ARE YOU HARRIED AND HAMSTRUNG EACH DAY, knowing that you have more to do than will fit in 24 hours? Does the situation keep you tossing and turning at night? Do you find yourself wasting time through the day, constantly distracted and interrupted, wondering what you set out to accomplish in the first place?
One of the best pieces of crowd-sourcing advice by INSTORE’s Brain Squad is to take a minute to put some of that stuff rattling around in your brain down on paper and create some sort of to-do list. Dave Allen, time-management guru, estimates people keep 100 hours of distracting, undone stuff in their heads. Allen advocates creating lists and then coming up with “next actions.”
Lex Harrison of GM Jewelers in San Jacinto, CA, recommends planning your day in writing before it begins. “Every evening have the next day planned as best as possible, knowing what you need to do or accomplish for the day. Stick to it as best as possible. Check your plan throughout the day and at the end of the day. This is not rocket science, but it must be written down.”
Another popular response from INSTORE’s Brain Squad concerned the hazards of multitasking. “Never multitask,” advises Deric Metzger of DeMer Jewelry in Carlsbad, CA. “Trying to do three things at once reduces the quality of each and prolongs the time it takes to complete. Having a one-track mind is the key.”
But if you wonder if it’s OK to combine a few simple activities, David Blitt of Troy Shoppe Jewelers in Alberta, Canada, says yes, with a caveat. “Pick out clothes for the day while you brush your teeth — just don’t get spit on everything!”
GET YOUR LISTS OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND ONTO PAPER. Dealing with the urgent and unexpected all day is draining. Handling the important is energizing. Dave Allen, the time-management guru of Getting Things Done fame estimates people keep 100 hours of distracting undone stuff in their heads. Allen advocates creating lists and then coming up with “next actions.” The danger is that you can become so obsessed creating lists you lose focus on your most important goals. Our take? Make focusing on one thing at a time your No. 1 philosophy, and use systems like Allen’s GTD to support you.
Keep a time journal and write down what you do and the percentage of time you spend on each task and responsibility, suggests John Manning, president of the leadership consulting firm MAP Consulting and author of The Disciplined Leader: Keeping The Focus on What Really Matters. Analyze the results and do your best to eliminate trivia from your life. — fastcompany. com
Treat information consumption like an addiction — for many of us, it is. Begin by unsubscribing from everything you don’t need, says John Joseph of S. Joseph and Sons in West Des Moines, IA. Next, free yourself from the compulsion to know everything. Put a cap on your personal Web surfing. You could have “Open for Email” hours listed in your email signature, for example.
Speed-blog. Can’t figure out where to start blogging? Business blogger Marcus Sheridan, whose relatively small Georgia-based pool and spa company is rated No. 1 in Google for pool manufacturers in his region, can tell you. Says Sheridan: “Start with the questions you get every day. Take those 100 questions, and turn them into 100 blog posts with those questions transformed into the titles.” Even if you hear only the same 10 questions, it’s enough to get started. Aim for one “frequent question answered” post each week, and supplement with posts about new products, events and promotions.
Force yourself to complete a task: Stress sucks, but it can also be motivating. If you’ve ever put off a project, then miraculously finished it in record time, you can probably relate. A few times a week, entrepreneur Dan Martell brings his laptop to a coffee shop and leaves his power cable at home. This gives him a few hours of battery life to get stuff done. “That’s when I slam through a bunch of emails, get some serious planning done or design some new product features. There’s something magical about a three-hour forced completion work session.”
Try a meeting marathon. Erik Schweikardt at Modular Robotics switched all of his regular one-on-one meetings for the whole week to Tuesday, a single day with nine meetings in a row, no break, and then had four days left to concentrate on his own work. Having so many meetings back to back made it easier for him to spot trends and issues that dwell below the surface level of having only one meeting a day, reports Patrick Allan at lifehacker.com.
DELEGATE WHAT’S NOT MANDATORY FOR AN OWNER TO DO, says Michael Derby of D3 Diamonds and Fine Jewelry in Clermont, FL.
Best time to go postal. The best way to avoid long lines at the post office is to find out when your local branch opens and get there about 30 minutes later. There’s often a crowd at the door when post offices open, which usually fades by mid-morning. Avoid lunch time and the end of the workday.
REV YOURSELF UP. “Tons of coffee,” says David Kammeraad of Preusser Jewelers in Grand Rapids, MI.
ASK FOR THE EARLIEST APPOINTMENT at the dentist, stylist or doctor. Less delay.
