I’m not going to lie, when it comes to my day to day life, I’m not a perfectionist.
If I was, my keynote presentations might be crisper, my typeface prettier, but I wouldn’t be able to push it forward and stay ahead of the competition. In the “move quickly and break things” mentality of the startup area, the real key to success is knowing when you’ve done a sufficient job with projects, tasks, and everything the work day throws at you. The Minimum Viable Product, as Eric Reis says. When you learn to recognize when you’re done with projects, big and small, you’ll immediately find that you have a lot more energy and focus to redirect toward the things that matter most; that could be new business, it could be your health, it could be a relationship. You get to choose. Sounds great, but how do you do that? Here are some ways to terminate the tasks that monopolize too much of your time.
Eliminate low-leverage tasks
Start your work day by assessing the workload and priorities in front of you. Think about what your high-leverage activities are and what your low payoff activities are. Once you’ve identified the low leverage activities, try and move through them as quickly as possible. If you start to notice that some activities pop up every day, spend some time trying to find out if you can build a template or create an automated way to streamline the process. When you can accomplish these minor tasks more efficiently, you’ll have the time you need to have more time to inch closer to perfection while working on those important, high leverage tasks.
Don’t overwrite emails
People like headlines, but they hate lengthy emails. Get to the point quickly and use action verbs in subject lines so that both you and the recipient know what needs to happen before the email is even opened. Long-winded emails not only waste the time it takes you to write time — the person receiving the email doesn’t want to spend half their morning reading it. This problem is especially bad when employees send their bosses LONG recaps of meetings or client interactions. I can tell you first hand that managers and founders do not look forward to these emails. They just want to know if everything is “on track” or if the client is content.
Know when to hang up
Have you ever been in a meeting wondering “why in the hell are talking about Fantasy Football?” (Total self-disclosure here…I don’t get it!) Sometimes these conversations are unavoidable, but make sure you that you and your team are planning your meetings based off how much time you need to address the topic. For example, If you only need 30 minutes to talk about your marketing efforts, don’t error on the safe side and schedule an hour — if you’ve planned for an hour, it will take an hour – so said Parkinson way back when!
Set and reassess deadlines
Let’s get one thing straight: everyone falls behind at some point. Sometimes it’s because people set unrealistic deadlines, but even when you have a great game plan in place, things don’t always come out on time. Distractions like last second meetings pop up all the time. Having a self-imposed deadline will help you ignore those distractions. If a colleague calls you about a non-urgent task, you can let him know you’ve got a 3:00 p.m. deadline that you have to meet. There’s no need for him to know that it’s self-imposed. If you’re really swamped, take a look at your looming deadlines and see which (if any) can be reset. But remember, keep your clients in the loop. You’ll be surprised by how flexible many clients are willing to be, as long as you are honest and keep them well informed.
Know when it’s time to ask for help
Sometimes knowing when you’re done is knowing when you, specifically, can’t take a project any further. You simply might not have the right expertise (or even the interest) to completely finish a certain project, and that’s okay. Wasting time on something you’re never going to be able to figure out is much worse than asking for help.
If you are looking for more work management techniques, check out my free, live course called Think Bigger, Make More on creativeLIVE October 15-16