If your productivity is slipping, try making these changes to your everyday routine.
This article originally appeared in slightly different form on Inc.com and is shared with permission.
A year ago I was really struggling to keep up. My calendar was full of constant appointments, and I was always exhausted. Since I was a teenager, I have always loved working hard, but I realized that I needed to figure out how to work smarter too. I started reading a lot of books, ranging from Getting Things Done to The Four Hour Work Week, to come up with better ways to be productive.
The evidence is clear: 40% of everything we do on a typical day is the result of habits—good and bad. I knew that if I didn’t take charge of my productivity habits for the better, they would take charge of me for the worse.
If I was going to lead a 100+ employee business—which I do now—I would need to make a major upgrade to my productivity habits. Here are the five that have enabled us to get inDinero into Inc Magazine’s list of fastest growing companies in the U.S.
1. Check the metrics
I’m putting this first for a reason. I used to check the metrics once a month, but that’s nowhere near enough. It has to be more frequent than that.
Now, I check inDinero’s financial metrics at least weekly. In addition to week-over-week and month-over-month trends, I look at the actual hard numbers: sales figures, cash position, client attrition, where we’re spending our money (something far too many businesses only discover at tax time). This was easier for me than many entrepreneurs because inDinero specializes in this type of financial transparency and reporting.
I realize now how naive I was to think I could be a strategic leader without checking the metrics every week. Now I can tell where my team needs to pivot—for example, when they should prioritize upgrading current clients over new sales. And, because we’re such a frugal company, I can see if my team is spending in silly places that don’t contribute to our company objectives.
2. Sleep eight hours a night
I don’t understand people who brag about running on little-to-no sleep. It’s a recipe for being less productive and making subpar decisions. Bill Clinton famously said, “In my long political career, most of the mistakes I made, I made when I was too tired.”
If I slept only five hours a night, I would probably be able to complete more tasks, but I wouldn’t be nearly as effective at accomplishing my priorities.
And speaking of priorities….
3. I reset my priorities each week
Every Monday, I start with a clean slate and ask myself, “What are my top three priorities for this week?” Then, I focus on accomplishing those. For example, this week, we're focusing on making tax season easier for business owners.
Most of us, especially those of us who run businesses, are faced with an endless stream of unrelated tasks. I could easily spend 80 hours a week checking off tasks but never make any real progress.
Since I started leading with my priorities, and delegating tasks where needed, I have become exponentially more effective at moving inDinero forward. Focusing on my priorities has required me to make certain adjustments. The most important of which is to….
4. Check email—but just twice a week
I used to check my email constantly. I was scared of missing an urgent message from a client or a partner or one of my VPs.
Once I realized how much of my time email was eating up, I realized I had to make a change. In June, I asked my assistant to start filtering my email for me. If it’s a calendar invite, she’ll respond to it; if it’s spam, she’ll delete it. And if something is truly urgent, she’ll let me know.
But here’s the thing: In the past four months, I haven’t received a single email that needed my immediate attention. Twice a week, I’ll take 20 minutes to respond to whatever is left.
The world is not going to combust if you don’t check your email often.
5. Give department heads hiring responsibility
People are always surprised to learn that, even with 140+ employees, I still try to meet with every finalist candidate.
The reason I’m able to do this is because I’ve learned to treat these meetings as a gut check, rather than an interview. My department heads know that they are responsible for making the right hiring decisions.
It wasn’t always like that. Back when I wanted to make all the final hiring decisions, my department heads used to occasionally push truly awful candidates through to the final stage. It was a huge waste of everyone’s time, so I would get angry and make a big deal about it. Not fun for anybody.
Eventually, I realized that a good leader should be able to trust her department heads to hire the right people.
Since I asked them to take full responsibility, I’ve only met with stellar candidates, which saves me time and energy and empowers my team.