Every single person has the same 24 hours each day. It’s how you use that time that determines whether or not you are successful and accomplish your goals. There is no way to buy more time, so what separates wildly successful entrepreneurs from those that are struggling to make it, is how that time is used.
We can’t work nonstop. We have to eat, sleep and live our lives outside of the business and entrepreneurial world. With the help of entrepreneurs and business owners, I put together a list of fifteen productivity tips that you can use to make the most out of the time you do have available. If you have any to add to the list, please drop them in the comments section below.
1. Turn off email notifications.
The biggest hindrance to my productivity is seeing emails come in and switching tasks multiple times to check and answer those emails. You are much less productive when you split your time between multiple things rather than focusing solely on one thing. When I know there is a task that needs my full attention, whether that’s because it is a more difficult project or because the deadline is getting closer, I will turn off my email notifications
This allows me to give all my attention to one task so that I can complete it effectively and efficiently. This may scare a lot of business owners, though. Most business owners and other c-suite level employees are constantly checking their email, whether in the office or not. The idea of not seeing emails as they come in is probably pretty terrifying to most of these execs.
However, it is important to remember that if you are trying to focus on the task at hand and constantly getting distracted by emails, you are not being as productive as you could be. By taking email out of the equation, even just for a half hour, you will be more productive and efficient in your work.
Jacob Dayan, Community Tax
2. Identify the time of day and environment that works best for you.
This differs from person to person, so it’s important to figure out the unique situation that makes you more productive. It’s pretty easy to work out if you’re an early bird or a night owl, so apply this to your working day. Spend most mornings in a daze until your brain kicks in at lunchtime? Come up your best ideas when you’re surrounded by other creative people? That’s completely fine — you can adjust your work schedule and location to suit. The standard 9 to 5 in an office isn’t the only option anymore, so if you want to see a boost in productivity, organize your day to match your performance.
Of course, this could prove difficult if you’re employed by someone else and they dictate your schedule. If flexible arrangements aren’t offered at your workplace, there are still a few methods you can try out. For example, if you know your concentration is better earlier in the day, be sure to complete your most complicated/important tasks first. Your afternoon can then be dedicated to simpler jobs. And if you know you require perfect silence when working, ask if you can relocate to a quieter side of the office, and be sure to invest in some quality headphones.
When you’ve got your work hours and environment nailed down, there will be no stopping you.
Amy Kilvington, Naturally Content
3. Draconian time management for meetings.
Our weekly and monthly meetings are planned with an almost feverish focus on timekeeping. I have worked for many years in corporate Japan and struggled with the culture of having meetings go on and on for hours without really getting to the point.
So, we use a similar technique to the pomodoro timer. Presenters are required to adhere to the timer and come to the table with their info well structured. If something requires a longer discussion the people involved will take it offline in a separate meeting. When the meeting has ended everything must have been covered.
It might sound stressful, but in reality, it creates more focus and allows people to schedule better, knowing that the meeting will finish at the planned time and not spill over into other scheduled tasks. This allows employees to schedule other meeting with customers or suppliers or among themselves that before would have been pushed over to uncertain times.
Daniele Gatti, Velvet Media
4. Set regular office hours for conference calls, meetings, tasks, planning sessions, etc.
My most engaged time with clients is between 10am and 2pm EST and again between 4pm and 6pm EST. I find this helps me block out interactive time to connect with my clients as well as conduct new business calls.
I have also found it productive to schedule a day off from client work to have an industry exploration day. This is a day where I just binge on all industry knowledge, articles, surveys and other fun tidbits that I can leverage for my client work and my own practice. I even schedule time for grocery shopping, laundry, errands and dinner preparation into my calendar to stay on track and maximize daily productivity. I live by my calendar, which allows for flexibility but most importantly, it allows me to close my office door in the evening and be present for my family.
Jennifer Thomas, Beauty Results PR
5. Divide your annual operational and strategic projects into three categories: gain, sustain and maintain.
Have no more than three things under “Gain” (check out the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution) in order to do them well, make solid progress and not sacrifice family, health, client relationships, etc.
The “Sustain” category are the projects and ongoing activities you need to keep producing, but requires no new creativity or marketing, but does require some sustained effort.
The “Maintain” category are the activities and products to sustain the business, keep passive revenue coming in and maintain your brand but will not take your focus. Why is this so important? It avoids “squirrel” syndrome — moving onto the next thing without finishing what has already been started — or perfecting what’s already in place. It’s doing less to do more.
Sarah McVanel, Greatness Magnified
6. Find balance between getting jobs done quickly and getting them done right.
Our number one rule is that you need to be able to get the next feature, blog post or landing page live as soon as it meets certain criteria. Our second rule is “perfect” is not in our job description.
Whatever we are working on at the moment takes time and we are spending time on it because it has an ultimate value to the company. But, polishing a blog post or running yet another testing pass on the next feature might not return any value if we are the only ones who can see the problems. You need to be able to detach yourself from the job and be able to look at it from a customer’s point of view. Only things that are live and affecting your users create value. “Done” means live and affecting sales.
Brian Sheridan, Fluid UI
7. Use an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planner) to organize and micro-manage every single process of your business.
Businesses of all sizes can instantly benefit from using systems and cloud software to be more efficient and organized. Internal emails aren’t dead, but they are far from an efficient way to manage projects.
Many people think enterprise resource planners only benefit larger businesses with multiple staff members, however even as a solopreneur, having one place where you can organize all of your tasks and responsibilities by project, date and other criteria will allow you to scale without pulling your hair out.
You can use an ERP to better organize and share swipe files, contact details and pretty much any internal documents needed to ensure your business run systematically. Collaborating with team members and working on projects with freelancers and other external contractors is a lot easier when you aren’t living in your email inbox.
I personally use Asana, and their free version is perfectly suitable for most businesses and has no “freemium” limitations. One alternative that is also very impressive is AirTable, and while more flexible, this spreadsheet-ERP hybrid has a steeper learning curve than Asana, but their pre-designed templates are a great place to start.
David Alexander, Mazepress
8. Consider hiring a virtual assistant.
If an entrepreneur is spending most of his or her time in non-business-related tasks and is not able to automate all of them, then they should start looking for an assistant. Thanks to technology, this work can be done remotely as well.
Hire a virtual assistant and offload those activities which take a lot of time but don’t add as much value to the business. The entrepreneur should have a training and onboarding plan for the assistant. This will ensure that the VA is well equipped, and the entrepreneur is not spending time correcting mistakes. While it may seem like a lot of effort, this investment is necessary for long-term gains.
Charu Babbar, ProductivitySpot
9. “Never memorize something that you can look up” — Einstein.
One reason I switched to the Mac years ago is Spotlight Search. A single keystroke provides instantaneous access to decades of logically organized information. This one tool makes digital packrats uncluttered and organized. If Einstein were alive today, he’d probably go on to say, “Never look something up that can alert you”.
With Siri and Alexa always listening, jotting down reminders now becomes intelligent. Technology makes this process easier and more intelligent so that alerts, reminders, and the very information you need is provided to you where and when needed. This idea of moving from a disorganized life, to an event driven organized life frees one to focus on the most critical thinking while benefiting from the right information at that point in time.
“Just in Time” has been used by manufacturers and distributors for decades. All of us can now benefit by embracing technology. The good news for anyone who doesn’t want to embrace technology is that we’re seeing industry leaders enabling this level of productivity for their customers. Banks, for example, are beginning to auto save, invest, and even transact as they get more intelligent about their customer’s needs and capabilities. Productivity comes from organization.
Dan McKinney, Finxact
10. Leverage time-blocking to organize your day-to-day schedule.
In the evenings I put together an outline of what I’d like to accomplish the following day. Prepping the night before only takes a few minutes and saves so much time the next day because you can focus strictly on execution rather than trying to remember what all you needed to do, while simultaneously being distracted by the day’s demands.
For each activity, I make note (in real life, on paper) of how much time I expect it to take. Once I have an idea of what to plan for, I block out what time of day I’ll work on each thing. As the day goes on, I monitor my progress, taking breaks every 50 minutes or so.
The key is to not let your break time creep into the next interval of work. So it’s okay to indulge in distractions like social media, texting, and streaming services, but don’t let it derail your designated productive time. Sometimes the task at hand truly takes more or less time than anticipated, so the final piece of the puzzle is to prioritize activities and know in advance what can be bumped to the next day if the timing of your critical tasks is off.
