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7 Ways to Work Faster, Through Documentation

7 Ways to Work Faster, Through Documentation

Today’s entrepreneurs have it both better and worse than any generation of their peers has in the past. The sheer volume of technologies and tools at our fingertips is overwhelming to the point of suffocation, but when used properly, those tools can be incredibly powerful.

Every day I am bombarded with ads for new tools, services, and apps that will supposedly make me more efficient and help me get more out of my business, but in truth only 1 in 100 of those things will ever actually help me personally. What does help, I’ve found, is to start documenting what you do and how you do it early and often. To help you do the same for your business, here are seven simple tips for documentation of how your business works, which tools you use, and what you’ve tried (whether successfully or not).

Use Software

Notebooks, sticky notes, and emails are not good tools to keep track of how your business operates. You can certainly spend a boat load of money and buy expensive software like Omnifocus for organizing tasks and to do lists, or you can keep it simple.

For all of my documentation needs, I use Evernote. I’ve broken my business down into five main components—sales, marketing, production, management, and financial—and created separate notebooks in which I keep notes about specific tasks I perform on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. From receipts and tax documents to the emails we send to cold leads, I have everything in about twenty-five carefully organized journals, and it’s all free.

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Go Mobile

Whatever tool you decide to use, make sure it has a mobile component. Evernote fits the bill here, which is one of the reasons I started using it, and another app I like for its mobile integration is Day One, a journaling app. With desktop and iOS mobile editions, Day One is a great way to jot down notes about what I did and any concerns I had on any given day.

Collaborate with Colleagues and Clients

Even if you work 100% on your own, don’t be afraid to ask other people in your industry (or even your clients) what they think about a certain process.

We actively engage our clients and ask what they think about our sales processes, our marketing techniques, and the service they received. What good would it do to document a complex process if you find out two years later that your clients hate it?

Use GTD to Prioritize

David Allen’s Getting Things Done is one of the most important books ever written about productivity, and there is an entire category of software built around the concepts in that book.

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The basic idea is fairly simple: when a task comes in, you act on it immediately. The task either goes on your to-do list with a date and time for completion, into a bin for later consideration, or to a staff member or contractor who can handle it for you. All tasks must be actionable. The last thing you want to see in three weeks is a task on your list that says “get new clients”. Thank you self, that’s very specific.

The GTD method of task management helps in documentation because it forces you to think in terms of priority and actionable tasks. When you do that, it’s a lot easier to create a list of what tasks were involved.

Review Notes Once a Month

When you’re taking so many notes, it’s easy to sit down daily and read through them and try to create a pattern, but to maximize the return on your time investment, it’s important that you only review your notes once a month.

When you do, three things happen:

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  1. You start to see clear patterns
  2. You can organize those patterns into processes
  3. You can make plans based on your processes for the next month

Better yet, you’re not distracted daily by the urge to compulsively reorganize your schedule. It’s only done once a month.

Share Notes with Customers

Don’t just ask clients and customers for feedback; show them exactly what you record. We use internal notes as marketing materials, actually sending prospective clients a full outline of what we do and how we do it so they can see who they are hiring.

Not only does it create trust because of the transparency; it allows us to clear up any issues before a project starts that would otherwise create problems.

Hold Nothing Sacred

Your business is special to you, and there are certain things you’ve been doing for years that work well, but things change. Whether you are growing rapidly, or being forced to make key changes with advances in technology, you need to be ready and willing to revise old processes when they don’t work as well anymore. When you’re constantly taking note of what you do and how you do it, you’ll see these patterns more quickly and be able to adjust to them in real time, not weeks or months down the road. That kind of agility is extremely important when trying to stay ahead of the ever evolving curve of online business.

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One of the most valuable assets your business has is in your head; it’s the steps you take every day to get things done. When you write these down, you make it possible to automate, outsource, and streamline just about every aspect of what you do. That doesn’t mean you have to hire someone to replace you, but you’ll be that much closer to the point at which you could.

Full documentation takes time, but if you start now you will begin to see positive results almost immediately, and with time you will hopefully create a habit that makes it possible to blaze through just about every task on your to-do list.

