For some reason, when talking about business and entrepreneurship, people tend to separate themselves into “productive do-gooders” versus “procrastinating slackers.” Those in the latter camp often say, “I could never be motivated enough to run my own business” – this completely contradicts the fact that productivity is a learned skill, just like any other!
Just like you can learn to ride a bike or read a book, you can learn to be more productive. To get you started, take a look at the following list for a few of my favorite techniques:
1. Perform a “brain dump” once a week
Weekly, take an hour to write down everything that’s on your mind – from business concerns to household management issues and so on. Simply getting everything out of your head and onto paper will go a long way towards eliminating the mental fog that often inhibits productivity.
2. Use mind maps to plan out your week
After you know what it is you need to focus on during any given week, use a mind mapping tool like MindMeister to organize your thoughts into actionable lists of tasks.
3. Start every day with a list of your Top 3 “To Do” items
Every night, before you go to bed, make a list of the Top 3 items that you absolutely must get done the next day. Throughout the night, your subconscious brain will begin working on the task, resulting in a higher level of focus the next day and enabling you to get down to business as quickly as possible in the morning.
4. Find your ideal work environment
Everyone’s different. Maybe you work best in an office cube farm – but maybe you’re more productive at home, at the library, in a coffee shop or at a co-working office. Until you experiment with working in different environments, you won’t be able to find the location that makes you most productive.
5. Minimize distractions (as much as possible)
Obviously, if you work in a noisy office, you won’t be able to kill off all the noise around you. However, investing in a pair of noise cancelling headphones, setting your phone to silent mode and turning off the “New Message” notification feature on your email account can all help to turn your work environment into a more productive place.
6. “Close your door”
If you work in an office with a door, get in the habit of closing it a few times a day in order to handle more focused work. If you don’t have a door on your workspace (or if closing your door isn’t an option), create the suggestion of a door by putting on your headphones and scheduling time on your calendar as “Busy” to eliminate interruptions.
7. Clean up your work space
It’s hard to be productive if you’re buried in a sea of paperwork – especially if that paperwork is hiding documents you need to get your work done! Since a cluttered desk leads to a cluttered mind, taking a few minutes every day to tidy things up can be a quick way to get more done.
8. Split test your sleeping habits
Think about it – if we’re all so vastly different in terms of our physiologies, how is it possible that we all do best with exactly eight hours of sleep?
It isn’t, and that’s why I recommend taking the time to determine your own ideal sleep schedule and sleep needs. By applying the split testing technique to my own sleeping habits, I’ve determined that I really only need 5-6 hours of sleep at a time to be optimally productive. Taking the time to uncover this sweet spot means that I get an extra 2-3 hours of work time each day, which ultimately enables me to get far more done than if I’d blindly followed popular misconceptions!
9. Eat a good breakfast
While you sleep, your body uses your available energy reserves to heal and recover – which means that, when you wake up, it’s hungry for more nutrients. Without the new calories you get from breakfast, you simply won’t have the energy needed to be mentally alert and focused. As a result, if you want to be more productive, you need to eat a better breakfast! As an added bonus, breakfast also gets your metabolism started.
10. Work out in the morning
Working out first thing in the morning is my caffeine. It gets my blood pumping and leaves me feeling energized – which is a great way to arrive at the office at the start of the day. I don’t even drink coffee anymore, I just don’t need to.
11. Work first – check your email later
Upon arriving at work, one of the absolute worst things you can do is to start by checking your email. It’s distracting, and it takes your attention away from the activities you’ve already set as your priorities for the day. Instead of automatically pulling up your email accounts, try knocking out at least one item from your “To Do” list before logging on.
12. Try “morning pages” using 750words.com
If you’re still feeling distracted or disorganized, set up an account on 750words.com and try writing out three pages of content in the morning. These pages can be business-oriented or personal – the idea is just to get your thoughts flowing and your productivity engaged at the start of the day.
13. Maintain “Inbox Zero”
Yes, it takes time and effort, but the mental clarity that comes from seeing an empty inbox every day is totally worth it. If you’re struggling beneath thousands of inbox messages, using tools like SaneBox and the Email Game can help you reach this productive state even faster.
14. Limit email checks to no more than once per hour
According to Tim Ferriss, it isn’t necessary to check email more than a few times per week. But if this seems unrealistic to you, try limiting your email checks to no more than once an hour. Really, it’s unlikely that true emergencies will crop up in this window, so take the extra time this practice creates to focus on actual work instead of constant follow-up.
15. Use internet-blocking apps
Along the same lines as frequent email checks, constantly popping onto your social networking profiles or favorite “goof off” websites takes a huge chunk out of your productivity. If you can’t manage these distractions on your own, tools like LeechBlock or RescueTime may be able to help.
