My Time-Tested, Go-To 10 Tips To Be More Effective
If you could be more effective, how would that change your daily life? Would you feel more in control, less stressed? Would you feel more confident that you are getting the important things done?
Here are ten strategies to be more effective from my personal arsenal – they are stood me in great stead over the years.
What’s more, they’re a great starting point whenever I start feeling overwhelmed. I know that, if I have these ten down, then the rest will take care of itself.
1. Use a spreadsheet to hold yourself accountable
It is no mystery to those who know me that I loooove spreadsheets. They are a very effective and convenient tool to present information, so that you can have a wealth of details at your fingertips. It becomes so much easier to get the bird’s eye view, and as you can imagine, that is a crucial factor when you’re trying to be more effective.
Although spreadsheets are especially useful to keep track of numbers (especially when doing your accounts) or business processes (like sales), they can also be a simple personal development tool that allows you to log relevant information and check on your progress at regular intervals.
They are particularly great if you are suffering from “app fatigue”, constantly chasing after the latest and best digital tool: productivity apps are great, but sometimes nothing beats a simple tool that has stood the test of time. A minimalist, essentialist approach is exactly what you need to be more effective: less time spent on input, for a higher-quality output.
A spreadsheet is simply a double-entry table. As such, it can be used to track your goals. Write down a list of goals, one goal for each row for example, and then each column can be a date when you log your progress. You can log your progress weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on your goal, or even daily if you are trying to ingrain a new habit.
That’s it. Don’t underestimate the power of your own psychology: when you check on your spreadsheet, the simple sight of boxes to be filled in with milestones reached will be a powerful accountability mechanism.
Couple your accountability spreadsheet with another simple but understimated tool: your calendar, and you will be amazed at the power of such a simple system to increase your productivity and personal effectiveness. Use the calendar on your phone, for example, to set regular reminders to log information in your spreadsheet. Your calendar will help you choose timeframes in which to work on your goals.
2. Understand and use effective metrics
If you are going to track progress using a spreadsheet, sooner or later you will run into the age-old conundrum: what metric should you use to accurately reflect your efforts?
You want a metric that gives you a good overview of your progress; you also want a metric that is under your control, and that is strict but fair: no hiding behind comfortable vagueness, but no beating yourself up, either. It’s a delicate balance to strike.
It’s important to know how many metrics you should use to measure one aspect of your goals. You want enough detail that you get an accurate reflection of reality, but not too much, so that you don’t get swamped in irrelevant tidbits. You also don’t want to spend your time tracking and logging data, instead of actually doing the work that will bring the real results.
It’s also good to measure the performance of anything according to both external factors, and factors that are truly under your control: you can’t necessarily control how many sales you make in a week, but you can control how many sales calls you make. It’s worth recording both – that’s how I know I make two sales on average for every three sales calls.
I am constantly refining the metrics I use to evaluate the performance of my business. For example, the metrics I use to gauge my sales process have evolved a lot as I have gained experience.
The main thing is that you start: choose the metrics that make the most sense to you right now, and adjust as you go along, to reflect what you learn along the way.
3. Write down an achievement every day
Speaking of which metric to log, make sure that you keep track of all the things that go well! Some people use a gratitude journal; others have an achievements journal as well. Every evening, I make sure to write down one thing I am proud of achieving that day. I log that event in red pen, so that the achievements are immediately visible when I leaf back through my diary.
This will give you a great lift on days when things are difficult or slow, and this little psychological pick-me-up can make a huge difference: it will motivate you to try one more thing, to keep at it just a little bit longer, to try again… It’s the accumulated effect of all these little efforts that will make your success: anything that can help you keep up your motivation and do just a little bit more is also guaranteed to help you be more effective!
4. Upskill yourself regularly
At least once a month, learn something new. You might find quick fixes on YouTube, or follow a more in-depth course or workshop, for example on Lynda.com.
Is there something that you don’t know how to do, but would like to? It’s good to keep a running list of skills that you would like to learn. It can be for hobbies or professional skills. For example, you could learn about networking, lead generation, sales conversion, data analytics, coaching, managing people who don’t report directly to you, productivity, negotiation, assertiveness, writing blog posts, fundraising, serving on a board and SO much more.
Start small with low stakes, or be ambitious and embark on a big course of learning: both are excellent to improve not just your career prospects, but your enjoyment of life in general. Take pride in your skills and enhance your creativity thanks to them. I am currently studying for a Masters in Executive Leadership, I previously studied hard to become a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) – and I also enjoy learning how to make new dishes in the kitchen. All widen my horizons and give me even more things to look forward to.
5. Take your free time very seriously
Be aware that resilience comes from recharging. Make sure you learn how to effectively switch off from work without guilt, and take precautions to guard your quality time, so that you are ready to be maximally effective when you do work. Remember the adage: “Work hard, play hard.”
There is an art to doing nothing properly. According to Prof. Manfred Kets De Vries, “Slacking off and setting aside regular periods of ‘doing nothing’ may be the best thing we can do to induce states of mind that nurture our imagination and improve our mental health.”
