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08 Jul

How to Prioritize Your Work Day

Posted On: July 08, 2014 | Category: Establish Clarity, Office Life, Small Business Management

How to prioritize your work dayLet me start off with a question: What did you get done yesterday? Was it important? A few of you might have a list of excuses; some of you may be scratching your heads. A good number of you might be working really hard, but you’re putting out too many fires during the day to even think about what you should be doing.

We get it. We fall victim to the overly full schedule, too. Sometimes, client communication and meetings get in the middle of our actual work and we find ourselves saying (usually in a Skype conference), “We have got to get ourselves together!”

But there’s a way to keep yourself from getting bogged down with all those trivial tasks that keep you from your more important work. Using time logs, Asana (our favorite!), and a few other tricks, you can learn how to prioritize your work day and get more done.

 

Identify the Problem

Like any mechanic, you have to troubleshoot before you can fix anything. If you happen to know exactly what’s preventing you from being productive, great! But maybe you just have a general sense that something’s not “working” in your work day. You’re exhausted from spinning your wheels, but you can’t really point to anything at the end of the day and say “That’s what I did with my time!”

Using a time log like this one can help identify how you’re spending your time. (Don’t worry, you only have to do this for a day or two.) The concept is simple: you simply stop every half-hour (set an alarm on your phone or computer) and log your activity for that block of time. At the end of the day, you assign a priority level to each task.

The idea is to find out how much of your day was spent doing unimportant or non-urgent tasks so you can refocus your energy to more pressing concerns. You might find that simply writing down your activities makes you more focused (much like the simple act of keeping a food log makes you more likely to choose healthier foods). But how do you choose whether “updating company website” is more or less important than “plan marketing event”?

 

Evaluate Your Priorities

When you’re in the middle of a maelstrom of tasks to complete, everything seems urgent. That’s why it’s important to evaluate your priorities beforehand. Here at Clarity, we think work flows best when your priorities work in this order:

1. Your Business

Believe us, we’re not saying “put yourself first” because we want you to be selfish. Exactly the opposite: taking care of the foundation of your business will keep your customers happy (and coming back). So make sure you write a strong business plan, get a functioning website, and get your storefront up and running, BEFORE you open your doors and expect to make money.

And as your business grows, don’t neglect necessary updates and procedural changes because you’re “too busy” helping clients. No business works with a “set it and forget it” mentality. Maintaining and improving your service or product is the best way to a strong business.

2. Current Customers

Always, always, always focus on current clients before you try to attract new ones! It is so hard to get someone to walk through the door or pick up the phone, let alone become loyal to you. It’s also so easy for them to leave if you drop the ball. Think of your current, loyal customers and clients as people you’ve made promises to. Because that’s what all of your marketing is, isn’t it? A promise to deliver a certain product, service, or emotion. Don’t go back on your word.

Besides, their word-of-mouth is your best advertising. If you dropped the ball as soon as you thought you had them “hooked,” they’ll let everyone know.

3. New Business

Looking for new business takes the most time and effort, which is why you should focus on it last. You can easily spend your entire day plotting out marketing strategies, developing ad campaigns, and working on a social media contest…and have no time leftover for anything else.

In our experience, word-of-mouth seems to be the best form of advertising, anyway. You can either throw money at an advertising budget, or use that money to refuel your business. The customers who love you will spread the word for you.

 

Take Things Off Your Plate

So you’ve prioritized your schedule and identified the tasks that are throwing you for a loop. But what happens if you still have too much on your plate?

Chances are, you have plenty of tasks on your to-do list that can be delegated to other members of your staff or even a third party professional. Some of these tasks are urgent and important, but that doesn’t mean you have to do all the heavy lifting.

Entrepreneurial blogger/podcaster Chris Ducker has developed the 3 Lists to Freedom to help you determine which things you should be putting on someone else’s plate. To come up with your own Lists, separate your own To-do list into these three categories:

  • Things You Don’t Like To Do
  • Things You Can’t Do
  • Things You Shouldn’t Be Doing

For instance, if you hate planning the schedule for your staff, assign that task to a manager. Can’t seem to get the hang of building your own website? That’s something you should hire out to someone who knows what they’re doing. (Raises hand.)

