Get Productive: One Simple Exercise To Help

Are you constantly working on your business, but at the end of the day, don’t really know what you accomplished?

Do you feel discouraged at how long it’s taking you to meet a goal or deadline?

Do you often spend an hour on something that should only take 20 minutes?

If so, don’t worry. You are not alone.

If you’re struggling to get through your daily to-do list because of distractions, I have a simple exercise that will help you see where you’re wasting your time and help you go from a busy day to a productive day.

Busy versus Productivity

Many small business owners have this struggle. They’re constantly working, but most days they don’t feel like they’re accomplishing as much as they would like. Granted most things take time and hard work, at the end of the day you should be able to look back and feel like you did… something.

There’s a big difference in staying busy in order to accomplish something specific and staying busy just to feel like you’re getting things done. You want to be productive. You want to look back and see results.

All businesses have those small, mundane, everyday tasks that need to get done. Those things alone can keep you tied up for hours, but they’re not always the best use of your time if you’re looking to get results with your business.

You need to learn to leverage your time to make it count.

You’re Playing Favorites

Maybe you’ve put off writing that sales page for your new product because you really dislike that whole process and decided that you’d write a blog post instead. Then later, instead of tackling that sales page, you decide to tackle your inbox because it’s piling up. Before you know it, the work day is almost over and you’ve barely written anything for your sale page. You slap something together just so you can mark it off your to-do list and get it done. Whew! Glad that’s over.

When you stay busy all day doing low-leverage tasks or tasks that aren’t getting you closer to reaching your goals, then you’re just doing busywork and you aren’t being productive. You’re no closer to the end result, your goal, than you were when you began the day.

We’re all guilty of it. There are some things we really detest. Some things we just keep putting off, even though we know we should be doing them. So instead of doing what we know we should do, we fill that time with busywork… doing things that may be beneficial at some point in the future, but not really beneficial at the moment.

It’s a battle of our own will between what we should do and what we’d rather do.

The Solution: Evaluate Your Time & Know Your Distractions

Brain dumps, to-do lists, schedules, creating mental whitespace, goals, and leveraging. It’s all a part of learning to manage time and make the most of what you’ve got. But before you start worrying about all of this and trying to improve your skills, you’ve got to know where you’re at right now…today.

What things are you doing during the day? Which ones were on your to-do list? How many were high-leverage tasks versus low-leverage tasks? How much time did you spend on each thing? Did you complete each task from start to finish or did you start and stop several times?

The following time management exercise will help you see where you’re spending your time as well as help you recognize what things are distracting you from getting done what you need to.

Tip: Keep A Time Journal

You’ve heard of food journals where you write down everything that you eat during the day. Well this is a time management exercise that’s like a food journal, but for time instead.

Starting tomorrow, write down everything you do during your work day, including the start time and stop time for each task, for a full 3 days. This will give you a good overview of how you’re spending your time.

Once you’re finished, answer the above questions.

Feel free to print the worksheets below to help you track and evaluate your time.

Click here to download & print.

Long Story Short

Knowing how you spend your time and what exactly is pulling your attention away from work is a sure fire way to help you hone in on what’s keeping you from being more productive during your day.

Recognize the areas you’re struggling in and take action. Make the changes you need to make and watch just how much your productivity level increases.

 

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Meagan VisserMeagan Visser is a creative business owner & coach who helps moms learn how to successfully start and grow a creative business around their families. Her focus is on simplifying basic business principles, marketing, time management, and the infamous “work-life balance”. She’s the creator of The Customer Discovery Report, a free digital guide to understanding your target market and identifying your ideal customer. Get it along with corresponding worksheets and exercises when you sign up for your weekly newsletter. Connect with her at MeaganVisser.com and on Facebook.

Comments

  1. Meagan, I feel like you read my mind or are secretly spying on my in my coffee-shop-office. Thanks for this moment of empathy & great tips. You’re so right, when I’ve gone through my day writing down (I use my online journal Penzu) what my goals are plus what time I’m starting/moving on to the next thing, I stay much more focused. I also feel better about myself at the end of the day because I can see what I accomplished & that I truly couldn’t have done any more than I did.

    with grace & gumption, Hilary

    • LOL! No I’m not secretly spying on you! It just goes to show that you’re like a lot of other entrepreneurs out there {myself included} and have times where you miss the mark when it comes to productivity. I’m glad you liked it! Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. Meagan, these are some great tips! I’m always challenged when it comes to keeping a time journal because I’m afraid of what I might see there!

