Doing What Counts

Eight tips to help prioritize and reach goals
February 19, 2014

I’m working 13 hours a day and still not accomplishing what’s really needed. What should I do to finish the truly key tasks?

Doing a lot doesn’t necessarily mean accomplishing a lot. For instance, answering emails can consume huge amounts of time but often doesn’t help you reach your real objective of making money. Here are a few ways to stop spinning your wheels, reduce time-suckers and get back on track.

• Realize that “urgent” doesn’t mean “important.” Lots of people—family, friends, customers, partners—will tell you that something must be done right now. Before you jump at someone else’s “emergency,” pause to evaluate whether the task really should take priority over important income-producing activities.

• Do the hard tasks first. The resulting sense of accomplishment will fuel your momentum while quelling the natural inclination to procrastinate when facing a challenge.

• Schedule breaks. If you’re easily distracted, force yourself to be disciplined by allotting eight to 10 minutes per hour to use as you wish for personal calls, food runs and the like. This tactic works because you’re less likely to interrupt your work outside the prescribed times if you know the break is coming.

• Turn off technology. Stuff that’s supposed to make work easier often inhibits productivity. The buzzing and flashing of texts on your smartphone and the pull to scour photos of friends on Facebook can take you off task for longer than you’d ever care to admit. To avoid temptation, keep such distractions out of sight and look at email a few times a day rather than as each piece arrives.

• Pick up the phone. Making a call can often generate a quicker—and more accurate—response than a time-consuming email exchange. If you need to know something immediately, voice-to-voice contact can beat cyberspace.

• Batch your tasks. Think of repetitive chores that eat tons of time daily and block out time to do them weekly or monthly. Angela Lee, founder of Omaha, Neb.-based Sholdit, which sells shoulder wraps designed to hold essentials, spent hours each week thinking up content for blog posts. “It was my biggest clock-sucker, and I quickly realized I still couldn’t get it all done,” she says. Lee’s solution: She sets aside three hours each month with a creative writer to churn out all content and schedule it in advance for distribution.

• Harness social media for help. Orlando-based marketer Sara Anastasia needed an assistant but was pressed for time to place an ad or make calls. In a short Facebook post, she described her ideal candidate and asked friends to share the information. “It saved so much time.… A flood of résumés poured in.” The result: ample candidates referred through trusted sources.

• Plan. Pause at the end of the week to get organized and think about the days ahead. “I always plan time on Friday [or Sunday] to clean my desk, sort my email and make next week’s to-do list,” says Shanel Evans, who runs Dale City Track Club in Virginia. “This helps me avoid the dreaded Monday panic.”

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