It is often the case that before we take steps to improve our productivity we need to stop doing the things that are making us unproductive in the first place.
You know where I’m coming from … we all do it, there are certain behaviours or circumstances we need to put right before we can then move forward and improve. A bit like stopping stuffing our faces with cake and chips before we then train for a marathon.
So, what is it that is making us unproductive?
#1 We didn’t prioritise.
We have those tasks we love, and we have those tasks we don’t – it’s human nature to do the things we like best and ignore, postpone or dismiss everything else. What we should be doing instead is looking objectively at everything that needs doing, and tackling the most urgent and important jobs first. There is no need to give ourselves unnecessary stress by shunning a task that is really needed right now and then having to race to get it done, like, yesterday.
- Make a list.
- Prioritise by urgency and importance.
- Work through it in that order.
#2 We over-committed.
We don’t like to say No. Be it because we are inherent people-pleasers or wanting to prove we can do-it-all, whatever the reason Yes is always the easier word to say. But did we review what we already had on our plate before accepting more work? Did we look at the impact on our existing workload before we took on this new task?
Do yourself a favour, only accept work that you can do within the required timeframe, without jeopardising your existing jobs. If you take on something and then fluff it, do a shoddy job or make mistakes then it is going to impact negatively on your professional credibility.
#3 We didn’t delegate.
Are we doing jobs that could be reasonably given to someone else? Even a one-man-business can delegate: hire an accountant, outsource written work, sign up a virtual assistant, contract a design agency. We are all guilty of believing that just because we can do something then we should do, rather than pass it over to someone else. Stop and consider what you time is worth. How much could you achieve or earn doing whatever the core activity of your business is if you weren’t doing these ancillary tasks?
If you could be paying someone less to do something that allows you to (either directly or indirectly) earn more, then it’s a no brainer.
#4 We have a knowledge gap.
…we are bludgeoning the task to death
Business owners are a little egotistical at times – it’s in their nature as entrepreneurs. We tend to think that just because we have the smarts to do a lot of complicated or specialised stuff then there is no reason we shouldn’t be able to do something different. No matter that we’ve never done it before, we push on spending time we don’t really have learning on the job how to do something that is really at a tangent to our primary business activity.
Either that, or we are blithely bludgeoning the task to death in our ignorance!
- Recognise what you can do.
- Recognise what you can’t do.
- Decide what you want to learn to do.
- Schedule learning time into your timetable.
- Delegate everything else (see point #3 above).
#5 We have the wrong tools.
‘A bad workman blames his tools’
If you’ve ever listened to the cussing of your significant other getting DIY-rage when the job they are tackling is not going as it should – because it’s not the right spanner, because the tiles are the wrong size, because this is the wrong type of washer… because, because, because… you know where I’m going with this!
How often in our business life do we find ourselves saying ‘I really could do this better if I had xyz, but not to worry I’ll use abc instead’? I’m particularly guilty of this myself as regards business software or applications. A plumber or joiner couldn’t do his job without his toolkit – the same is true for you and I.
- List the business tools you really need.
- Decide which you can afford, and which will bring you the best benefit.
- Only accept work that you can do well with what you have.
- Invest in new tools with the money you make from the tools you have.
#6 We didn’t give ourselves a chance.
Self-sabotage comes in many forms, and can intentional or unintentional. Those (like myself) who work from home are notoriously bad for this. Whether we work for ourselves or for somebody else, we need certain things in place in order to do our jobs as well as we are able:
- Workspace – a dedicated area that is just for work.
- Comfort – light, heat, seating are essential; decoration, music, ambience are desirable – set up the most ideal working environment that will encourage you to work without unnecessary distraction.
- Tools & resources – from staples and paperclips to graphics tablet, craft knives or thesaurus; whatever you need most often should be within easy reach.
- Time – make a work schedule. Define which hours of which days you will be working – communicate this to others who share your space and ask them not to interrupt you unless it is important. Some people find it useful to break down their schedule into task sized chunks, or assign different types of jobs to different days – however you work best, utilise this and maximise your time (it’s a limited resource!).
…you are very precious!
- Self – if you are your business then you are very precious! Look after yourself: sleep well, eat well, work with firm self-discipline but don’t bully or beat yourself up, take regular breaks, respect your skills and your time, do not sell yourself short. These are just the basics – you get the gist.
#7 We are just sh*t scared.
This may not seem an obvious block to productivity, but you’ve heard the phrase ‘paralysed with fear’? Most, if not all, business owners go through periods of fear and doubt. We worry that we can’t do this. We worry that our business will fail. We worry that nobody will want what we are offering. We worry about money. We worry… It’s natural, everyone does it.
Stop. Ask yourself:
- Is what I am doing doable?
- Are others doing this or something similar and succeeding?
- Am I doing everything I can to make this a success?
There is no magic pill to instil confidence. But there are your friends, mentors, advisors, networking groups, business consultants, therapists, whoever – make good use of them.
Would you invest in yourself?
Of course you would, otherwise you would never have started this in the first place. Take a deep breath, push all those doubts and worries aside, and concentrate on one task at a time – do it well, do it the best that you can, and then move onto the next job.
Nothing’s going to get done if you just sit there with your thumb in your mouth.