How to Accomplish More by Doing Less

Feeling like you’ll never finish everything and you’re setting yourself up for failure? Are things slipping through the cracks? Does everything feel like a priority and you don’t know where to start or how to balance your time? You’re not alone.

When you run your own business, there isn’t enough time to accomplish everything. If you aren’t picking and choosing what to put on the very top of your to-do list, you’ll burn out fast and lose touch with the import things that help your business grow.

The only way to achieve your big goals and get ahead is to use a system that helps you prioritize what you do. You need to make a conscious effort to think about your initiatives, then organize them by priority.

Prioritize your initiatives by what has the most meaningful impact on your business. This means having to say no to some things that even though you should or want to do them, have less of an impact. By doing this, you will begin to feel less stressed, more satisfied with your work, and be able to get further ahead. You’ll begin to see that you can do more with less.

Here is how you can better prioritize so you’ll have more time, less stress and ideally, a more successful business.

Identify your Priorities

Does it seem like you are never getting into the meat and potatoes of actually running your business? You have a lot of tasks that you are working on. But you may not be focusing on the right ones. This creates unnecessary stress and makes it seem impossible to achieve your big goals.

A helpful tool you can use to help with prioritizing is the Time Management Matrix. The Matrix, developed by Steve Covey, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People  helps you break down tasks by urgency and importance, giving you a better picture of what you need to do.

How to use the Time Management Matrix

Using the matrix is straightforward. Simply write down all the things that are on your plate. Start broad and move to the specific. For example, following up with correspondence can be broken down further into checking email, voicemail, and social media. Or meeting up with a potential client. That might mean reviewing the person’s specific requests, printing out marketing material, and driving to the coffee shop.

Don’t forget to add things you need to do with people. These things take-up time and you’re always on the clock.

Once you have everything written out, start assigning each task a score of importance and urgency, either high or low.

Urgency and importance might seem like the same, but there is a significant difference. Urgent things need to be done now, and important things are ones that have a big impact on your business. An urgent task might be an angry customer on the phone. An important task is paying the electrical bill.

Now that you have a list of items and rating of urgency and importance, assign each task to the appropriate quadrant. By breaking down each task and its quadrant you can easily see what you need to be working on.

Quadrant I – Urgent and important things that you must do now

Quadrant II – Not urgent but important things that you should be planning now

Quadrant III – Urgent but not important things that you should be reducing or eliminating through process changes

Quadrant IV – Not urgent and not important things you should be avoiding

Think Strategic

There are two types of emergencies you face: unavoidable, and avoidable. For the first, you simply have to manage these and try to work them out to your best ability. As for the second, you can change.

When you’re always putting out fires, you’re life is going to be more stressful, and you won’t be able to achieve your primary goals in your life and business. You end up in a negative feedback loop, making issues worse because you are unable to plan ahead. One fire leads to another.

Take a look at your tasks in Quadrant I, the urgent and important tasks. Ask yourself, how did it get there? What could have been done to avoid this? Were the circumstances out of your control, or the result of poor planning and procrastination?

By paying more attention to which quadrants you’re working in, you can start to be more proactive. This helps you reduce those fire-fighting situations so you can put more time into important tasks that move your business forward. It takes conscious effort. This doesn’t happen on its own.

Start Daily Planning

Add more strategic planning into your business by doing a daily planning session. A daily planning session of just 20 to 30 minutes will let you focus on your business goals and energize yourself for the day ahead. You will begin to get a better sense of what how your day to day tasks can have a significant impact on your business and that by spending a little time each day, you can avoid major emergencies.

“When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time.” – Creighton Abrams

For thinking further ahead, check out the six phases of a project  and take it to the next level. By creating a process template for each of your initiatives, you can plan each step of the way, and adjust for changes as they come.

Making the mental shift to start thinking strategic and long term is difficult, but it will have a large impact on reducing your stress and increasing your time by avoiding unnecessary emergencies.

More Signal, Less Noise

A blip on your screen, a chirp on your phone, a vibration from your watch. These are just a few of the many ways you get notified that something wants your attention. But do you need to answer? Falling for distractions steals away your most precious and costly resource: Time.

One study shows it takes about 25 minutes to get back into the swing of things after you’ve been interrupted. If this doesn’t get you motivated to eliminate distractions what will?

Go back to the Time Management Matrix and review quadrant III and IV. These are the things you need to start saying no to. They do not benefit you and take you away from what is important. Saying no to tasks can be hard, but it is important . You may feel uncomfortable saying no, or confuse an urgent task with an important one. However let’s be clear, these tasks are wasting your time.

Getting distracted by the allure of shiny things? Try to make a schedule to check things like email, social media, and phone calls. You can remove notifications on your Mac and iPhone, so you don’t feel the temptation to respond right away. Instead, make time to check these things in the morning, after lunch, and before you finish your work day. They’ll still get done, but won’t keep you from accomplishing your main priorities.

For tasks that you can’t remove completely, look at delegating tasks or automating them. Now, things will still get completed but with less effort from you.

When you start to say no and remove distractions, you will quickly find that you don’t need to reply right away or check that news immediately. Now you can focus on your important tasks, which gives you hours of productivity back.

You have a lot of things to do in a day and may not have enough time in a day to do all of them. By using the Time Management Matrix, you can determine your priorities and find out what you need to say no to. Productivity is about making better use of your time so you can accomplish more of the right things.