For entrepreneurs, it’s important to understand what habits get you in the flow of a productive day -- that magical, frictionless state where tasks are completed on time and without distraction.
When you’re literally defining your career as you go, you’re more prone to settling into certain behaviors that may help or hinder you for years to come. That’s when it’s important to question conventional wisdom to make sure it applies to you.
I’ve studied the productivity habits of the modern entrepreneur and found three general myths to look out for, as well as how to overcome them in your own work.
1. Myth: Break complex projects down into many smaller sub-tasks.
It's a common belief that to tackle complex tasks, you should break it down into many smaller, organized sub-tasks. However, our research shows that highly productive people only plan and complete two or three sub-tasks before moving on.
Planning every small task from beginning to end can create a planning overhead, and productive people are comfortable with certainty in the short term and uncertainty in the long term when it comes to task management.
Try breaking big tasks into two or three sub-tasks at a time within a larger goal. Once those two or three are done, plan your next few steps. It might take some getting used to, but taking a more realistic approach to complex projects leaves you open to a wider range of ideas, the ability to better recover from setbacks, and a better point of view from which to make decisions at each new juncture in the project.
The fact is you won’t know what challenges or opportunities you’ll encounter at some point down the line, and you need be flexible enough to handle them.
Related: The Secret to Mastering Productivity
2. Myth: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.
Using a full timeline to allocate tasks, no matter how many or how few of them you have on your to-do list, is a major predictor of success. Productive people are always reviewing what’s coming up over the next few weeks, because they know it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.
Trying to do everything today is obviously setting yourself up for disappointment (not to mention burnout) and it’s important to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Entrepreneurs, more than most people, need the mental safety net of knowing they can veer off track if something more important comes up.
Take a look at your task list. Are the bulk of your tasks frontloaded? Try spreading them more evenly across today, tomorrow, this week, this month and this year, and see what it does for your perspective and output. (Note: if it’s a small task that will take less than five minutes, then do it today to free up some time and mental space).
3. Myth: Reschedule it, again and again, until you can get it done.
Think rescheduling a non-priority task over and over again is harmless? Think again. There’s a very real emotional cost that comes with constantly rescheduling that to-do into irrelevancy. Productive people know how to weed out non-critical items in their task lists so they can stay focused and avoid the nagging guilt of a task that just won’t get done. It’s OK to delete it.
Think about what you can actually commit to and make bold decisions about what you’ll spend your time working on during the day. It’s never about getting everything done. It’s about getting the right things done. You only have so many hours, emails, meetings and phone calls in you -- make them count.
Ultimately, productivity is a very personal pursuit. What works for some might not work for others, and everyone has very different definitions of success. Always be looking at your own habits and question what works or doesn’t for you. Perhaps the single most prevalent rule is that productive entrepreneurs make their own "truths" along the way.