Part 1. Understanding Productivity
How often do you start your workday with only a few important things on your to-do list, but somehow aren’t able to get them done by lunch?
For example, let’s say you planned to:
- Get through your email.
- Write a proposal.
- Compile summary notes after yesterday’s client meeting.
- Write copy for a marketing ad.
By noon, here’s what you did instead:
- Wrote out the first draft of a potential blog post.
- Got caught up in accounting, an hour pouring over checking and credit card statements.
- Tested a new cleaner on your hardwood floors.
- Managed to get through the first three emails that had been sitting there for over 24 hours.
Distractions abound, and you end up expending time and energy on a bunch of extraneous things that don’t really push the ball down the field. If we spend too much time on the wrong things, there’s no energy or resources left over for the super productive activities that move your company onwards.
Let’s talk ways to improve!
Create a To-Do List & Stick To It
Before bed or early in the morning, make a list of all the things you need to accomplish for the day and assign each task a priority level.
Set time aside for these specific activities in the order of their priority level— and don’t compromise. Unless the building’s on fire, keep hammering it out. This sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many modern entrepreneurs fail to leverage this routine.
Don't use tools as crutches
By all means, use Insightly to organize your tasks—but don’t be so engaged with the software that it becomes an obstacle in your productivity. Minimizing the amount of tools you use and the amount of time you spend using them will help you stay productive. Everything in moderation, right?
If you find yourself avoiding a task, figure out why. If it’s because it’s going to take too much time, break it into smaller steps. Set a little time aside each day to work on it, one step at a time, and give yourself a reward every time you complete a part of the project.
What should your reward be? Maybe it’s a walk outside, a few minutes on social media, a piece of chocolate or a conversation with someone you’ve been meaning to catch up with. A little positive reinforcement goes a long way when it comes to taking on avoided tasks!
If you have a non-essential task sitting on your to-do list, outsource it to someone competent so you can focus on your priorities. This is a fine line to walk, but as long as you assign these tasks to trustworthy individuals who won’t demand much of your time for approval, it will definitely improve your productivity!
Part 2. Essential Habits
What separates mega-successful entrepreneurs from the pack? Habitual behaviors, that’s what. Let’s talk about a few essential habits the champions use to maximize productivity:
THEY SET SPECIFIC GOALS
Set specific short-term goals. Write them down and review them every day—ideally increasing their specificity if you can. Set long-term goals and review them every week/month.
Lewis Carroll said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” If you know what you want and set specific goals, you’ll be much more likely to get there.
THEY LEARN NEW THINGS
Traditional education only gets an entrepreneur so far—the most successful ones take their education into their own hands. Just because your formal schooling is finished doesn’t mean you should stop learning.
The further you go outside your comfort zone, the better. Pursue a skill you’ve never considered before. Pick up a book on an obscure subject and read it all the way through. Never stop expanding your brain!
Everyone gets rejected sometimes. Sure, it’s not fun, but any serious entrepreneur has to get used to rejection and failure in order to succeed.
Think back to a terrifying moment when you really went out on a limb. What was the outcome? If it wasn’t what you hoped, did you recover? The more instances of rejection you tackle, the easier it becomes to get back up on the horse.
THEY SURROUND THEMSELVES WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Some entrepreneurs reach initial levels of success faster than others because of the people they surround themselves with. Ever heard the saying, “You are the sum of the people around you,” before?
Find other driven people with complementary skills and feed off of each other’s energy and passion! Seek out mentors, or be mentor yourself. What you learn from both may surprise you.
THEY SEEK OUT NEW EXPERIENCES
If you live your whole life in your comfort zone, you’re never going to grow. Make it a personal mission to try something new every week, or even every day. Leverage tools like This Prompt Tool for inspiration to try exciting, maybe even scary, new experiences. The more fun you have, the more energy you’ll bring into your work!
Every habit starts with the decision to change. Once you make that decision, you’ll be well on your way to the next step in your entrepreneurial career.
Part 3. Overcome Procrastination
Everyone procrastinates to some extent, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to indulge. The results of procrastination can be super harmful, so it’s important to make efforts to minimize it. Here are 4 behaviors that can help you change your ways and get things done on time, or even ahead of schedule!
