Work less, accomplish more

There is a big difference between being busy and being productive. Most business owners are very busy, but not necessarily busy doing the right things. It’s critical that you have clarity about what your role demands, then focus on the activities that fit that role.

There is a big difference between being busy and being productive. Most business owners are very busy, but not necessarily busy doing the right things. It’s critical that you have clarity about what your role demands, then focus on the activities that fit that role.

My last column highlighted the Pareto Principle, often referred to as the theory of productivity. The Principle states that just 20 per cent of focused effort actually results in 80 per cent of the optimum results.

If you are an owner/manager, it is particularly important to know the essential 20 per cent of activities that contribute to significant outcomes. When was the last time you evaluated your personal productivity?

It’s worthwhile tracking your tasks/time usage for a week. Just go through the day as you normally would. Note how much time you spend on various activities, like meetings, emails, and interruptions, and total at the end of each day.

This exercise will reveal your top time wasters, those things that divert your attention and time from important activities. Be honest with yourself; the results are personal. You’ll be astonished at how those extra minutes surfing the Internet, or unscheduled visits in the next cubicle, can actually add up.

A variety of organizing systems are available that can help manage your activities. There are numerous tools to choose from – smart phones, diaries, calendars and daily planning sheets. However, all the extra features are useless unless you have the discipline to use them effectively.

Although technology has improved efficiency, it has also created unique issues. There is that constant urge to look and respond to every item immediately. It’s so easy to get distracted by things that are not urgent, and not important. Responding to unnecessary emails and texts sap your time and attention, and eat up minutes and even hours of your day.

Learn to say “No” nicely. This can be the most effective way to maximize your time, but is often the hardest word to say. It’s critical that you evaluate requests in context of your role before you divert your time to an issue that should be handled by someone else paid to do that job.

It also pays to be realistic with your “to do” list. It’s rare you get to the end of the list, and it’s even less productive to stay those few extra hours to finish. Keep the list, but determine your priorities. End each day highlighting the one thing you must deal with the next day, then tackle that item first.

Many studies have been done over the years to quantify the optimum productivity formula. Some are very scientifically-based.

A recent Stanford University research paper reported that productivity per hour actually declines after 50 hours of work. In fact, those that work up to 70 hours weekly achieve the same amount of work as those that are working 55 hours. Apparently, there is no additional gain in productivity as a result of working those 15 extra hours.

For some, it may be unrealistic to think that an average work week will be reduced to 50 hours. However, it’s valuable to be aware of the time of day that you are particularly productive. Structure your day, free from interruptions, to focus during that time.

There are always “crunch times” when extra time, or overtime, is required to meet a deadline. However, working long hours shouldn’t be the norm. Fatigue and stress not only reduces productivity, but can lead to more mistakes, more sick time, and even serious accidents.

Best practices show that accomplishing the most challenging thing first – that task that hangs over your head – alleviates stress and boosts energy and momentum.

Develop personal strategies to help organize your time, fight procrastination and tackle the tasks that have the most impact on your day.

It’s just as important to schedule uninterrupted time to plan, create and review long-term goals and key strategies.

Review the successes/challenges. Reinforce your “Why” – the vision of what you are trying to accomplish, and how important it is to you.

Being successful isn’t hard work, but it requires discipline. You can choose to create an environment that helps boost your personal productivity.

John MacKenzie is a certified business coach and authorized partner/facilitator for Everything DiSC and Five Behaviours of a Cohesive Team, Wiley Brands. He can be reached at

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