    • I so hear you there. None of us like to see where we’re wasting time because it’s probably on the things we’d much rather be doing, but not on the things that are gonna get us results. Plus, it shows us that we need to make a change and most people don’t like that either. No matter what the reason is, it’s one of those tough love things we must do for ourselves and our business if we want to see progress! Thanks for sharing! I appreciate it!

  3. “Playing Favourites” OMG so true! It is much easier to only work on the stuff you like to do.

    Your time journal is awesome! Such and eye opening experience.

    • Yes… we definitely prefer doing the more comfortable things… who doesn’t. Thanks so much for your thoughts. I’m glad you liked it!

  4. Jeanne Pi says:

    I definitely have a tendency to let low-leverage tasks take over my day. I’m obsessive about keeping my inbox at zero before anything else. It’s a struggle. That’s why I need deadlines. Not enough will power otherwise ;-)

    • Wow, I wish I were that way with my inbox. That’s definitely something I’ve not tackled yet! I do focus on low-leverage tasks a lot of the time too until I realize I’m just wasting time, then I get frustrated with myself and finally I get it together and get on the ball. It’s a vicious cycle!! I think recognizing that in ourselves is the first step to overcoming it. Thanks for your thoughts Jeanne!

  5. Good stuff Meagan.

    Time is our number one resource. Most valuable; yet most limited.

    You, me and every Mary, Sue and Mike have the same cup full of time when the day starts.

    But if you use your time better than I; working on high-level tasks, while I work on checking email 2,000 times that day; you’ll make more progress. Period.

    If entrepreneurs can nail this one, wow. Watch out. Right? :-)

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom Meagan..

    Eric

    • You’re welcome Eric. Yes, you said it. Everyone struggles with this to some degree. I think it’s a process, for some it’s easier than others, and for some it can take a lifetime. I guess it all depends on how badly you want to buckle down and take charge of your time. For me, it’s an daily battle. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. That’s a great read, thanks, Megan! The thing with time is that we all have 24 hours in a day, not more not less. Managing hours is tricky, however managing activities and energy is easy peasy! Good article and excellent worksheets, thanks again!

  7. Meagan,

    This is something I struggle with. I’m starting up and instead of doing the things I really need to do, I waste time on tasks that aren’t that important.

    At the end of the day I feel like I’ve done something but have I really? Most of my work isn’t really productive.

    I’ll be recording my work in a journal like you suggest to see how I’ve done.

    Thanks!

    • I think learning to be productive is an ongoing process. I’m more productive today than I was a year ago, and hopefully I’ll be more productive a year from now than I am today. The time journal really shows you where you’re wasting time. If you can get your “Must Do” items done first that will help you to be more productive. After that it’s focusing on those high-leverage tasks mixed in with a couple low-leverage ones. Good luck and thanks for your comment!

  8. This reminds me that keeping a mental list is never quite as effective. It is so much easier to overlook an item on a to do list if it was never written down in the first place.

    • Yes, mental lists have never worked for me. I have WAY to many things to remember & I’m bound to forget something important. I have to list everything I need to do & filter through it & prioritize. Thanks for commenting Scott!

  9. Great Stuff Meagan! It’s all about working smarter not harder. Time tracking is extremely useful – You can’t begin managing your time until you know how you’ve been spending it!

    • Well said Steve! If you don’t know that you’re wasting time and not being as productive as you’d like, then you don’t realize the need to improve. Thanks so much!

  10. Great Stuff!!

    I hate feeling busy while not being productive. Never thought of keeping a time journal.

    Thanks!!

    Ryan H.

    • I hate that feeling too Ryan, and the funny thing is… you know when it’s happening! Crazy. Anyway, hope the time journal idea helps you see the big picture of how you’re spending your time. Thanks for your comment!

