Can You Actually Be More Productive?

Is it really possible to create more time each day and get more done?

I was recently browsing the website of a major home improvement store when the headline “Take your productivity to the next level” jumped out at me. It was marketing fodder for home office makeovers, and it made me smile a bit. After all, the prettiest, most organized office space in the world won’t make you productive if you don’t develop the right habits.

For many leaders, optimal productivity and efficiency seems elusive. That thing you hope for, but it almost always is just out of reach.

After all, so much of leadership is responding in real-time to problems. Putting out small fires can eat up your entire day, or at the very least, disrupt your workflow and throw you off track. That likely won’t change either because no matter how well-run your team or organization, issues are always going to crop up that require your immediate attention. So, the idea is to structure your time and day in a way that allows you to meet those demands, and still stay on top of the rest of your workload.

I’ve known leaders and people, with all different types of personalities at all different types of organizations, who manage to accomplish an unbelievable amount of work each day. Their success, in my opinion, isn’t because of specific things they do to be more productive or efficient. It has more to do with the things they don’t do. And what that don’t do is waste time.

So, I’ll ask again: Can you actually be more productive? If you are sitting there right now thinking that you cannot possibly fit one more thing into your day, you’re not alone. Most of us are in a constant state of busy. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed or like you’re always playing catch up, I encourage you to consider how effectively you are using your time. Here are some of the most common time wasters:

Refusing to delegate

This is hands down one of the biggest issues, especially for new leaders. If you catch yourself thinking “It’s just easier and quicker to do it myself,” “No one can do it as well as me” or “I don’t have anyone I can trust to do it right,” you likely aren’t delegating enough.

It’s important that you start because a) you need to create time for yourself to focus on big-picture priorities and b) teaching your employees new skills and coaching them to take on more responsibilities is critical to retaining them.

Today, decide on three tasks to delegate and commit to it. Go ahead and set aside time to train employees to do the task right. It may take time now, but it will save you so much time later. Plus, one word of advice: Don’t just dump the tasks you dislike doing on employees, or they’ll just resent the extra workload. Instead, choose tasks that align with their strengths and that can develop their knowledge and skills.

Failing to prioritize

You see tons of articles that promise maximum productivity if you “get up earlier than everyone else” or “if you work during your energy peaks” and other advice. That’s fine advice to follow IF you actually get your most important work done. Way too many people spend so much time completing one small or easy task after another, but they procrastinate on the hard, really important work. Sure, they knock things off their to-do list, but this is one more case where quantity doesn’t beat out quality.

Become ruthless at prioritizing by answering “What’s the best use of my time right now?” before you start a new task. Ask yourself that all day, every day, and you will use your time wisely and get more of the critical work done.

Letting interruptions rule the day

Whether you work from home, in an office or other location, interruptions are a killer of productivity. In fact, one study found that it can take about 23 minutes to get fully refocused and back on track after an interruption, so even super quick interruptions are problematic. While you can’t eliminate every interruption from your day, you can limit them by establishing some ground rules and creating structure to your day.

  • Check in with your team for 10-15 minutes every morning to allow employees to ask questions, troubleshoot issues and discuss workflow. That can help you clear up confusion and share information, so employees will only need to come to you for urgent or important issues.
  • Schedule quiet hours. During these one- or two-hour blocks of time, team members should not stop by, call or text you, and you shouldn’t contact them. During that time, let your phone go to voicemail, turn of all alerts, and focus specifically on tackling priorities on your to-do list.
  • Batch tasks. Instead of taking care of tasks as they come at you throughout the day, do similar tasks at once, for example, use one block of time to make all your calls, another to respond to emails and a third to take care of administrative tasks.

Remember:  Few things require your instant attention, so don’t feel compelled to constantly be checking and responding to emails and calls.

You’ll note that we steer clear of offering technology suggestions here because what works for one person doesn’t work for another. I’ve seen people be highly productive with a written to-do list and paper calendar and others struggle after investing in the latest apps and software. Those types of things really come down to your personal preference.

However, what we’re talking about here is more of mental shift. Not a magic pill that suddenly gives you more hours each day, but an overall change in how you think about your work and how you manage your employees.

But in the spirit of sharing productivity tips: What is the one thing you do that enables you to get more, high-priority work done each day?