Propose solutions. Stop asking for opinions and start proposing solutions, says Timothy Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek. Begin with the small things. If someone asks, “Where should we eat?” or “What movie should we watch?” or anything similar, do not reflect back with “Well, what do you want to do?” Offer a solution. Stop the back and forth and make a decision. Practice this in both personal and professional environments. Say, “I’d like to propose...”
Schedule play breaks to minimize the time spent letting your mind wander while you stare at your computer screen. Take periodic breaks to refocus, but set a definite ending time, says Rosemary Haefner, chief human resources officer for CareerBuilder. You’ll have something to look forward to and you will know when it’s time to get back to work. — fastcompany.com
PRETEND YOU’RE TWO. Just say “no”. “For the next two days, do as all good 2-year-olds do and say “no” to all requests,” suggests Timothy Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek. “Don’t be selective. Refuse to do all things that won’t get you immediately fired.” This exercise is designed not only to eliminate things that waste time, but to get comfortable with saying “No.” “Potential questions to decline include the following: Do you have a minute? Want to see a movie tonight? Can you help me with X? “No” should be your default answer to all requests. A simple answer such as, “I really can’t — sorry; I’ve got too much on my plate right now” will do as a catch-all response.”
Eschew surplusage. Keep your marketing message short and effective and save time in the process. Pro copywriters avoid bogging down their messages with overly long sentences. But how long is too long? Exactly 17 words, says author Rudolf Flesch in The Art of Plain Talk. And be sure to mix things up with shorter five to 10-word sentences.
List your to-don’ts. OK, just about everybody has a “to-do” list. But Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, wonders whether you have a “stop doing” list. Think of all the harmful, unproductive behaviors you engage in ... and put them on your list. Let your “stop doing” list help you focus on the things you need to do to make your business great.
Mail birthday and anniversary cards to your customers, once, at the beginning of each month. It doesn’t matter if you’re a little early.
Limit meetings, which should only be held to make decisions about a predefined situation — not to define the problem, writes Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek. If someone proposes that you meet with them, or set a time to talk on the phone, ask the person to send you an email with an agenda to define the purpose. Nine times out of 10 you’ll find a meeting is unnecessary and you can resolve the situation or answer the questions via email. (Unless, of course it’s a customer!)
Pretend it’s a doctor’s appointment. Got a to-do list that just won’t shrink? Try treating each item on the list like a doctor’s appointment that you would never consider skipping. “And if you list not only what you need to do, but when and where you will actually do it, you are much more likely to cross it off that to-do list once and for all,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a social psychologist and author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.
NEVER MULTITASK, says Deric Metzger of DeMer Jewelry in Carlsbad, CA, (and many other Brain Squad members). “Trying to do three things at once reduces the quality of each and prolongs the time it takes to complete. Having a one-track mind is the key.”
MAKE YOUR FREE TIME COUNT. Define clear stopping points at the end of the day, so when you’re with your family and friends, you’re really with them, says Tony Schwartz, of the Energy Project.
Try unstructured brainstorming. Sometimes doing less can lead to more productivity. So put yourself in a position to have more great ideas. When you ask people where they get their best ideas, almost nobody will answer “work.” There’s a lesson there. Have at least an hour of work time every week where you do unstructured brainstorming and big-picture thinking away from your computer and desk. Bring a notebook (the paper kind).
Practice the art of non-finishing. “Starting something doesn’t automatically justify finishing it. If you are reading an article that sucks, put it down and don’t pick it back up. If you go to a movie and it’s worse than The Matrix Revolutions, get the hell out of there before more neurons die. More is not better, and stopping something is often 10 times better than finishing it.” — The 4-Hour Workweek
TOSS IT. Streamline your working life by throwing out all the stuff you’ve been storing under the showcases, says Ruth Mellergaard, principal at interior design firm Grid/3.
Let your staff whine — for four minutes flat. What do you do when a staff meeting turns into a bitch session? Roll with it, but keep it to four minutes. As Steve Erred writes on lifehack.org, “When I’m in a coaching session with someone, it’s pretty obvious if they’re in a bad mood. When that happens I say to them, ‘Right. You have four minutes to bitch, moan and whine all you want. When the four minutes is up, there’s no more moaning, deal?’ Then they let it rip for four minutes. ... The key is not to pause or think. When you’re done you’ll feel lighter.”
Take notes. Get a system for taking down notes. You’ll be surprised how this helps at keeping your mind clearer and more focused. Writing something down means it’s done (for now). Put an app on your smartphone and a notepad next to your bed. Your to-do list will probably become pretty massive. But you will never again be at a loss for what to do next.
