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If we’ve ever worked together, or discussed business together, you know that one of the very notable qualities I have is my capacity to get a lot done in a little bit of time. I’ve honed this over the past 13 years, since I began my own business. While I am now extremely productive and efficient- I have to be, with all the people that I manage and projects I oversee- it wasn’t always this way. In fact, I remember, distinctly, many days- weeks- and sometimes even months early in my business where it seemed I wasn’t doing anything except chasing bright shiny objects and spinning my wheels.
At that time, I used to spend many more hours working than I do now, and I’d get much less done. In thinking about my blog post topic for today, I decided that I wanted to share some strategies I’ve learned- the hard way- for taming my to-do list and getting more done in less time.
Here are 5 strategies I use regularly:
1) I clarify the outcome relentlessly. This means, I know, very clearly, at the start where I am trying to go and how I will know when I get there. So, for instance, when I am thinking about taking on a new project- let’s say my recent internet marketing iTunes digital magazine for instance- I knew, exactly, what I wanted to create and could list, in some detail, what it would take to get there. For instance, I knew that I’d need graphics people, and layout people, and writers/contributors. I knew I’d need to take some time each month to decide on topics and I’d need to spend some time overseeing my project manager who would be running the task. I knew, in pretty clear detail, what it would take to get the outcome I wanted. I knew, then, what steps I had to take first, second, third- and that helped me keep the to-do list for this project under control and moving ahead.
Lack of clarity is the biggest time-waster in business.
2) I stay focused on a to-do list for only two weeks at a time. Through trial and error, I found that a to-do list for one week was too short for me, but one month was too long. For the way I work, a two-week to-do list is perfect. I like it because it gives me a defined container within which I will complete various tasks, and it gives me a bit of flexibility for how and when I complete them. Just because of the way my schedule sometimes goes, I can’t always get everything done in a week, but I am almost always able to complete what I want in two weeks.
3) I set no more than five main priorities for that two week period. I try to move five projects ahead in every two week time frame. A “project” is any group of work that belongs together. So, in my business, one of my projects is always client delivery. Another one is marketing. A third is sales. A fourth is product creation. And the fifth is open- sometimes it’s research, sometimes learning, sometimes planning or dreaming for what’s next. I have found that keeping focused on client delivery, marketing, and sales each week, I am able to keep moving ahead on the most important pieces of my business without getting lost in the details. I only move on to a sixth project when the first five have been completed.
4) I break tasks down into smaller pieces. One of the ways that people get stuck is when they think of tasks as large “buckets” as opposed to individual steps. I make it a point to define the next two or three steps for each of my projects so I know what the smaller tasks are. This helps me be very efficient, move multiple projects forward at once, and helps build momentum.
5) I start each day managing my team. As my team has grown over the years (at about 70 people at the time of this writing), I found that when I began each day by getting my team members what they need, everything happens a lot faster and more smoothly. In my mind, the purpose of having a team is to be able to leverage yourself- to have lots of people working on projects for you at the same time. This is why I begin each work day by answering emails and attending to details to give my team members what they need. In my business, each part of my team is headed by someone who is my main point of contact. That way, I’m only managing about 7-8 people at a time. It is working very well and a lot is getting accomplished.
While there are other strategies I use, these five are the key ones for getting a lot done in a small amount of time. In finding these ways of working, I find that my energy is high, my motivation good, and that all my projects move along very well.
I hope these strategies are helpful to you, too!