November 2009

Shannon Wells

Better Business | by Neil Ducoff


How to Do More in Less Time

Surprise! There just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to get done.

But you already knew that. Like virtually everyone in business today, you begin each day jammed-packed with stuff that needs to get done — then find yourself bombarded with new stuff all labeled “urgent.”

Checking and responding to emails that accumulated overnight takes an immediate bite of your day. Then come phone calls, meetings, interruptions, questions and cries for help.

Of course, we can’t forget time spent consoling that one employee who meanders from one life crisis to the next. Isn’t it amazing how something like breaking up with a boyfriend can bring an entire department’s productivity to a grinding halt? At the end of the day, your to-do list not only looks the same — it got bigger. If this sounds like I captured a day in your life, read on.

I always like to use the phrase, “manage what’s on your plate” as a means of avoiding the stress that comes from living in a perpetual state of feeling “overwhelmed.” For most leaders, that’s easier said than done. Overcoming bad work habits, poor time management and the inability to quickly filter out priorities, gotta-do’s and hot opportunities from the busy work, nice-to-do’s and rabbit trails, requires more than good intentions.

Here are some red-hot strategies to take control of your time and get more done:

Step off the hamster wheel: Give yourself some time to gain perspective on what needs to change in your daily approach to work. You can’t do this while you’re immersed in your self-inflicted chaos. This may require a few hours or a few days of self-discovery. It all depends on how chaotic your days are.

Simply put, if you’re not getting stuff done now, stepping back for a bit to reorganize is the key to getting more productive.

Filtering and processing your plates: It’s so easy to have projects and problems creep onto your plate. So why not think in terms of two plates? There’s your main course plate that contains high-value, high-priority projects and tasks. This plate contains the gotta-do’s. Nothing gets added to this plate if it doesn’t fit the high-value, high-priority criteria.

The second plate is dessert with low-value, low priority projects and tasks. Like dessert, you may not always have room or you just may pass on it entirely. Finishing what’s on the main plate is non-negotiable. Dessert can wait.

Organize and prioritize tomorrow’s work: The brain does amazing work while you sleep — as long as you give it stuff to work on. If you organize and prioritize your plates at the end of the day, your brain essentially begins working tomorrow’s tasks. The next day, this subliminal headstart gets you into a productivity mode quickly. The key is working your plan. Yes, interruptions will occur and it’s your job to filter them into high or low priority to avoid heading off on rabbit trails.

Assess your progress: At the end of the day, your reward for getting organized and focused is being able to assess what you’ve accomplished. View assessing progress as your commitment to personal accountability. Simply put, your goal is to achieve measurable progress at the end of every day.

Sure, there will be days you’ll find yourself back on the hamster wheel. It happens to the best leaders. No-compromise leaders regain focus and quickly shift back into productivity mode.

Neil Ducoff is the founder and CEO of Strategies, a business training and coaching company specializing in the salon and spa industry. He’s author of Fast Forward, and a new book, No-Compromise Leadership, published by DC Press and is available at For more information go to You can email Neil at