Emily Shutt, Emily Shutt
11. Document and write everything down.
So much about business, especially for business owners, will completely dominate your thoughts. Most business employees and owners will experience sleepless nights when they just can’t get the mountains of tasks out of their heads. Even though it seems pretty basic, you need to get it all out of your head and written down somewhere.
Think of your tasks as if you were writing a book. 300 pages is hard to come up with in one shot, but imagine if you just wrote one page per day. Two things would then happen naturally. First, the book’s content would be well thought out and second, the book would likely be written faster than if you tried to write, edit and publish it all in one attempt.
Every idea, no matter how complex, can be broken down into manageable tasks. Whether it’s one giant task or twenty smalls ones, writing down your plan of action will solidify what needs to be done in your mind. After writing down what needs to be done, break it all down into the smallest possible tasks. Otherwise, you give short bursts of effort related to whatever comes to your mind and only for the duration that it stays in your mind, which isn’t long.
If you’d prefer to keep everything on the computer, there are many programs that are designed specifically to help you document and break down goals into manageable tasks. Programs like Trello or Basecamp can completely change workplace productivity.
Landon Taylor, BestCompany.com
12. Know what you need to be most productive.
Spend time one week tracking where you spend the most time and looking at your process as to where you need the most help. We get hit every day with technology overload and new tips and technologies are available every day. If you spend the time to discover what you need most you can look only for those items when they are available.
Think to yourself, “If I only had X amount of time to complete X would be helpful.” You might already use Gmail, but if you could sync it with something else you use, it would be more productive. Look at services like Zapier or IFTTT for tools that sync to help improve productivity.
Shannon Myers, Walton Search
13. Have processes and procedures in place.
Having processes and procedures in place is very important for any business that is trying to scale. I also believe in the importance of having a “Do Not Do” list. Make sure your ideas align with your mission statement, and if they don’t, move on.
In the beginning, I was the guy that tried to do everything on his own. As I’ve grown, I’ve definitely learned there’s a lot of value in networking and building relationships. The relationships that I’ve formed are what’s opening doors for the future. Also, learning the art of delegating tasks has helped me today – I wish I knew that in the early years.
One of my favorite time saving tools that really helps reduce emails and streamline communication is through an app called Slack. Instead of trying to communicate through phone calls, texting, email, and Skype, everything runs smoothly because it’s integrated directly through the app. It’s really great because employees can talk about various subjects in different channels so that everyone on the team is able to see any updates, pictures, files and more.
I can’t tell you how many times I struggled to maintain email threads that were a mile long. This tool has really helped condense all of that. It’s really easy to find content as well, because everything is searchable from one main search box. It also helps keep the team accountable because everyone can clearly see where a project stands and the deadlines that come with it. I typically work around 45 to 50 hours a week, but if I didn’t have this tool, it would be much longer.
Brandon Chopp, INTO THE AM
14. Exercise on a regular basis.
The most important productivity hack for anyone from executives, coders, marketers or salespeople, is to exercise regularly. It increases energy, alertness and confidence. It improves overall mood and ability to handle situations in a calm manner.
Many of the most productive and successful people I know exercise for at least an hour each day, whether it’s a long walk, hike, time at the gym or working out from home. I believe in the concept of making time for some exercise no matter where one is or what they have to do that day.
Guy Bar, Hyfit
15. Block out days for no meetings.
I block out Thursdays and Fridays for no meetings. On these days, I try to structure time around longer-term projects that require structured thinking and bigger blocks of time, so I can get into something without having to worry about being interrupted.
Friday, I like doing a weekly review. This is where I look through all of my Asana, figure out what went well and what didn’t go well, and identify the key lessons I learned. This is actually a practice that happens throughout the week. I have what I call my performance journal, where I’m just trying to formalize learnings. I think Ray Dalio says something like, “mistake plus reflection equals progress.”
If you just have the mistake, and then not the reflection, you don’t have any progress.. So, I try to think back over what happened that week, what I would have done differently, what I could have done better, and reflect on those, maybe make a few notes in this journal, then try to internalize those lessons for the following week.
Arram Sabeti, ZeroCater