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How to work less and achieve more

I’ve been traveling again, and as usual when the schedule becomes tight, time for certain things flies out of the window and we find ourselves having to make decisions about what we really need to do and what can be set aside for a few extra days — until we get our breath back or our feet on the ground and covered by Wi-Fi again.

The fine art of making intelligent workflows

When our time is tight, we learn to prioritize, and there’s no skill more valuable than that when it comes to running a business or simply getting our projects done. Setting the right priorities is the one thing that will determine the outcome of our work — or rather, the way we will look and feel when we get to the end of it. “Is there ever an end to it?” I hear you wonder. Yes, every project has a beginning, a middle and an end, and although it may morph into something else, its end will merely mark the beginning of another phase, so bear with me.

The key to smart work is to create a workflow

The key to smart work is to create a workflow with all the necessary steps and then being organized enough to carry it out without a glitch. Easy to say, not to easy to carry out, wouldn’t you agree? I can see a lot of nodding going on here, so let’s move into the nitty-gritty details of what makes a workflow feasible and how to stick to it in the best possible way.

First of all, choose a favorite font and print out a big piece of paper that says “Perfectionism will kill you.” Stick it over your desk and gaze upon it religiously multiple times a day until it becomes part of your consciousness. Believe it, it’s true.

It’s got nothing to do with allowing shoddy work or not doing your best. Perfectionism stems from insecurity and fear and self-sabotage, and if you find yourself continually tweaking your work and never able to let it go and call it done, you need to take a long hard look at the underlying causes. There comes a point when the work is done and it’s good enough, or as good as it will ever get. Learn to realize when you’re striving for excellence and when it’s simply your perfectionism rearing its ugly head…and chop it off like a samurai.

It’s your Banzai moment, so relish it

Next, make a plan. List the steps you need to work through in order to finish the project and — here’s the trick — put a time next to every step. Divide it into blocks of 30, 60, 90 minutes. Some things may only take 10 or 15 minutes, so make sure you set a time on those as well. If in doubt, double the time you’re estimating — we’re all incredibly good at underestimating the time it takes to complete a task.

Then look at your plan and highlight the most important steps, the ones that are absolutely essential to it. Every project has core steps and side steps, and most importantly, steps that could be delegated, or simplified, or skipped altogether if necessary. Group activities together when possible, and minimize the steps allotted to secondary tasks.

Progress, not perfection

At this stage, you’re ready to start: Set aside a block of time each day to work on it. On some days it may only be 30 minutes, on others, it could be hours. It doesn’t matter as long as you keep it moving forward, a little or a lot, and make progress. “Progress, not perfection” is the order of the day now.

Two weeks in, and you will not believe how fast you’re breezing through this. Don’t worry if you fall behind at times, you’re still learning how to set times to tasks. You’ll also be surprised at how quickly you’ll get some things done that you thought would take forever, so in the end things should even out.

Of course, you can create workflows for individual projects, and also for repetitive actions — from managing clients’ inquiries to sales and ordering processes, or marketing campaigns and blog posting. Every aspect of your business can be scheduled into a workflow, and multiple workflows can be running alongside each other on any given day, according to what needs to happen this week or this month. Print them out, use post-its and stickers to make them visual, and you have made yourself a game to play. “Make it fun, and it will get done.” Oh wait…print this one out as well!

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