The Productivity Principle

The Productivity Principle


From a personal productivity or business productivity perspective, if your year doesn’t start with a plan, whether that’s financially, in terms of marketing or simply your key goals, you’re not going to achieve what you set out to accomplish.

The important first step though isn’t just to have a list and a plan, but priorities. You need to focus. You can’t do everything, so choose three or four priorities for the year, both for your business, and for yourself.

The reality is that even if you’ve just come back from a holiday and you’re ready to hit the year running, unless you take the time to plan, you’ll be running around in circles.

So, how do you develop your goals and list, and focus on what’s really important? Here are three steps to get you started.

1. Take a step back and remember why you got into business in the first place.

Was it because you wanted to travel more, spend more time with your kids, or have flexible hours? Was it because you wanted to change the world, or create a brand that would become a household name?

In our experience, too many entrepreneurs start a business, and then quickly get sucked into day-to-day operations to such a degree that they never take the time to step back and evaluate where they are, where they want to be, and how they’re going to get there. You’d be amazed what you can achieve if you put the time aside to plan properly.

2. Ask yourself what the business needs to do to serve you and your goals.

What will really help you achieve your vision? If you can’t articulate this, you won’t be able to recruit others to help you, and you won’t see your goals come to fruition.

3. Evaluate your personal goals for the year. It’s not enough to have a list.

You need to have a carefully thought-out list that is achievable. The big danger most entrepreneurs face is that they don’t actually do what they set out to do — they end up working for their staff, suppliers, the bank and so on instead of living the life they want to lead, and running the business they want to own. It’s time for you to change that focus. Start by asking yourself, what’s in it for you?

Related: Why Managing Your Time is a Waste of Time

Getting your goals in order

Begin the process of developing goals by taking a careful look at your business.

  • How is it faring?
  • What would you like to achieve this year?
  • Do you want to grow revenue?
  • Do you need to find more time for the business?
  • Or would you simply like to find more time for yourself?

Once you can answer these questions, start your planning with big picture thinking that covers the next three years. This allows you to get past the last year, and what you did and didn’t achieve. Often, we start the year, determine our goals, realise they’re the same as last year, and we practically give up before we’re even out the gate. We just assume we won’t manage them again this year.

Instead, starting with a three year plan gives you time to achieve your goals, but it also lets you focus and break the plan down into smaller, more manageable increments — and as you achieve each goal, you’ll celebrate, and be galvanised to achieve more.

Next, paint a picture: What does the end goal look like and feel like? If you can picture it, you can focus on getting there. It’s important to evaluate what any changes will mean to the customer, and to yourself. There needs to be a tangible reason to do something, or it’s just wasted energy.

You also need to be focused. Jack Welch famously said that you need to narrow your focus and choose your key operating aspects carefully. How many are on your list? 15 is too many. More than four is too many. Be narrow and then focus them to death. This will not only allow you to know exactly what you’re aiming for, but it will help you articulate your vision to your staff. They’re an integral component to achieving your goals.

Step three is to follow a simple line of questioning: If I do this, will it increase revenue, save me time, or both? You need to evaluate what it is you really want: More money, or more time. Once you can answer that question, you can start determining how to achieve it.

The two generally go hand in hand though. Most companies pay for resources to buy time, which they can then use to focus on areas they’re either really good at, or are their unique selling proposition, meaning areas their competitors can’t do. Sometimes it’s actually easier to make money that you can then use to buy time. Don’t waste energy on things others can do. Rather free up your valuable time (this goes for you and the business!).

Finally, put processes in place that will allow you to free up the time to focus on your new goals. This is often a sticking point for many entrepreneurs, whose typical mindset is that developing systems takes cash, time, as well as the belief that “I have to do it myself anyway.”

This isn’t true. Systems are just processes that are documented and easy to follow. The simplest way to get a system in place is to start by asking each staff member to write down exactly what they do on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. You’re not using your time because you’re putting the job in your employees’ hands. It also doesn’t cost anything. Check and request changes, sign off the process documents (or get your line managers to sign them off) and your system is in place.

Once all processes are documented:

  • Streamline the business
  • Tweak systems where necessary (you can’t tweak things unless you know what you do)
  • Choose which systems can be replaced by IT (and easily evaluate the cost versus output of such a change).

Again, be focused. You don’t need to automate everything, just one or two essential areas. The pareto principle says that two or three systems will free up a lot of time and efficiency (or that 20% of your systems take up 80% of your business’s time).

You just need to work out which systems these are, and make sure they’re as efficient as possible.

Related: Is Procrastination Poisoning Your Chance of Success?

