Pick one – the key to getting stuff done

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Over the last couple of weeks I introduced you to the 5-stage framework for assessing your business and planning what to do next.

That pesky name thing…
As you know one of the things that I’m contemplating is a name for the framework (thanks to those of you who suggested names)! At the moment, my working title is The Business Accelerator Framework, or BAF for short.

But that name is boring – it would be so great to have something “branded” that is catchy and interesting and memorable. I’ve toyed with The Ripple Method (because things “ripple” from left to right) but that is – frankly – boring. So I’m still searching – watch this space!

Back to BAF

So far I’ve published two articles on the Business Accelerator Framework (BAF):

  • In the first article, I introduced the concept of the 5 phases and focused in on understanding marketing and lead nurturing.
  • In the second article, I showed how you can use the framework to plan where you need to focus next.

This week, I will show you how I use the framework to – almost literally – accelerate your business towards success.

Our old friend overwhelm

As you already know one of the biggest problems that young and small businesses suffer from is overwhelm. You’re either alone or you’re working with a small team; there’s always a ton of stuff to be done and by the time you hit the end of the week you realize you’ve been busy all the time – but you didn’t make much progress.

The “good” news is that you’re not alone. This is a problem that we all suffer from; there’s so much to do that we try to do a little bit of everything but in the end we don’t progress with much.

Over the last few weeks I’ve seen the overwhelm problem a lot in the startups I work with. The BAF helps to understand where things are working or not and what we need to do. But there’s one thing which has made a difference to my own progress and the startups that have applied it report similar progress jumps.

It’s called pick one.

Pick one

It seems that daily busy-ness keeps us from getting stuff done – we’re not getting to the back-end stuff like web sites, marketing campaigns or lead nurturing. So what I’ve done – and I recommend to you as well – is the following:

Pick one thing to work on this week. Only one. No more. Work on it until it’s done. Don’t do anything else that you don’t absolutely have to do. Finish off that one thing. And when it’s done, pick the next one.

This seemingly simple “trick” has paid off handsomely for me and for the startups I’m advising. Suddenly stuff that has been sitting on the back burner gets done, and although progress still seems slow it’s a lot faster than I’ve experienced before.

For example, last week I had such good response on my Workshop Ninja methodology (the guide is almost ready for publication) that I decided I’m going to trial a workshop on how to design, plan and deliver killer workshops.

This threw my previous priorities out – the web site (which was my previous pick-one item) was put on hold and I dedicated Monday and Tuesday to designing the workshop, creating a sales page and starting to market the workshop. I already had meetings planned for both Monday and Tuesday afternoon so this filled my mornings – but now I have a workshop I can schedule and run any time there’s a demand.

Getting that one thing done

But just picking one thing to get done doesn’t really get a lot of results if we don’t change the way we work. I’ve adopted the following strategy:

Nothing else before 10:00 am (at the earliest).
My most productive time is early in the morning – especially when I’m writing articles like this. So I don’t look at email, social media, news or anything until 10:00 am – sometimes later. My phone and computer is on do not disturb so there are no notifications.

So I avoid the distractions and focus exclusively on that one thing until at least 10:00 am – or later if I can manage my calendar.

This is not easy!
I would be lying if I said this was easy – it’s not. The first few days I did this it was great; I was totally focused and productive. But after three or four days I wondered how much harm there would be to quickly check my email or LinkedIn feed while I was having breakfast. And before I knew it, I was spending way more time doing that than I had planned to.

So it takes practice. Right now the idea that there is no email or phone before a certain time in the morning is almost like being on holiday. And my output has probably doubled from a few months ago.

Move meetings to the afternoon.
To protect my mornings I try to move all meetings to the afternoon. You may not be able to do this – and I can’t always avoid it – but I’ve found a solid, uninterrupted 4 or more hours in the morning delivers huge amounts of output.

The blank wall
I know that this is not just me – I picked this up from other people who write about focus and productivity: Keep your working environment as uncluttered and distraction-free as you possibly can.

When I need to write I find that I am most productive when my desk is clear. But it helps even more when there is nothing on the wall to distract me. Right now, there is a flip chart sheet on the wall to my left with Post-It Notes from work I was doing yesterday. I’m trying my best not to look at that sheet – because if I do I’m going to get distracted.

Some people go so far as to remove all pictures from the wall in front of them. No doodads, pencil holders or anything else on the desk either. It seems obsessive – but it’s worth a try.

Music gets you in the flow.
Your mileage may differ, but all the productivity mavens (and my experience) agree that music can help you focus and “get in the flow”. It may sound boring, but it’s the same music – every day, every time I sit down to write or produce something that requires deep work.

The right music cuts out outside distractions and improves your focus. If you must know, my focus music is Dido’s Life for rent and No Angel – with some Eros Ramazotti on occasion.

Tools can kill your productivity
Microsoft Word is one of the tools that I use to produce final versions of my documents. But I’ve found that when I use Word to produce drafts I get stuck in trying to make things pretty – and I don’t progress the work.

So I’ve adopted minimalist writing tools (I’m writing this in Ulysses) that don’t have the ability to format stuff – this is pure text without any shiny stuff that can distract me.

If you find that you spend time trying to make things look pretty before you’ve finished the writing process you probably need something with fewer features. Check out “markdown editors” if this is your thing.

The bottom line is that you need large chunks of uninterrupted time to get stuff done.

Protect your time, turn off all distractions and interruptions, and focus on that one thing until it’s done.

Progress may seem slow at first

The pick one technique may seem that you’re slowing down – after all, you’re less “busy” than you were before.

But don’t confuse busy-ness with output. In the end, output is all that matters, not how many hours you spend on it.

The pick one technique – together with large chunks of uninterrupted time in the morning – has allowed me to get more stuff done in the last couple of months than I ever thought possible. I still lapse – sometimes I succumb to the temptation of checking email or website stats – but it’s getting better.

Get more stuff done

If you need to get a lot more done and you’re constantly overwhelmed, there are three things you can do now:

  • Use the Business Accelerator Framework (BAF) to capture all the things that you need to do in your business. Rate yourself on each of the 5 stages, and decide where you’re going to focus next.
  • Pick one thing to do – and only one. Focus on that thing until it’s done before moving on to the next.
  • Carve out large chunks of uninterrupted time. For you this may be mornings or evenings – whatever works for you. Cut out all distractions during that time.

If you’re interested in diving deeper into this high-throughput stuff I highly recommend Cal Newport’s books Deep Work and So good they can’t ignore you. More info on his website.

Have a great week!
Neville.

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