Originally I was going to call this post 'Productivity tips for entrepreneurs' until I realised what an off-putting term that is. The ironic thing is, at least for me, that using productivity apps and systems is just an excuse for procrastination.
Productivity, or in simpler terms "Getting sh*t done" is an essential skill for entrepreneurs. I've seen friends of mine waste countless weeks tweaking their business plan or their funding application for Innovation Norway, when they should be out there developing prototypes, meeting people, testing assumptions and learning from their customers.
As a writer I fall into a productivity sinkhole thanks to two things that plague us all: social media and email. One quick "oh I'll just check how many times that funny one-liner was retweeted" quickly turns into half-an-hour away from Scrivener. Yet making connections and building a platform are important things to do, so how can it all be managed?
I want to share some techniques I've learned over the years. Some will work for you, some wont, some need refining to your circumstances and some will work out of the box. Good luck, and please share your thoughts and strategies in the comments below!
Many people organise their days with to-do lists and/or daily priorities. The downside to these methods is it often leads to a lack of focus on the bigger picture and therefore longer-term goals. A great example for me is "Learn Spanish".
I face a situation this Christmas where I'll be spending almost three weeks with my Mexican in-laws, the majority of whom speak absolutely no English whatsoever. Last time I was there I committed to learning at least some basic conversational Spanish, but six months later all I could manage was a simple "Me llamo David."
On a typical day, I might have two writing deadlines, five emails to respond to, and a phone interview to hold. On days like that, spending 30 minutes studying Spanish is inevitably pushed to the bottom of the list.
But by scheduling regular time every day, no matter what, the task becomes a priority. For language learning, Duolingo gamifies the process by building a chain and reminding you if you are about to break that chain. I was in love with the concept from the first day I tried it. That was 113 days ago, and the chain is still unbroken. Estoy muy feliz!
If you have a long-term goal, whether for personal reasons or your business, try the Commit app. At a set time every day it will remind you to do that one thing, and most importantly, remind you of the chain you are breaking if you fail to do so.
Are you a morning person or a night-owl? Most people instantly know the answer to that question, yet most of us still force our bodies into an arbitary 8-4 working regime.
Try Sam Carpenter's "Biological Prime Time" test.
Every day for a week, rank every hour of the day in terms of your motivation, focus and energy. This works best if you don't consume any caffeine or alcohol, and you wake and fall asleep naturally. After a week or so, chart the outcome and you will begin to notice patterns. Look for when your body is at its peak (this will be obvius from the graph!) and schedule your day accordingly.
What’s the one thing successful people such as Richard Branson, Jack Dorsey, even Barack Obama swear by? The power of their routines.
For many of us, checking email and social media feeds is automatic within moments of waking up, or certainly before we’ve started an important task. Constantly checking email and social media hijacks our focus and sets a reactive, rather than proactive, tone for our workday.
Looking after number one is the perfect way to start your day, with exercise and a healthy breakfast to get the mind and body off to the best possible start.
Several times I've mentioned how distracting email and social media can be. It's tempting enough to check these things anyway, without your phone screaming for attention every couple of minutes. Be honest: how many of your notifications are actually required?
Try going cold turkey and turning off all notifications except for phone calls. Yes, that includes emails.
You'll be amazed at how much more focused you become.
It's tempting to schedule a few quick tasks early in the day to feel like you're making progress, before tackling the heavy-hitter. Most productivity experts agree that's the wrong approach. As you start work, ask yourself one question: "what's the most important thing I need to do today?"
Then do it.
Another scheduling tip is to allocate specific time for email and social media. Do not open Gmail, Facebook or Twitter outside of these times! From experience, this is a very hard habit to implement, but once you do, your productivity will SOAR.
Productivity apps are everywhere these days, with some entrepreneurial bloggers seemingly using twenty apps just to keep their day organised. Can that really lead to a productive day?
Evernote is far more than a note-taking app, it allows you keep to-do lists, voice memos, emails, attachments and a whole lot more, all within one app, synced across your devices. It's my home base for organising my work.
FocusWriter is teriffic for when you need to get some writing done, whether that's a business plan or simply a long email. The premise is simple, it fills your screen with one colour, letting you write in a distraction-free environment. It works.
It's important not to dwell on these things. The purpose of looking at tools to improve your productivity is to do just that, and not distract you from your business. So pick one or two things, implement them, and see what happens.
(The most important thing I had to do today was get this post written. It's 9.02am and that's done. Go figure!)
Photo: A. Strakey