7 Lessons I learned from building, growing and selling my IT business | Lesson 4: Ruthless Productivity

lesson 4 ruthless productivity

Being an entrepreneur can be a challenge to put it mildly.  The odds of survival are stacked against us before we even start the day.  Yet we press on undaunted.  In most cases we wear many different hats throughout the course of a single day.  The challenge is how to get it all done without losing our minds.  The word productivity seems to be an oxymoron.

Over the course of running my IT business for 10 years, that challenge was amplified by the speed at which our digital world changed.  Back in 2004 the iPhone hadn’t been invented, and we weren’t walking around with the Internet in our pocket.  There has never before been an age in which we could get so much done so quickly.  There also has never before been an age in we are so overwhelmed and exhausted with information and tasks, so bombarded with emails and things to read and watch, so stressed by the intense demands of daily life.

For many people these days, work is a constant stream of emails, of phone calls and instant messages, of Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/Pinterest/SnapChat/[insert new social media distraction] updates and connection requests.  The day starts with an Inbox full of emails, and ends with an Inbox just as full, and each email is a request for information or actions that we don’t have time to fulfill.

Just because I ran an IT company didn’t mean I was immune to the same crushing stress.  If anything, hyper-connectedness was amplified due to the fact that I also had to manage our client’s incessant need to be hyper-connected as well.  (All’s fun and games until someone loses Internet or Facebook goes down)

There were many days I felt like I was playing Whac-A-Mole.  Remember that game?  I remember the first time I played it.  I was 10 years old.  (Ahh, to be a kid again)  I was at Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh.  It was awesome!  Beating the crap of those little moles as they popped up…YES!  However, even at 10 years old, I got tired fairly quick.  But hey, it was fun!

Day in, day out playing Whac-A-Mole got really old really fast in my business life. (Not so fun) I really struggled to get everything done each day.  So, I started working more hours.  12, 16, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week.  I figured eventually I’d be able to get caught up.  “Just work harder”, I told myself.  Unfortunately, this strategy is not sustainable, and after a couple years of this, I nearly found out the hard way.  I was writing checks my body couldn’t cash.  (Top Gun anyone?)  If I didn’t change, I would end up flying cargo planes full of rubber dog crap out of Hong Kong. Or, worse yet, I’d end up being fertilizer.  I wasn’t happy with the thought of either.

I venture to say, that some of you reading this can relate.  In order to get control, I learned to be ruthless with my time and energy.  I’m not perfect at it, but I’m at least aware of how I spend my energy.  So, I’d like to give you a few secrets that I used to get control of things before it was too late.

Here are my Top 3 Ruthless Productivity Tips:

  1. Compile a list of 3 Most Important Tasks (MITs), and do these FIRST.  Each day, start with the 3 most important things that you need to do to bring you closer to your goals, and do these FIRST.  Don’t check email, Facebook or whatever else you are wasting time on in the morning.  (You know what I’m talking about)
  2. Put a stop to interruptions.  Turn off all notifications on every device you own, and leave them OFF.  Notifications are the noises/buzzing and little red bubble icons on your phone.  If you don’t know they are there, you won’t be tempted to check them every five seconds.  Your desktop, your iPhone, your iPad, your laptop.  Everything.  Turn off email, Facebook, Twitter, instant messages, text messages, and whatever else could serve as an interruption to your productivity.  You’ll find that this is quite liberating after you go through initial withdrawal. (Checking these notifications is like a crack addiction whether we admit it or not)
  3. Batch process.   Process all the smaller tasks you need to complete each day.  Phone calls, emails, errands, paperwork, meetings, social media, research etc.  I typically try to do these at 11AM and 4PM.  This schedule might not work for you, so figure out what does work for you.

Being productive is key to growing and managing your company as an entrepreneur.  You only have a limited amount of time and energy.  The #1 pitfall to being productive is interruption.  There are many reasons for these interruptions, and almost none of them have to do with necessity!

I could probably write a book on all the lessons learned on this subject alone.  (Hmm, maybe I will)  At minimum, I think there might be a workshop on this.  Let me know if you might be interested.

If you want to read a good book, I recommend “The Power of Less” by Leo Babauta.  It’s an easy read with many actionable things you can do right now to get control.

Lesson 5 will cover Document and Systematize all Processes.  This isn’t a sexy topic. Everyone knows they need to do it, however, this is one that most entrepreneurs have the hardest time with.

As always, I welcome any thoughts or comments below.  Until next time….

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