I quit my job after 10 years of working in international development. Finally, I was my own boss. The feeling was great, except I was also my own assistant, CFO, CEO, marketing and communications manager, and accountant!
The amount of things one has to get done as a new business owner is overwhelming. Although I was always busy, I didn’t see big things happening. I was always pedaling, yet I wasn’t making progress.
I learned the hard way that I had to adopt a smarter way to work. I realized I focused on accomplishing many tasks, but not the right tasks. Peter Drucker, the management guru, would say I was efficient, but not effective. The work I was doing wasn’t bringing me closer to the outcome I aspired to.
These are four things I learned and now implement most of the time in order to be more productive in life and my business:2
Focus on the big rocks
I started using Intelligent Change’s Productivity Planner, a journal that helps me identify my priorities and create a structure to get the right tasks done. Thanks to the Productivity Planner, I now focus (okay, most of the time) on the big rocks, as Stephen Covey called the important things in life or the goals we want to accomplish.
Covey’s Big Rocks exercise consists in trying to fill a mason jar (representing our life or the time we have available) with big rocks (major goals) and pebbles (small tasks). This is impossible unless you first put the big rocks in the jar, followed by the pebbles. The key takeaway is that in order to be productive and make real progress towards what the outcome we desire, we must focus our time and attention on major goals.
Now, instead of getting stuck deciding on my website’s font or margins, it’s easier to switch to the real priority: writing a powerful copy and ensuring the message is on point, for example. Instead of answering emails first thing in the morning, I now make an effort to dedicate my energy and attention to the big tasks that will have the larger impact on my business, like writing a pitch for a potential client.
I have a perfectly imperfect meditation practice. I do it consistently and can see how it makes it easier to focus on what I decide are my priorities. As an entrepreneur, there’s a lot competing for attention. Thanks to the awareness that results from meditation, I’m more likely to tell when I procrastinate and bring back my attention to what really matters.
Every time we sit down to meditate, we activate our prefrontal cortex (PFC), the evolved region of our brain that allows us to see things from a rational and balanced perspective. The more we activate this area, the thicker it gets. A thicker PFC enables us to override the automatic tendency to procrastinate and lose focus.
When I get stuck while working on a corporate workshop, I no longer fight it nor force myself to keep going. I take a break. When I take a break, my brain takes a break. I do this because I see how it helps me regain focus and energy. When our brain performs the same task for too long, it gets habituated to the stimulus and no longer registers the information in a purposeful manner, which hinders our performance.
You don’t have to quit your job to learn how to be productive! If you’re looking for ways to be more effective, start by defining where you want to get. What’s your major goal? Then, get out of your comfort zone and experiment with different techniques and strategies. Only through trial and error you’ll discover what works for you.