Three strategies of highly productive entrepreneurs.
By Maren Kate Donovan
CEO of Zirtual
In the U.S., many business leaders believe that the number of hours we work reflects our discipline, drive and even moral character.
Too bad that’s bogus.
While endless hours of hard work can build toughness – or kill you – the world’s most productive workers are not those who work 18 hours a day and brag about it on Friday night. No, the most productive people are like master craftsmen who are committed to quality, not the mythical moral high ground of quantity. They pity the go getters who think three hours of sleep, double espresso shots and resisting fun is virtuous.
Become Highly Productive
If you want to become a highly productive entrepreneur, I’d recommend three strategies:
1. Learn to Delegate
Unwilling to give up control over the tasks that must be done but deplete time, creativity and mindshare, some entrepreneurs hog busywork. The power of delegation is not just offloading tasks, but gaining the power to choose what is worth your time. Look at your week, record what you actually do and then asking four questions:
- What do I like doing and what I do I dislike doing?
- What do I have to do, and what can others do?
- What is an hour of my time actually worth, and what will it be worth with success and growth?
- What makes me happy?
Automate and outsource everything you don’t like and don’t have to do. Keep the things that make you happy, even if they cost time. Compare the costs of automation (e.g. using a virtual assistant) against the cost of an hour of your time, and in most cases, you’ll find that you’re up money.
Ultimately, you get to distinguish tasks by their intrinsic value, not by the amount of time they drain.
2. Balance, or Burnout
Entrepreneurs forget that creative work takes an immense toll. If you exercised eight hours a day at high intensity, you would destroy your muscles. Likewise, with mentally demanding work, the more you overdo it, the more you limit your brain’s ability to create.
Balance is a matter of introducing balancing activities into daily work. The first step is to introduce spontaneous activities, like a half hour walk, a yoga class, a trip to a flower shop, gazing at the skyline. Spontaneity gives the mind an opportunity to “connect the dots,” which is the process of taking a problem and arriving at a solution by linking it with problems and solutions outside the immediate space of the problem.
To be productive at creative thinking, you also need to record your thoughts. I like notepads, Asana and Google Docs. Whatever you choose, make a system for recording ideas and dividing them into immediate action items and material for later use. The material for later becomes creative rocket fuel when you begin connecting the dots. What might seem like ‘unproductive’ practices to Type A entrepreneurs will ultimately lead to higher productivity.
3. Protect Your Delegation System and Balance
If you have delegated the right tasks and have introduced balance into your day, you’re ahead of most entrepreneurs. So last, I recommend setting up practices that will keep those systems from breaking down. They hinge on having help from a virtual or in-house assistant:
- Email – According to the IT research and consulting firm Basex, 28% of the knowledge worker’s day is consumed by unnecessary interruptions, costing 36 billion lost person hours per year. After each interruption, recovery takes 10 to 20 minutes, and email is the big culprit of interruptions. Block off specific times of day when you are allowed to check email – perhaps three times per day: morning, noon and evening. Have an assistant delete all spam and organize things into folders with labels such as “urgent” and “non-urgent.” Ask the assistant to send you text message if something is really urgent.
- Scheduling – Set up categories for your assistant. These might include Internal, Personal, Travel, Office, Routine and others. Designate days and times when calls and meetings are allowed. Sometimes, I like to mesh certain tasks with balancing activities. For instance, I I’ll walk a half hour rather than drive to meetings. During that half hour, I schedule calls that don’t require a computer or notepad in front of me.
- Planning Calls – Every Monday morning and Friday afternoon, I have a call with my virtual assistant. We go over the upcoming week on Monday, and Friday we review the week to see where we can be more efficient. If I have a business trip coming, I might give my assistant preparation details during the call and tell her which days to block out. This routine saves me from dealing with questions and issues that would certainly come up during the week.
If you want to be highly productive at work, decide what you want to be productive at. Some people pride themselves on organizing email efficiently. That’s great, but how does that create revenue and opportunities? I once had a virtual assistant spend 30 minutes on the phone with the DMV for me—that and many other tasks save time and enable productivity.
So don’t pride yourself on working 12 hours on three hours of sleep, five coffees and residual road rage from your morning commute. Have the courage to let go of practices that run you down, tasks that sap your time and habits that kill your creativity.
About the Author
Maren Kate Donovan is the CEO of Zirtual, a virtual executive assistant service that matches busy people with dedicated personal assistants. Visit www.zirtual.com to learn more.