Note: These were the beginnings of my productivity hack research. I started with small, actionable moves I could make, before diving deeper. Since this time in my life, I’ve learned so much more about how to be productive, efficient with time and just get it done. More to come on that…
Back in 2012, I was working 60-hour plus weeks at a very demanding job in the entertainment industry while at the same time, starting my online side business of selling vintage clothing. Because of the long hours, I had very little time for myself, much less my business.
My business was growing a lot faster than I had expected — I was making about $1,000 a month in extra income, but I needed a lot more time to dedicate (besides the weekends) to make it more lucrative. Like many who are just starting out and trying to create a successful business while still working a day job, I wasn’t quite ready to quit my 9-5 and live off $1,000 a month. Instead, I decided the most realistic thing I could do was to improve my habits in the office to free up more time at home.
I researched online and talked to friends who ran successful businesses, and adopted these simple hacks to work more efficiently. By making these small changes, I was able to free up 50 hours a month to grow my business (two hours a day, ten a week).
Here’s what I did.
1. Mornings were used to tackle high cognitive tasks
The first two hours after you are fully awake are your most productive hours and should be used wisely, according to Duke professor of behavioral economics, Dan Ariely.
Dan’s graph that shows the peak times you should be working on your most cognitively demanding stuff.
I used the first two hours of my day to focus on projects and tasks that required the most moving parts and high-level decision making.
After doing this for a few weeks, it became easier to quickly separate high-value tasks from the ones that required less thinking (i.e. administrative tasks), and plan out my day accordingly.
2. Group emails according to urgency
Because I started using the mornings for high cognitive tasks and not for checking emails (like I used to do), I prioritized my emails into four specific sections in Gmail, for faster scanning. This helped me spot if there was something urgent that required an immediate response.
Here is how I grouped them:
4. Everything else
All you need to do is go to “settings” and click “priority inbox” in Gmail.
3. Schedule blocks of time on your calendar to maximize independent work time
Working in such a busy environment meant that last-minute meetings popped up… a lot. Colleagues would look at my calendar and schedule meetings if they saw an opening.
To help lessen last-minute interruptions, I scheduled “me time” on my calendar.
Regular blocks of time for me usually looked like this:
- 1-2 hours in the morning for complete concentration for high level tasks
- 30 mins for lunch
- 1 hour in the afternoon to focus on secondary tasks
4. Use 15 mins at the end of the day to prioritize your next morning
I began organizing my high cognitive tasks the day before, in order of priority or deadlines so I’m not wasting time when I start the day with my fresh brain. (How many times have you sat down in the morning, only to wonder what you’re supposed to do?)
An organization tool is also essential. I discovered an amazing free online program called Trello — I still use it today.
Like my emails, I began grouping tasks like so:
The “Morning Priority” column was most important, so I made sure to number them. I made it a point to not list more than three tasks because I wanted to make sure that my goals for the day were achievable.
5. Delegate work
I admit I failed at this, and I was doing way too much work on my own because I didn’t trust that my colleagues would do a good job. Sound familiar? You’re not alone — only one manager in ten really understands how to empower others, says London business school professor John Hunt.
Whenever I did try to delegate work, a lot of time was spent answering questions afterwards because I wasn’t clear when I handed the task over in the first place. So, whether or not I delegated, I was still spending too much time completing a task, or explaining how to do it — a lose-lose situation!
I made these corrections:
- The task was always described in detail. I explained the goal and how it related to the overall project. While it usually took me 15 minutes longer to be thorough, it usually minimized questions afterwards.
- I gave deadlines with an exact time when it was due, then I put it on my calendar so I wouldn’t forget.
Having the extra 50 hours a month allowed me to:
- Start a Facebook page for my business
- Connect with 5 fashion bloggers to write about my business
- Write an extra post each week on my own blog
- Take much-needed photos of inventory that had been laying around my apartment
Starting your own business is tough, especially when you have a full-time job. Streamlining your habits at work will give you the freedom to achieve your goals and free up that much-needed time.
Do you want to save time in your busy day? What hacks have worked for you? Share your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!