I’ve read that some productivity experts want you to move through tasks as quickly as possible, empty your email inbox every day and experience some kind of Zen-like, work-life balance.

I often wonder if these advisors have ever worked one on one with a real entrepreneur. I have, and I do. If these advisors and consultants followed one of these people through they day, I think they’d be shocked by what they saw.

Lightbulb

In the past month alone, I’ve met with entrepreneurs in four countries, in several different businesses, and here are three specific examples of that I see whenever I work with someone who is “really, really busy.”

One client had been “stuck” trying to solve a customer issue for more than 72 hours. Another client had over 83,000 emails in his inbox. And, a third called both workplaces in California and New York his “home office.” For most entrepreneurs, these kinds of examples make up a “normal” day; what will help them become more productive, really?

 

Are you overwhelmed? Do you have too much to do? Is there not enough time in the day to get it all done? GOOD! Now, you must prioritize. In fact, the more you have to do…The better. Once you’re stuck (or behind, or stressed-out, or…) there are three things you can do to “move the mission forward.” It’s time to stop wishing it were different. Take action, get unstuck and boost your productivity.

Redefine Your (Soon to Be) Reality
Have you “seen” it yet? The outcome, that is. It’s often easy to see the problem, to identify what’s getting in the way. The real job (and talent) of an entrepreneur is to identify the solution; or, perhaps even more important than that is the ability successful entrepreneurs to see what life will look like when their product and/or service has fixed the problem people have.

Take time today, and write down – on a flip chart, whiteboard or piece of paper – the single biggest challenge you’re facing. Then, set a timer for just 15 minutes (that’s only 1% of your day, today) and brainstorm what things would look like if that problem were solved. Go so far as to write an actual quote from the customer/client/vendor you could receive. Redefine – and refine – the soon to be reality so that you have a clear idea of what to move toward (and, a good idea of what to ignore…)

Triage the Incoming Email
It’s right there, and it’s only getting closer. With push notifications, a 24/7 business environment, and our natural tendency to identify what’s undone, processing and managing your email better will give you 15 to 30 more productive minutes in a day. Of course, you could “stay on top of your email,” achieving inbox zero regularly. For those getting more than 100 emails a day, however, I offer the following tactics:

Wait another 15 minutes: The next time you’re “tempted” to just check your inbox, set a countdown timer for just 15 minutes. In that time, focus on a project you’re working on or a situation you’re handling. If you thought of going to email to SEND one, use a voice-controlled reminding system (Siri) or a simple sticky note/note pad to jot a reminder to look at when the 15 minutes is up.

Time Blocking and Prioritizing from Jason Womack on Vimeo.

Triage your email: Yes, No, Maybe Later

When you DO check your inbox, open a message (double-click, so your just looking at that one) and ask, “Do I need to take action here?” If the answer is yes, start on it. If you can reply with a short note, do it. If you can reply with a customized signature, do it. If you can copy something from another document/site, do it (and, consider making that in to a signature/auto text all it’s own).

If the answer is no, tag the email or drag it to a folder called “Reference.” The way search is working (whether in Apple Mail, Microsoft Outlook, or gMail), you’ll be able to pull up emails you’ve saved by topic, keyword, date and/or sender. (Remember my client who had +80,000 emails? That’s how he does it.)

If it’s “Maybe Later,” I suggest you try the following experiments:
1. If you’re going to reply, click the button to write the person back AND THEN save that email as a draft. Don’t finish it right then, actually move the email in to your drafts folder. At the end of this process, you’ll get to go to the drafts folder and work directly from that inventory. (All the while, new email is filling up your inbox; it’s not distracting to you as you work FROM the inbox.)
2. If it’s an action – you need to call someone, review something, go somewhere – go ahead and add that to your ongoing inventory of “to-dos.”

Think When You Do, Relax When and Where You Can
“I am at my best when…” This is a great process to go through, perhaps every 8-12 months. Take out a piece of paper and a pen and actually write down the 10-20 things that could happen during a day to get you super-engaged, motivated to produce and sure that what you’re doing is making a difference.

During each day, you’ll be “surprised” with open blocks of time; 10 minutes here, 30 minutes there. In both my digital (Evernote) and paper (Moleskine) systems, I’ve “pre-populated” sections with topics that I need to or want to do deeper thinking about “when I have the time.” In the past week, I calculated that I “found” 80+ minutes where I could add ideas to:
– An article I was writing (this one!)
– A contract to submit to a client
– A birthday book (made in iPhoto) for my sister
– Our winter vacation plans to Lake Tahoe, CA

Being productive is one of the more subjective measurements of assessing a day or week of work. Getting – and admitting you’re there! – stuck is perhaps one of the best things that can happen for your ability to work on the important projects and tasks. For once you’re stuck, you can work on getting unstuck. Pick something significant and apply any one of the three ideas from this short article to experience a more productive day.