Do you have one or more of the following to contend with on any given day?
- Push notifications
- Text messages
- Email alerts
- Even human beings vying for your attention.
If so, you know that being productive can be a challenge. To add to that, our brains also tend to be occupied with the future and the decisions we have to make.
Time has become one of the most valued commodities an entrepreneur can have. It only makes sense that successful entrepreneurs have figured out productivity hacks to make the most of their days.
Here are 11 things that we can learn from super productive entrepreneurs and science.
1. Eat that frog
Research shows that that our willpower starts off in at a high and reduces through the day as we use it up in decision making. Research also shows that starting a goal and not accomplishing it makes us less effective at the net tasks we perform.
A well-known Mark Twain’s quote could help provide insight into being more productive –
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.
Brian Tracy is an advocate of the process and wrote a book titled Eat That Frog. Prioritizing tasks has never been more important than today when it is so easy to be overwhelmed by everything in our environment.
To prioritize efficiently consider placing tasks in one of the four categories below.
- Things you don’t want to do and don’t need to do.
- Things you don’t want to do but need to do.
- Things you want to do and need to do.
- Things you want to do, but don’t need to do
Now just do the things you need to do but don’t want to do first off. These are frogs – things that are distasteful and need to be done, but you tend not to want to.
2. Begin by journaling
People don’t achieve goals because they can’t control their emotions. In fact, studies show that thinking through what we’d do in different scenarios dramatically increases achievement of goals.
A Harvard Business School report says that setting aside 15 minutes to reflect at the end of each day can be beneficial. It can boost your performance and impact your career success.
Olympians like Michael Phelps and founder of Creative80, Anna DiTommaso are known to journal every day. For them, it is part of their process of clearing out their mental clutter and keeping their focus on having a perfect day.
- Consider beginning the day with journaling
- Keep the focus of journaling on your mindset, not on tactics
3. Tackle easy tasks before hard ones
Research by B J Fogg a social scientist and others shows that by making tasks smaller and manageable, we dramatically increase the chance that we’ll follow through. In accomplishing these small tasks, people tend to experience joy, engagement, and creativity.
Co-founder of Javelin Grace Ng uses this principle to begin her work day productively. However, it may not be something that works for everyone. Behavioral scientists have found that an effective way to create enjoyable experiences is to take care of painful parts of the experience early on in the process. Why? Because psychologically people prefer experiences that improve over time.
Author J.J.Ramberg and the host of MSNBC’s Your Business prefers this way to being productive.
- Start with quick and easy tasks that are important
- Save harder tasks for when you have gained some work momentum. Tasks that require more thinking, planning or problem solving.
4. Track time spent on the business vs. in the business
One of the constant frustrations of entrepreneurs is that they do not spend enough time on their business as opposed to in their business. Michael Gerber’s book the E-Myth goes into some detail on the importance of this.
Kelsey Meyer of Influence & Co tracks the time she spends on her business and in her business via a Google doc. She sets herself a goal each week of increasing the amount of time she spends on the business. Her goal is to spend 50% or more of her time on the business.
- Track your daily activities with a program like Time Doctor or an excel sheet
- Review your activities on a weekly basis to discover what you have been spending your time on
5. Don’t check your emails repeatedly
A study by the University of California found that people who do not check emails on a regular basis at work were less stressed and more productive.
Lorraine Murphy of the Remarkables Group doesn’t check her emails until she gets to the office and only after she has completed three of her most important tasks.
Tim Ferris of the 4 Hour Week recommends checking email twice a day. To avoid checking emails regularly, he set up an autoresponder that said he would be checking emails twice a day or less. Tim has found this to be a great way to train people who want to communicate with him on how to communicate on terms that favor him.
Evernote CEO, Phil Libin discourages reliance on email and instead encourages staff to talk to people.
Productivity expert Sid Savara and Oprah’s favorite organizational expert Julie Morgenstern both advise against checking email first thing in the morning as it can create a false sense of accomplishment.
- Schedule your most important tasks for the day
- Schedule time to check email
- Use the inbox zero methodology to stay on top of email.
- Use inbox pause for Gmail
- Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, uses the Yesterbox system to form his to-do list for the day.
6. Get someone to hold you accountable
The loss aversion principle can be useful in holding you accountable to making gains. It is, after all, human nature to be motivated by avoiding loss than it is to pursue gain. So consider having someone hold you accountable for the objectives you set yourself.
Jack Canfield says finding an accountability partner to help you meet deadlines, accomplish objectives and make progress is a vital relationship to create.
Beth Buelow and Arden Clise became accountability partners. They claim it has been worth the energy invested in the relationship. Jason Zook of Iwearyourshirt.com also recommends having an accountability partner. He offers these tips in looking for qualities in the person to fulfill that role:
They are reliable (can be reached quickly and respond quickly).
They are okay with being your accountability partner.
They can relate to what you’re doing on some level (you wouldn’t pick a non-smoker to help you quit smoking, or you wouldn’t ask someone who’s never been through the book writing process to help you write your book).
You can be honest and open with this person, and they’ll give you honest and open feedback (you don’t just need a cheerleader).
7. Use sticky notes
Studies show that your environment can make a huge impact on the decisions you make without even being aware of it. Sticky notes can be a way to augment your environment. At the same time, it can keep you focused on what needs to be done for the day.
Consider prioritizing your work based on urgency and ROI. John Hall of Influence & Co asks himself the following questions to list and plan for five critical priorities for the next day.
What can be put off till tomorrow?
Which items will deliver the most value for the lowest time investment?
The priorities get put down on sticky notes and placed near his keyboard.
David Lai, CEO of Hello Design follows a similar system wherein he writes down urgent items that have to get done that day. He keeps the memo pad that the items get written down on near his keyboard. The act of writing things down and crossing them off helps prioritize and focus.
- Develop a process of uncovering real priorities for the day
- Write down your list of priorities for the day on sticky notes
- Cross of items as you get through the day.
- Compare notes every so often to see how you are tracking on your objectives for the year.
8. Chunk your work time into manageable bits
Let’s face it life can get pretty busy, and it’s easy to get distracted and end up multitasking. In fact, studies have shown that multitasking or being distracted can reduce your productivity by as much as 40%.
To tackle this, I have found that working in focused periods of time can increase my productivity. And it’s not just me. Motivational speaker and entrepreneurs Chris Winfield has come to the same conclusion. He settled on the Pomodoro technique to maximize his time and efficiency by blocking out 25 minutes of continuous focus. Chris has managed to go from being a workaholic who put in 60 to 80 hour work weeks cut his work week in half. He also transformed his career and most importantly balanced his life.
- Divide your work time into 20 or 25-minute blocks
- Use a timer or better still a Pomodoro timer
- Set realistic deadlines for each block of time.
- Be sure to take your 5-minute breaks.
- Use Time Doctor or Rescue Time to hold yourself accountable
9. Be flexible
The fact is unexpected things can happen in our lives which require our immediate attention. Tim Ferris’ has a routine that differs each day depending on what he has as a priority.
Tim takes a long weekend with Mondays and Fridays being days where his assistants cannot call. He also schedules few things on his calendar, so he doesn’t have to stress and get into multi-tasking.
He says –
I don’t have to do anything in this schedule. I choose to do them because I like them. None of them are financially-driven or unpleasant obligations. If the chance to do something more fun comes up last-minute, I can cancel all of them.
Tim Halberg of Tim Halberg Photography recommends scheduling fun activities outside of work to motivate you to finish on time.
- Schedule a few tasks that are critical to the day
- Spend your time maximizing output in the minimum required time
- When things go well find out why so you can make the necessary adjustments for the future.
- Don’t forget to schedule fun things in your day.
10. Create a routine and schedule everything
Relentless persistence is what makes us more intelligent, rewires our brains and helps us succeed.
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and founder of Twitter explains (in the video below), how he manages his daily routine to fulfill his role at both companies.
He themes his work days to stay productive.
Leo Babauta also uses a daily routine to start the day in the best possible manner.
He says –
The reason I like having a morning routine is that not only does it instill a sense of purpose, peace and ritual to my day, but it ensures that I’m getting certain things done every morning … namely, my goals.
Tips to design a daily routine:
- Have a good breakfast
- Save creative work for when you are tired
- Use an alarm app like pillow to monitor your sleep and let you know when to wake up
- Disconnect or switch off at night or when not working so you are rested
- Develop a morning routines you can keep on weekends too
- Track your habits to better understand yourself
11. Set clear goals and remind staff of them
Setting clear goals helps provide focus. Setting goal reminders even subtle ones like hearing words related to your goals can keep your focus. They can orient you towards making decisions that lead to their attainment according to scientific studies. Teams and departments at the Ritz-Carlton and the White House use daily huddles to discuss and set goals with their team.
Danny Boice of Speek uses Trello to track his team’s long and short term progress. Also, daily huddles are how they stay on the same page.
Nathalie Lussier, on the other hand, uses index cards to write down her five achievable quarterly goals. She keeps the cards in front of her computer to help reduce distractions. Simply asking herself if what she is doing is contributing to any of these goals helps keep her focused. She also uses them in weekly meetings to ensure her team stays on track.
- Use an app or cards to track achievable goals whether long term or short term
- Use daily huddles or weekly catch ups to reiterate the goals and ensure the team is on track and knows what to do to achieve those goals
- Take a day out every month to reflect on the past month and review. Plan on what needs to be done in the coming month.
To be productive requires focus and determination. It seems obvious that successful people follow similar patterns based on principles that work.
As you search for ways to be more efficient and productive, these strategies can help you get on that path.
What productivity hacks and tips do you rely on? Please share in the comments below so we can learn from each other as we work towards being more productive.