If you’re not given a deadline, set one yourself—and stick with it. If you still find yourself procrastinating, try using Todoist.
How To Use It: If it takes more than two minutes, put it on Todoist. Set multiple reminders as soon as you take on a new project. If you have multiple weeks to get it done, set a recurring reminder once or twice a week to force yourself to check in. If you only have a few days, get started that day and set a reminder every day until it’s due.
Identify all potential distractions and remove them. Easier said than done, right? For some this may seem impossible—maybe you work from home, the laundry’s piling up and your dog wants out every six minutes.
Distractions like these are difficult to combat, but there are ways. Shut yourself in a room and don’t allow yourself to leave until you get your work done. Use a Pomodoro Timer to set specific times that you work, email, mess with social media, etc. You can learn more about the Pomodoro Technique here. Adjust your space and schedule however you need to stay focused and disciplined.
COMPLETE EASY TASKS FIRST
Yes, you need to stay focused on your priorities—but if you’re feeling super overwhelmed by your to-do list, do the easy tasks first. Reorganize the list from easy to difficult.
As long as you’re still focusing on essential tasks, you’ll find yourself being more productive and gaining momentum as you work your way through the list. Alternatively, try doing the opposite—swallow the frog and do the hard stuff first so the rest of your day is a piece of cake.
If neither of these work for you, try breaking up your tasks into smaller lists that aren’t so imposing. Completing each small list will provide a sense of accomplishment that will keep you motivated even as you approach your more daunting tasks!
CHANGE THE SCENERY
Choose an off-site location to complete your work for the day. Surrounding yourself with new sights, sounds and smells is a great way to shake things up and re-energize your work.
Remember, everyone has the same amount of time in a day—what you choose to do with your time will ultimately determine your level of success!
Part 4. Declutter Life
Our lives get so overrun with possessions that eventually they end up controlling us rather than the other way around. The same thing happens in our brains—they get all cluttered with unnecessary tasks and stressors. Shed the clutter holding you back!
Here are some tips for decluttering your life so you can focus on the stuff that really matters.
Reduce Unimportant Decisions
Decisions take time, and harder decisions take more time than others. That said, even the small ones can add up and cause a major loss of productivity. Eliminating a percentage of decisions from your daily routine (what clothes to wear, food to eat, coffee to drink, etc.) can significantly increase the amount of time you have to get things done.
Think about all the time and energy you expend mulling over decisions rather than actually executing them! Simplify as many as you can. Make your easy decisions even easier. Set a diet plan, reduce the number of different shirts you have, and so forth.
Get the Inevitable Out of the Way
You can get things like housecleaning, shopping and other small tasks done very quickly if you do them consecutively and in a short time frame. Get the inevitable out of the way early in the day before they can get mixed in with everything else!
Harness A Daily Routine
Creating and sticking to a daily routine will keep you from overthinking, wasting time, and losing track of your tasks. Take everything below into account when you’re crafting your routine:
- When you’ll wake up and go to sleep.
- What you’ll do before you go to work.
- What hours you’ll be working.
- When you’re most productive.
- Where/when you’ll relax, exercise, work on your hobbies, etc.
- The menial tasks you need to take care of.
Keep Your Computer Tidy
If your folders are all mixed up and your desktop is filled with random floating files, it’s time to get organized and clean it up. This will improve your work and productivity across the board. Think of it as remembering to keep your desk clean!
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify!
Self-made millionaire Neil Patel got rid of all the furniture in his living room so he could do all his writing on his floor without distraction. He knew he needed to simplify his home in order to focus his energy on his business.
We’re not saying you need to spend all your time sitting on the floor in order to be successful. Just be strategic about the things you take in and aware of the possessions that are sucking up your energy and clouding your mind!
Part 5. Avoiding Burnout
Real burnout—the kind doctors warn you about—will make you miserable. Don’t learn this the hard way. It will crush your business and erode every part of your life.
Here are some tips for avoiding it:
Set Accessibility Boundaries
Between texts, emails and social media communication, people have access to you around the clock. You need to let yourself be undisturbed at times. Turn off your notifications or leave your phone in the kitchen. Know when it’s time to unplug and set firm boundaries accordingly.