Now turn your attention to yourself

If your ultimate goal is to do more with less (less time, money and even energy), you need to look beyond your business to yourself. What is your role within the business, and how does the business help you achieve your personal goals?

What’s your monetary worth?

Have you worked out everything you do in a day, week and month? Draw up a list, and give each line item a monetary value.

Then work out what you need to be bringing into the business each month as its owner. What activities bring in the real cash? If it’s to sign R2 million worth of deals each month, why are you also doing R50/hour admin work? Rather hire a bookkeeper and free yourself up for the things that only you can do.

Your time as a business owner is valuable — do you treat it as such?

Finding the best way to spend your time

Here are eight ways to ensure you’re getting the most from your time.

1. Create a template of the ideal week.

As you begin the year (and after you’ve evaluated what you want to achieve this year), what would your ideal week look like? What do you believe you should be spending your time on? Write it down. Create templates of each day, and document the time allotted to specific tasks each week.

2. Measure what you do.

Start by spending two weeks measuring what you do by the hour. You need to know what you spend time on before you can start finding more time. The better your details, the more you’ll understand exactly where your time is going. Every entrepreneur we’ve done this exercise with is always surprised by what they actually spend their time on.

3. Compare the ideal to the reality.

Once you know what you’re actually spending your time on versus the ideal, you can make key decisions about what you’ll hand over, and what you’ll retain for yourself (remember, these decisions should be based on what your time’s worth, and what brings in the money). You’ll quickly see how much of your staff’s work you’re doing, and you can set some rules for yourself. For example, if you want to spend 20% of your week on existing clients, but find you only spend 2%, you can now make proper time for this in your diary.

4. Set aside ‘me’ time.

This is particularly important if you’re prone to distractions, but even if you’re not, ‘focus’ time helps you stay as productive as possible while you’re completing certain tasks.

An open door policy is great, but you need closed door time as well. Set clearly demarcated times when your staff can walk into your office, and defined times when they cannot.

You’ll also be empowering them if they can’t run to you every time they have a question or problem that needs solving. You should also turn off automatic mail alerts, and only check emails at designated times in the day.

5. Spend time planning for tomorrow.

This can be a huge time saver, but more importantly, it also allows you to really focus on the tasks that need to be prioritised:

  • Spend 15 minutes today for tomorrow
  • Spend one hour this week for next week
  • Spend half a day this month for next month
  • Spend one day this quarter for next quarter

Put these planning times in your diary and stick to them. That way, tomorrow morning, before you get sidetracked, you know what you need to do, what your priorities are, and what’s critical.

6. Evaluate what you’ve achieved in a day.

This relates to your planning time above. Each day, ask yourself the following: What have I been doing today, and how has this contributed to getting money in the bank (and how much?). Always choose the activity that drives money to the bank versus a meeting that achieves nothing. And then use these insights to create your lists for the next day, week and month. The key is to be critical of your use of time.

7. Instil discipline.

This is probably the hardest step, but crucial if the other six are going to work. You need to consistently action your goals, and as human beings we aren’t very disciplined.

Our advice is to outsource this step, and ensure that someone is holding you accountable for your achievements. You can get a coach; ask a mentor or a friend to monitor your progress, or get your PA to police you. For example, if one of your goals is to call two or three clients each day, reporting on this to your PA should be mandatory — with repercussions if you don’t.

8. Balance fun with skill.

As an entrepreneur, balancing fun with skill is critical to your business. Ideally, you want to be having fun (driving passion) and using your skills at the same time, which will result in your feeling challenged, productive and enjoying what you do.

The worst case scenario is doing tasks that are neither fun nor skilled. Often, we substitute one for the other though, and if that’s what you’re doing, you’re also not maximising your time.

To measure how you spend your time, create a graph. Place fun on the y axis, and skill on the x axis. You’ll now have four quadrants. Ideally, you want as many activities as possible in the top right quadrant (fun and skill).

However, the reality is that not everything you do can be fun — but it must always be highly skilled. This means strategic thinking is good, but taking care of invoicing is a waste of your time, and someone else should be doing it.

Here’s the real secret to success and productivity: If you enjoy what you do and you’re challenged, you’ll naturally be more efficient and more disciplined.

Harry Welby-Cooke
Harry Welby-Cooke is the Master Licensee for ActionCOACH South Africa. He is also the President of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors Association of South Africa). ActionCOACH is the world’s largest executive and business coaching company with operations in 39 countries. It is also on the list of the top 100 franchises globally. As a highly successful Business and Executive coach, Harry is a master of teaching business owners how to turn their businesses around and accelerate their growth. Email him at or call 0861 226 224