Ping, ping, ping…. and I lost… again.
I can’t seem to get past this level of Candy Crack (my circle of friends’ affectionate name for this addictive game). And now I’ve wasted another hour of my precious time playing games online instead of working on my business.
This used to happen to me a lot. But not so much anymore -- although I do occasionally still indulge in online games. Now, it’s more of a way to give my brain a brief break than cater to an addictive impulse.
Now, most of the time, I get done what needs to be done, without pain and without beating myself up. All because of some simple productivity hacks that I’ve implemented over time.
If you’ve ever struggled with being productive as an entrepreneur, you aren’t alone. It’s a battle for most of us. There are so many distractions and fires to put out that it’s easy to lose time into the great time-suck vortex.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Productivity isn’t something that most people are born with. It’s a skillset. And that means it can be learned. Here are the top seven things that keep me productive.
1. Eliminate distractions.
What’s the biggest time-suck on the planet? I would guess that for most people, it’s the Internet.
The Internet is essential to most successful business, but it also contains Facebook, Candy Crack, news sites, shopping and hosts of other distracting things to pull us away from our work and into fantasy land.
I’ve found that for myself and most other people trying to get productive, it doesn’t just work to say “I’m not going to look at Facebook." That takes willpower -- and willpower is fickle at best.
So, to tackle Internet distractions, I recommend tech solutions -- they do the work for you, so you don’t have to use your precious willpower to get them done. I particularly like the Chrome app StayFocused. It blocks the sites you need to have blocked during hours you specify, and it REALLY helps -- especially if you always get distracted by the same sites.
And if the phone is a distraction, there are apps for that too. But I find that putting it in another room when I need to concentrate works best.
2. Use the 80/20 rule to decide on priorities.
Bill was launching a new ecommerce store and had a ton of things he needed to accomplish. Looking at the task list was overwhelming. So, instead of trying to do absolutely everything before launch, Bill asked himself, what are the most critical elements to do right now that will move the business forward.
By asking this question, he was able to narrow down the tasks that needed to be completed before launch to about 20 percent of the original list. This helped him to focus on the tasks that really needed to be done and helped him avoid procrastination due to an overwhelming list.
3. Control your environment.
My friend Megan had built a nice little income stream for herself working every day on her business outside of her day job. Enough to quit and start working on her business full time. But she was surprised by how hard it was to sit and concentrate when no one was telling her what to do.
So Megan did a very smart thing. She rented a desk in a co-working space. This gave her a place to get up and go to every day. She was far more productive outside of her house and her business moved forward.
Control your environment to control your productivity. If you don’t have an office, Starbucks, libraries and co-working spaces are all great alternatives.
4. Hire outsourcers for lower level tasks.
If there are things in your business that are repetitive and suck your energy for working on more of the 20 percnet tasks that we talked about above, then please, please hire them out as soon as you are able.
You don’t normally need full-time employees for many of these. In many cases, you can hire repetitive tasks out to an outsourcing company or find workers on UpWork, Freelancer and other similar sites.
Doing this frees you up to focus on the important stuff.
5. Build up your tolerance for work.
This may sound strange at first, but if you are used to being distracted and procrastinating then that is the “go to” mode for you brain. You need to build up to a higher ability to work, just like you increase your weight tolerance at a gym.
The easiest way to do this is to use a timer. Sit down (with your distraction blocking software turned on) and set a timer for five minutes. Work on the task at hand without doing anything else. And gradually increase the time. This seems silly, but it really works.
One of the easiest things for entrepreneurs to do is get lost in a to-do list that is too long and too complicated and feel like they got nothing at all done at the end of the day. Time blocking solves this problem.
To time block, you need a paper or electronic calendar with spaces for the hours. I like Google Calendar for this. Then you look at each task you have to accomplish for the day and assign it a time with a buffer zone for the unexpected. So your time block might look like this.
9:00 AM to 10:00 AM write two emails
10:00 AM to 12:00 meet with client Bill Young
12:00 to 1:00 lunch
1:00 to 2:00 setup instructions for app development
2:00 to 2:30 check in on outsourced work
2:30 to 4:00 call potential clients
4:00 to 5:00 clear email
5:00 to 5:30 plan for tomorrow
Not only does this technique eliminate list overload, it helps keep you from having to make 1,000 tiny decisions during the day about what to do next and preserves your willpower for the actual tasks at hand.
7. Build in accountability.
Bill had a really hard time staying on task and being productive. Then he brought on a business partner, and, magically, his productivity increased.
Humans are wired to want to “save face” and look good to the people they respect. So having other people that you are accountable to can really make a difference. That can take the form of a partner, a mastermind group, a coach or even employees.
Find people who you care about what they think, and tell them what you intend to get done. You’ll be amazed at how much more you accomplish.
It’s possible that a few lucky people are born productive, but for most of us, it’s a learned skill set. And that’s good news! Because it means if you are stuck in a procrastination situation then you can become super productive by learning some new skills. If I can do it, so can you!