By Dave Kerpen
The day I sat down to write this article, I received a total of 268 emails and 53 Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn messages directed to me. This was not an atypical number. But I got through all of the messages by the end of the day, with meetings and calls throughout, and a quick flight from New York to Ft. Lauderdale thrown in for good measure. How did I do it, and, in the face of email and social media overload, what systems and tools are there to help you be as productive as possible each day?
Delegation & Calendaring: 3 Options
Every manager faces countless administrative tasks: scheduling meetings and calls, reviewing documents, and booking travel, to name a few. These tasks take precious time away from the time you have to do the really challenging work. Three solutions to the administrative task predicament are an executive assistant, a virtual assistant, and an intern. Obviously having your own full time administrative assistant is the easiest option here, but often it’s not in the budget. I have experience though with both virtual assistants (V.A.’s) and interns, and each can be a cost-effective resource in handling admin tasks. The key is to find someone you can count on, and then delegate each task as it comes in, and forget about it.
Even if you can’t get administrative support from any of the above, in order to be productive it’s essential to take the scheduling of meetings and events off of your plate to the greatest extent possible, as scheduling is a total time killer and therefore a productivity killer.
Suggested virtual assistant: Acstant, one of many virtual assistant services, supplies you with a virtual assistant from 8am to 6pm in your time zone each day and is extremely affordable. Longer Days, Brickwork, andUassist.ME are just three of dozens of additional virtual assistant companies that provide online access to people to help with administrative and personal tasks. Virtual assistants add extra hands without adding extra headcount. The programs are relatively inexpensive; Longerdays.com offers 20 hours for $350 and Uassist.ME charges $650 per month.
Suggested scheduling tools: Tungle.Me allows people to see your calendar availability and schedule things easily, and it synchs with major web and mobile calendar applications. Doodle allows multiple parties to share their availability and easily find a mutually agreeable date and time for an event.
Inbox Zero, Conciseness & Internal Social Media
You get lots of email each day, and the problem with email is that it never takes a day off. Once you get behind in emails, it’s a constant battle, and usually a losing battle. So how can you get to inbox zero each day? Answer each email as it comes in, with a quick, concise reply and/or forward. Any email that requires longer than a quick reply can likely better be solved over a 15 minute call or meeting. Practice replying to emails succinctly and quickly, and you will get better with practice. If people can communicate through millions of tweets each day, each with 140 characters or fewer, you can send quick, short emails.
Take 30 minutes once a month to unsubscribe to any email mailing lists that aren’t providing you with value. That will clear up excess emails. Consider also using internal social networking tools to have conversations with your colleagues – a Facebook group may suffice, or explore proprietary tools such as Yammer and Jive. Such tools add to collaboration and passive listening, greatly reducing the dreaded “reply all” emails.
Suggested email tool: ThreeSentenc.es is a pledge to answer all emails in three sentences or fewer.
Suggested internal social tool: Yammer allows organizations to set up private social networking platforms.
Scheduling Time: To Think; To Get Social, To Catch Up, and Sacred Time
Once it’s scheduled in your calendar, it’s likelier to happen. That’s why scheduling time in each of these four areas is so valuable. Here are the four most important types of time slots I schedule:
To Think: Schedule an hour a day to think, write, plan, and strategize. This should be time when you stand the least chance to be distracted by others. For many, this is early in the morning. For me, it’s late at night.
To Get Social: Schedule thirty minutes a day to check Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, respond to messages there, and get and share the latest news relevant to you and your business.
To Catch Up: Schedule thirty minutes a day to catch up on emails and projects. Best scheduled late in the day, this time can be replaced by a last-minute urgent meeting, but it’s helpful to have booked in advance to catch up and get a breather.
Sacred time: Non work time, but arguably the most important thing to schedule in order to stay productive. From 6:30-9:30pm each evening, my staff knows they won’t get any responses from me, because my devices are all off while I spend time with my family. Whether it’s fitness time, dinner time, family time or something else that makes you happy, schedule time when you won’t be working, and it turn you’ll stay refreshed and motivated for the work time.
Suggested social media tool: Buffer allows you to schedule tweets and Facebook messages (and soon LinkedIn posts) ahead of time, and automatically spaces them out. So in five minutes, you can find interesting articles worth sharing with colleagues and prospects, and be tweeting all day, without actually going to Twitter again.
The Number One Productivity Tool is You
Ultimately, while there are lots of systems and tools to help be more productive, the best tool is you. Your own focus and discipline will help you make the most of your most precious business asset: your time.