As a business owner, you do a daily dance between handling the latest customer crisis, managing employees, overseeing finances, and doing the stuff of actual production. You’re left with one giant, unavoidable question: how am I supposed to do it all?

According to author and productivity expert Patrick Rhone, you’re not.

“I believe the three best productivity tools are the trash can, the delete key, and the word ‘no,’” says Rhone. Here’s a rundown of the three.

1. Using the Trashcan: Clear Your Physical Environment

If you want to do it all, start with the space immediately around you. Clutter can make it more difficult for you to focus and get your work done.

Rhone suggests, in his book Keeping It Straight, that you identify every item you handle in your office/workspace, and ask, “Where does this belong?”

Perhaps the answer is “not here.” Spend an hour dealing with your most-used workspace, and make a pile of the things that belong in the “not here” category.

Don’t be afraid to put your trash can (or recycle bin, or donation box) to good use. As Rhone states, “…if something does not have a place in your home, in your relationships, in your job, or in your life, perhaps it should not be there at all.”

2. Using the Delete Key: Handle Your Digital Inbox

Email is beneficial for business owners, certainly; it lets you communicate with groups, send and receive quick answers, confirm information, and avoid endless games of phone tag.

But the instantaneous accessibility of email – which provides those benefits – can lead to an overload of questions, requests, and needs piling up for your response. To handle email, Rhone suggests a few simple but powerful methods:

  • “Get to know your ‘Delete’ key…use this key for a vast majority of the email that you receive.”
  • Don’t check email constantly during the day. Choose specific 20-minute increments two or three times a day to handle all incoming messages that are not critical. It’s better, Rhone says, to “process in chunks rather than nibbling away at each message as it arrives.”
  • Handle each email by asking, “Does this require action?” If the answer is no, “delete it or archive it immediately,” says Rhone. If the email requires action, Rhone recommends either dealing with it immediately, or, if more time is required, moving it to a folder labeled “Action” for later response.

3. Saying No: Clarify Your Task List

What do you want to be?

  • A rushed, stressed, overwhelmed person?
  • A calm, successful, happy person?

If you are rushed, stressed, and overwhelmed at work, that’s how you will be at home, with friends, with family, anywhere. The alternative is to decide who you want to be, and then let that determine what you do.

Make a list of all the tasks that fill your day that don’t fit who you want to be, then figure out how to minimize or quit doing them. For work tasks, either, a) eliminate from your business altogether; or b) hand them off to a qualified employee, consultant, or outsourced professional.

A truism of life is that there will always be more needs, and more opportunities, than there are hours in your day. But trying to do it all is not the answer. Instead, choose carefully what should get past the trash can, the delete key, and the word “no” and into your hours.

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