Entrepreneurs always need to be alert to the next opportunity. But that can be hard to do when unscheduled appointments, meetings that run overtime, junk email messages, or a messy office all conspire to waste your time. There are innumerable techniques and products touted as the answer to making your time more productive and your life better-organized, but who has time to compare them, let alone learn how to use them?
The good news is that you can take charge of your business life instead of letting it take charge of you, and you may not have to spend a dime. All you need is a small investment of time, to develop your own system for keeping track of the important things while filtering out everything else that gets in the way. These guidelines can help you create your own personalized path to productivity.
1. Set realistic goals and stay focused on them
Your goals are the North Star that you'll follow day in and day out to achieve the success you desire. Be sure that they are realistic and inspiring, and keep them constantly front of mind so you'll be reminded to maintain your focus on achieving them.
2. Get a calendar and maintain it, always
Whether it's an old-fashioned desk calendar or the latest synced-across-ten-devices app-based wonder, the key is to use it religiously. If you find that by February you're back to jotting down appointments on sticky notes, that's a good sign you're slipping!
3. Set your priorities at the start of each day
Devote 20 minutes at the beginning of your business day to set your priorities. Make this time yours and yours alone by forwarding your phone to voicemail, ignoring your email, and keeping your schedule clear. If you have a hard time setting aside this time, reserve the time by making a daily appointment with yourself in--where else?--your calendar.
4. Prioritize your priorities
Tackle your top priority first and your lowest priority last. This may seem obvious, but how many times do we do the quick-and-easy, low-payoff tasks first, and save the more difficult, high-payoff tasks for later? Unfortunately, later often never comes!
5. Tie up loose ends at the end of each day
Set aside at least 20 minutes at the end of your business day to tie up loose ends. Go through your remaining work and make assignments to employees, forward information to coworkers as necessary, respond to e-mail and voicemail messages, file away the things that you need to keep, and toss the rest. Finally, quickly review your appointments for the following day.
6. Clean up your workspace
It's hard to stay organized and on top of your most important tasks and priorities when your desk or your office is a mess. Take an hour or two every week to organize the paperwork that is no doubt taking over every inch of surface area. File away the things you don't need and take action on the things that require it. While a cluttered desk may not be the sign of a cluttered mind, it certainly won't help you get and stay organized for success.
Why invest in getting organized? Because one great way to deal with the crises, emergencies, and many other things you can't control is to be totally on top of the things you can control. You owe it to yourself, your employees, and your organization to always be the best you can be.