We've all heard the old recipe to get ahead in the working world: "Be the first one in in the morning and the last to leave at night." We're taught to respond first, think later. Get the work done fast and fix as you go so you can get more work in. But at the end of the day, how much of that time was purely, and truly productive? I've found through my years as a small business owner, that it's not about how much time you put in (how "hard" you work), it's about the quality of work you're producing.
Stop working harder, and start working better. Here's how:
Keep a to-do list.
Every morning, without fail, I sit down to my desk, take out a piece of paper and a pen and write out everything I need to get done for the day. It sounds so simple and most people will argue they keep a mental to-do list going throughout the day, but there's something about tangibly writing down all of your tasks and having them laid out in front of you in plain view. With a to-do list in front of you, you'll never have a moment of "what should I be doing right now?" As soon as you cross something off, you move to the next item without hesitation. It, single handedly, is my best productivity tool. It makes me work hard when I'm at work and it eases my mind when I'm off because I'm never thinking "Did I forget to do something today...?"
Empower your employees.
In other words, don't micromanage. Hire good, hard-working people who care about your business, train them well, endow them with a hefty amount of responsibility and then trust them to get the work done. Not only will this help your employees to work harder because you're treating them like capable adults, but you'll have less to worry about when you're not there. When you leave work for the day, you don't want to worry about all that can go wrong back at the office. Trust your employees to do a good job.
Keep meetings short.
I, too, used to be a fan of a long lunch meeting. I used to think it was a great way to break up the day to get work done and recharge yourself at the same time. Today, I'm a short meeting advocate. You don't need to spend an hour covering something you can tackle in 20 minutes. Emphasize the importance of coming to meetings prepared, and that the goal is to finish early. Of course, don't rush things, and let your employees know you're always open for their questions and concerns, but try and cut out the excessive small talk and chit chat.
Sticking to these three simple practices has completely changed the way I work. Though a small business owner is never really "off," there's no need to be in the office for 12 hours a days. More time in the office doesn't equate to a successful business, quality work does.