16. Streamline your communications and scheduling
Depending on your organization’s structure, internal communications and scheduling can represent a huge chunk of your in-office time. Eliminate unnecessary follow-up and increase your productivity by setting one default method of communication for reaching you and using an online scheduling tool like Tungle.me to minimize time-consuming back and forth.
17. Work in Pomodoros if you crave structure
The Pomodoro Technique involves working in cycles of 20-25 minute work periods and 5-10 minute breaks. While there are plenty of different apps available to track these “Pomodoros,” my favorite option is the FocusBooster app.
18. Step away from the computer every 60-120 minutes
Every so often, take the time to get away from your computer and do something else. By taking a break every hour or two, you’ll give your brain a chance to rest and prevent the burnout that can seriously limit your productivity.
19. Use the “Urgent versus Important” matrix to identify top priority tasks
As you get down to business, distractions will inevitably pop up. Prevent these interruptions from derailing your pre-defined work priorities by determining where exactly the fall in the “urgent versus important” matrix described at the link above and handling them appropriately.
20. Start with your hardest items first
When it comes down to actually accomplishing your pre-defined tasks, there are a couple different schools of thought. Some people believe that you should begin with your hardest tasks first, as completing just one of these items will give you the motivation needed to coast through your remaining objectives.
21. Start with your easiest items first
On the other hand, some people believe that starting with your easiest items helps to build the momentum necessary to tackle larger items later on, by starting you out with a confirmed line of successes. Take the time to determine which method works best for you, as knowing your unique motivational style can make a huge difference in your overall productivity.
22. Use a goal-tracking website to monitor your progress
For many people, seeing progress and productivity displayed in a visual way can be incredibly motivating. To see if this makes a difference for you, try monitoring your goals or habits using programs like LifeTick or Joe’s Goals.
23. “Don’t break the chain”
Another popular productivity approach is to create a list of daily habits and mark off each successfully completed habit on a daily calendar. Over time, you’ll build a “chain” of completed tasks, making you more motivated to not “break the chain” by continuing on with your habit objectives.
24. Work on one task at a time
Multitasking doesn’t work. Your brain requires a certain amount of lag time to get back up to speed every time you switch between priorities. Therefore, if you want to get more done, work on a single task at a time and give it your entire focus.
25. Read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”
Tons of people rely on the “GTD” system to become more organized and get more done. If you’d simply like a set of productive practices to follow in order to increase your overall output, his book is the best on the market.
26. Minimize unnecessary meetings
If you want to get more done throughout your day, you simply can’t waste time in unnecessary meetings. Get in the habit of getting your coworkers, employees and other contacts to handle as much as possible by email, resorting to meetings only when absolutely necessary.
27. Eliminate busy work whenever possible
Similarly, wasting time on unnecessary tasks is one way to prevent more productive work from happening. Throughout your day, continually ask yourself, “How could I be doing this more efficiently?” to uncover potential time savings that will allow you to get more done.
28. Find the right online task list manager for you
Outside of a goal-tracking program, you need a system for managing your day-to-day tasks. One popular option is Remember the Milk (which helpfully integrates with mobile devices and Google Calendar), though it’s important to do your research to see if there are other alternatives out there that might better meet your needs.
29. Set up an automatic password management system
You can waste an extraordinary amount of time looking up all those unique, highly-secure passwords you created – unless you use an automatic password management system like LastPass or 1Password. Take a look at LassPass in particular, as its recent implementation two-factor authentication via Google Authenticator makes it a secure, easy-to-use option.
30. Use accounting tools that automatically import transactions
If you prefer to manage your business’s bookkeeping needs internally, invest in a program that handles as many functions automatically as possible. Programs like Freshbooks or Outright will import transactions automatically from your bank accounts, while also saving you time by compiling standard tax forms for your use.
31. Update multiple social networks at once from Hootsuite
Another great way to save time by streamlining online activities is to download a program like Hootsuite, which will enable you to update multiple social networking status updates from within a single interface. This is an especially good idea if you find yourself frequently turning a quick social media check-in into an hours long industry gab fest!
32. Continually seek out more efficient ways to handle regular tasks
Depending on your industry, you likely have a set of standardized tasks that must be accomplished in order to stay in business. Any improvements that you can make in the way these objectives are handled results in more focused work time that can be used to tackle primary business initiatives.
33. Reward staff members who identify and eliminate inefficiencies
If you work with a team of employees, make sure that you aren’t the only one who’s attempting to make things more efficient. Instead, make it clear that you’ll reward any staff members who bring ideas to the table that allow you to be more productive. Creating a lean business environment is vital in any-sized company and it takes more than one person to implement changes.
34. Train those around you to respect your productivity habits
Along with the idea of shutting your office door and blocking out any distractions, make sure that any other people you work with are aware of what these signals mean. It can be uncomfortable to tell people that you need to be left alone to carry out focused work, but the alternative of being constantly interrupted when you need to be productive is much worse overall!