Margin is life’s shock absorber. It’s the space that provides reaction time for unexpected events.
In his book Triggers, Marshall Goldsmith talks about “The high probability of the improbable.” Because there are so many improbable events (getting a flat tire, having trouble logging in to your computer, being unable to print a document) it’s actually very probable that one of them will occur—and the problem is, we don’t plan for them.
Creating margin will leave you time to deal with these incidental events. Assume the improbable just in case. Don’t schedule everything so tightly—keep your hour-long meetings at 50 minutes, give yourself 20 minutes to get to a meeting 15 minutes away. The principle is simple—it’s just a matter of actually executing it.
You can’t think about business ALL the time. Sometimes you need to disengage. Dedicate time to reading, learning a craft or watching a documentary. Listen to a podcast during your commute or while you’re cleaning. Immerse yourself in mind-refreshing content when your business-brain is drained!
Needed (Deserved) Downtime
All top performers know they need downtime to recover. Athletes cycle through routines to give their bodies time to rebuild. Business owners take weeks off between major projects. The busiest executive takes periodic vacations.
Lack of downtime erodes leadership skills. Fatigue and mental exhaustion result in lousy communication, terrible interactions, and poor execution. Don’t wait until an emergency reminds you of how dangerous burning out can be. Recognize the warning signs and take action to avoid it!
Part 6. Top Productivity Hacks
Managing your stress and staying productive during your first entrepreneurial adventure is key to surviving—and thriving! Let’s dig into a few productivity hacks:
CLOSE YOUR EMAIL
Yes, as an entrepreneur you’re always asking things of people and people are always asking things of you—but don’t let your email control your productivity. You don’t have to respond to every single email immediately. Learn how to set boundaries and allot specific times of the day to tend to your email.
You don’t need to start bodybuilding or anything crazy, but adding a little exercise to your daily routine will increase your endorphins and make you happier and more productive throughout the week. If this is unfamiliar terrain for you, start small. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk around your building or stand while you work. Any little bit will help.
HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE
Follow through with your commitments. If you say you’re going to do something, do it and do it well. As a new entrepreneur your reputation matters, and every move you make will contribute to how other people perceive you. Don’t be one of those entrepreneurs who’s likable and fun to be around but fails to walk the walk.
Part 7. Best Productivity Tools
To be your most productive self, you’ll probably need to take advantage of some productivity tools. The key to small business success is having the right systems in place to free up more of your valuable time. Automate everything you can using these services:
- Buffer is great for social automation. Use Buffer to automate your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. and leverage the built-in analytics. Cost: Free, or upgrade for $10/mo.
- Dropbox is an easy cloud-based tool for storing and sharing documents. It’s a bit more user-friendly than Google Drive (see below) because it won’t change the format of your documents. Cost: Free
- Feedly is an RSS manager that funnels all the content you want to read into one place. Two major bonuses of Feedly: 1) no more annoying email newsletters and 2) it integrates with Buffer. Cost: Free
- Google Drive makes sharing between teams super easy and allows collaborators to access documents at the same time, which is an advantage over Dropbox. Cost: Free
- Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator does exactly what it says it does! Put this tool to use if you’re out of ideas for your next blog post. Cost: Free
- Inbox by Gmail organizes your emails so you only see what’s important! Cost: Free
- Slack is a super user-friendly collaboration tool that’s out to replace email. It will almost certainly improve your team’s communication. Cost: Free
- Square Cash is a secure payment app. Many people use it to pay freelance members, but you can really use it for anything. Just a few clicks to send money for free! Cost: Free
- Todoist is great for task management. It’s super easy to use and implement. Cost: Free. Or upgrade for $30/yr.
- Trello is a project management tool. Easily collaborate and communicate requirements, due dates, and more to your team. Cost: Free, or $5/mo. for Trello Gold
- Statusbrew will help you increase your fan base and ensure you’re interacting with the right people on social media! Cost: $6.90/mo.
Meet The Authors
This comprehensive guide for staying productive is a collaboration between successful entrepreneurs and business owners. A HUGE thanks to Jackie Steinmetz, Aaron Armour, Lorraine Ball and Dan Western.