The phrase ‘Work smarter not harder’ was coined back in the 1930’s. In those days, before the advent of computers, the internet and Facebook notifications on our iPhones, most people would have worked on a 9 to 5 basis. When they left the factory or the office and went home, they knew they were probably not going to be working again until the next day.

Nowadays for most people there is no absolute cut off point, as the potential to carry on working is always a possibility. You can keep checking emails any time, anywhere, but is this really sensible or productive?

In his book, ‘The 7 habits of highly effective people’, Stephen Covey tells a story about a woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt, but he still keeps cutting down trees. If he were to stop sawing, sharpen the blade and go back to his tree cutting with a sharper saw, he would save himself time and effort.

It isn’t hard to see why this analogy is especially important for modern working practices. With a constant flow of information from technology and therefore the potential for constant interruption, it has become much harder to keep focused on one task before moving on to another one. So how can you be more productive and make more time for yourself?

Here are my own 7 habits for using your time more productively:

1. Prioritise

Do you have a strategy for your business and are you clear about what needs to done each day? Do you have goals that are SMART? (I.e.; Specific, Measureable, Achieveable, Realistic, Timed). Do you have clear objectives for your business?  If the answer is no, then you need to invest some time figuring out what your priorities are.

Without a plan for your business, it is hard to figure out what to do each day. You might find yourself overwhelmed by choices and feeling confused about how best to spend your time.

Investing some time up front writing a strategic plan, or a business plan, should save you heaps of time in the mid to long run. You might even need to invest some time working with a business coach! Click here to find out how business planning can help you and your business.

Once you know what your priorities are……

2. ….work out when you are at your most productive for certain tasks. Early bird or night owl?

I am definitely an early bird. If I want to write a blog, or prepare for a talk or a workshop, I have to do it first thing in the morning. I have never been at my best in the evening, but some people, the night owls, come alive in the evening and are therefore much more productive at this time. We are all as different as the businesses we are running so figure out what works for you.

Another trick I find useful is to give difficult tasks an allotted time. As I do a lot of writing, I am bound to have times when I get writers block. When this happens I still make myself sit at my desk for the prior allotted time, and I won’t let myself get up until that time is up. See if this works for you. (Also see No. 5 below…)

3. Spend some time putting good systems in place

Now you have a strategy for your business, take advantage of technology and find out how it can help you save time. Nowadays there is no shortage of clever time saving apps for business owners. For every issue business owners face, there is someone who will say, “there’s an app for that”!

Using an app for all my business invoicing for my two businesses has not only saved me huge amounts of time, but it also means that I can manage my cash flow much more efficiently.

So if you seem to be spending more time on the admin of your business, than doing the fun creative stuff, then you either need an app to help you or you need to delegate. [For more about how to delegate, go to my blog “Do one thing well” Part 2]

4. Create a time for answering emails/phone calls

Many people who run small business feel they should be available to their clients all day, every day. That if they don’t answer all their emails and phone calls immediately somehow they are letting their clients down.

But how realistic is that, and could you manage their expectations in a different way? Unless you are running a large scale operation where there is always someone to answer the phone, you can’t always be available to your clients, but what you can do is let them know from the start exactly when you are free on a daily basis to take their calls, and respond to their emails.

If finding the time to even do this is proving a step too far, then you might need to find a virtual PA or admin assistant. Another benefit of current technology is that almost everyone is able to work virtually. There are plenty of highly effective, professional PAs out there and you never even have to meet.

5. Be ruthlessly disciplined!

I love reading and I’m really interested in the whole process of creative writing. If you listen to writers talking about the process of writing, most of them will say it is a thankless task requiring huge amounts of self-discipline.

Think of Ian Fleming who used to spend two months a year in Jamaica in a darkened room writing his next Bond novel, or Roald Dahl who used to spend all day writing in his studio, only emerging to listen to the lunchtime news.

If you want to achieve your goals, there may be times when you need to withdraw from the world entirely, even for twenty minutes, so you can focus on the task ahead. This might seem impossible at times, but sometimes it just has to be done. Again, if you have spent some time thinking about what you really want to achieve and already have your strategy in place, it is easier to keep focused. And if you are still finding it hard to keep going……


6. Ask yourself this – “what do I want my legacy to be?”

This is something I always ask my clients when they first come to see me. For some it is relatively easy to answer, but for many business owners it is something they have never thought of. Without being too morbid, think of what you want to leave behind; what mark your work will have left on the world and work back from that.

Write it down on post-it notes, or do a mood board, something visual to hand so that when the going gets tough (which it will!) you can quickly remind yourself why you are doing this; what the pay-off is for this monastic self-discipline.

7. Take a break

And finally, remember to sharpen your saw when it stops being so effective. Don’t just keep going until you collapse. That tree won’t get cut down any quicker.

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Being an entrepreneur is hard work so take little breaks in your working week, but also build some time in your year to take longer breaks when you can.

You probably can’t work any harder, but you can definitely figure out ways to work smarter.

Click here to book a 30 minute phone call and find out how you can work even smarter.