[IMGCAP(1)] “Never confuse activity with achievement.” – John Wooden

Has it ever been more challenging to get work done than it is today? It’s quite ironic that, as fortunate as we are to have all of the technological innovations we enjoy today, these “productivity boosters” can be too much of a good thing.

Sometime early last year, I found myself really looking forward to a free weekend where I had nothing planned – which would allow me to get “a lot of work done.” So starting Saturday morning, I plowed away at my “to-do” list. Same thing on Sunday. I knocked off more things than I would have during a normal work week, and in only two days.

These weekend work sessions have become a real boon to my productivity. And many people I’ve discussed this with have shared my experience.

“Absolutely, I can’t get anything done during the week, there are just too many interruptions,” they’ll say.

But recently I got to thinking, wait, there’s something really wrong with this picture.

First off: I love what I do. I’m building my own company, I’ve gotten to choose everyone I work with—so absolutely no complaints. But: is it healthy to work for consecutive weeks on end, without breaking away?

I don’t think so. Hard work is great, and absolutely required for entrepreneurs. But often our best ideas will come when we least expect it—when our mind is free to relax and drift. This can’t happen if we work 24/7/365; we just never get the opportunity.

So recently, I’ve started devising a system that would help optimize my personal/business productivity AND bring a little more balance to my life.

I started by immersing myself in many of the time management and productivity methodologies out there—and there are no shortage of them.

I actually have traditionally avoided these, because, well, I fancied myself as being relatively productive.

So here’s an overview of a hybrid system I’ve developed. One thing I learned is that, as an entrepreneur, my playbook is always changing. So I need to develop a very flexible system – beyond just optimal efficiency. Sure, it’s great if I get a lot done, but if it’s not the right stuff, who really cares anyway?

The three principles I’ve been successfully incorporating:

1. Always be prioritizing--most things don’t actually matter.

Classic 80/20 rule: 20 percent of the things you do will provide 80 percent of the value. If you have 10 things on your “to-do” list, the top two are much more valuable than the next eight combined.

I’d encourage you to chew on this concept a bit – it’s simple, yet very powerful. I try to reprioritize my top items on a weekly basis (this is a better use of weekend work time). I’ve found that many of the “next eight” are no longer important anymore.

2. Don’t get too busy – fake it if you feel guilty.

Resist the urge to fill up your day with meetings, phone calls and items that you need to get done. I constantly ask myself: “What’s the worst that will happen if I don’t have this meeting? If I don’t get this done?” If it’s not that bad, ax it.

Sure, it feels great to be busy, and to “get a lot done.” But I think as an entrepreneur, this is a trap.

If I look back at all the time I’ve invested in Chrometa since we founded it, most of the things I’ve done haven’t mattered at all in the long run. I’ll bet just 5 percent of my efforts have yielded 80 percent or more of our benefits.

Since I realized this, I’ve tried to sit back and think that if I only had one hour to work today, what would I do? That usually helps push a sales/marketing activity to the forefront. It’s never administrative work, that’s for sure.

And if you want to project a busy façade for the rest of the world to see? Go for it. Nobody’s going to know you’re not really that busy. Heck, Ben Franklin used to run through the streets of Philadelphia carrying reams of paper by hand back to his printing shop. It was all for show—because not only did Franklin value hard work, but he also valued the appearance of hard work.

3. If it has to be done, then just focus and do it.

The old weekend phenomena revisited. On weekends, with no incoming distractions, I can just focus in and knock something off. Weekdays it’s been a challenge – emails, instant messages, phone calls, clicking over to the web (what’s the DOW doing today?).

So here’s how I am trying to emulate the weekend experience, during the week:

1.    Practice time boxing for the items that I need to do – specifically: what is it, and how long will it take. The list is a manageable size for the day, thanks to the vetting system we’ve discussed. Never more than five to six “to-do” items for a given day, and preferably even less.

2.    Just do them – minimize interruptions until it’s done. If it’s a long task, break it up into sub-items. I’ve been quite amazed that even the most daunting task can often be knocked off in 60 minutes or less – provided the focus is there.

3.    See how long it took. This is something I use our time management software for, and it’s quite helpful. I can see what time I started something, what time I finished and how long it took. Interruptions are also there. Since I know I’m “on the clock,” and will be graded afterward, I’ve been on my best behavior.

In sum, I’ve found that the key to my personal productivity is exactly what small business and time management guru Brian Tracy has been preaching for years: focus on just one thing at a time—your most valuable activity—and don’t stop until it’s completed.

Brett Owens is chief executive and co-founder of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based provider of time-tracking software that records activity in real time. Previously marketed to the legal community, Chrometa is branching out to accounting prospects. Gains include the ability to discover previously undocumented billable time, saving time on billing reconciliation and improving personal productivity. Brett can be reached at 916-254-0260 and brett@chrometa.com.