Regardless of how many hours you work in a day, not all of that time is going to be completely productive. Sometimes it’s because of procrastination, other times it’s because you’ve been so bogged down in “busy work” that you haven’t made progress on important tasks. Whatever the reason, it’s important to find ways to optimize your to-do list to maximize your time for important strategy work as well as personal endeavors.
Below, 10 members of Young Entrepreneur Council discussed strategies busy professionals can use to reclaim up to five hours of their time back each week. Here’s what they recommend and how these strategies have worked for them.
1. Plan Out Your Tasks Within A Strict Eight-Hour Workday
If you’re prone to overworking, implement a rigid eight-hour workday and plan out your tasks for the day carefully within that. Consider which tasks can be delegated to other team members or if there’s a way to automate them. Giving myself a standard workday has reclaimed hours back into my weeks since I started doing it a year or so ago, as it makes you work harder and smarter within that time frame. I now use my free time to recharge and think creatively rather than still working on things that could be left for tomorrow. If you find yourself doing non-essential tasks late into the evening, stop yourself and add them to your schedule for the next day. It’s vital to rest after a workday to keep your motivation going and leave you excited for the rest of the week. – Emily Stallings, Casely, Inc.
2. Get Out Of The Office
It may seem counterintuitive, but any entrepreneur leading an organization is going to field questions and have distractions all day long in the office. It’s like a never-ending treadmill. To really work on my strategic priorities, I have to step off the treadmill, carving out time away from the team and the daily distractions. I have gone to a coffee shop or worked remotely for a day. In pandemic times, it’s working in a different room of the house. The physical space change signals to me that it’s time to focus—and it usually is the most productive time of the week for me, bringing my priorities into focus and giving me time back. – JT Allen, myFootpath LLC
3. Restructure Your Work Time And Improve Processes
My three daughters are growing up and are involved in more activities than ever. Staying true to my goals, I wanted to be present for their dance competitions, school events and family weekend trips while continuing to find success in business. This meant restructuring my time at work. Two years ago, I began improving any processes that left exceptions that I often cleaned up. Cross-training employees, such as having the bean-counting office admin learn Google/FB ad bidding, freed up several hours and improved the portfolio by 10%! I then adopted the OKR process across the company so that the GM had my roadmap and a highly effective system to ensure the company was aligned and on track. As a result, I spend much more time with family and now have dedicated time to write IP! – Carmine Silano, CheerSounds Music
4. Develop Systems and Processes So You Can Delegate
Have systems and processes in place and delegate. Immediately when team members come on, we create standard SOPs for their role. That way everything is clear. It eliminates a lot of back and forth and reinforces cross-collaboration and teamwork. That way when I need to step away for a certain amount of time, I have trust and confidence in the team to accomplish their delegated activities. Processes, in general, save a lot of time because it increases the number of opportunities for automation of redundant activities. – Codie Sanchez, Contrarian Thinking & Entourage Effect Capital
5. Tackle The Big Tasks First
Start your day by tackling big tasks first, as soon as you sit down and as early as you can manage it. Having those out of the way at the beginning of the workday makes the rest of the time go far smoother. Smaller tasks left in the evening or afternoon are easier to accomplish. After that, you can make a plan for tomorrow where you’ll aim to get the toughest tasks done in the morning again. By doing it this way, I’ve saved tons of time rather than doing it in reverse with smaller tasks first. Better yet, delegate smaller tasks to team members when more important problems are taking up your day. It’s better to have more hands getting through essential work than piling it on yourself. Delegating means you will have much more time and you will soon get used to handing over responsibilities. – Mark Stallings, Casely, Inc
6. Complete ‘Bulk Tasks’ In Designated Time Blocks
Busy professionals can get back their time each week by establishing bulk-tasking routines for the work they do daily. Rather than switching tasks rapidly during the day, setting aside prescribed times for specific activities like answering email can significantly improve efficiency. Bulk-tasking makes it easier to schedule and plan, along with providing the peace of mind that comes from knowing what’s next in your day. Bulk-tasking also helps establish expectations for co-workers, because they will learn your habits of answering emails and making phone calls, which will make it easier for them to communicate with you overall. – Richard Fong, Automatic Growth
7. Schedule Deep Work Fridays
Deep Work Fridays have been a complete life changer for me and many on my team. Deep work means no calls, no meetings and no scheduled activities. A whole day of deep work, so coined by Cal Newport, a renowned author and computer science professor at Georgetown University, can feel like 12 hours given the level of productivity you’ll absorb. The key to implementing deep work, though, is to be ruthless. Communicate that you’ll be unavailable for meetings and calls. Miraculously, people will find solutions or hold their questions or concerns for Monday. I can’t recommend it more. – Beck Bamberger, BAM Communications
8. Reduce Distractions
Reduce distractions as much as possible throughout the day. When you can focus completely on the task at hand, you will move faster and more efficiently. I used to keep my email notifications on and my cell phone upright on my desk. I found that I would spend all of my time responding to emails, texts or calls and not actually getting anything accomplished. Now, I turn all notifications off, even the internet if possible, and put my phone out of sight. The amount of speed and the quality of work that I can produce far exceeds getting just three hours back. – Matthew Podolsky, Florida Law Advisers, P.A.
9. Follow The One-Minute Rule
I live by the one-minute rule. If you can handle a task in one minute or less, do it now. This forces you to reframe your workload. How many items on your to-do list really could be done in less time than allotted or anticipated? Does that email response really need to be three paragraphs? Could you outsource that phone call to someone else on your team? So often, we get caught up in little, mundane activities, giving ourselves no time or brain space to tackle larger projects. Clear your mind by clearing your list. You will quickly come to realize that you spend more time thinking about what you need to do rather than actually doing it. You will be shocked by how much “extra” time you find in your schedule by applying the one-minute rule. – Ashley Sharp, Dwell with Dignity
10. Get A Good Night’s Sleep
I know a science-backed way to improve how you use your time and increase your productivity so you can turn wasted time into hours of extra time for yourself each week. The secret is to get a good night’s sleep. Adults rarely get enough sleep today but when you do get an adequate amount of sleep each night, science shows us that amazing things happen. You feel better. You’re more energetic. You get more done in a smaller amount of time. You make fewer mistakes. In other words, you can recoup all of the time that would be wasted if you were running on a barely filled gas tank. – Jonathan Prichard, MattressInsider.com