Sometimes, it just seems like we have far more tasks on our to-do lists than we can reasonably accomplish.
That’s why I’ve compiled this giant list of “efficiency hacks” busy entrepreneurs can use to improve their long-term productivity, in each of five main categories:
- Routine hacks, to improve your daily processes.
- Mental and emotional hacks, to improve your mental state and emotional health.
- Communication hacks, to increase your communicative efficiency.
- Team hacks, to ensure you have the best people working for and with you.
- Analysis and improvement hacks, to help you better understand how you work.
Go ahead and dig in:
1. Say no. Your bosses, clients, peers and employees are all going to be asking you for things, pretty much all the time. The more often you say yes, the more indispensable you’ll feel, but the bigger your task list will grow. Learn to feel confident in saying no every once in a while -- I promise it won’t kill your reputation.
2. Take breaks more frequently. We’ve all felt “too busy to take a break” before, but the reality is breaks are good for your brain. They help you feel better rested, improve your focus and boost your mood, all at the same time. Even if it’s only for a few minutes, take a break from what you’re doing more frequently; and, weirdly enough, you’ll get more done.
3. Wake up iteratively earlier. We all wish we had more time in the morning, but setting an alarm three hours early seems like an insurmountable challenge. Instead, set it back a minute or two further each day to gradually adapt yourself to earlier mornings.
4. Set a schedule for the day, the night before. Mornings are busy, and by the time you’re in the middle of your day, you’re already in the thick of things. Take 10 minutes every night to set a loose agenda for how your day’s going to go. It may not be perfect, but it will keep you on task.
5. Establish a priority hierarchy. Learn to establish priorities for yourself (and hold yourself to them). For example, you could set “A,” “B” and “C” priorities, where A is urgent, B is important, and C is not immediately important. Focus on A tasks first, and don’t worry about C.
6. Set a timer for each task. Setting a timer for your tasks helps you in a number of ways. It gives you a sense of urgency, forcing you to work a little faster. It helps you keep track of time. And it rewards you with the promise of a mental break when the timer’s up.
7. Start with something challenging. Though this may not be the same for every person, most of us benefit from doing a challenging task first thing in the morning -- something we don’t want to do. When you do do this, you feel accomplished, and everything else seems to be easier.
8. Turn off all communication for “focus time.” Communication is one of our biggest distractions as entrepreneurs, so when you really need to get something done, turn off everything—your phone, your email, and any of your chat programs -- and dedicate some time to focus.
9. Play moderate-volume music. There are conflicting reports of whether music enhances or stifles productivity, but the empirical evidence suggests that moderate-volume music that you actually want to hear (genre doesn’t matter) can boost your productivity. Make it too soft and you won’t hear it -- too loud, and it will be distracting.
10. Listen to audiobooks and podcasts. Let’s face it: We don’t always have time to read. But there’s almost always time to fit in a short section of an audiobook or podcast, especially during your commute. This can help you relax, clear your mind and also teach you something new you can use in your daily life.
11. Keep note-taking tools on you at all times. You never know when inspiration is going to strike, or when you’ll meet someone important, so keep note-taking tools on you at all times. Fortunately, having a smartphone makes this easier -- you can just use an app like Evernote or one of the default tools on your device.
12. Set goals for yourself and publicly disclose them. Whether they’re big-picture goals, like getting a promotion in a few years, or just getting through Monday without having a panic attack, yours should be set and firm; and something you tell people about. Publicly disclosing your goals helps keep you accountable, and simply having goals in the first place can go a long way toward your accomplishing them.
13. Let someone else do the driving on your commute. Why are you driving to work when you could be taking public transportation, or an Uber or Lyft ride? Depending on your city, it might be a bit more crowded, a bit less reliable, or a bit slower, but you’ll have your hands free to do work, essentially ridding yourself of the dead space that’s usually associated with commuting.
14. Stop reading the news. Reading the news is important for entrepreneurs, but stop doing it as a way to distract yourself. It’s too easy to log into social media or visit your favorite news site for “just a few quick headlines.” We’re addicted to information as a society, and you need to start breaking the habit to free up more time for actual productivity.
15. Stop multitasking. Seriously. Multitasking “feels” like you’re getting more done in the same amount of time, but it’s wrecking your ability to complete tasks efficiently. In fact, it can be credited for an average productivity loss of 40 percent.
16. Do batches of short tasks at once. We all have those little tasks that pile up on our desks; these are usually administrative things like signing off on paperwork or catching up on an email. Try to “batch” these short tasks together so you accomplish them all at once and don’t have to worry about them nagging at you.