All those other tasks that you keep doing—like landscaping your storefront—may be things you are able to do or don’t mind doing, but would free up a lot of time if you could pawn them off on someone else. These are things you shouldn’t be doing. We’ve spoken before on the dangers of “DIY”-ing your whole business. Don’t let time get away from you because you’re too stubborn or nit-picky to let someone else take the reins.

 

Create a Routine

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what you need to do. Now, you need to figure out how to execute it. It’s time to set your routine.

Wait, hey, put down the pitchforks! I’m not talking about a military schedule or anything. In fact, I think routines work best when they’re not super strict, but rather a basic framework from which to plan out your days.

Everyone’s routine will be different and there’s no “perfect formula” that works for everyone. But these are some tips that should help you.

  • Start every day strong. You might want to start with your most hated task first, to get it out of the way. Or you like to check your email first, so you get caught up on office news before you start any projects. Whatever it is, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success from the first minute of the day.
  • Schedule “free time” to plan for projects that take longer than expected or things that pop up unexpectedly during the day. It can be tempting to be “super productive” and schedule out every free hour of your time. But you know who else does that? Doctors. And by the time you show up for your 4:30 appointment, how long is your wait? All those extra minutes during the day add up, so plan for the overflow and don’t stretch yourself too thin.
  • Prioritize your work day schedule. Pay attention to the times you are most productive, and use those times for your “high priority” work. If you know you’re so not a morning person, do all of your most important work in the afternoon,  when your brain is firing on all cylinders.
  • Remember that your time is valuable. If a client wants to meet up for lunch to ask your opinion on something—but you already set that time aside for something else—suggest another time or offer to shoot them an email later in the day. Rearranging your schedule to accommodate unimportant, non-urgent things only makes you more frustrated and less productive (your business comes first, remember?). You’re a busy person; your clients will understand.
  • Don’t forget to schedule the “little things.” The definition of “little thing” varies from person to person, but basically, these are the things that you often forget to do during the day because you don’t think they are important enough to write down. But just to be clear, if it’s important enough to do, it’s important enough to write down. I was always forgetting to check our company’s Facebook and Pinterest pages (which I run) and my RSS reader (which I use to keep updated on the latest business news). Making time in my schedule  ensures that I don’t forget to do them.
  • Give yourself some flexibility. There will always be days when you have to schedule a business meeting during a time you usually set aside for doing your most important work. (There will also be those days when you just feel like escaping to Disney for a half-day instead of answering the phone.) Give yourself permission to switch up your routine due to special circumstances or even boredom. And if your routine stops working for you, switch it up again.

Just to give you an example of the type of routine I’m talking about, here’s the routine I came up with for myself:

  • Wake up/tea/breakfast (One of my rules is: Always, always make time for tea.)
  • Straighten up house (I work from home) or Work out
  • Make to-do list for the day (everything from “write blog post” to “clean the sink”)
  • Shower/get dressed
  • Do (house) chores
  • Check company Facebook/Pinterest pages
  • Check Digg Reader (and share helpful articles on Facebook)
  • Check email
  • Work on Asana tasks
  • Write!
  • Check Facebook again (I like to visit social media sites multiple times during the day)
  • Do errands outside the house (grocery shopping, bank, etc.)
  • Complete the rest of my to-do list (anything I didn’t get to in the morning)
  • Free time! (Reading, Netflix [I'm really into Luther right now], computer games, whatever strikes my fancy)
  • Start dinner

You’ll notice my schedule is more of a basic framework rather than a list of specific tasks that need to be checked off during the day. I don’t always need to do house chores and I sometimes have appointments that fall right in the middle of “work time.” But having a schedule in black and white helps keep me accountable at the end of the day.

 

Coordinate and Organize

You’ve heard me mention before how great Asana is for keeping your team on-track. This (free!) time management system is all about the productivity: you can create and assign tasks, set due dates, coordinate schedules, you name it. But, like any tool, you have to use it properly if you want to get the best out of it.

If you’ve been using Asana (and you really should be), here are some tips that should make it a bit easier for you:

  • Assign tasks and set due dates wisely. For this, you have to know yourself (and your team) pretty well. One person might work best when she knows exactly when a project is due. Someone else might work best when you only give them a week. And make sure each task is assigned to the right person for the job.
  • Use “Calendar” and “Team Calendar” modes to prevent overwhelming schedules. The Calendar function lets you see how every task is spread across the calendar. So you’ll instantly see if you’ve scheduled 19 tasks for Monday morning but left your Friday completely empty. (Spread those shenanigans out!)
  • Check your inbox regularly for updates and discussions. Clarity works best when we foster a lot of discussion and collaboration. So, even if one of us isn’t assigned to do a particular task, we like to “follow” pretty much everything. However, these won’t show up in your “Tasks” section. Check your Inbox to see what else is going on.
  • Re-assign tasks promptly if you’ve completed your portion of it. I know it’s tempting to hit that check box, but here’s a secret: no one but you knows that you’ve completed something. If you’re completing a project for someone else, reassign it to them with a note saying that you’ve done it and now their portion of the work can start.
  • Use the color code feature to designate priority level, project type, etc. and help keep multiple projects organized. The good thing about this is that the colors you select for each project only show up on your computer, so everyone can have a different system. I like to use a color coding system for our projects to keep track of current clients, potential clients, and clients whose work we’ve completed (for now).
  • Project templates are your friend! We created a master template for new clients that leaves no stone unturned. Every task we need to do is in there, and when a new client signs on, we simply copy the template over and nothing gets left out.
  • Hit “Complete” only when the task is completely finished. This deserves repeating: re-assign when a task needs to be worked on a bit more, complete once every bit is finished. If anybody needs to do anything else with it (i.e. email it to someone, post something to Facebook), re-assign it or create a new task.

 

The key to prioritizing your day is simple: Work smarter, not harder. Have you ever heard the story about the jar of rocks? If you haven’t, follow the link and read the story, it’s short.

Prioritizing your work day is a lot like that jar of rocks. If you fill it up with the “sand” first (the unimportant stuff), you’ll leave no time for the “big rocks.” As you start working today (or even filling in that time log), think about which of your tasks are the “rocks” and which ones are the “sand.”

Where are you going to focus your time?

Clarity Creative Group is a web design & internet marketing company located in beautiful Orlando, Florida. This blog post has been brought to you by black currant tea.

30 Jun

Do I Really Need a Mobile App?

Posted On: June 30, 2014 | Category: Establish Clarity, Technology, Websites

do i really need a mobile appBeing in the “tech business,” we get a lot of questions about mobile apps. Most of the time, people are just idly curious about the type of work we do. The ones who are really trying to be movers and shakers in their industry usually ask whether we can help them create an app and how much we charge.

These are all genuine, valid questions, our response is usually a bit unexpected. What they probably should be asking is “Do I really need a mobile app?” because the answer is “no, maybe not.”

16 Jun

Do I Really Need a Website?

Posted On: June 16, 2014 | Category: Blogging, Our Opinion, SEO and Content Optimization, Websites

Do i really need a websiteMy husband and I went on a trip recently to Cape Cod. The weather was great and we went on an amazing whale watching tour, where we spotted so many whales (16) that we’re pretty much spoiled us for any other whale watching tour in the future. But, as always, some of our best experiences came from restaurants. (Don’t judge.)

A few years ago, we realized that Yelp was the best way to eat well in a new city. To us, there’s no point in eating in chain restaurants in Boston, New York, or even Virginia, because Orlando is lousy with them. We get the best recommendations from Yelp and ate at some incredible places on the Cape (I still dream about the turkey burger at Local 186 and the chicken pie from Centerville Pie Company).

But there are some places—great places, I’m sure—that we missed out on (or almost missed out on) because they were lacking something crucial. Something separate from an awesome Yelp review or outstanding rosemary aioli.

They didn’t have a website.