Use your commute. Look for slack periods of your day that you can make more useful. Use your daily commute for focused thought on key work projects. Similarly, your commute home might be used to think about family plans and projects.
Pre-pay small bills. If you’re paying for a service that costs about $15 a month, and you have to pay bills monthly, Entrepreneur magazine says you should request to pay six months in advance. Reasons: you’ll save time, and even better, won’t run the risk of incurring late fees.
PLAN THE DAY IN WRITING BEFORE IT STARTS. “Every evening have the next day planned as best as possible, knowing what you need to do or accomplish for the day,” says Lex Harrison of GM Jewelers in San Jacinto, CA. “Stick to it as best as possible. Check your plan throughout the day and at day’s end. This is not rocket science, but it must be written down.”
Limit daily goals. “There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day. Never. It just isn’t necessary if they’re actually high impact. If you are stuck trying to decide between multiple items that all seem crucial, look at each in turn and ask yourself, “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?” — The 4-Hour Workweek.
Time yourself. “When I’m at home I use a timer for all my housework and for getting ready for the day. I set it from five minute to 15-minute increments to keep me on track,” says Linda Griffiths of Hoovers Jewelers in Kearney, NE.
MAKE TECH WORK FOR YOU. “Having access to many of my vendors online has streamlined the business day for us,” says Casey Gallant of Stephen Gallant Jewelers in Orleans, MA.
Cut to the chase. After hanging up, have you ever looked at the “duration of call” display on your phone and thought, “Darn! 10 minutes! I really can’t afford to waste that kind of time”? If so, consider these tips from business consultant Jo Soard to improve your telephone efficiency: Get to the point. If you are the caller, say: “Paul — hi, I need two questions answered and I know you are the only person who can help me.” If you’re receiving the call, cut to the chase with the ever reliable: “Hi Lynn. Nice to hear from you. What can I do for you today?” And to avoid never-ending phone tag: Leave short instructive voicemails, telling the person you’re chasing what the purpose of your call is and what you need. That will equip them with the information they need to respond promptly. For example: “Hi Fred, it’s Wimmer from ZZ Designs. Please call me with the shipment date for that line of toe rings I ordered.”
Chunk it. Here’s a tip to save you a few minutes a day and get back some feeling of control. It’s called “chunking,” which refers to completing similar types of work at the same time. For example, you’ve got a number of calls to return: Set aside a block of time dedicated to getting them all done in one focused hit.
IF YOU DON’T SLEEP, PRETEND YOU DID. “I have medical insomnia and sleep approximately two to three hours per night. I do a lot of work between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. When I’m in a good sleep cycle (five to six hours), I can’t seem to catch up,” says Dorothy Retzke of Krystyna’s Jewelry in Lemont, IL. It may help to pretend you got enough sleep. In a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers found that the human brain performs better if its owner has been told he is getting enough sleep — placebo sleep, they call it — regardless of the actual quality of their Zs.
CHANGE BAD HABITS. “Give it 21 days. That’s how long you need to change an old habit,” says the Energy Project’s Tony Schwartz, citing recent neurological research on brain plasticity. So choose a habit you want to change — going to bed late, wasting time on the Internet first thing in the morning — and for the next three weeks replace it with another ritual: a 9:30 bedtime or starting the day attacking an important project for 55 minutes.
MEMORIZE PRICES. Take a few minutes each day to commit the prices of a certain number of items in your cases to memory. According to sales trainer Harry Friedman, the benefits of instant price recall are manifold and include allowing you to quickly show products in a customer’s price range while improving credibility, efficiency and security.
Get some momentum going. “My best days are when I get up and accomplish a few things around the house before I get ready for work. It starts the day rolling in the right direction,” says Christine Patton, Diamonds & Gold in Green Bay, WI.
Get up before dawn. “I make my lists, order back East, and organize the other goldsmiths,” says Stephen Ware of Ware Designs in Lafayette, CA. “Nothing says ‘Get it done’ to employees like the boss being at the bench for hours before anyone else.” It also enables him to leave early on Saturday.
Take midweek ‘me’ time. “I used to work like a madman, and I was in a family business with my parents,” says Phil Pancer of Ring Leader Fine Jewellers in Pickering, Ontario, Canada. “I watched how much they worked and it eventually killed them both. So I now make time during the week for me.”
Get that tough thing out of the way. “I like to do the worst task of the day first. After it is complete, everything else is easier to accomplish,” says Elizabeth Breon, Coast Jewelers of Florence, OR.