17. Start working from home. Some studies suggest that working from home can make you more productive. Provided you’re in an authoritative enough position to make the call, consider adopting this for your own work. You can always go back if it doesn’t work out.
18. Eliminate perfectionist tendencies. Entrepreneurs tend to be creative and driven by analytics, and in our high-paced industry, these characteristics of the job bring in a lot of perfectionists. Ordinarily, this is a good thing -- it means our work is of a higher caliber, on average -- but it can also interfere with your ability to complete tasks. Try not to over-stress about the little things. Perfection is often the enemy of progress.
19. Use automation software when possible. Marketing automation isn’t always a good idea, but there are plenty of opportunities to use it effectively. For example, you can schedule social media posts, schedule marketing emails, or update your calendar all automatically -- if you know the right apps to do it.
20. Try the two-minute rule. The colloquially named “two-minute rule” is this; if it takes two minutes or less to accomplish a task, just do it. Otherwise, it will take you more time to write it down and recall it in the future than it takes to actually do the task. Silly, right?
21. Slowly replace your bad habits. Bad habits are nasty, and you know you have some -- checking your email too often, checking Facebook, and so on -- but how can you break them easily without losing your mind? One of the best ways is to gradually replace them with “good” habits as variants. Instead of this, do that.
22. Use more pen and paper. Though this may seem obsolete to you and make you feel that you came from a forgotten era, try using more pen and paper. It will help you concentrate, improve your memory of whatever you’re writing and best of all: There are no distractions on a blank piece of paper, as opposed to a screen connected to the internet.
23. Break big tasks down into smaller ones. When you’re staring at a massive, time-consuming project, it’s easy to feel intimidated—sometimes too intimidated to start it. But instead of trying to tackle that behemoth, break it up into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks.
24. Always give yourself more time than you need. Most of us are bad at estimating time, especially in a professional context. If you always estimate that you'll need more time than you think, you’ll always be ahead of the game.
25. Get coffee or tea in the afternoon. It’s traditional to have a cup of coffee (or tea) in the morning to perk yourself up, but it might actually be more effective in the afternoon, when you’re hitting a midday slump. A bit of caffeine here can kick you back into action.
26. Make faster decisions. You need to intelligently consider your decisions, but you can’t dwell on them or you’ll waste time. Come to final decisions faster, and you’ll be able to move forward faster.
27. Cleanup your computer’s desktop. Does your desktop look like the image below? It’s easy for clutter to fill up your background if you don’t tidy it up regularly, and just seeing it can interfere with your productivity. Take a few minutes to get it back in order.
28. Organize your digital files. In a similar vein, take the time to organize all your digital files, whether they’re in cloud storage or on your desktop. Establish a clear hierarchy of folders and directories, and adhere to a standard naming convention to reduce confusion for yourself and everyone else on your team.
29. Find a distraction-blocking browser plugin. There are tons of browser plugins developed specifically to keep you from your most tempting distraction websites. There’s a short list of some of the best options here.
Mental and emotional well-being hacks
30. Make your bed in the morning. Making your bed won’t instantly give you new ideas or help you do your work faster, but it will give you a chance to slow down and clear your head after you wake up. It also sets a standard for organization and completeness, which you can carry throughout your day.
31. Take a vacation. Earlier, I mentioned how important it was to take breaks on a daily basis. But it’s also important to take vacations and get away from everything (from time to time). Otherwise, you could end up burning out or over-stressing.
32. Get plenty of sleep. It may seem that you don’t have enough time, but you have to make time. you should be getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night. If you aren’t, you’re going to suffer from impaired cognitive abilities.
33. Exercise regularly. Exercise has innumerable benefits, so try to squeeze some in every day. You’ll get a short-term boost from the adrenaline, and you’ll feel better mentally and emotionally from the endorphin release. You’ll also have more energy and be able to focus longer.
34. Meditate each morning (or each evening). Regular mindfulness meditation will help you reduce your stress load, improve your cognitive functions and boost your mood. It’s challenging to develop it as a habit, but once you do, you won’t regret it.
35. Drink more water. It’s a simple hack, so why not take advantage of it immediately? Our brains and bodies are made mostly of water, so staying hydrated can keep them functioning as they should. Keep a glass of water by your desk throughout the day.
36. Eat healthier foods. It’s no secret that junk food is bad for you, but it can actually impair your work performance by leaving you feeling groggy, unsettled or without energy. Instead, rely on proteins, complex carbohydrates and good standbys like fruits and vegetables.
37. Keep prepared snacks ready at your desk. When you need a quick boost of energy, the vending machine and fast food restaurants are tempting, so keep healthy snacks at your desk to keep you plowing through. Nuts, dried fruits and whole grains are good ideas here.
