They say, “You’ve got as many hours in a day as [insert celebrity name here], but how can you truly unlock your daily potential and make every hour count? Why is it important to prioritize your day and accomplish more?
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Let me explain. For starters, when you work smarter you improve your business and personal well-being. Most importantly, you regain control over your time – an invaluable asset. As Dr. Alan Zimmerman, an advocate of peak performance, explains, “I would suggest that your success and failure … in almost every part of your life … depends (almost entirely) on how you use your time. Think about it. You can always get another [career], and you always get new possessions. [But] you can never get more time, and you can never recapture the time you’ve spent.”
So, in an effort to help you make the best use of your time and resources, here’s a list of seven productivity hacks to get your life and business on track.
1. Take action
It seems simple. Just do it, right? But the reality is this: “It’s easy to find reasons not to take action – lack of experience and lack of money are two common excuses,” according to entrepreneur Richard DeVos in the book Success Secrets of Super Achievers. “But with the right attitude and atmosphere, we can act despite these roadblocks.”
The secret to a productive day is consistent and purposeful action. Leonardo Da Vinci, a polymath known for his masterful artwork, said it best when he observed, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
In order to happen to things you must be in a state of clarity, presence, and enthusiasm for the task at hand. If you find it hard to take action, consider why and work diligently to eliminate the excuses behind inaction.
2. Never check email first thing in the morning
It’s hard to unplug (especially when your smartphone cozies up next to you at night). But to become more productive and successful, it is essential. I know, I know … you think I’m not firing on all cylinders. But the truth remains – email is a major time suck.
Mashable reports, email takes up to 28 percent of a workers time. “McKinsey Global Institute and International Data Corp. found that email is the second-most time-consuming activity for workers, next to ‘role-specific tasks.’” Since you’re an entrepreneur – let’s triple that!
Time spent reading and answering emails can be better spent by taking purposeful action. I classify checking email as “busy work” … work that makes you feel productive, but in reality is not moving you any closer to your goals.
Peter Bregman, author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, said it best in Fortune magazine: “‘Email is such a seductress in terms of distraction because it poses as valid work,’ he says. You’re supposed to be working on a proposal, but you don’t feel like working on the proposal, so you check your inbox.” Instead, set aside a specific time in the day to check email and stick to it.
If it’s virtually impossible to do so in your line of work, set aside a brief amount of time for email or funnel them through an assistant to flag important emails that require immediate action.
3. Commit to physical activity and get moving
Health and wellness contributes to a more productive day. Don’t believe me? Go pick up a ten pound bowling ball, throw it in a backpack and carry it around – all day. If you take this challenge, I’d bet that many of you (including me) would notice a steep decline in productivity. This is what happens when we aren’t active and moving; weight creeps up and productivity takes a nose dive.
A sedentary lifestyle is the culprit of much productivity loss in the workplace and beyond. So, it’s time to get up! The LA Times reports, “People who replace even half an hour of sedentary time with 30 minutes of light activity can improve their health, researchers said.”
I start my day by walking one mile each morning and the results are tremendous. Most importantly, I can tell the difference when I skip a day (or two). And for those that feel as though they don’t “have time”, stepping back seems counterintuitive, but it is actually necessary.
“The brain is a fickle machine, but it’s fortunately one that continues to work on problems even while our consciousness is elsewhere. Stepping back to take a break might feel like moving backwards, but it’s often what your brain needs to actually move forward (Source: 99U; Daunting Task? Take a Walk First).” Simply put: regular physical activity improves your weight, health, mood, energy, sleep and business.
4. Avoid mental drift
I have a team meeting scheduled for 9 a.m., so I decide to focus on a new sales proposal from 8 to 9. Of course, I feel the normal temptation to check my email, social media, and answer my cell phone (that has rung five times in the past hour) — just in case. Even a glance at my inbox would trigger at least 30 minutes of similar small (unproductive) tasks. And before I know it, 9 a.m. will knock on my door and I’ve accomplished nada! Sound familiar?
With distraction, and a lack of focus, mental drift is soon to follow. However, in order to accomplish more, you have to intentionally focus. As 99U writer Brittany Ancell notes, “A lack of focus is at the root of this problem. Constant shifts mean that no task receives the proper attention. Instead, each is carried out in the most automatic (and quick!) way possible.”
Mental drift is the culprit of low quality and incomplete work. Pay closer attention to when you are the most focused; consider the time of day, environment, and your state of mind. Then replicate this atmosphere often.
5. Leverage task management and workflow apps
We live in a digital world, which means we can accomplish more with the help of technology. If you don’t have a personal assistant, you can rely on 24me. If you are a task-oriented entrepreneur ToDoist will help you get the job done. Meanwhile, if you need a suite of project management simplicity (without laborious email), Asana is definitely my app of choice.
But while you’re managing a never-ending to-do list, you’ll need to waste less time doing it. This is where personal goal-setting and habit-tracking apps will do the heavy lifting. To accomplish more, it’s important to understand how you are actually spending your days.
Unlock your potential with Lift, let Chronos find your “lost time”, and open up to Saga so “she” can intelligently learn your every move (creepy, eh?). The right technology can make you more aware of what works and what doesn’t and give you pointers on how to do more of what makes you awesome.
6. Limit phone calls
Heresy! I know. But with phone calls comes even more distractions in your day. And here’s a shocker – not all incoming calls are important or urgent. It’s okay … let it flow to voicemail. I’ve found that when I answer every single phone call I move into reactionary mode – reacting to every little thing instead of running the day. Not to mention, an early morning call can (and will) set the tone for your entire day.
We live in a world of “short attention span theater” and as such brevity is generally better throughout your work day. Encourage more clarity by setting 10-15 minute calls (in lieu of 1 hour monologues). Inform business contacts that you have a hard-stop at a specific time. And when you set conference calls on your calendar dedicate 15 minutes, max. I look at it this way: If you can’t tell me what needs to be said in 15 minutes or less then you need to go back to the drawing board
7. Prioritize based on project value or profitability
What is urgent is not always important. Really important activities – those that contribute directly (or indirectly) to your bottom line – will always take precedence over incessantly putting out fires.
If you find yourself extinguishing fires often, it’s indicative of a flaw, or bottleneck, in your systems and processes. When you fix the root issue you can dedicate and invest your time into projects that really matter. Prioritization on a value basis is a rational and logical approach to deciding what tasks take priority through the day.
Bonus: Get a procrastination chair
To make yourself aware of the amount of time that is actually spent on unproductive activities, get a procrastination chair. Whether it is time spent surfing the web, checking email, taking personal calls, or sharing funny viral videos online, like this one from Southwest Airlines, we all procrastinate on a certain level––some more than others. The best way to become more accountable to your new productive lifestyle is to become brutally honest about how much time is actually wasted. A procrastination chair will keep you more accountable to your day.
The great thing about accomplishing more throughout your day is carving out the time to do what you enjoy most. Time is the world’s most valuable commodity. When you spend it well in business, you can then enjoy it more in life.
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