Stop Working 80 Hours A Week!

Are you really productive or just busy? Find focus in 4 easy steps

Written by Chandra Clarke

As a businesswoman who also has very young children, I’m often asked how I find the time to “do it all.”

I can attribute much of my success to things I am blessed with, such as a rock-solid life and business partner, a keen work ethic and a fabulous local supply of high-quality coffee to keep me alert. But none of these things would help much without something I’ve worked very hard to cultivate: focus.

Everyone knows that focus is important for entrepreneurial success. However, not everyone realizes it’s also critical for that elusive sense of work/life balance. If you’re past the first year of your business and still putting in 60 to 80 hours a week or more, you’re doing it wrong. It’s time to reassess.

How can you bring things into focus? Follow these four steps:

Step 1: Ask yourself: What’s important?

When you run a business, it’s very easy to get caught up in operations and lose days at a stretch to fielding phone calls, answering emails and attending meetings. You drag yourself home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and stressed; but worse than that, you feel as though you haven’t accomplished anything. And you would be right—you’re being busy, not productive.

Unplug the phone, shut down the email and close your door. Tell the rest of the world it can wait—and mean it!

Then, take some time to identify the big things that need your attention: those projects that will really accelerate the growth of your business or that will fix some recurring problem that has been chewing up your time.

Step 2: Identify what’s important right now

Once you’ve made your list of truly important projects or tasks, it’s time to decide what should be done right away. This may be trickier than it sounds because in most businesses, there are always a dozen things that could be done to really shake things up.

Some of these might have emotional baggage attached too. There will be some projects you want to put off because they might involve conflict or unpleasantness, or just tedium, while others will be more appealing because they’re interesting or have revenue-boosting potential.

The key here is to be as objective as possible and to do a cost-benefit analysis for each project. You may find that a cold look at these projects surprises you, in that something you thought was going to be onerous really isn’t or that something you thought was minor could have a substantial impact on your bottom line.

Once you’ve truly examined everything, you can pick something to focus on and get it done. If you need to build up a bit of confidence or momentum, go ahead and do one of the “quick wins” first—those tasks that require little effort but give you a sense of victory. Avoid doing too many of these in a row, though, because that becomes a way to put off doing the big stuff and quickly devolves into busywork again.

Step 3: Review your motivations

How much of your day is taken up with doing things because they are expected of you or because everyone else is doing them?

Societal conventions have their place. They provide convenient rules for people to interact with each other, and they relieve us of the burden of having to make a lot of conscious decisions. But they can also be a hindrance if we never pause to critically review them.

For example, have you devoted staff time and resources to having your company on Twitter just because it’s a popular service and you feel you “should” be there? Are you getting any measurable value from it? If not, you need to either find a way of deriving value from it or stop doing it.

Likewise, on the home front, you need to seriously consider where you devote your time and why. Maybe you’re killing yourself maintaining a huge flower garden because you feel the neighbours expect it of you. Perhaps you’re shuttling the kids to half a dozen classes a week simply because it’s what’s done these days. Again, you need to reassess your activities.

The flip side to considering what’s important to society is figuring out what truly matters to you.

At the office, for instance, you might decide that 100% consensus on a decision is less important than getting to a majority decision quickly so you can execute it. At home, you might realize that your book pile, or even a decent night’s sleep, is more important than the latest episode of Law & Order: SVU.

Step 4: Stop trying to do it all

As you can see, the answer to the question “how do I do it all” is . . . I don’t. In both my business and personal life, I try to consciously consider everything I do and either drop or delegate whatever isn’t in line with my goals. As a result, I’m reaching my goals faster and, crucially, staying sane and healthy.

Chandra Clarke is the president of Scribendi.com, an award-winning, ISO-certified company that provides document-revision services to corporations and SMEs around the world. She blogs about the issues particular to female entrepreneurs at NeverPink.com.

More columns by Chandra Clarke

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com