02 Jun

Judging a Business by its Cover

Posted On: June 02, 2014 | Category: Our Opinion, Websites

If your website were a book, would people want to read it?“You can’t judge a book by its cover….”

You’ve heard it thousands of times. Maybe you’ve even said it. The saying has been around since the Civil War era, and has taken a spot in the Idiom Canon, so to speak.

This familiar phrase means that first impressions are not always correct, and one should look beneath the surface before making a judgment on something or someone. This is true, but the saying is popular for a reason: people do form first impressions, whether or not they should. (If this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t need a phrase to remind us otherwise).

The thing is, this isn’t just true for books or people, but also for businesses. So, how can you use this information to your advantage when redesigning your website or renovating your business?

26 May

The Dangers of Running a DIY Business

Posted On: May 26, 2014 | Category: Our Opinion, Small Business Management

DIY BusinessRunning a small business calls for wearing a lot of hats. You’re owner, you’re manager, you’re accountant. You’re also HR, sales, administrative assistant, social media guru…the list goes on and on.

For the most part, this is great. Being aware of all the different spheres of your business helps you keep everything running smoothly and working well together. It keeps your relationships between you and your employees civil, if not appreciative. It just makes you a better business owner.

But does that mean you have to do everything?

19 May

SEO vs. Content Optimization: Who’s the Winner?

Posted On: May 19, 2014 | Category: Marketing, SEO and Content Optimization, Technology

seo vs. content optimizationIf you’ve spent much time researching the best ways to get your website seen by the right audience, you’ve probably come across the term “search engine optimization” (SEO). The idea has been around for decades. Businesses and individuals use SEO to rank higher on the search results pages on sites like Yahoo!, Google, and Bing. Google itself has come out with no less than 32 major updates in the last 9 years, all in an attempt to make web searching better, easier, and more helpful. But if you’ve done any deep researching in the past year or so, you may have heard a new term: “content optimization.”

12 May

How to Use Social Media For Business

Posted On: May 12, 2014 | Category: Small Business Management, Technology, Websites

social media for businessChances are, if you’ve been on the web long enough to stumble across this article, you’ve heard a lot about social media. Maybe you have a Facebook page or a Twitter account, and you’ve figured out how to post statuses, like comments, share photos, and more. But do you really know what you’re doing when it comes to wielding social media for business?

Maybe and maybe not.

05 May

10-Point Blog Post Checklist (for Perfectionists and Non-Coders)

Posted On: May 05, 2014 | Category: Blogging, Lists

Simple, 10-point blog post checklist to whip your post into shape (before you hit publish).If you’re new to blogging, you may have caught yourself going back into old posts (hey, some of us are sentimental like that). And if you’re anything like me, you may have been shocked at the typos, formatting errors, or bugs that kinda junked up your otherwise beautiful blog.

28 Apr

Web Developer vs Web Designer: Which Do You Need?

Posted On: April 28, 2014 | Category: Websites

In the Orlando web design market, we’ve noticed anWhat's the difference between a web developer and a web designer? interesting phrase that’s been popping up on some of our competitors’ websites (as well as our own). It’s a common enough phrase, but we realized that people who aren’t in the industry probably don’t know what it means. You may have seen the phrase yourself: web development.

Is this just a fancy way of talking about web design? Is it some higher mystical order made up of only the best designers in the world? Is there even a difference between a web design and web development?


21 Apr

Website Redesign: Gamble or Sure Bet?

Posted On: April 21, 2014 | Category: Small Business Management, Websites

Is a website redesign a gamble or a sure bet?Last year, on my first trip to Vegas, I had a sudden realization: there are gamblers and there are not gamblers. My friend, Rachel (my companion on the trip), is a gambler. She has fun sitting at a blackjack table and deciding whether to hit or stay. I am not a gambler. In my mind, every dollar I lose is a dollar I could have spent on something (anything!) else: a new scarf, my utility bill, a Slurpee.

Maybe you’re a gambler. Maybe you love the rush of winning big at the craps table or raking in the chips at a high-stakes poker game. Perhaps you can brush off your losses as simply the cost of playing a fun game.

After all, if you can turn your $200 into $500, it’s worth it, right?