How to get more done on important projects in 6 hours than you usually do in 6 days

Overwhelm derails success.


I have a client who frets about being “not as productive” as an entrepreneur as she was in her days as an employee.

I think she’s often too hard on herself, since she forgets those common attributes of paycheck jobs – water cooler breaks, paid lunch hours, drop-in meetings that morph into chit-chat with co-workers – which a corporate type essentially gets paid for. Employees don’t have to fret about that pesky fact of entrepreneurial life known as “billable hours”; many of them typically get paid for what’s sometimes snarkily referred to as “seat time.”

Having said that, I know that my client does have a point. In a world of ever-increasing distractions and interruptions, it’s challenging to be consistently productive and get important projects done in a timely manner.

This is particularly true when those projects fall into what Stephen Covey refers to “Quadrant II”. Such activities have a major impact on your business success but are not on a deadline.

So how do you take care of those high-impact projects when you don’t have a deadline to spur you into frenzied action? Here are six ways to make it happen.

1. Be ruthlessly honest about what you’ve been setting on the back burner.

You know the tasks I mean: the ones you look at, day after day after day, thinking, “Yeah, I’ve gotta get to that…”.

Some of these tasks may be getting ignored because they’re tedious; think organizing receipts for tax-deductible expenses. However, others are likely to be ignored because they’re big and/or scary; think developing and launching a new product. It’s the latter which will enable you to make a real difference in the world and in your bottom line…but only if you actually tackle them.

So stop kidding yourself that you’re not losing out by letting those important-but-not-urgent tasks lie around undone. You are losing out – and so are the people for whom you could be providing huge value by just getting the damn project out into the world.

2. Clear the area of everything except what you need for your Quadrant II activity.

How often do you start a task and get seduced away from it by something sitting on your desk, within your field of vision?

Yup. Too often.

It always surprises me what an enormous aid to focus it is when I have a clear work space. That means no household bills sitting out, no empty coffee cups or yesterday’s earrings lying around, no funny cartoons I clipped out of the paper tempting me to scan and email them to folks.

Clearing the decks physically makes it easier to clear the decks mentally, so you can focus on what you’ve identified as really important. But that’s not the only type of deck clearing that’s vital if you really want to kick productivity butt.

3. Unplug as much as possible.

There’s not an entrepreneur alive who hasn’t gotten pulled off task by an open window in her web browser, or that enticing sound that indicates a new email/Facebook post/text message, or a slew of other electronic temptations that make it so easy to go Squirrel!!!

When you’re serious about creating an action-packed, get-it-done day, you need to unplug. That means:

Believe me: I know how painful this can be. And I also know how being strong enough to unplug – even for a few hours – will make you massively more productive.

4. Set up an accountability system.

As I write this post, I’m in the middle of my weekly productivity day with my friend and colleague, Nancy Tierney of Firecracker Communications.

Every Wednesday at 11 a.m., I call Nancy to share what project I’m working on this hour and to find out what’s on her agenda. Our call typically lasts five minutes max; then we hang up on each other and get to work.


Clarity + focus + productivity = success.


About 55 minutes later, we report to each other what we got done; occasionally we confess that we got pulled off focus despite our best efforts.

Then we repeat the process for three more hours.

Nancy and I have been doing this for nearly four years now, and it’s one of the best productivity tools we have. Knowing we’ll have to report that we just were messing around is a powerful aid in resisting the temptation to do just that, and it’s terrific to know we have a cheerleader on tap when it’s time to report our successes.

5. Commit.

Having an accountability system in place also helps a lot in bolstering your commitment to either complete a long-neglected project or, at a minimum, get a great start on it.

Some people are so committed to creating big results that they pay someone to help them stay on track. They don’t just talk about commitment; they put their money where their mouth is to ensure it happens.

Whichever route you choose, remember: You make a lousy accountability buddy for yourself!

6. Change your environment.

This is another surprisingly effective strategy for increasing productivity and sharpening focus.

Simply getting out of your usual environment – whether it’s a home office, co-working space, or office downtown – can make all the difference when it comes to shifting those important-but-not-urgent tasks from the back burner to the forefront of your efforts.

Is there a nature center near you? An arboretum? Changing your environment to one that gets you closer to nature is an even more fabulous way to re-charge, ground, and focus yourself. Just working in a coffee shop that overlooks a city park will do the trick.


Coincidence is a funny thing, because I just happen to be hosting an event that will pull all these productivity enhancers together into one severely kick-ass day for women entrepreneurs and corporate professionals.

Escape and Accelerate will be held in Cedar Rapids on September 14, 2017, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Prairiewoods Retreat Center. We’ll commit, focus, unplug, and re-charge by spending the day surrounded by nature and other talented women. I’d love to have you or someone you know be one of those women.

If you’d like to join us but live out of town, Prairiewoods has charming and extremely cost-effective accommodations for overnight guests right on site.

If this sounds like exactly what you need right now but you live way out of town, email me  to discuss joining us virtually at a reduced rate.

And if you find yourself yearning to do this but are getting hung up on all the reasons you “shouldn’t” or “can’t”, remember the words of Orison Swett Marden:

Most obstacles melt away when we make up our minds to walk boldly through them.

So take bold action and give your business the attention it deserves.

(BTW, thanks to Caio Jhonny for posting the overwhelmed image in Flickr.)

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