During the past two years, I’ve taken a number of steps to make myself (and my businesses) more productive, while allowing me to work smarter. This blog is a big part of that process — exploring what has worked and sharing what I’ve learned.
I began this process because, quite honestly, the day-to-day of running the businesses were influencing my personal life and causing me stress in ways that weren’t healthy. Today, however, I’m more productive than ever, with less stress, more joy and more time with my family than ever before.
That being said, there are some days or weeks where I lose my momentum, and find myself stressed or behind the eight ball with my workload. Rather than simply “fight through it” or get stuck in the mud, I’ve started doing regular “stress audits” that allow me to identify the problem and fix it quickly.
How does it work? I’ve set some clear “rules” for myself in how I attack my day, deal with my workflow, and stay productive. When get stuck in a rut, I almost always find it’s because I violated one or more of my rules — and my stress audit allows me to identify which ones so I don’t do it again.
I find that uncertainty is the clearest path to anxiety or feeling overwhelmed, and by clearly and quickly identifying the fact that my rut was caused by me, and can easily be fixed by me, I can get back on track that much quicker.
Here’s an example of the process I went through last week, which was one in which I got stuck in a two-day rut that impacted my attitude and productivity:
Violated my “No Emails After 5 p.m. Rule”
I have some clear rules for inbox management, and one of them is not checking email first thing in the morning, or the last thing during the day. I am adamant about not checking email after 5 p.m. If it’s urgent, clients will call or text me. If not, it can wait until the next morning. It’s better to wait (if you can’t do anything anyway) than to hopelessly stress about it all night.
Well, I violated this rule last week. I was on my way out the door to take my son to soccer practice and made the mistake of checking my email at 6 p.m. Unfortunately, a flurry of emails had come in around 5:45 p.m. about a “crisis” that could clearly wait on action until the morning. Of course, now that I was aware of the problem, I felt like I had to deal with it, and spent my son’s entire soccer practice on my mobile phone. In retrospect, it all could’ve waited until the morning without any adverse impact on the crisis or my client relationship.
I’ve identified the problem, and fixed it. In fact, at 5 p.m., I now disable my email on my iPhone just to take away the temptation of checking my email.
Violated my “Conference Call Batching Rule”
As with inbox management, I have clear rules for avoiding conference call overload One of those rules is to batch conference calls on specific days. This helps avoid the uncertainty produced by a mishmash of conference calls schedule at odd times throughout the week. Further, my work requires a lot of writing, and nothing kills a writers’ momentum like having to stop-and-start to hope on conference calls.
Well, I violated this rule on several occasions last week, scheduling calls at random times throughout the week.
To prevent this problem this week, I’ve blocked out large swaths of time on my calendar as “No-Call” times, during which I can actually tackle productive work, rather than participating on conference calls (most of which are either unnecessary or filled with unproductive time).
Didn’t Delegate Enough Tasks
Sometimes, when the workload increases, it can actually become more difficult to delegate tasks. In the heat of the moment, I sometimes feel like I can deal with quick or repetitive tasks quicker than it would take me to explain or delegate to one of my team members.
Whenever I do that, however, I find that these seemingly small tasks all add up to big time “sucks” that put me behind and make me less productive. Delegation is one of the most vital lessons I’ve learned as an entrepreneur, and when I fail at it — my productivity suffers.
To fix the issue, this week, I went through my “big” to do list and highlighted every task that I should delegate during the course of the week. Then I made a preemptive strike of empaling my team members with those tasks. This got it out of the way before I gave it too much thought. In addition, I’ve started making a list at the end of every day of all the tasks I should’ve delegated during the course of the day. That keeps me honest and helps me improve the next day (or week).
I understand if you don’t want to call this process a “stress audit” (some feel the word “stress” connotes some type of psychological failing) — so feel free to call it something else (“productivity” or “workload” audit). Whatever you call it, I urge you to implement it into your regular routine. The process helps me stay on track, stay productive and ensure that my work revolves around my life — not the other way around.