On any given day, how many hours would you guess you spend working on your business? And on any day, how many hours do you actually spend moving your business forward?
Perhaps your first instinct is to say the same number twice, but that’s likely not the case. If you are like most people, those two numbers are likely far apart -- though we all rarely like to admit it.
As the famed Pareto principle (a.k.a. the 80/20 rule) states, 20 percent of what you do actually accounts for 80 percent of the results you get. Thus, the bulk of tasks you work on each day are probably not helping you. Most of your company’s growth is found in just a few vital tasks that you, and only you, can do.
In fact, while certain tasks you do (the 80 percent) might feel important, they might actually be hurting you because they take you away from those (the 20 percent) that truly matter.
I’m not talking about the obvious distractions of Facebook, cat videos, and office gossip here. I’m talking about things that feel like work but ultimately hold you back from true work.
Since diagnosis is the first step in recovery, below I’ve identified three common business tasks that you and I are both guilty of spending far too much time on each day, rather than working on the tasks that ultimately matter.
1. Checking email
Let’s start with the obvious one: email. According to the Washington Post, Americans spend upwards of 28 percent of their time each week on email. For those out there doing the math in your head, let me help: That’s 11 hours per week and over 500 hours per year.
Now, of course, email is important. But, is it "28-percent-of-your-life” important? Of course not. The 80/20 rule applies to email as well; 20 percent of your email likely accounts for 80 percent of the benefit email offers.
So, how can you cut down the time spent on email? I’m sure thousands of blog posts have been dedicated to this topic, but these three tips work well for me:
- Unsubscribe from every newsletter you get except for the absolutely vital ones.
- Check email only at defined times. If someone has an emergency that can’t wait four hours, he or she will call.
- Set up canned responses in Gmail for things that you say often. I also currently use a Chrome plugin called “Auto Text Expander,” where I set up short codes (like @bio), which will automatically replace my short code with a longer sentence or paragraph.
2. Reading industry blog posts
I love to read, and I especially love to read blog posts related to my favorite industries (real estate investing, marketing, startups, etc.). Blog posts are free, numerous, addicting and incredibly helpful.
Of course, I wouldn’t suggest that people stop reading blog posts related to their industry. As President Harry Truman famously said, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” So, if you want to succeed, you have to read.
However, reading does have one major downside: It takes time. And that's time not spent working on your business.
If you are anything like me, reading blog posts becomes the passive activity I turn to when I don’t want to do something else (which is likely more important). In fact, the primary task I set for myself today was to write this blog post -- but I spent almost an hour reading random blog posts first. The funny thing? I don’t even remember a single thing I read!
The easiest way to solve this problem of reading instead of working on your most important tasks is to corral your reading time into a specific place and time. Bookmark any blog posts that you come across during the day that you are tempted to read. Use an app like Pocket to manage this. Then, read posts only after you have finished your most important task(s) for the day. Use the blog reading time as a reward, not a distraction.
Blog posts can certainly help move your business forward, but if you don’t carefully govern how and when you consume them, they might ultimately hold you back.
Ideas are great. After all, it was likely a killer good idea that made you an entrepreneur in the first place. However, remember this: Ideas are easy; work is hard.
I’m sure we could sit down right now and brainstorm a hundred good ideas, and most of them would likely work out just fine. They might all be “million dollar ideas.” Good for us.
But, in the time spent brainstorming those ideas, what work is not being done? What projects are 50 percent complete that you are just sitting on? What phone calls do you need to make but you are holding off from because of the brainstorming? What hard choice are you refusing to make because brainstorming is more fun?
Brainstorming has a place in business, but like blog posts, it must be controlled. When new ideas pop into your head, record them in Evernote or another note-taking program. That way, you can discuss them at another time (rather than interrupt your team right now).
Then, schedule time in your calendar for “brainstorming sessions” if you need them. But before you do, ask yourself, “Do we really need to brainstorm more ideas, or do we simply need to work on the ideas we already have?”
The above three tasks are super important for the growth of your business, but they likely are not contributing to what you need to do now.
So, set boundaries on your email, your blog reading and your brainstorming, and use them sparingly so you have the most time possible to actually do the work that matters.