What Kind of Busy Are You? Free Tips to Improve Productivity

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As test prep tutors, we all realize pretty quickly that there's a difference between keeping a student busy and optimizing the student's test prep experience. Clearly, it makes a huge difference which concepts you decide to spend time and energy on during tutoring sessions. Focus on the content that the student most needs to study and you'll see significant SAT score increases. If, on the other hand, you aimlessly drag the student through full-length tests and randomly selected worksheets and you'll be lucky to see any SAT score increase at all. 

It's interesting that as entrepreneurs, we don't always apply the same reasoning to ourselves. Sure, we learn pretty quickly that there is more than one kind of "busy." But we don't always put in the effort to optimize our workflows before we dive into the daily ritual of crisis management. Today, we take a look at how to optimize your business through recognizing the difference between being busy and being productive.  

Before we begin, let's reflect for just a moment on the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln. 

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Given that Lincoln was highly effective as both a President and a log cabin builder, we can safely conclude that he speaks with credibility on this topic. Thus, it would seem to be worth considering a few ways you may be able to sharpen your own axe — so to speak.   

1. Delegate

If you're fortunate enough to have a team around you, then make the most of that resource. Independent tutors often justify doing everything themselves by saying, "It'll take me longer to explain how I want it done than it will for me to do it myself." This is a mistake for a few reasons. First, your team won't get any better without you trusting them to solve problems themselves. Second, members of that team won't want to hang around in a job that never challenges them. Third, anyone who does stick around isn't the person you'd want in that job. And fourth, you need practice communicating tasks and expectations to your team. 

Don't have a team? Well that's your choice, but it puts you at a significant disadvantage in the long run. While competitors are developing and testing more efficient systems, you're stuck doing things the old way. Tried and true sounds good, but even the sharpest axe can't compete with an army of lumberjacks. That said, if you're committed to remaining a solo operation, then you should check out freelance marketplaces such as Upwork. This site is a fantastic resource for small business owners. You can hire everyone from graphic designers to virtual personal assistants to marketing experts. Post your job. Select your expert. Review their work. Request revisions. Pay for the finished product. And all the while, put your time to better use.

2. Prioritize

There are differing theories on this, so I'll just share my own personal opinion: it's all about momentum. Nothing is worse than looking at your to do list after lunch and realizing that you can't cross off a single item. Here's how to avoid that fate.

At the end of each work day or right before bed (same thing for a lot of us!) take two minutes — not one second longer — to get every project/task you can think of out of your brain and onto a sheet of paper. Then put down the pen and don't think about it again until morning. This takes practice, but it's absolutely worth the effort.

The next morning, make your to do list for the day. When you're done, pick three quick tasks that you can get done in 2-5 minutes each. Knock these out first. Then enjoy the feeling of crossing items off the list. Then it's time to tackle your most difficult task, saving a task/project that's more fun or requires more creativity for later in the day. This will give you something to look forward to when you're energy levels are dropping.  

3. Isolate

In a recent post, we discussed ways to improve student focus during tutoring sessions. Turns out these techniques work just as well when self-administered. This is to say that removing distractions helps you knock out more tasks and avoid distraction. Be strict with yourself. Some distractions feel a lot like important work projects. A great example is email. It's too easy to get bogged down answering emails instead of finishing more pressing tasks, especially considering the mounting evidence suggesting that multitasking is neither effective nor efficient. 

It's beneficial to cultivate the skill of unplugging from email during long stretches of your day. For many of us however, the very thought of this is anxiety provoking. Lucky for you, there are a number of tools to help you prioritize emails and unplug without ignoring urgent emails.

Personally, I recommend followup.cc which allows users to instantly "snooze" emails, removing them from your inbox until a designated time in the future. And if you use Inbox by Google, then there's actually a snooze feature built into the interface. When you receive an email that requires you to complete a task before responding, quickly schedule the task, and snooze the email to show up in your inbox again once you will have completed the task.

On the same topic, be sure to check out the free service provided by unroll.me. In just a few minutes, you can unsubscribe from hundreds (yes, hundreds!!) of email lists. But that's only the beginning. The really cool part is that you can "rollup" emails into one daily digest. Say you still want to receive emails from Nordstrom or JetBlue, for example, but you don't want them showing up throughout the day and distracting you from more important tasks. Simply add those subscriptions to your "rollup." All of the emails you "rollup" will arrive as a single email at the time of your choosing. I receive mine at 8:20PM, when I'm (hopefully) done working and relaxing after dinner. In a matter of a few moments, I can scroll through that one email, glancing at thumbnails of all the individual emails it contains.    

Similarly, I recommend installing StayFocusd from Transfusion Media, which enables you to blacklist websites that you know are huge time-sucks for you. For me, the major time-sucks are Quora.com, TED.com, Google News, and — this time of year — Yahoo Fantasy Football. I limit myself to 10 minutes total on these sites throughout the workday. And no, you don't get roll-over minutes. 

4. Optimize   

Ultimately, you'll want to try a number of different tools and techniques to make sure that you make progress toward your efficiency goals. The best way to test what works for you and what doesn't is to document your efforts. Take a few minutes at the beginning of each week to jot down your goals and the specific changes you plan to implement in order to achieve those goals. At the end of each week, grade your effort. What worked? What didn't? How will you adjust to improve your results for next week?  

The benefits of learning to avoid unproductive, time-consuming, stressful behaviors are two-fold. First, you'll notice that you immediately have more time to spend on productive, efficient, fulfilling work. Second, because you're now spending time on work that is more fulfilling, you'll find that you've got more energy and drive to complete tasks that used to feel pretty daunting. Over time, you can begin to optimize workflows by fine tuning how you spend your time, allocate your resources, and direct your focus. But it all starts with recognizing the distinction between being busy and being productive.  

5. Reach Out

For the past few months, we at Clear Choice Test Prep have been happily swamped with requests for FREE software demonstrations. At the same time, our primary objective has always remained providing training and support to a number of test prep tutors and learning centers who have chosen to implement our 100% custom branded test prep system. For us, there is no better kind of busy!  

We hope your fall test prep season is off to a similarly productive start! If you're feeling overwhelmed by all the new clients, we'd be happy to hop on a free call to explore ways to optimize your workflows. In fact, that's become a specialty of ours as we have continued to bring on new a partners. All the while, our intense focus on optimization has remained the driving force behind our SAT curriculum development features we've built to help tutors automate time-consuming tasks like training new tutors, scoring practice exams, generating custom branded progress reports, creating custom quizzes, grading homework, and preparing for upcoming sessions. 

If, on the other hand, you're not as busy as you'd like to be, then you'll probably find our next blog post to be really helpful. We've recently put together another free Ebook that's packed with simple advice for growing your tutoring company. Whereas our last Ebook focused largely on the mistakes that tutoring companies make, our next Ebook will focus more on the best practices, start to finish, for acquiring new customers. 

Now it's your chance to weigh in. What's keeping you busy as a tutor or test prep specialist? Which weekly tasks do you find yourself spending too much time completing? What changes have you implemented to help increase efficiency? Please let us know in the comments.  Lastly, please take a moment to subscribe. We will never send you anything that we don't think you'll find useful.  
  
As creators of the only white label test prep system for tutors, Clear Choice Test Prep has met with hundreds of independent tutors and tutoring companies. This blog is our chance to share the insights we've gathered through those interactions with successful tutoring companies around the world.

Each week we examine ways to help you become a better tutor, increase score improvements, generate more tutoring referrals, and grow your tutoring business. And from time to time, we'll even share links to free resources we've developed for tutors and test prep professionals.