13 Productivity tips for entrepreneurs

Productivity is an industrial era concept and must be done away with, or at least modified. Till that happens, to thrive in the 21st century entrepreneurs need to focus on improving it continuously. In this post I share tips to quickly start improving your productivity.

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Why only entrepreneurs, you might ask?

An entrepreneur wears multiple hats and whatever your own profile, you can find a reflection of your challenges in that of an entrepreneur. Many of the tips that I share here will resonate with you and you will feel as if they have been written exclusively for you. If that happens, I am happy to say that it actually has been written for you and you must utilise the wisdom of that tip.

But before we dive into these productivity tips for entrepreneurs, let’s discuss a bit on the historical perspective of the term.

Productivity should be redefined in 21st century 

In economic terms productivity is defined as total output divided by the total input. In the 21st century productivity is used to measure the efficiency and ROI for the resources needed to run a successful enterprise, whatever its size.

Productivity is an industrial era concept where it was used to measure the number of units produced every hour by a person. By definition itself productivity should be a redundant concept but it persists in the 21st century as well. 

Do you realise why?

With enhancement in technology, the productivity per se of goods or services might not have increased dramatically but the quality has improved manifold. Productivity does not measure quality improvements, which seems intuitively wrong.

Ideally, productivity should not always be about the services or goods produced per unit time. Or, the profits made for a unit of investment. Productivity in the modern age should be redefined to measure the impact of new skills learnt, new capabilities added.

But to beat the system we must be a part of it and change it one bit at a time. Therefore it is important to be as productive as humanly possible, which is unique for each person. There cannot be a standard benchmark for measuring productivity across the spectrum and it should not be tried as well. Each person is unique and the value that they add to the work they are doing is unique.

Without further ado let us dive into the productivity tips.

1. Create to do lists

I have talked about creating a to-do list in detail and it forms a major part of my time management book. But still I feel the need to talk about it repeatedly.

Lists help you in having a ready reference for things you need to do. As I have mentioned earlier, as an entrepreneur you wear multiple hats and it is easy to get overwhelmed by all you need to do to fulfil responsibilities. Lists keep you on track and you at least know what you need to get done. 

My advice is to have an exhaustive list, which I called SuperList, where you must write down every single task that comes up, even if they are unrelated to your direct responsibilities or from your personal domain.

Remember that you have just 24 hours in a day and whatever you are doing must dip into that same pool of time. So you need to create a list of tasks to be done, prioritise it and schedule them into your calendar. A pen and a notebook is the easiest tool to create lists but you can also use online tools like any note taking app in your smartphone, create voice memos or Todoist. I have started using Todoist over the past couple of months and find it really useful in adding tasks directly.

2. Avoid distractions to focus on task at hand

As an entrepreneur you will have many responsibilities. The good or the bad about it is that all responsibilities are equally important and need your 100%. To ensure a high productivity, you need to avoid distractions when you are working and focus on your important goals.

To start with, eliminate all distractions from your workspace. Switch off notifications from digital devices or keep them in the next room. If you’re working in a room, “do not disturb” sign on the door. If you are sharing your workspace with others, consider putting up a do not disturb sign at the top of your desk, where it is visible to others as they approach.

3. Strategic breaks make you more creative

You need breaks not only in your daily schedule but also occasionally every couple of months. Being an entrepreneur is mentally exhausting and you need to give your mind a break more than your body. Take a short holiday or long vacation. Go with your family or school gang. Whatever takes your fancy.

There is just one rule.

Tune out of work and immerse yourself in whatever you are doing. 

You will return from your break energized and creative juices flowing. And that will spill over to whatever you want to focus on. Writers are notorious for going on writing retreats. I have never done that. I go for breaks with my family and come back ready to attack whatever I am writing currently. Why should this not apply to you?

4. Use technology to boost productivity

Many factors affect your productivity and using technology for different aspects of work can help drive it without much effort. Be it planning your day, analysing your marketing efforts, getting data insights; there is a tool for everything. But it’s not important to use tools just for individual tasks but also integrate them whenever possible to make your work easier. Integrations help you save not only time but also automate your workflows so that you don’t goof up on important tasks. It is very easy to miss out on doing tasks if they need to be done manually. 

For instance, if you integrate your email account with Todoist, you can add tasks directly from email. It eliminates the manual work of noting down the tasks to be done and then scheduling them separately. Since I have started doing this myself, my client pitching, account renewals and credit card payments are much more manageable. And the backlog of to-be-read articles is at most 2 days.

Cost effectiveness is always a concern for business owners. With the rise in product led marketing, you can always try a free minimalistic version of a tool before deciding the one that suits you.

5. What is your why

When you do the same things day in and day out, fatigue is bound to set in even if you are very passionate about your work. But when you are very clear about your why, it is easier to remain motivated.

To establish the real reason behind why you are doing something, keep asking yourself why you are doing it repeatedly till you reach the crux of the matter. Ideally you would need to go six or seven levels deep before you get your true answer.

Once you get your why, you will never ever again need to motivate yourself.

6. Manage your energy levels

For doing mental work, you need to keep physically fit. As an entrepreneur or business owner you are always pulled in multiple directions. You need to be both physically as well as mentally fit. When you are skipping between different tasks throughout the day, your mind needs to remain fresh and focused even as the day progresses.  You must make a conscious effort to keep your energy levels high throughout the day. Every week, every month, 365 days a year. 

