We have a specific, measurable set of objectives to drive our business in the New Year, plus I’ve developed with my wife a set of goals for our family in 2013.
The 11 resolutions below sit somewhere in the middle. Most are work-related, but together they represent an effort to work smarter and more efficiently, helping me get more done faster and increase time for family, personal interests and serendipitous professional opportunities.
And I think they equally apply to anyone in the start-up community who wants to work and live smarter in the New Year.
Without further adieu:
1. Read the Wall Street Journal every day
I set this as a goal every year, it seems, and each year I get a little better. It has been a mistake to try and get myself to read the Journal every morning, as family commitments (and early wake-ups from my one-year-old) made that tough. But there’s no reason through the day or after the kids go to bed I can’t get through the paper quickly. Every day there are at least a handful of articles that make me smarter, give me an excuse to share something with a prospect or partner, etc.
2. Inbox Zero
More on the full Getting Things Done (GTD) process later, but I work hard to make my work surfaces as clean as possible, helping me focus on what’s most important right now. A big part of that is about email. I still think our email largely represents someone else’s priorities, and should be kept offline most of the time, but there’s no reason not to actively triage inbox content according to a set of rules that clear it out, set a task list for later, and move on to more important things right now.
3. No working on Tuesday and Thursday nights
I actually find myself working smarter and harder during the day Tuesdays and Thursdays when I’ve done this in the past. I get more done these days, in other words, meaningful work, vs. when I let things stretch into the evening. And I really love that extra time with my family, with personal interests, etc. Working less doesn’t always mean working less.
4. No computers or devices in meetings unless necessary
I am so bad at this, and there are times when a computer open during a meeting makes sense. But that’s the minority exception to the rule. In general, if I’m able to stare at my laptop or smartphone during a fair portion of a meeting, I probably shouldn’t be in the meeting in the first place. And if I should be there, I should focus, be more productive, and hopefully help us get things done and out of the meeting faster.
5. More phone calls
Yes, that’s right. I want to spend more time on the phone. Oftentimes it feels faster to shoot someone an email, but it’s more impactful to pick up the phone and talk to them. It can actually be more efficient to do a real-time back-and-forth via phone, and worst case (since few people use the phone as much these days) it makes a great impression.
6. More offline work time
I’m writing this post with email in offline mode, and my wifi turned off. There are still distractions around me, but no new email notifications, no new tweets, no instant messages. This post (and my content marketing strategy in general) is a priority, so if I’m going to do it right, I want to focus on getting it done well, done quickly, and done period so I can move onto something else.
7. Refine my “daily do” list
Every morning at 7:30 I have a “meeting” with myself that’s essentially a reminder to do a bunch of stuff daily. It has historically included things like follow-ups from yesterday’s meetings, confirmations and prep for today’s meetings, skill endorsements in LinkedIn, etc. I will refine this list for the New Year, so that it includes daily to-do’s specific to our business goals as well as some of my personal goals for 2013. I highly recommend a similar daily habit for yourself. Some of those daily to-do’s may become second nature, but it’s great to have that daily reminder to get it done regardless.
8. Increase automation (do more, but do less)
Most things you do on a regular basis can be automated, or done by someone else. I still make active use of TimeSvr, for example, to take care of repetitive tasks on my behalf. I have Eloqua to automatically do lead follow-up (including with leads from SlideShare) where we used to do that manually. This year I want to automate more of my social following and notification tasks, plus increase synchronization of work done remotely.
9. Better GTD discipline
I’m a productivity porn nut, and David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology is at the core of my system. But I’ve gotten lazy. I don’t do weekly reviews every week as I used to, my Projects discipline has gotten sloppy, and I’m not great at capturing everything I want to capture on a daily basis. I’m going to re-read Getting Things Done this month and re-up on the core components.
10. Improve consistency of execution
I highly recommend a quick read of The Checklist Manifesto, which outlines several instances across use cases in which checklists have significantly increased consistency of execution and results. I’ve been thinking a lot the past few weeks about how this book applies specifically to our business – both how we operate internally as well as how we service our customers. I’m convinced it has significant implications for us, and expect it could have the same for you.
11. Focus on priorities first!
The late Stephen Covey taught us about the difference between urgency and importance. You can spend a lot of time doing urgent things, great things, things you can justify that are smart and good for your business. But there’s also a reason why Verne Harnish recommends not just having a “top five” list of priorities, but also designating your “one of five” and getting it done FIRST. That one thing is likely complicated, it’s likely hard, it’s likely not the easiest or most fun thing on your list. But it’s at the top for a reason. I’m going to focus this year on getting that “one of five” done first each day.
It’s easy to make New Years Resolutions and simply add more work to your day. Most New Years Resolutions lists add to our workload without subtracting something else that gives us a reasonable chance of achieving the goal.
But I think this list is largely a zero-sum on my time. It’s clearly an increase in “asks” of myself, but if I execute well it actually cuts time and saves time elsewhere.
So that’s my list. What’s on yours?
Matt Heinz is president of Heinz Marketing, a Redmond-based sales & marketing firm. You can connect with Matt via email, Twitter, LinkedIn or his blog. He writes occasionally on GeekWire under the column Productivity Porn. Previous columns…An introduction to productivity porn: How to be lazy, productive & successful… 15 New Year Resolutions for Entrepreneurs.… Productivity Porn: 7 tricks for beating procrastination.