35. Practice validated learning to determine what makes you most productive
Every so often, check in with yourself to determine which habits and changes have made the biggest difference in your overall levels of productivity. This type of validated learning helps to reinforce the productivity-oriented actions you’ve been taking, as well as uncover new opportunities to become even more motivated.
36. Make nutrition and good health a priority
In a way, our bodies run like engines. If you’re putting crappy oil in your tank in the form of fast food and too much alcohol, you aren’t going to be running at top efficiency. Instead, make your health a priority by eating well, getting enough sleep and avoiding illness.
37. Take an afternoon nap
For greater productivity, listen to your body’s rhythms. If you feel drained or tired in the afternoons, a quick 10-15 minute power nap might be all you need to return to work feeling refreshed and restored. Scientific evidence shows that a power nap of an average of 30 minutes is most effective in improving alertness and focus.
38. Take at least one day off every week
Working 24/7 isn’t sustainable. While a few short bursts of total productivity might be necessary to accomplish your biggest business goals, taking at least one day a week to rest your mind is a vital part of long-term success.
39. Take “tech-free” vacations
Every so often, take a short sabbatical from the digital world. Even Bill Gates takes regular vacations away from the internet – so if it’s good enough for him, you’d better believe it can benefit you as well.
40. Delegate tasks whenever possible
Sometimes, increasing your productivity isn’t a personal thing – it’s learning when to pass on projects to others. Whether you delegate to your own employees or to task-based remote workers, passing on tasks to which you aren’t ideally suited is a good way to boost your productivity on the projects that matter most to you.
41. Don’t be afraid to say “No”
In the same way, being productive often requires saying “No” to projects or tasks that don’t mesh with your business goals. Don’t redirect energy that could be focused towards your main objectives to tasks that shouldn’t be on your radar at all!
42. Bribe yourself
Maybe you can’t find the motivation needed to complete all the pending tasks on your list in order to wrap up a big project on your own – but would you be more motivated to do so if you knew there was a big reward for you on the other end? This is one of my favorite things to do – I promise myself a new phone, a snowboarding trip, or a flight to Vegas that I will receive in exchange for a big project completed. This can be a great way to sustain the momentum needed to achieve your goals.
43. Store motivational articles in your bookmarks
Filling up a bookmark folder on your internet browser with motivational articles can be a great way to kickstart your productivity on the mornings where the last thing you want to do is work. One of my favorite articles to get you started is Leo Babauta’s “The Half Step That Will Change Your Life.”
44. Seek forgiveness, not permission
Waiting around for approval from others can seriously cut into your productivity, so make it a habit to seek forgiveness instead of permission – especially in the case of low-risk, low-investment decisions.
45. Aim for “good enough” – not perfect
Productivity and perfectionism aren’t the same thing. Whenever you waste time tweaking and fussing over a project to make sure it’s absolutely perfect, you’re losing time that could be better spent on your next round of tasks. Instead, find your “good enough” point and roll projects out quickly in order to avoid this potential time-suck.
46. Measure your productivity metrics
I love metrics, and the practice of becoming more productive certainly lends itself to measurement and management. As an example, one productivity metric you could track would be the percentage of items on your “To Do” list that are completed at the end of this day. Pay attention to how this trend changes, and you’ll uncover plenty of opportunities in which you could be more productive.
47. Visualize your end goals
If you’re having trouble maintaining the motivation needed to push through to large goals, take a few moments to visualize the outcome you desire. Really allow yourself to become invested in how you’ll feel once your tasks are completed and use this sensation to propel you forward – even when the last thing you feel like doing is working!
48. Recognize the challenges of creative work
Being involved in any type of creative work (whether that involves product design, coding, web design, sales, marketing or content creation) involves a significant amount more “brain drain” than other administrative or technical positions. To manage the challenges that are associated with creative work, try to structure your days to include periods of uninterrupted creativity, interspersed with work on less-intensive admin tasks.
49. Learn how to handle creative blocks
Given the challenges of creative work, learn to recognize when you’re feeling blocked and what steps you need to take to get back to being productive. It isn’t a shameful thing to feel blocked, as it happens to everyone involved in creative pursuits. What’s most important is that you don’t allow yourself to get discouraged or overwhelmed by the feeling, which will ultimately lead to a much bigger decrease in your productivity.
50. Keep your passion at the front of your mind
Finally, make an effort to keep your passions at the front of your mind. Think about why you got into entrepreneurship in the first place and how you plan to improve peoples’ lives with your product or service. By honing in on this initial motivation, you’ll find it much easier to be productive you when you need to.
While I think this is a pretty comprehensive list of ways to be more productive, I’d love to hear your feedback. If you have any other techniques or tips to share on getting more done throughout the day, share them in the comments section below.