  11. Ah Meagan, you always brings something to the table. I love the concept, I love the exercise, and I especially love the clarity of being able to differentiate from ‘distraction’.

    I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t bring a different view though, so here’s a quote from someone I pay close attention to:

    “There is an underlying assumption that is flawed. The assumption is that if you can get more things done in less time, you will have more free time. But, that’s a lie! Super-achievers like you and I will always have more things to do than we can ever finish in a given day, week, or month. No matter how much we complete there will always be more. Time management is not the answer!” – Christian Mickelson

    Thawtz?

    • Yes, you would not be you if you didn’t come at an issue with a different viewpoint! LOL! It’s great!

      Okay, so I agree and disagree with Christian… if a totally friendly way of course. ;)

      Yes, we will always have something to do to fill up available time, but learning to be a good time manager can help you fill that time with important things, things that will help you get ahead. Learning to manage your time isn’t only so you’ll have free time… it’s to help you make the most of the time you have no matter how you’re spending it.

      I’m not saying that you should only work on productive things and never do anything unproductive. We all need time to be lazy and do nothing. But, if we’re good time managers, that hour of watching tv won’t turn into 3 hours, especially if you have business to attend to. If we’re good at managing our time, we’ll get business related tasks done efficiently so that there’s time for tv or going out with our friends later without it effecting our business.

      Does that make sense? Do you see where I’m coming from?

  12. Glad to know that I am not busy alone :-)

    Keeping a time journal is so important and I found that having a one goal for each day worked really well for me so far.

    Because a long to do list often overwhelmed you and you end up spending a tensed day.

    • For the most part, I do that too. I have one main thing that I have to get done each day. If I can accomplish that big task, I feel like I’ve been productive. Thanks for your thoughts Rana!

  13. Hi Meagan,

    I think prioritizing is the most important part. I think it solves the whole productivity issue if done well.

    When you prioritize (correctly) you leave the things you don’t have to do (and that only make you busy).

    When you prioritize you learn what you need better systems for.

    When you prioritize you get things done in the right order.

    And so on… :)

    • Very interesting Peter. I do have a question for you though. When you prioritize, you’re getting the most important things done first. When do you personally make time for the things that didn’t make your priority list? Maybe after you’ve gotten everything done that was a priority for the day? Just curious how you personally do it. Thanks!

  14. Oh, time management. I’ve tried so many different systems and, like diets, I’m not sure any of them work. The danger is when you spend so much time setting up the time management system, it gets in the way. The best tip i ever had was that if you can do it in less than 2 minutes, get it done straight away. Otherwise it’s likely never to get done.

    • I know what you mean Mike. Focusing too much on time management can become a time waster, and no one wants to be a slave to a schedule. Like I said, I think it’s good to see where you’re wasting your time and to learn to differentiate between high-leverage and low-leverage tasks. Then you’re not so much running off a system, but you’re evaluating everything you do and asking yourself if each thing is worth spending time on. I do like the 2 minute tip though. It’s motivating to get all those quick little tasks marked off you to-do list! Thanks for your comment!

  15. Awesome stuff Meagan. You know there is a book I read a few months back called The Compound Effect that talked about this very same issue. One of the biggest things that I learned from this book was to have a daily method of operation or a weekly method of operation. This is so important because so are so many distractions around you and on the web that it can be hard to be disciplined and actually produce.

    Anyway, this was an excellent post and it reminded me so much of the advice I received from a very successful entrepreneur and multi-millionnaire, in that book. I know you get it Meagan! :)

  16. Hi Meagan-love the focus on the bottom of your worksheets- Is this a low leverage or high leverage task? I definitely need to keep that q top o’mind!

    • Thank you Laura and yes, trying to differentiate between high & low leverage tasks can be very beneficial in deciding how you spend your time. Thanks for your comment!

  17. Time has always been the best resource that we can have, and yet this is the most often overlooked. It’s really a must to write down the things that we need to do, so that when we got distracted by doing other stuff, we can always tap and remind ourselves about the things that are more important.
    Great post, keep it up.

    • Thanks so much Melonie! Yes, there’s nothing like a written list to help keep you focused and on target! Thanks for your comment!