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BLOG: Productivity & Time Management

10 March 2020

Adam Payne, Business Growth Coach from the Business Growth Academy, provides his advice to business owners who are struggling to get things done in their business and provides his tips on how to boost productivity and remove all those time-stealing distractions.

I hear the same concern over and over again from most Small Business Owners, “I don’t have enough hours in the day to do what I need to, let alone what I want to”.

I can totally understand that, from an engineer to senior executive and now multiple small business owner, I’ve certainly felt that way on many occasions, but what I can tell you is, that when we start to analyse where we spend our time, we really do have all the time we need, we just need to eliminate the time-wasting parts and focus in on the parts that deliver.

A little while ago I read an article and a particular statement struck a chord with me, so much so I actually copied and pasted it onto a desktop sticky-note, I’ve always been taught as an engineer “everything comes down to time” and “optimising that time is key to increasing efficiencies” (time is the one thing we cannot change), this is something that I continually look at in my day to day operations and this statement sums it up for me.

“What you do with the 24 hours you’re given determines your successes, failures and contentment in life. Life is not about getting more time, it’s the hard practice of managing and maximising the time you have”.

This is a similar conversation (and for me is very much linked) to the work/life balance, personally for me balance is the wrong word. Do we ever really achieve balance?

As an entrepreneur/small business owner one day/week you could be flat out on work-related activities and another, have more time for your loved one and hobbies. For me it’s the same as Time Management and is more about that work/life integration, ensuring we make time for the most critical of all which is improving our physical, emotional and mental health.

Stats and Food for Thought

  • It almost always takes twice as long to complete a task as what we originally thought it would take. (the multitasking/context switching affect)
  • 10-12 minutes invested in planning your day will save at least 2 hours of wasted time and effort throughout the day – from “Eat the Frog” by Brian Tracy.
  • A manager on average spends 3 hours each day on interruptions/distractions.
  • 20% of the average workday is spent on “crucial” and “important” things, while 80% of the average workday is spent on things that have “little value” or “no value”.

Context switching has a massive effect on our daily lives – context switching happens when we multitask and switch between activities, each time the brain has to re-orientate itself to the task at hand. This could be going from a project to an email alert, reading the email, back to the project. Each step the brain must re-orientate and that takes times. Microsoft employees found that after they were interrupted by an email it took them fifteen minutes to fully regain their train of thought.

How many times in the day do you stop to read email, text message, any other form of alert? You can’t do your best work when your attention is scattered across 10 open apps, 10 ongoing conversations, and a multitude of projects running simultaneously.

Making Improvements

  • First, we need to expose your hidden time-wasters. I use a technique called ‘Activity Sampling’. Activity Sampling is assessing at regular intervals throughout the day what you are working on (for this exercise I would use 5, 10- or 15-minute intervals) using codes for ease of use and quickness e.g. email= E , Meeting = M, Interruption = I and so on. Keep it logged on a sheet and/or download an app like ‘ATracker’ which can do it all for you with a tap of a button.
  • Look at the data and analyse what it is telling you, looking for that context switching effect, spending an excessive amount on time on interruptions, meetings, opening and replying to email every 15 minutes, etc.
  • Second, Clear Desk, Clear Head. In my opinion the more clutter you work with, the more challenging it is to have a clear mind focussed on the activity at hand. It can also help with easing the feelings of stress and overwhelm, so get tidying.
  • Third, plan your day in advance. As stated by Brian Tracy ‘this can save up to 2 hours a day’. Take a sheet of paper/notepad and pen. List down all the things you have to get done in the next 24 hours. Make another list of all the Key Projects that need to be completed over the next month. If something new comes up added it to the lists.
  • Fourth, Prioritisation. Using the Eisenhower Matrix also known as the Urgent vs Important Matrix assess your list of activities (for a copy of the Eisenhower Matrix visit this page and categorise them as Action, Plan, Delegate and Eliminate. Classifications, Action – Do Now, Plan – these are next (diarised), Delegate – to your team or PA /VA. Eliminate – Bin! Be strict and disciplined with yourself.
  • Fifth, the 80/20 Rule (Pareto, the Law of the Critical Few), each of the activities might take the same time to complete, but only 20% of them will deliver 80% of the results, assess which of the activities are the 20%.

Note: Do not be tempted to clear up the small things first! and Work on One Project at a Time until it’s completed.

  • Last, but not least. Time Block your activities. Plan out every moment of your day in advance and dedicate specific time “blocks” for each task and responsibility. I use a journal, but you can use Outlook Calendar, Google Calendar and there are numerous apps for this. I normally start by blocking out all my appointments, workshops, coaching and growth programme hours, I then fit everything else in around them.

Remember: What you do with the 24 hours you’re given determines your successes, failures and contentment in life. Life is not about getting more time, it’s the hard practice of managing and maximising the time you have.

With thanks to Adam Payne for kindly writing this blog.

Adam Payne, helping Business Owners Build Stronger, More Profitable Businesses, can be reached here: