In order to make the millions, you have to scale the un-scalable: time.
Your time is the most valuable resource you have at your disposal. The time you spend at work is an investment in the future of your company. Like any investment, it should be working for you: structured to maximize efficiency and yield the greatest possible return.
We all have the same fixed supply of hours (if only we could invent a way to squeeze out more than those precious 24!), but spending more of your time working isn't necessarily the answer. The problem is a matter of distribution, not volume. Chances are, a good portion of what floods your inbox and comes across your desk in a given day are "high-tax tasks" -- things that are costly in terms of the attention and time they consume, yet are consistent and repetitive.
To work smarter, not harder, you need to hack into scalable productivity. Here are the three steps to put in practice today.
1. Track the time-sink.
To eliminate waste and maximize the hours you have, you first need to get a sense of the big picture. Make a to-do list for the week. As you work your way through it, track the time it takes to complete each task as you check items off the list. Use this information to identify problem patterns. Once you find the patterns, you can create routines to patch those leaks of time.
My approach is always client-first. Those matters take precedence and priority, so my day is inbox-driven to an extent. But inbox-driven doesn't mean interruption-driven. As a general metric, when a non-urgent task comes up in your day that you can tackle and complete within two minutes, do so. You will quickly gain a sense of which interruptions are both time-consuming and recur regularly. These are the untapped oil well of your day (after all, your time is no less precious a resource!).
Everything that can be automated should be. That goes for everything from bill paying to periodic task reminders. Set it and forget it. This will free up time day-to-day, reduce the number of steps that are sensitive to a potential error, and lead to faster responses in time-sensitive situations.
First, step back and take a snapshot of a month’s worth of recurring tasks. Chances are, most of these are ripe for automation. Set that up. You spend the time to do it once and it will save you precious time every week going forward.
Next, look at your organizational procedures. Most likely, you can introduce a few tweaks that will allow you to turn these into automated processes, too. Think lean: Pare down as much as possible, and make continuous adjustments to hone your processes over time. Group and preschedule similar tasks so they can be accomplished efficiently but with minimum attention. All of a sudden, where you once had five individual weekly follow-up tasks, each of which causes you to divert your attention and then refocus, you now have a single two-hour block of time slated for weekly follow-ups.
Make templates for every recurring event you can think of. You’ll spend less time approving outgoing items if they follow a preapproved template, and regular tasks are less likely to fall through the cracks when everything happens on a schedule.
3. Learn to love errors.
Look at errors as an opportunity. Once an error is made, you have just identified a hole you can fill forever. How does this save you time? Simple: efficient systems. Mistakes raise red flags that you should read as red alerts. They highlight specific points of weakness in your current system (or indicate a lack of a system where there should be one). You can’t ask for a more direct symbol: Here is where the process in place isn’t clear, isn’t feasible, or is too vulnerable to (inevitable) human error. The time you spend monitoring for, catching, and fixing such errors when you treat them as singular events can be reduced in one fell swoop. When the problem is systematic, the solution is, too.
Institute a policy of quality control checks done by at least two different employees. This provides a self-monitoring system of checks and balances to reduce error, it will help maintain consistency in writing style and formality, and it keeps members of the team in the same loop. Though it involves an investment of time on the front end, it creates a streamlined (read: time-saving) process that's ultimately a time-saver (and a headache-reducer) for you on the back end.
Think of it this way: When you’re bogged down in the daily details, you’re on a treadmill--running but getting nowhere new. Redistributing your time for maximum efficiency will make you bigger, better, faster, and stronger. With more time comes more energy and focus, so you can run the race with enhanced attention on your productivity, your profit, and your customer service--the three things that are really the most important for your business.