06/17/2014 05:09 pm ET Updated Aug 17, 2014

How to Get More Done and Be Happier

For many years, I worked for a crazy person. Her name is Lisa, and for a decade she was the worst boss I ever had.

I confess; I'm a recovering overbooked entrepreneur, the terrible boss was me.

I started my own consulting firm 20 years ago, a year after I had my first child, because I wanted more flexibility, creativity, and the chance to own my own schedule.

It sounds good when you say it, but like many entrepreneurs, putting it into practice was challenging. In the early days, pre-Internet, and pre-success, managing the workload wasn't that hard because:

A. There wasn't that much work.
B. The work was confined to normal working hours, mostly.

Then the business took off, and the insanity amped up.

I remember many days when my to-do list would not fit into the Filofax to-do sheet, and I had to carry it over to a second or third sheet. That should have been a clue. But it took the addition of a few hundred "urgent" emails a day to make me realize I wasn't running my business, it was running me.

I once heard an entrepreneur say, "If you own a business, and you can't go out to dinner with your partner, or be fully present at your children's events, you don't have a business, you have a job, and you work for a crazy person."

It took me years to realize that my self-created frantic schedule was cheating my family, my clients, and myself, out of a fully present, strategic me.

Catherine Aird said, "If you can't be the good example, you'll just have to serve as the horrible warning." After decades of being the example of what not to do, I'm mending my ways.

Here are three things that I do to stay focused, and happy:

1. Clarify your Noble Purpose
Whether it's making a difference to your family, or improving your clients' condition, when you have clarity of purpose it acts as a filter for your decision-making. Prioritize things that move the needle in big ways, and disregard the rest. For me, for my family, that means saying yes to situations where I can be with my children, or add value to clients, and hiring out things that are just as easily done by others.

2. Say no tactics, and yes to strategy
Successful people stay out of the weeds. This means saying no to endless action items. In this regard, I've noticed that some men are better at saying no than some women. Male executives can often be perceived as more strategic because they don't allow small tasks to clutter their workload. Some women volunteer for all kinds of tactical to-do's.

Male or female, resist the urge to implement endless action items. You'll keep your head out of the weeds and wind up getting more important things done.

3. Be fully present
Reading emails while you're on a conference call reduces your effectiveness. You wind up taking longer to get to the point, and you miss important nuances. Be fully present for every conversation, they'll be shorter and more focused.

We know that multitasking is a myth. So is multiple tasking -- when you take on so many things that you wind up doing all of them half way.

Life is short, focusing on what matters makes you more productive, and it also makes you happier.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant. Companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces.

She is the author of several books including Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud, a John Wiley & Sons publication. She has appeared on The Today Show, and has been featured in Forbes, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. She provides executive coaching sessions, strategy workshops, and keynote speeches.

More info:
Lisa's Blog - How Smart People Can Get Better At Everything

Copyright 2014 Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved.