5 Steps to Maximizing Your Productive Sweet Spot
The following is a sample from my book The Daily Entrepreneur: 33 Success Habits for Small Business Owners, Freelancers and Aspiring 9-to-5 Escape Artists. If you're struggling with your productivity, the following steps can help you figure out what your productivity weak spots are and how to get rid of them.
Are you naturally a morning person? Or are you a night owl who comes alive at midnight and works well into the evening?
While there are many benefits to rising early, the real key is to find when you are the most productive and use that time to the fullest.
For instance, Rebecca is naturally a morning person and tends to get up early and get right to work. She finds that if she doesn’t get started on things early in the morning, she most likely won’t get much done. Her husband is just the opposite and tends to work best in the evening, sometimes staying up most of the night to work on projects.
Neither way is right or wrong. The important thing is to be intentional in the work you do, and to do your most important tasks during your most productive time of day whenever possible. Here are five steps for getting started:
Step 1: Identify your ideal work environment.
Some people work well in a noisy coffee shop with a lot of noise around. Others prefer a quiet, or perhaps even silent, atmosphere.
While you may not be able to control your work environment 100 percent of the time, it’s important to figure out what works best for you. Maximize your productivity by spending as much time as possible in your ideal work environment during your most productive time of day.
Step 2: Embrace the “80/20 Rule.”
As mentioned above, you need to focus on the most important tasks during your peak times. Before we go further, it’s important to define what is meant by “most important” tasks.
One of the best ways to do this is to follow the 80/20 principle. This is a principle that was initially observed by Vilfredo Pareto (and thus is also commonly referred to as the Pareto Principle). Pareto said you get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your efforts. This means that the bulk of your success comes from only a handful of the tasks you do.
To have the best results, you need to first identify your 80/20 tasks. When it comes to running a business, these tasks are the ones that impact your bottom line—your paycheck. They are the items that generate income for your business.
This is going to be different for everyone, so don’t let others define your 80/20 tasks for you. Other people often have an agenda that may not match up with yours. If you let them dictate your focus, you might end up derailing your productivity.
Step 3: Delegate, eliminate and learn to say “no.”
As an entrepreneur, you may be tempted to do everything on your own. After all, for most of us, there are limits to how much we can afford to spend on hiring help. But hiring help, especially in the areas where you aren’t the most gifted, can free you up to focus on “sweet spot” activities—the tasks that energize you and that no one else can do quite like you.
There may be some tasks you can’t delegate (either because you don’t have the budget or can’t find a qualified person). If that’s the case, then it’s important to determine whether or not that task really needs to be done. If not, then eliminate it.
It’s also important to learn to say no when a request is made or an “opportunity” is presented to you that doesn’t fit with what you know is best for you. Saying no can be difficult, especially if you’re a people pleaser, but it’s essential if you want to stay in your sweet spot.
Step 4: Focus on one thing.
The 80/20 principle is a great place to start, but it can be helpful to dig even deeper. When it comes to running a successful business, you need to determine the “one thing” that is your most important activity. This activity should be the primary focus of your workday.
The book The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan is a great example of the power of a single activity. It’s based on the premise that your best results come from a consistent effort on a single activity.
For Steve, that one thing is writing more books. He doesn’t consider himself a natural writer, but over the last two years he has determined that writing is the most important thing he needs to do on a daily basis.
As a result, Steve writes an average of 2,000 words per day. Because of his focus on writing, he has published more than 40 Kindle books and built an entire business around the Kindle platform. His success with Kindle wouldn’t have happened if, instead of making a point of writing each day, he started the day by answering emails or focusing on activities that other people deem to be most important.
Step 5: Take back your work time.
If you’re still working a day job, your boss might define your priority tasks for you. In that situation, you need to do what others (e.g., supervisors) have deemed most important.
However, you may be able to approach your boss with a detailed plan regarding your most important tasks. If you explain how spending time on these tasks can actually increase your productivity and improve the company’s bottom line, you may be given a little more freedom to set your own priorities.
For instance, when Rebecca was still working a day job, she found it difficult to get things done because of frequent interruptions that occurred throughout the day. She knew she could get more done if she had some alone time, but at the same time, people depended on her being at her desk.
She proposed the following solution to both her immediate supervisor and her company’s HR director:
There were some offices in the building where she worked that were not being used. They were located in an out-of-the-way place, on a wing where people didn’t go too often. Rebecca’s proposal was that she be allowed to work on her most important tasks one day per week in a “secret” office that only her boss, the few coworkers in her department and the HR director knew about. She knew that having limited (but concentrated) amounts of alone time to focus on the most important things would make her more productive, which would benefit the company.
Since those who needed her most (e.g., her boss and direct coworkers) knew where she was and how to reach her, and since this work arrangement still kept her at her own desk a great deal of the time, her proposal was a success.
Here is a simple action plan for maximizing your productive “sweet spot.”
Identify your periods of peak productivity. Spend a week writing down the times of day when you feel most energized and productive. If you’re unsure, think back to the days when you got the most done and note when that work was accomplished.
Identify your “one thing.” Examine your business closely to determine the #1 activity that produces the biggest results. It could be making sales calls, consulting with clients, writing or creating high-leverage content. Whatever drives your business forward is your one thing.
Create a schedule around that one thing.
First, focus on completing the most important thing during your ideal work time, when you’re at a peak level of energy. For some, this will be first thing in the morning. For others, it will be late at night when everyone else is asleep. The key here is to spend your peak time on the one activity that’s critical for the success of your business.
Next, use the rest of your workday to complete other tasks that produce the best results for your business. Work on the 80 percent (less important) tasks later in the day. If you don’t have enough time at the end of the day, then you know you’ve only missed out on activities that aren’t critical to your success.
Start the day with an important question. Ask yourself, “What’s the one thing I need to do today to consider this day to be a success?”
Most likely, it will be the activity you’ve chosen as the “one thing.” But on occasion, there may be a different task that is more urgent. Regardless of what it is, be intentional about getting that one thing done so you can end the day with a feeling of accomplishment.
Maximize and Maintain Your Productivity
Entrepreneurship is exciting, but it can also be stressful, frustrating and overwhelming. But habitually focusing on doing things that work for you and your business gives you a great advantage. Use these action points to help you stay productive.
To learn more about how you can build good habits and businesses hand in hand, check out my book The Daily Entrepreneur: 33 Success Habits for Small Business Owners, Freelancers and Aspiring 9-to-5 Escape Artists.