Free time should be spontaneous, certainly, but you need to make sure that, when you do have free time, you don’t fritter it away on activities that don’t really recharge your batteries. We’ve all been there: we look forward to a relaxing evening or week-end, but we’re so tired that we don’t quite know what we would REALLY like to do, and we end up watching bad TV or puttering around the house aimlessly. Then we’re disappointed that we didn’t recharge properly. That’s why you need to plan for free time. Make a list of activities that you know allow you to relax deeply and that give you energy, and take this list seriously.
Does a walk in the park help you clear your head? Then in that case double-check that you have everything you need for this activity, where and when you need it: for example you might pack your trainers and possibly a rainjacket in the trunk of your car. Do you prefer to savour a cup of coffee while people-watching? Then plan your next relaxation session when your favourite coffee shop is open. Is reading a book more your thing? What kind of book? Do you have the kind of book you actually enjoy at hand?
Make sure that you prioritise restorative activities during your free time, and “know thyself” by knowing which activities do, in fact, restore your energy levels.
6. Cultivate a relationship every day
Now that we’ve looked at personal systems, let’s have a look at your relationships with other people. As the proverb has it, “Alone, we go faster, but together, we go further.” It’s important to nurture relationships because we are social beings and we simply cannot succeed on our own.
So this is another thing that might be worth encapsulating in a metric to be tracked regularly. No, logging and tracking relationships goal is not sociopathic: you should log and track the things that are important to you and represent priorities, to hold yourself accountable. In the hustle and bustle of every day life, we can lose sight of these priorities – that’s why we need to make sure to make room not just for the urgent, but also for the important.
Relationships are crucially important in our lives, and taking them seriously means having an accountability mechanism. So take five minutes to help somebody. Make sure you follow up promptly, offering new contacts something of value. Nurture existing relationships by networking within your network. Remember that asking for help is also a great way to cultivate relationships – don’t forget to follow up and let the person know how you applied their advice, and to what effect (you might provide a valuable testimonial where relevant).
And give the gift of listening.
7. Go to a new networking event monthly
Meet new prospects, clients and suppliers and help synchronicity happen by networking regularly. Used wisely, networking is a magnificent tool to be more effective, grow your business and fast track your career harmoniously.
Speaking of metrics, the number of people you talk to at a networking event is not the right one! Networking is not about swooping down on a roomful of people and trying to fob off as many business cards as possible, as fast as possible. Go for quality over quantity, and savour the opportunity you get to discover new ideas, new perspectives and opportunities you would never have thought existed.
When you keep an open mind, networking is a tremendous help every time you are starting from scratch, in a new job or a new city or a new environment.
8. Learn to ask more effective questions
Networking is about open-ended conversations in order to build rapport. Open-ended, rambling conversations can suggest out-of-left-field ideas that will help you brainstorm original, innovative solutions.
Next to that, there is a place for laser-focused questions and answers and heightened critical thinking. By improving the style of your questions and by engineering the way you reply to questions, you can shorten meetings, avoid meandering exchanges that lead nowhere and never lose sight of the raison d’être of a conversation.
If you want to make your business conversations more effective, by getting right to the issue and keeping on topic, Precision Questioning is a tremendously helpful framework to learn. I attended a workshop at IIBN on this specific methodology and it is strikingly effective.
You learn to take each conversation through seven categories for more efficient and effective intellectual exchanges. The seven categories are:
- Go / NoGo. Do we need to talk about this?
- Clarification. What do you mean?
- Assumptions. What are we assuming?
- Basic Critical Question. How do we know this is true?
- Causes. What’s causing this?
- Effects. What will be the effects?
- Action. What should be done?
When you examine your questions and answers through the prism of these categories, you will increase your preparedness and make every meeting count.
9. Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Let’s finish this catalogue with two tips to sustain inspiration. First of all, if you haven’t read it yet, read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If you have read it, re-read it. There is a reason this book has proved to be an enduring business classic. Its advice is as relevant today as when it was first published in 1989, almost 30 years ago.
Stephen Covey focuses on building character and aligning your business decisions with your moral compass. There is a strong ethical component to his advice. The book is the source of many concepts that have become mainstream today, like the abundance mindset vs. the scarcity mindset, looking for a win-win solution, etc.
You will be inspired and enlightened when you go back to the source of these ideas, and you will see that they are not just buzzwords, but deeply reflective concepts that will give you a renewed understanding of your career or your business. This is a “bedside table” book that you will want to refer to regularly.
10. If you have a long commute or spend a lot of time driving, listen to podcasts
Not all podcasts might be as enduring as Stephen Covey’s book, but they are a very effective way to discover new ideas, get inspiration, find new perspective and get out of a rut, should ever find yourself in one. The kind of meditative frame of mind you can find yourself in on a long drive is great to be exposed to and absorb new ideas.
I regularly listen to the Guardian’s podcasts, and of course I have my own podcast, the Savvy Women Podcast, in which I share my own success and productivity strategies, as well as interview the world-class professionals you’ve never heard of.
There’s no better time than right now to implement these tips to be more effective, and I hope they will serve you as well as they have served me!
Are you on the list?