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3 Ways to Increase Your Productivity Without Burning Out

3 Ways to Increase Your Productivity Without Burning Out

You want to get more done every day, but you’re already doing so much that the thought of adding anything makes you feel sick to your stomach. How do you get more done without getting bogged down in the daily “urgent” tasks like email and meetings?

Years ago when I started my business I was stuck in that daily grind of emails and appointments that I simply couldn’t get out of. They all felt important but only a few items actually pushed my business forward. The rest was just busy work.

It took me instituting 3 things to get my time back and start pushing the truly important projects forward. Today I want to share those 3 things with you so you can start putting your focus on the right things in your life.

1. Say NO.

This is the most important aspect of getting more productive without burning out. Before you move on to the other things in the list you need to make sure that you’re focused on the right things in your life.

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Last week I had 3 people I know invite me for coffee. I could have said yes, but my real focus is packing a house to move and getting ready for a month-long vacation. Because the important tasks of my week didn’t leave room for going out with friends, I told them to get in touch with me after my vacation.

It’s so easy to want to please a new prospect in business, but before you worry about pleasing them you need to ask yourself if you should even be working with them. Just because someone wants to work with you or sends you an email doesn’t mean that you need to work with them or respond to the email. That request is simply an indication of what they think is important for you to use your time on.

If that prospect doesn’t fit with your current business focus, tell them you can’t work with them. If you get emails asking for your time on things that don’t fit with your current focus, politely decline the opportunity.

Your default answer to any inquiry for your time needs to become “no.” Start with no and then evaluate how the request matches up with your focus. Only change the no to a yes when it matches up with your focus.

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Staying focused on the few things we really should be doing is the best way to keep us energized while making sure that we don’t have a deluge of busy work stealing our attention from what matters.

2. Delegate.

Unfortunately, despite your best efforts there are always going to be some things you can’t say no to. Maybe it’s your taxes. Few people enjoy doing them or are gifted in tax prep, but it’s something we have to do or we can expect the tax agency to come visit you.

Despite having to get my taxes done, I’ve never done them even in a year when I made $8k for 12 months. I paid someone to submit my taxes for me. I don’t even enter my day-to-day receipts; I’ve delegated that to my assistant.

Do you need to set up your weekly email to your email list? Once the content is written, someone else can do the busy work of setting it up in your email marketing software. Your time is more effective spent writing more content.

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If you have any repetitive tasks, delegate them. It’s going to take investment up front to build the training material, but then you don’t have to touch that task again.

Getting these tasks out of your list means you can stay focused on the things that you do best.

3. Automate.

A close cousin to delegation is automation. In fact some people say that before you look at delegation you should be looking at automation because if you can automate a task, it means you don’t need to delegate it.

I use this with my invoicing software 17hats and their “workflows.” Instead of taking a few minutes at the beginning of every project to write the same email and send it, I now just let 17hats take care of the project intro email for me.

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Zapier is another great tool to automate easy repetitive things. You could use Zapier to push your email receipts off to Evernote for long term storage and the person you have entering your business receipts. Investing a few dollars a month in Zapier can save you hours of time a month in repetitive tasks.

What tasks do you do regularly that can be automated? Do you send essentially the same email to every client at the beginning of a project? Save it in a tool like TextExpander and never write it again.

With these three tools in under your belt, you can cut so many of the things that steal your focus. Stop doing things over and over, and instead, automate. What you can’t automate, delegate to someone who can do it better or cheaper.

Most importantly, do a serious evaluation of what you’re doing and make your default answer to new requests “no.” Only say yes to opportunities that you’re passionate about and fit in with your focus.

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Doing these three things is going to give you new energy in your life as you only need to focus on the things that matter most to you.

Featured photo credit: pedrosimoes7 via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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