomplish digitally with greater speed and efficiency while lowering your cost and decreasing distractions. Copy, paste, redline and forward is much more preferable than print, photocopy, highlight, and FedEx…
    • Understand how and when to use the right communication channels. Don’t travel when a web conference can accomplish the same or better results. Don’t use the phone if e-mail is more appropriate, and don’t use e-mail if IM is a better solution. I prefer to drive communication rather than respond to it, and when I respond it is based on priorities and not based upon impulse. I tend to use e-mail as my first line of communication using macros and e-mail filtering to reduce the number of incoming e-mails to an acceptable level. I have created a standard file/folder structure and naming conventions and integrate my e-mail with my calendar and task list.

Bottom line…If you’ll adhere to the principles described above you’ll actually have time to get your work done and have a life. With virtually nothing to lose and everything to gain, why not give it a try?