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Organize Your Way to the Top: 5 Keys from an Efficiency Queen

A question I get all the time from clients or those who know me well is, “How do you do it all?

I wasn’t born with some amazing ability to multi-task or be crazy efficient. It’s something I worked really hard at. Now, sure, it comes very easily which is why my first reaction to questions about how I pull it all off is, “I have no idea!” It’s a habit now and I want to share some keys with you of how I came to be super efficient, which allowed me to take on more client projects, which resulted in my company growing more than I ever expected.

Key #1: I get in the right frame of mind.

On Sunday nights, I have that slight pouty face because the next day is Monday and I know my day will feel out of control as Mondays always are. I also know that exercise gets the blood pumping, makes me more alert, and gives me a LOT more energy. So every single Monday without fail I wake up earlier than I want to and I force myself to work out hard. Once I’m done, showered, dressed, and have coffee in hand… I know that “Super Amber” has come out to play. You wouldn’t believe the energy and efficiency that comes out of me. Any time I need another boost during the week, I do the same process. Works like a charm! I suppose I should note too that I eat well and I sleep well – I think an overall healthy lifestyle does contribute to my work success.

Key #2: I survive by my to-do list.

I created a super simple to-do sheet in Microsoft Word one day because I couldn’t find a system I liked. It had a bunch of lines going down the page and a box to the right for meeting times and notes about what I need to accomplish during the week, but not necessarily “today.” I printed out 90 sheets and had the book spiral bound. I use one page every day and order a new book when needed.

In my mind, I have a laser focus on where each project is at in its timeline so I know what has to be done and by when. For every project, I have a “would-be-nice-to-get-it-done-by date” and a “hard-deadline-no-matter-what date.” If I’m absolutely slammed one week, I may need to push a project to the hard deadline (which is almost always earlier than the client’s hard date) – if I have a light week, I get it done early which makes my clients happy. Either way, my clients are happy because I’m moving the project forward at a good speed. I always give myself a little padding.

So, knowing where the project is in its timeline is key to the to-do list. On my list, I never write huge projects or things that aren’t due for 2 more weeks. Those are for separate “bigger picture” lists I keep off to the side. I want to see MAJOR progress every day so that I am energized to keep accomplishing big things. The goal is to cross everything off my list each day (or come dang close). For anything that I don’t accomplish, I have to write it out on tomorrow’s list. For little tasks, I get so sick of writing them down over and over that I just get them done so I can save myself the agony. (I’m human, wink.) I’m proud of my to-do list and I enjoy looking at it because of all I accomplish. It’s NOT something I dread or fear or dislike. It’s all in our attitude – even about the little things.

Key #3: I make rules and I follow them.

Rule 1, write my to-do list every day even if I don’t want to. Rule 2, get in my office every day no later than 8:30am (I work from home; I hit this goal every day). Rule 3, leave my office every day no later than 5:30pm (ok, I usually hit this, not always, but I scold myself every minute I’m working too late – balance is key, time to rest is key, time to have fun is key – p.s. when I’m not in my busy season I’ll end my day around 4-4:30pm). Rule 4, before I finish my work day I always clean off my desk completely so I have a fresh space to look forward to in the morning (your environment is SO important!!!), and this is when I write out my next day’s to-do list. I let the weight of the tasks fall on the paper, close my office door and leave it all behind me. I have more rules, but you get the gist. It’s essential for my success, especially working from my home office.

Key #4: I play tennis.

Metaphorically speaking, I play tennis every day. I am constantly batting the ball in someone else’s court. For example, when an email comes in with a client asking me to do something, I try to immediately do it or ask them for something I need in order to do the work. Most times, within 5-10 minutes of getting an email, I reply. Unless it is a long email with lots of questions, I send a reply right back to get it off my plate. You wouldn’t believe how happy this makes people! I do it for that reason, yes, but also for my sanity! I get well over 100 emails a day of people sending me tasks, asking for education or tips on topics – LOTS of my time is spent in communication (which I actually think is a lot of fun because I know I’m adding serious value to my clients’ businesses). I would quickly go insane if I let it build up so I reply to emails all day long and I do my work tasks when email slows down in patches throughout the day.

I need to add that my business is probably MUCH different than yours, so I’m not suggesting all of these tips will work well for you, but I do want to get you thinking about how you can improve efficiency in your business. You deserve breathing room, fun, and less stress!

Key #5: I work smarter, not harder.

I am always thinking of how to systematize something. I only need to do a task once before I’ve figured out the faster way to do it. If I do the task two or three times, I keep improving my time by finding shortcuts. NOT shortcuts that reduce the quality of my work – I’m way too much of a stickler for a quality job to let things slip through the cracks frequently.

This philosophy comes out in small ways and big ways. An example of a big way – I noticed that a lot of people in my industry spend sooo much time finding clients, writing proposals, and proving themselves – all trying to get a single new client project. I realized that if I connected with a few companies that already had a client base, I could offer my services under their umbrella (or under mine – it depends) and save a lot of time in creating new work. I learned early on to have a strong focus on partnerships with companies that I believed in and who believed in me, and we could create a more long-lasting relationship. Another example: when I find that my clients start asking the same types of questions, I work smarter not harder by creating a video tutorial to give out anytime someone asks me about that topic in the future. Another example – if I keep writing the same email over and over, I save a copy and use that the next time and just change what’s needed. I’m always thinking of how to save time because those minutes sure add up in a day!

Like many of you, I really want people to have a good impression of me, see my hard work, recognize my values, and want to work with me on a project (big or small). When I tell a client I will do something for them, I set a date earlier than what they would have expected usually, and I use that as a way to hold myself accountable. I don’t want to give the impression that I am a flake, unreliable and not to be trusted. Just the opposite! So I tell people my deadlines or goals, and allow that to be the accountability I need to get things done.

Since I tend to set fast turnaround times for projects, I have to be efficient with my time to get everything done on time. I am definitely a person that would rather be busy than bored. So I keep myself just busy enough before I get into an unhealthy situation of stress (been there). This is also a reason I set rules – to protect myself from burnout. I use the keys above to stay efficient and get things done so I can go play. I was raised with the mentality “Work hard, play hard” and life sure is a lotta fun when you have that focus.

Your turn.

So there you have it, 5 keys from an efficiency queen. I don’t want this journey to end here though. See the Facebook comments box just below this article? I’d love for you to make a comment in that box and tag @AmberVilhauer, telling us what you thought of this article – what was helpful – what your keys to success are – and any questions I can answer. Also, if you felt these tips were helpful, please help me share them with others through our social media share buttons below.

Thank you all for your time!

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