How you do this is completely up to you but here are a few recommendations:

  1. Have a nutritious and holistic breakfast; never skip breakfast because it’s the most important meal of the day.
  2. Exercise or meditate or do both in the morning.
  3. Take a power nap, if possible.
  4. Learn to Say no; you are not obliged to let everyone stake claim to your time and mind share.
  5. Sleep for 7 to 8 hours at night.

7. Identify your most productive times

Know when you are most productive and use those time blocks to do tasks that need your maximum focus. This is specially useful if you struggle with focusing or prioritising tasks. When you know your most productive time blocks, you can distribute the most important tasks around these slots.

For me my most productive time slots are 6 to 8 AM, 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM, 1:30 to 2 PM. I do my planning and daily journal in the morning, the majority of clients work in the second slot and LinkedIn posting during the third one. LinkedIn because it is my primary marketing platform but still I tend to be lazy about it. You can choose whatever marketing effort you want to schedule. As you can observe, the post lunch session is a lull period for me and I try to schedule my meetings then. 

8. Have accountability partners

When you plan to do something and fail, you have many excuses. But often these excuses fail when you have an external accountability partner – an individual or a group of people.

Try to have public accountability partners who will question when you fail to do what you committed.

As an entrepreneur you must be part of multiple groups on any of the social media channels. It’s time to put them to one more use and look for accountability partners within those groups. Many Facebook or mastermind groups run accountability threads where you can pair up with others and hold each other accountable for what you have committed.

9. Single versus multitasking

You already have too much on your plate and you will be forced to multitask for many of your activities. Especially those that involve other people. But still there are some important tasks for which you must stay focused on a single one. It would be unique to each person or business but some things that come to my mind are making business plans, developing solutions for unexpected problems, thinking of creative ways to cut costs, mentoring team members, etc.

I have worked with many startup founders who revel  in juggling multiple tasks simultaneously while still others who focus on a single one at a time. Whatever your working style, stick to the one in which you are most productive as well as comfortable. Jury is still out on what is better – single tasking or multitasking. Whatever the verdict might be in future, you can do a little experiment yourself and decide what suits you best. 

Give yourself a week each or at least three days with both and then decide which style boosts your productivity. Don’t forget to collect data for these trial days to take a decision; don’t rely on your gut feeling!

When you are multitasking you are hopping from one task to another and you need to switch your focus each time you start a new task. Is that something you can do without wasting time? When you are focusing on a single task for the whole day or even 2-3 hours at a stretch, you are putting all other tasks on hold. Can you afford to do that, considering all the different responsibilities you shoulder? Take a call and stick to it.

10. Learn to say no

Do you find it difficult to refuse requests? 

You are not alone. Many people find it difficult to say no.

But this is what experts say:

Don’t underestimate the power of no. 

When you are saying no to something you are saying yes to something else, which is more important. Never feel guilty of saying no to someone or something. When you feel a task is not important enough, go ahead and say no.

Allocate your precious time only to the most important tasks, which take you closer to your goals. Even if it means saying no to new projects or clients if they will not make you or your business grow.

11. Delegation drives productivity

Delegation is one of the most effective but underrated methods of driving productivity. Even research proves it.

Do you know why?

Because we tend to spend more time on tasks that do not play to our strengths. And those tasks that play to our strengths we finish in the blink of an eye.

Now you can judge for yourself what you should focus on when you are starved for time or resources.

Delegation can take care of all the tasks that you find difficult or time-consuming so that you can focus on tasks where you thrive and can be more productive.

If you are a solopreneur or just starting out, you might have to consider cost and feasibility before delegating your tasks to freelancers. But still I would advise you to weigh the pros and cons of engaging newbie freelancers or interns as compared to doing the task yourself.

If you have a team with you, which is usually the case with business owners and entrepreneurs, do not hesitate to delegate your responsibilities. To do this effectively, you must be aware of the capabilities of each of your team members and who can do which task more effectively. But this is a one time effort and you would thrive when you know your team that well.

12. Unplug and unwind

You need to unplug from your daily routine to avoid burnout. Creativity is not just drawing, writing or designing; thinking out of the box needs creativity as well.

Being an entrepreneur you are always in “on” mode. 

I have often caught my husband telling the kids that he cannot afford to take time off completely even during vacations. That is a luxury left to people who work for others and can leave their work behind at their workplace.

But I disagree. It is possible to plan vacations in a way that you can completely unplug yourself, and that is what I advise. Believe me, you will achieve more when you attack your work with renewed vigour and fresh mind after the break.

13. Avoid meetings like plague

Does that feel like a punch in the gut? 

Are you wondering if I have gone crazy to suggest that you should not attend meetings? 

I am not surprised by your reaction because that’s the response I get every time. But Doodle’s 2019 State of Meetings report had estimated the cost of poorly organized meetings in 2019 to reach $399 billion in the U.S. and $58 billion in the U.K.

The first thing to note is I am asking you to avoid meetings, not do away with them completely. Which essentially means, attend only those meetings that are absolutely essential. And then, have the agenda laid out, duration fixed, and stick to them. 

Meetings have a habit of extending beyond the stipulated time and you need to be highly disciplined to ensure it finishes in time. Initially it might prove difficult, but once you have managed to end the meetings within their stipulated time, you will get used to it. 

And trust me, both you and your team members would be thankful for getting extra time to focus on work.

Final thoughts

I realise not all of these strategies would be new to you; some of them might already be part of your productivity management plan. I would love to know which ones you are using successfully and what you are struggling with. 

Which of these strategies look interesting and you would like to test out? Shoot away in the comments.

This post first appeared on my blog here.

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