Make little things add up. Big dreams have their place, but it’s the sum of the little things that get you there, says John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing. To ensure you’re focused on the right things — making more sales calls, networking in the community and taking a local reporter out for coffee — Jantsch suggests you create a scorecard with 10 marketing-related actions and rate each one for importance, say five points for attending a local women’s group meeting and one for writing on your blog. Set a weekly target of 20 points. This should help you stay focused on what’s important.
Share the load. “Make your sales staff accountable to the other employees (for daily chores and filling in of supplies and products) so everyone is accountable to each other, and not just to you,” says Gary Astrein of Astrein’s in Birmingham, MI.
Let the staff catch up, too. “We let each salesperson have an hour each day where they are uninterrupted to work on things,” says Alisha Moore of Toner Jewelers in Overland Park, KS.
COOK WITH A CROCKPOT. “I hate to come home to fix a full-blown meal,” says Dayna McCoy of McCoy Jewelers in Bartlesville, OK.
Stay off the phone. “I let the staff handle the phone,” says Connie Stagner of Acori Diamonds & Design in Friendswood, TX, “unless I am the only one who can answer their questions.”
One more thing! “At the end of the day I choose a task that takes about 15 minutes and I call it my “just one last thing” task. It feels great to cross an unexpected task off the list, and know I have a head start on tomorrow,” says Dorothy Vodicka of The Gem Collection in Tallahassee, FL.
PLAN FOR DOWN TIME. “I have had a file box for years that sits below my desk and at the beginning of the day I organize it based on priority, and every time there is a free minute, I pull that box out and start on the next task,” says Alisha Moore of Toner Jewelers in Overland Park, KS.
Put it where it belongs. “My mother’s philosophy is screaming in my head, ‘While you have it in your hands, put it where it belongs,’” says Denise Oros of Linnea Jewelers in LaGrange, IL. “The secret to efficiency is organization.”
ENERGIZE RITUALLY. How do you make New Year’s resolutions stick? The answer is “energy rituals,” says Tony Schwartz, author of The Power Of Full Engagement. “Energy rituals are highly specific behaviors or regimes that you do at the same time every day (or on the days you select). “By setting a sacrosanct time for your routine, you don’t have to spend energy thinking about when to get it done. Willpower is a finite and limited resource in each of us, so the goal is to use less of it wherever possible, by making more behaviors in our lives automatic.”
Disable your automatic log in. The Internet is easily the greatest distraction machine ever invented. You turn to the Web to get the latest price of gold and 15 minutes later you’re still reading a post on some celebrity wedding. To regain control of your focus, start by turning off your email’s pop-up notification feature. Also log out of your Facebook and Twitter accounts. That way you’ll be forced to type in your username and password to access those must-read posts, at a time of your choosing.
ASK YOURSELF ONE SIMPLE QUESTION. Tom Hopkins, author of How to Master The Art of Selling, claims that what you’ll read at the end of this paragraph is the secret to a life of productivity. But there’s a caveat. “I’ll tell you, but you’ll never look at what you’re doing in the same way ever again,” Hopkins quotes his own mentor as telling him. “You might even get angry at me for telling you, because you’ll never get it out of your head.” Bet you can’t wait, huh? OK, here it is: Hang a sign in your workspace that asks one question, and ask that question of everything you do. The question? “Are you doing the most productive thing possible right now?” Yep, that’s it.
Show up 30 minutes early. “You can get more done in 30 minutes before you open or after you close than you can in three hours during normal work hours,” says Gary Astrein of Astrein’s in Birmingham, MI. “I find that if I arrive at the store 30 minutes before anyone else, I get so much done in that short span of time,” agrees Mary Jo Chanski of Hannoush Jewelers in Rutland, VT. “Organizing my thoughts, making lists for the day. These are things that give you extra time in a long day. Proper preparation prevents poor performance!”
BUY A BIG DESK. Make it an L-shaped desk, advises Men’s Health magazine. Designate one side for right-now work, the other for lateron work. The L-shape prevents you from being distracted by other projects in front of you and saves time in sorting things out.
Read Lee Cockerell’s book, Time Management Magic. “Amazing stuff, easy, simple to do and obvious but amazing,” says Joel Hassler of Rasmussen Diamonds in Racine, WI. “Can’t recommend his books, podcasts, etc., enough!”
Develop a mantra: Never let a forgotten phone torpedo your morning again, by developing a Leaving the House chant, advises Flyte Blog founder Rich Brooks. “For me it is ‘keyswallet- cellphone!’ Makes it easier to not forget the important stuff,” he told Amex’s Open Forum for small-business owners.