“I don’t have time.”
“I am so busy.”
“There is just too much to do and not enough time to do it.”
These are things I have decided to stop saying. I want to take the word ‘busy’ out of my vocabulary. But I don’t just want to stop using the word, I also want to do something concrete to change the mindset of being busy.
Adding Effectiveness to Your Efficiency
While working in a startup company as CMO, I never ran out of things to do. My to-do list was endless, and I was working an average of 50+ hours a week.
Did I accomplish a lot? Yes. Was I efficient? Yes. I always got things done. That was not the issue.
Was I effective? Somewhat. That’s where I had some room for improvement. I wanted to use my time more wisely instead of just working more hours.
First, I should explain the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. According to Timothy Ferris, the author of the popular book ‘The 4-hour work week’, efficiency is performing a given task (whether important or not) in the most economical matter. Effectiveness, on the other hand, is doing the things that get you closer to your goals.
“Lack of time is actually a lack of priorities.”
That is one of my favorite sentences in the book, as it so precisely describes your biggest obstacle to effectiveness.
How I Increased My Effectiveness
You might be doing a lot and even accomplishing a lot, but what you should ask yourself is this: Are you getting results? Are those results getting you closer to your goal?
You probably know the saying, “work smarter, not harder”. Simply put, that is what I did to increase my effectiveness. This blog explains the ‘effectiveness project’ I started a year ago. It has taught me a lot and brought encouraging results.
You can adapt it to your own work if you find it beneficial. So, let’s begin.
1. Define Your Goal
What should you accomplish? What is your goal? To be able to boost your effectiveness, you need to know what you are aiming for. Make your goals as clear as possible.
My example: The most important goal in my job is to generate x number of inbound leads, which in turn will generate x number of customers and x amount of revenue. On top of that, I have minor goals that support the bigger goal, e.g. x number of website visitors and conversion rates. These goals are derived from the company strategy.
You should not have too many goals, because you will lose focus easily. It should be crystal clear what you need to accomplish.
2. Analyze How You Spend Your Time
Do you have some idea of how you are using your time? Spend a week writing down the tasks you do and calculate the time you spend on each task. The easiest way to do this is by writing your tasks down every day, so you don’t forget. List every task, even if you may spend as little as 15 minutes doing it.
My example: For a week I wrote down every task I was working on. By seeing everything on paper with one look, I was able to understand how I was actually spending my time. There were a few surprises and I had used more time on certain things than I had realized.
3. Measure How the Tasks Are Affecting Your Goal
It is crucial to measure progress on your goals. Are your tasks supporting the goals and getting you closer to them?
My example: If you are working in marketing like I am, you can check tools like Google Analytics and marketing automation metrics to perform deep analysis of the effectiveness of your marketing activities. I did just that and realized I was using a lot of my time on channels with somewhat disappointing performance. I cut them off and devoted my time to the channels that were yielding results.
4. Increase Effectiveness with Daily Task List and Weekly Goals
Monitoring your tasks for a week is a great way to start, but I would encourage you to keep it up. Plan your weeks ahead while keeping your goal in mind.
My example: After one week of writing down my activities, I kept doing it. There are several tools you can use to handle your tasks, such as Trello. It works especially well when you work with a team. It doesn’t matter what tool you choose, however, it can be as simple as an excel sheet if that’s what works for you.
Personally, I use One Note for my list. It also syncs to mobile, which is very convenient. My list looks like you see below (an example of what it could be). I mark the week number, weekly goal, and then each day has a task list. Often I also mark the exact time for the task. However, with creative tasks, such as writing, I normally write as long as it feels good or as long as I am finished.
I know it’s not pretty 🙂 but it works for me. I also often use colors to highlight different types of tasks.
A few tips that work for me:
- Leave space on Friday in case you run into ad hoc work (surprises) during the week. By leaving some planned free time in your calendar, you will be able to do any tasks you didn’t get done due to ‘surprises’. It would obviously be awesome if everything would always happen as planned, but unexpected things happen all the time that you have no control over. Therefore, it is better to be prepared.
- Just as you shouldn’t have too many goals, neither should you have too many activities in a day. Keep focused.
- Mark any repeated activities in your calendar. For example, every Monday I have it on my list and in my calendar to check Google Analytics and HubSpot.
- On Fridays, I review the past week and take a sneak peek at the next week.
- On Monday morning, I plan out my new week in more detail.
- Remember to have breaks in your schedule. Even though it might feel like you don’t have time for breaks, the breaks will actually make you more effective.
5. Less Distractions and More Focus
Do you wonder why completing one task takes so much of your time? Could you do it faster? Think of the reasons. Are you getting interrupted constantly or are you being distractible?
Can you work without checking your phone every other minute – or your email or Slack? What would happen if you read your emails just twice a day? Do people really need to be able to reach you all the time? If you are working in customer support role, that may be the case, but do consider if it is truly necessary for you to be accessible all the time.
My example: I find it hard to focus if I have my inbox open and see new messages popping in. Even seeing the red mark in the app signaling a a new email can make me distracted. But the solution is simple. I no longer keep my inbox open, and the same goes for Slack. I only check my e-mail two to three times a day, depending if I need e-mail for my work or not. Also, I keep my phone on silent.
6. Power Work Brings Effectiveness
I still remember when multitasking was considered a positive skill to master. Luckily, this mindset has changed. Current research has shown that multitasking is not healthy for humans. It’s a massive stress for your brain when you skip back and forth from one task to another all the time.
When you are working on a task, focus on just that. Don’t try to accomplish several tasks at the same time. Your brain and body will thank you, and you may end up delivering higher-quality work.
My example: I was always multitasking a lot, but now I am trying to cut back on that. It’s just way too easy to fall back on it, when there are loads of work to be done. I have, however, grown in this area, and I am becoming more and more focused.
I use a ‘power work’ concept. If my work needs 100% focus, I time my work with my phone: 30 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time. And the break doesn’t mean looking at my messages. It means getting up, walking around the house, stretching a bit, or getting a glass of water.
These are my tips for making your (work) life more effective. If you want to learn more about effectiveness, my second favorite book from last year is the one I mentioned in the beginning: The 4-hour work week by Timothy Ferris.
Last words: I am excited about this change of perspective and about developing a trend of not being busy all the time. It doesn’t mean that you are not going to work, however, only that you will work smarter. And, of course you have your life outside of work as well.