Successful entrepreneurs at the top of their game know how to achieve what they want in less time than others. Productivity is a key differentiator between those who make their business thrive and those who do not.
If one of your resolutions is to grow your business, then these 20 easy productivity tips will keep you on track, free of distractions and heading for your best 12 months yet.
1. Plan each day
Remember that old quote: ”Those who fail to plan, plan to fail”? Take 10 minutes each night to write a list, setting out what you plan to achieve the next day. It doesn’t have to be epic. Just four or five tasks that you want to tackle should suffice.
2. Have one single focus
If you’re trying to tackle too many things at once, stop. Multi-tasking doesn’t work. Just pick one thing and do that. Focus can be powerful and will quickly help you to move on to the next job.
3. Ruthlessly block distractions
It’s not easy to concentrate and stop yourself from feeling distracted. But it’s essential if you want to get work done. Use helpful apps such as Get Concentrating, which helps you work more productively, and Rescue Time – an app that will help you understand your daily habits, so you can focus and be more productive.
4. Keep meetings short and sweet
Meetings can be a drain on your time, so try and get into the habit of setting strict time limits on them. Make clients aware that you only have, for example, 90 minutes max. Compose an agenda, first and foremost, outlining the topics of the meeting to keep everyone on track. If meetings are still overrunning, use this great tip – say you have another appointment afterwards and that you’ll have to leave at a specific time.
5. Establish some productivity rituals
We’re creatures of habit, so set up some routines that will automate your behaviour to work more productively without tiring yourself out. For example, choose one big task every morning to focus on and complete it. That way, you’ll accomplish something difficult during a time of day when you should have the most energy and least distractions.
6. Get up earlier
Research suggests that early mornings can help you to seize the day. So resist hitting the snooze button and leap out of bed. You’ll find those quiet hours before everyone else stirs, will be your most productive yet. If you’re not a morning person, why not start with small steps, such as getting up 15 minutes earlier every day and gradually increasing the time.
7. Invest in better technology
Often, the things that waste our time are the tools and technology we’re using to get work done. In which case, review your computer and accessories. Consider all your current software. Is there anything that can be upgraded to speed up your work and make your day more efficient? Read freelancer Ben Matthews’ helpful guide on 29 essential freelance tools for some extra hints and tips.
8. Get the mobile apps for your desktop software
You’re using things like Dropbox and FreeAgent, SproutSocial and Harvest, but you’ve not yet got the mobile apps? Download them immediately to tackle jobs on the go and save time. You might want to log your time while sitting in a queue at the post office, or send a tweet when you’ve discovered something interesting on the web.
9. Set up processes to eliminate time-wasting tasks
Be honest with yourself about how you’re spending your time. For instance, are you still wasting hours sending out and chasing invoices? Automate this task by introducing processes via software such as FreeAgent. It’s a simple and very effective system that allows you to set up automated invoices, that get sent out each month to your clients. You can also set up automated reminder emails, chasing for payment.
10. Group your interruptions
If you can work out a way to tackle all those unexpected tasks in one hit every day, then you’ll avoid repeat distractions. Set aside an hour of your time to phone people back, reply to emails or deal with other non-urgent enquiries – rather than dropping everything you’re doing at the time. The key is to stay focused.
11. Spend less time responding to emails
Emails aren’t supposed to be essays. They should be polite but concise. You should make your point without any waffle. Get into the habit of keeping emails to no more than five lines. And if you suspect an email will lead to an unnecessarily long email conversation? Pick up the phone and chat things through to deal with the matter more efficiently.
12. Read it later
Don't miss out on important information because you're busy. Use apps that will help you save and read stuff later. Get Pocket allows you to put articles, videos and any other information into a virtual pocket, collected directly from any site. While good old Instapaper will let you ‘save anything and read anywhere’.
13. Learn from the best
Subscribe to Lifehacker's How I Work series to discover how highly successful people save time and stay productive. For example, Nathan Blecharczyk, co-founder of Airbnb, likes to use the mornings to tackle bigger jobs. While Yoelle Maarek from Yahoo gets her food shopping done online. It’s a great little series to follow and learn how to be a successful entrepreneur.
14. Focus on where you’re going wrong
While you should always focus on your strengths and exploit them wherever possible, you should also set time aside to tackle your weaknesses. Because certain weak areas might be holding you back and wasting time. Be honest with yourself and identify where you’re going wrong. Then take steps to improve your abilities.
15. Overhaul your workspace
It might seem like an obvious tip, but changing your workspace can make a difference and boost your productivity. For example, consider setting up a double monitor where you can view more information all in one go, thus improving your workflow. If you don’t have to keep switching between tabs and windows, you’ll save a lot of time.
16. Create a nicer work environment
Does your office get enough light? Are you facing a wall and feel boxed in? Change your work environment for the better by moving your desk to a nicer spot, sitting near a window where there is more natural light and even consider adding a house plant to your office. By making a few small changes, you can boost your energy and productivity.
17. Schedule less
We always think we’ll achieve more in one day than we end up tackling. So stop trying to cram everything in and schedule less. You’ll feel less overwhelmed, rushed and frustrated if you concentrate on just three or four essential tasks each day. And when you tick them off your list, you’ll feel like you’ve accomplished something, setting you up beautifully for the next day.
18. Ignore the time wasters
Time wasters can be one of our biggest obstacles to productivity. Those unnecessary emails, phone calls and visits might seem innocent, but they can turn into lengthy distractions. People might even ask for free advice - the cheek! Our advice? Learn to be ruthless. Ignore emails that aren’t relevant and be prompt and polite on the phone. You're not rude if you learn to say no or ignore things that you know will waste your time.
19. Outsource personal chores
When time is money, why would you waste several hours ironing or cleaning your home? Be picky about how you expend your energy and hire other people to do those personal chores for you. Hire a cleaner and do your food shopping online. You can then concentrate on earning more money.
20. Unplug and unwind
If you want to be at the top of your game, then make sure you unplug and recharge your batteries at the end of each day. Cut out the internet and switch off your phone, if possible. Even better, avoid all television and digital appliances at least two hours before bed. Read some fiction instead.