One Simple Change that Doubled My Productivity (and Happiness)

In business and life, there is a lot to do. As an entrepreneur and small business owner, it seems like the list never ends.

For us here at SimplePractice, it’s about managing multiple complex projects in parallel. We’re arguably the fastest growing mental health software company and one of the reasons for that is how efficiently we are able to build out our product – especially when many of our competitors have been around for years and haven’t spent much time really innovating.

Doing what we do takes a very coordinated and disciplined effort among our growing team. Being the CEO means that I have to juggle quite a bit as I have input into every aspect of the company – from product design to managing our finances. It’s a lot and gets overwhelming sometimes.

In addition to all the demands of work, I’ve got two teenage kids, a wife who is a busy physician, two cats and a new dog. Between work, carpools, shopping, cooking, and helping with homework, there’s a LOT on my plate, every day.

There have been times when I was so overwhelmed and struggled to stay organized and get things done.

This happened recently and then I remembered something that helped me years ago that changed everything and got me back on track. I think this is something that others can benefit from as well and wanted to share it in this post.

A simple reframe changed it all.

An encounter at the annual ACA conference in Orlando last week where someone came by our exhibitor booth to look at SimplePractice. I asked if I could answer any questions and she asked me how much SimplePractice costs. After I told her, she said her practice is too small right now to take on the expense of a practice management system.

I hear this often so I asked her some questions about the size of her practice and her income. I am just always so curious at how people place value on things and how they classify costs.

If you do this, it will change everything.

I’m going to present a distilled version of the basic elements from this plan so you can start doing things NOW to make big changes in your ability to get things done.

First, let’s look at some of the pitfalls associated with how many of us usually plan…

The weakness of real-time planning.

Most people do the majority of their planning in ‘real time’. We keep a list of things in our head, or on a to-do list, and just go through it and attend to what seems most important at the time. It is usually work that has to be done immediately or very soon.

The problem with operating this way is that your life becomes about attending to things in the near term and longer term projects rarely get done and you are living in a constant reactive state.

This not only creates a lot of extra stress, it also ends up interfering with other things you may already have scheduled and you end up canceling or rescheduling appointments and activities in order to get something done.

Let’s take a closer look at what contributes to this.

People Work and Project Work.

There are basically two types of work – work related to people, such as

  • meetings
  • social events
  • phone calls

and work related to projects, like

  • research
  • writing blog posts
  • planning trips

The reality is that almost all of us only schedule time in our calendar for People work and this is why that is a problem.

Living in residual time.

When we schedule only people-related work and events in our calendar we start to block that time off from other things and then when we need to get certain projects done, the only time left is whatever residual time is available.

We have a tendency to say ‘yes’ to other’s requests for our time and time ahead gets allocated to ‘people work’.

By doing this we end up creating a time structure in our future that will become the framework within which we will have to live – we are basically filling up our future with commitments based not on a priority of importance but on the basis of whether time is available or not.

Who is controlling your time?

Someone requests a meeting in a couple weeks on Tuesday at 10am and I look at my calendar and see that I’m ‘free’, so I put that meeting in my calendar. I get another request for 2pm that day, again, nothing is scheduled, so I put that in too.

Over time, my calendar fills up with future commitments.

Here is where the conflict arises. See this meeting on Wednesday:

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This is a weekly SimplePractice meeting every Wednesday at 10am with my production team. For this meeting, we all need to be prepared to discuss specific things and we’re each responsible for specific deliverables.

What usually happened in the past is that at 9:50 am on Wednesdays, I would rush to put together things for the meeting. So I was basically totally unprepared for this important weekly meeting and I was essentially wasting my time and everyone else’s. If I expected others to be prepared, then I better lead by example.

The problem was that I was not allocating project-related time during the previous 7 days to make sure that by the time the Wednesday 10am meeting rolled around that I would be prepared.

You control your time.

The exciting thing is that all this is easily fixed.

Let’s assume that on any day in the future you will need time to do some project work. You don’t need to know what your project work will be ahead of time, but if you had time reserved in the future for this work, then you won’t have to juggle other plans in order to accomplish things.

If you can reserve time either every day, or throughout the week – it really depends on how much work and projects you have – then you will be creating a structure in the future where you will be able to attend to planned things that require a deliverable – like my weekly production meetings. Or if things come up that need your attention, you will have time set aside already.

What this simple thing does is that now when someone calls and asks for a meeting, you can look at a calendar that more accurately represents the reality of your availability.

 

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So you find a time on your schedule that works for you and it does not interfere with your important work.


Congratulations, you’ve just taken back control of your time.

I realize this is not some revolutionary idea – but I would wager that 95% (or more) people out there do not do this.

Look at your calendar now and see how much time you have blocked off for your important project-related work. Be honest.

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What’s important?

So now that you’ve blocked off time in your calendar for project work, you can begin to look at the things you need/want to do.

For example, there are projects like doing taxes that require dedicated time to get things together and fill out all the necessary forms. For the tax project you can allocate specific blocks of the project time you’ve blocked off.

There may be things like exercise, or driving carpool you can allocate specific time for.

 

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The more of these things you can actually schedule on your calendar the more mental freedom you are going to have for other things because you now have a very clear understanding of your time.

It’s similar to the difference between keeping track of your finances and bank balances in your head, or creating budget and tracking things so you know exactly where you are. When you do this you can make better decisions about what to spend your money on.

If you want it done, schedule it!

Bottom line is that if you don’t make time for things, it’s likely that they won’t get done. This is especially true for longer-term things like writing that book, or learning to play an instrument, etc… Don’t let another year go by where you haven’t done the things you set out to do in January….schedule time for them.

I know many of you have very structured schedules with seeing clients and patients and that’s great – you are already used to that focused structure – the key will be finding the time to do your important work and this will depend on how you schedule your clients/patients.

Planning Time.

The reality is that things change – emergencies or other important unforeseen events may come up and you need to have some flexibility to deal with them. This is why it’s important that at the beginning and/or end of every day, you take 5-10 minutes to review your schedule.

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This is where you can make any adjustments. This planning time is critical as it helps keep you actively engaged with the process. Schedule it.

Temptation – just this once.

It’s easy to view your scheduled project time as something you can move, but don’t.

I’m telling you from my experience that as soon as you start to do this, everything can unravel. You have to honor that time and not schedule something else in its place – you will be tested and it takes discipline.

Go off the grid.

During your project work time, minimize your chances of being interrupted. This should be focused time dedicated to working on your important work.

If you are someone that likes to constantly check email or facebook, then do yourself a favor and schedule specific blocks of time throughout your day for things like checking email and reading the news, or whatever. Email leads to the internet, which leads to a half hour wasted reading the same news headlines. You have important things to do so don’t let these distractions derail you.

Oh, and don’t forget to schedule 10 minutes every week to read our blog!

 

Just try it.

I invite you to try this for at least three weeks – research shows that it takes at least 21 days to develop a new habit, so get started now and take control of your time. After all, time is your most precious resource, and it’s finite.

In the comments section below, tell us some ways you control your time and get things done.

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See you next week!

 

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