In Part I of this post, we talked about how you likely work fewer hours — and get less done — than you think. Now it’s time to take a closer look at how you can reclaim your time. Here’s the thing: my advice probably flies in the face of everything you’ve been told. It might even sound a little crazy at first. That’s because the biggest piece of advice I can give you is to lose the startup mindset.
Forget about Face Time
Yes, really. There’s this idea in the world of high tech startups that working longer is better. That it means you are more committed to your work and hence will be more successful. Actually, not so much. Study after study shows that you shouldn’t work long hours and that the most productive workers are those who leave after 8 hours. If you’re working for a big company, you’re familiar with the ridiculous idea that you have to put in face time at the office. The joy of being an entrepreneur is that you can make your own rules and get more done. Forget about face time and concentrate on working harder, not longer.
You’ve heard it before – it takes time to get into a groove at work, to get into a state of flow. But once you’re there, you can get some great work done in a relatively short period of time. Give yourself the opportunity to get and stay in that state. As I tell my daughter, you have to set yourself up for success. For starters, schedule a several hour block where you can work completely uninterrupted – by others or yourself.
The Enemy of Good is You…
Often, we consciously interrupt ourselves. Yes, sometimes we are our own greatest enemies. How often have you jumped up for a cup of coffee right after starting to work? Or answered a call that isn’t urgent but you know will take at least 20 minutes? It’s an easy way to procrastinate, partly because it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s not really your fault. You had to take that call, right? And work without coffee? Please. That’s just silly.
But sometimes, our crafty brains are even more sinister. They trick us into wasting time with out us even realizing it. It usually goes something like this: you’re looking up a stat you need for a report when you click over to a linked article on flash storage, which reminds you that you really need to clear out some space on your hard drive. Before you know it, you’re out of your seat and looking for a backup drive. This exact moment is why you end up working late every night.
Train yourself to pay attention when you switch tasks so you can stop yourself and refocus on the job at hand. If you consistently forget and wander away from your desk, consider using a physical reminder, like a book in your lap you have to remove to stand up. If you tend to wander around virtually consider apps like Self-Control (for Macs) or Freedom (for Windows) that keep your browser offline for a specific period of time — in the case of Self-Control, even if you restart your computer. You can also whitelist specific sites if they’re crucial to your work. Alternatively, you can set the app to run constantly and blacklist your time suckers completely for eight hours a day.
…Except When it’s Someone Else
Another crucial step is to anticipate outside interruptions and head them off. Does your spouse/boss/direct report/best friend call you every morning to check in? Make that call before you start working and cross the check-in off your list. If you usually show up in the break room for coffee at 10, let your buddies know you’re working straight through today. Likewise, don’t plan to start a 4-hour work session fifteen minutes before lunch when you haven’t eaten all day. Take 20 minutes before you start to take care of other tasks so you can focus on the job at hand.
If sitting at your desk makes you antsy, then try standing. A standing desk is great for your health, and it can be fantastic for your concentration as well. Most workers find they focus better almost immediately when standing. And if standing still isn’t enough for you, maybe it’s time to consider a treadmill desk. You can find plenty to read on the topic — and building one doesn’t have to break the bank. You’ll save time by being more productive, and you can probably even skip the evening workout.
Try implementing some of these changes. I think you’ll be surprised how quickly you get a grip on your time and productivity. In Part III of this post, we’ll look at how to delegate and outsource the time consuming tasks you shouldn’t be doing.