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Last Updated on September 11, 2019

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

Why To-Do Lists Don’t Work (And How to Change That)

How often do you feel overwhelmed and disorganized in life, whether at work or home? We all seem to struggle with time management in some area of our life; one of the most common phrases besides “I love you” is “I don’t have time”. Everyone suggests working from a to-do list to start getting your life more organized, but why do these lists also have a negative connotation to them?

Let’s say you have a strong desire to turn this situation around with all your good intentions—you may then take out a piece of paper and pen to start tackling this intangible mess with a to-do list. What usually happens, is that you either get so overwhelmed seeing everything on your list, which leaves you feeling worse than you did before, or you make the list but are completely stuck on how to execute it effectively.

To-do lists can work for you, but if you are not using them effectively, they can actually leave you feeling more disillusioned and stressed than you did before. Think of a filing system: the concept is good, but if you merely file papers away with no structure or system, the filing system will have an adverse effect. It’s the same with to-do lists—you can put one together, but if you don’t do it right, it is a fruitless exercise.

Why Some People Find That General To-Do Lists Don’t Work?

Most people find that general to-do lists don’t work because:

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  • They get so overwhelmed just by looking at all the things they need to do.
  • They don’t know how to prioritize the items on list.
  • They feel that they are continuously adding to their list but not reducing it.
  • There’s a sense of confusion seeing home tasks mixed with work tasks.

Benefits of Using a To-Do List

However, there are many advantages working from a to-do list:

  • You have clarity on what you need to get done.
  • You will feel less stressed because all your ‘to do’s are on paper and out of your mind.
  • It helps you to prioritize your actions.
  • You don’t overlook so many tasks and forget anything.
  • You feel more organized.
  • It helps you with planning.

4 Golden Rules to Make a To-Do List Work

Here are my golden rules for making a “to-do” list work:

1. Categorize

Studies have shown that your brain gets overwhelmed when it sees a list of 7 or 8 options; it wants to shut down.[1] For this reason, you need to work from different lists. Separate them into different categories and don’t have more than 7 or 8 tasks on each one.

It might work well for you to have a “project” list, a “follow-up” list, and a “don’t forget” list; you will know what will work best for you, as these titles will be different for everybody.

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2. Add Estimations

You don’t merely need to know what has to be done, but how long it will take as well in order to plan effectively.

Imagine on your list you have one task that will take 30 minutes, another that could take 1 hour, and another that could take 4 hours. You need to know the moment you look at the task, otherwise you undermine your planning, so add an extra column to your list and include your estimation of how long you think the task will take, and be realistic!

Tip: If you find it a challenge to estimate accurately, then start by building this skill on a daily basis. Estimate how long it will take to get ready, cook dinner, go for a walk, etc., and then compare this to the actual time it took you. You will start to get more accurate in your estimations.

3. Prioritize

To effectively select what you should work on, you need to take into consideration: priority, sequence and estimated time. Add another column to your list for priority. Divide your tasks into four categories:

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  • Important and urgent
  • Not urgent but important
  • Not important but urgent
  • Not important or urgent

You want to work on tasks that are urgent and important of course, but also, select some tasks that are important and not urgent. Why? Because these tasks are normally related to long-term goals, and when you only work on tasks that are urgent and important, you’ll feel like your day is spent putting out fires. You’ll end up neglecting other important areas which most often end up having negative consequences.

Most of your time should be spent on the first two categories.

4.  Review

To make this list work effectively for you, it needs to become a daily tool that you use to manage your time and you review it regularly. There is no point in only having the list to record everything that you need to do, but you don’t utilize it as part of your bigger time management plan.

For example: At the end of every week, review the list and use it to plan the week ahead. Select what you want to work on taking into consideration priority, time and sequence and then schedule these items into your calendar. Golden rule in planning: don’t schedule more than 75% of your time.

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Bottom Line

So grab a pen and paper and give yourself the gift of a calm and clear mind by unloading everything in there and onto a list as now, you have all the tools you need for it to work. Knowledge is useless unless it is applied—how badly do you want more time?

To your success!

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Featured photo credit: Emma Matthews via unsplash.com

Reference

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