Success tends to create clutter: more meetings, more projects, more decisions, more items on your to-do list. But often doing more can mean achieving less.
That's why subtraction can be the best addition, especially when you streamline your workday and, in the process, your professional life.
Instead of doing a total professional makeover, the easiest way is to start small. Try a few of these:
Eliminate one "permission."
You probably don't think of it this way, but everything you do "trains" the people around you how to treat you. Let employees interrupt your meetings or phone calls because of "emergencies" and they'll feel free to interrupt you any time. Drop what you're doing every time someone calls and they'll always expect immediate attention. Return emails immediately and people will expect an immediate response.
In short, your actions give other people permission to keep you from working the way you work best.
A friend created an "emergency" email account; he responds to those immediately. Otherwise his employees know he only checks his "standard" email a couple times a day and they act accordingly.
Figure out how you work best and "train" the people around you to let you be as productive as you possibly can.
Kill one report.
You're not reading most of them anyway. And neither are your employees.
Kill one sign-off.
I worked at a manufacturing plant where supervisors had to sign off on quality before a job could be run. Seemed strange to me--we trusted the operators to ensure jobs met standards throughout the run, so why couldn't we trust them to know if a job met quality standards before they started running?
You probably have at least one sign-off in place because somewhere along the way an employee made a major error and you don't want the same mistake to happen again. But in the process you reduce the amount of responsibility your employees feel for their own work because you've inserted your authority into the process.
Train, explain, trust--and remove yourself from processes where you don't belong.
Fire one customer.
You know the one: The high maintenance, low revenue, non-existent profits one.
Start charging more or providing less. If that's not possible, fire that customer.
Prune your to-do list.
A to-do list with 20 or 30 items is not only daunting, it's depressing. Why start when there's no way you can finish?
So you don't.
Try this instead. Create a wish list--use it to write down all the ideas, projects, tasks, etc. that occur to you. Make it your "would like to do" list.
Then pick three or four items off that list that will make the most difference. Pick the easiest tasks to accomplish, or the ones with the biggest payoff, or the ones that will eliminate the most pain.
Make that your to-do list. And then get it done.
Then go back and pick three or four more.
Cut one expense.
Right now you're spending money on something you don't use, don't need, or don't want. But since you buy it... you feel you have to use it. I subscribed to a number of magazines (because subscribing is really cheap compared to buying at the newsstand). Great--but then the magazines show up. Then I have to read them. If I don't, they sit around making me feel guilty.
So I dropped three or four. I don't miss them.
Often the biggest savings in cutting an expense isn't the actual cost; it's the time involved in doing or maintaining or consuming whatever the expense represents.
Pick one expense you can eliminate that will also free up time and effort: Your bottom line and your workday will thank you for it.
Drop one personal commitment.
We all do things simply because we feel we should. Maybe you volunteer because a friend asked you to but you feel no real connection to the cause you support. Maybe you have a weekly lunch with some old friends but it feels more like a chore than a treat. Or maybe you keep trying to learn French just because once you started you didn't want to feel like a quitter.
Think about one thing you do out of habit, or because you think you're supposed to, or simply because you don't know how to get out of it--and then get out of it. The momentary pain--or in some cases, confrontation--of stepping down, dropping out, or letting go will be replaced quickly by a huge sense relief.
Then you can use that time to do something you feel has real meaning.
Or just take a break.
Streamline your lunch.
You already make enough decisions. What to have for lunch shouldn't be one of them.
Pack tuna and a small salad. Pick something healthy, something simple, even something you can eat at your desk. Save the decision-making for what's really important.
As a bonus, you'll lose a little weight and feel a little better.
Create a window of reflection.
Most small business owners spend a lot more time reacting--to employee issues, customer requests, market conditions, etc.--than they do reflecting.
Eliminate 20 or 30 minutes of reacting time by creating a little quiet time. Close your door and think. Better yet, go for a walk. Exercise does more to bolster thinking than thinking does; walking just 40 minutes three days a week builds new brain cells and improves memory functions.
And don't worry that something bad will happen while you're gone--most of the time the issues you "avoid" will solve themselves.
Eliminate one willpower drain.
We all have a finite supply of willpower. Resisting temptation creates stress and eventually exhaustion.
And then you give in.
But if you don't have to exercise willpower, you don't drain your energy. Say you keep a bowl of candy for customers at the front desk. Every time you walk by you're tempted to grab a piece, but you stand firm. Resisting tires you out, though, and in time you'll be more susceptible to the candy's charms.
Get rid of the candy altogether. Then you don't have to use any willpower at all. Pick something you have to resist--food, wasting time, Web browsing, checking social media accounts--and eliminate the temptation.
Discipline depletes. Discipline is exhausting. Stay fresh by removing the need for discipline altogether.
Eliminate one category of decisions.
Instead of making serial decisions, try making just one: Decide who will decide.
Say you regularly need to decide whether to expedite shipping due to work-in-progress delays. Instead of being the go-to decision-maker, pick someone in the organization that will make those decisions. Provide guidance, parameters, and advice, and turn that person loose. Then check in periodically to see if they need more direction. That way you get to spend time figuring out how to eliminate the delays instead of dealing with the repercussions.
Almost every decision you currently make can be taken over by people you trust. How will you learn to trust them?
Teach, train, guide, verify. In time you'll give your employees the authority and responsibility they earn.