For many years, I had trouble figuring out the recipe for true productivity. I would be overly idealistic, setting goals that were too big to achieve while failing to create a timeline with a comprehensive written plan. Finally, after much trial and error and several lessons from some of my mentors and colleagues, I learned some techniques for improving my productivity–and pleasing my clients in the process. Here are some of my favorite tips:
Set smaller goals
…and update your clients with your progress
This might seem counterintuitive, but setting smaller goals actually makes you more productive. While it’s generally important to aim high, setting bigger goals from the outset only makes the project daunting and impossible to realistically achieve. The result is that you leave work at the end of the day not having completed your goals–which only makes you feel discouraged, down in the dumps, and less motivated overall.
The best way you can ensure a proper goal-setting strategy is to set SMART goals. The acronym SMART–which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely–outlines the virtues of effective goal-setting. A goal should be clear and specific so that you know exactly what task you need to accomplish, and it should also be measurable so that you know exactly what you need to do to achieve that goal. Likewise, it should be realistic to achieve, directly relevant to the purpose of the project, and anchored to a deadline or time frame. While setting SMART goals isn’t intuitive at first, there are apps, such as GoalsOnTrack and others, that guide you in the direction of creating proper goals by asking you to enter information like time frame, measurement units, and more.
Setting small, specific, achievable goals is important for pleasing your clients because it provides a benchmark for updating them with your progress. Regular updates will show clients that you’re constantly working–even if you don’t yet have anything tangible to show for it. Simply showing them that you’re putting in the effort will help them put their trust in your company’s service and in you. Otherwise, your clients might just assume that you aren’t being very efficient or proactive.
Have a system for organizing your tasks
…and make it accessible to important stakeholders
It’s easy to assume that once you complete one task, you’ll naturally have an idea of which steps to take next, without writing anything down. But not keeping a written record of tasks can be a huge issue. It can be hard to resume a task where you left off when you need to spend valuable time trying to remember where exactly that was. Filling in your teammates can also be another time-waster, and can easily be avoided by providing a written record of updates.
There are a few different strategies for keeping yourself on track and keeping your team in the loop. Some people like to use centrally located whiteboards with Post-It notes, similar to the Kanban board, that they update at the end of each day. Others like to use digital management tools, like Monday, to keep track of their tasks and share updates with the rest of the team.
Regardless of what task management method you choose, the bottom line is that you need to have a constantly updated record of your progress that is accessible to your team, your bosses, and even your clients. This will allow every relevant employee to keep clients constantly up-to-date and informed, and it will also speed up the workflow to get the final product or service to the client more quickly.
Set specific action items week-by-week
…to ensure you’re right on schedule
Make sure that you have a list of exactly what you want to accomplish each week. Your action items should not be as broad as “work on the project” or “make some calls.” Instead, they should be very specific, listing exactly which aspects of the project your team needs to accomplish, which steps you need to take to accomplish them, when your deadline is, and who will be in charge of each step.
Your SMART goals can help you determine specific, actionable tasks. For example, if one of your SMART goals is “Call 20 clients by January 31,” you should figure out how many clients you’ll want to call each day in order to reach that goal.
You should plan out your strategy week-by-week to ensure that you don’t fall behind as the month wears on. Every Friday, sit with your team to wrap up the week and brainstorm action items for the following week, as well as the people in charge of each task. Overall, planning out your tasks and goals weekly prevent you from falling behind on each of your tasks. This, in turn, will help you impress your clients with your timely progress.
…so that you can show your clients visible progress
Those of us who are experts at multitasking can simultaneously check their emails, make progress on a task, and plan action items for the next day without much trouble. But for most of us, that isn’t the case. While we might think we’re making faster progress by tackling lots of different tasks at once, the reality is that multitasking is slowing us down.
A reliable productivity strategy is to avoid multitasking and instead stay focused on a particular task. When it comes to emails, for example, schedule specific times to check your inbox–and limit all email activity to those times. Force yourself to close your email tab so that you’re not tempted to click on it whenever you see a new message pop up. That message can wait until later and would only interrupt your progress on the task at hand.
The most dangerous part about multitasking is that people often end up with lots of partially completed tasks, rather than a handful of fully completed tasks. This can go on and on each day, until, by the end of the week, you won’t have many completed tasks to show for all your effort. While many people simply don’t have the self-discipline to stop checking their email or social media activity, there are anti-procrastination apps like Freedom or Cold Turkey to block access to certain sites at specified times. Your clients will be much happier if you can show them that you’re carrying out tasks to completion and visibly moving forward on the project.
Efficient workflow and consistent communication is the key to happier clients
You can make your clients happy by demonstrating tangible progress on your project and regularly communicating this progress to your clients. Begin with setting SMART goals that are small, specific, and readily achievable, and use goals to plan out action items each week. Stick to a specific task management method, and limit multitasking as much as possible so that you stay focused on the task at hand. And of course, always keep your clients in the loop. They’ll be pleased with the consistent progress, open communication, and great results.