38. Keep a blog or journal. Keeping a journal (or blog, if you feel like making it public -- just be careful) can help you organize your thoughts for the day, reflecting on what you did well or poorly, and expressing your feelings. It’s a de-stressor and tool for personal evaluation in one.
39. Take a break from the screen. When you stare at a screen for eight hours a day, you’re bound to get headaches (or at least have that buggy-eyed feeling). Step away from the screen -- and your desk -- to get some fresh air; or at least walk around the office. You’ll come back feeling renewed.
40. Find something to be excited about. It doesn’t much matter what it is, but you need something to feel excited about throughout the workday to keep you going. An upcoming concert? A date? A Netflix binge? Whatever it is, remind yourself it exists when you hit a wall.
41. Reward yourself for finishing major tasks. It’s much easier to hit a good momentum when you feel like your effort is worth it. Reward yourself when you finish big projects, with a break or splurge.
42. Get a pet (or look at animal pictures). Physical affection and “cute things” can have powerful effects on your stress levels. If you can’t have a pet at the office, at least look up some cute animal pictures.
43. Call someone you love. Talking to a loved one releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical associated with social contact. It will help reenergize you if you feel that your productivity is slipping.
44. Declutter your desk and office. Though it’s said that geniuses often have messier spaces, dealing with a cluttered desk and office is the last thing you need on a busy day. Take a few moments to organize your belongings.
45. Enjoy your weekends. Weekends are like miniature vacations, and they’re important for you to use. If you’re trying to work through your weekend or you’re pulled into work conversations, you’re not relaxing.
46. But do a bit of work on Sunday. That being said, Sunday is a perfect day to get ahead for the week. You won’t be distracted by communication or incoming assignments, and you’ll have plenty of time to get things done. Build a runway for yourself, and start Monday more efficiently.
47. Look at the positive side. A simple adjustment to your perspective -- namely, thinking more positively -- can have a huge effect on your stress and ability to complete work. Try to correct negative thinking and look at the positive side of everything.
48. Surround yourself with color. Being in a monotone work environment can make you feel bored or trapped. Instead, try surrounding yourself with more color in any way you can; it will stimulate your thinking and relieve stress.
49. Include more art in your workspace. Along these lines, include more abstract art in your workplace. Not only will it help you destress; it can prime your creativity to help you find better solutions.
50. Add plants to your workspace. For reasons we haven’t quite figured out yet, plants seem to improve happiness and productivity. Perhaps it's be the “natural” sense they give, or an extra boost of oxygen; or else people may just generally like plants.
51. Get creative on your breaks. Exercise your creative muscles when you’re on breaks by doodling, singing or writing. Creative exercises relieve stress and can encourage you to come up with more creative solutions.
52. Keep something inspiring close. Keep things at your desk that inspire you, whether they're small reminders of a goal, a picture of a loved one or a motivational book. You’ll need something to turn to on those rough days to keep yourself going.
53. Keep meetings to 15 minutes. It’s generally agreed upon but rarely enforced that shorter meetings are better. You’re forced to get to the crux of your issues and waste less time with fluff. Try to keep meetings to 15 minutes -- 30 at most.
54. Announce meeting agendas proactively and assign homework. When you need to call a meeting, schedule it in advance, and assign homework so your participants are ready for it. That way, you can all hit the ground running.
55. Reduce your number of meeting participants. There’s no reason to invite the entire department. Stop yourself from clicking all those recommended email addresses and stick to only the most important participants.
56. Maintain focus in meetings. You have an agenda for your meeting, so do your best to stick to it. If people start veering off course, it’s your responsibility to bring them back to the issue at hand.
57. Play to the strengths of each medium. There are dozens of communication mediums to choose from, so use them to their greatest strengths. For example, texts are good for fast, short messages, while email is better for extended batches of information; and phone calls are better for a back-and-forth conversation.
58. Cut off unproductive email chains. Email chains can get unwieldy, especially with multiple recipients. If they start deviating from the main subject or fail to make progress, cut them off and opt for a meeting instead.
59. Always use subject lines. Subject lines exist for a reason: Use them. Nobody likes getting an email with a blank subject line.
60. Batch emails. When you’re trying to sort your emails or declutter an inbox, try batching your emails together. Delete them en masse, or move them to specific folders. Speaking of which . . .
61. Organize your emails. Take the time to organize your emails into folders or use Gmail, labels. It only takes a few clicks to create a new folder or label, and you can start sorting your emails accordingly. Use it to group your messages by category or to mark them as tasks getting completed.
62. Unsubscribe from those annoying lists. Like most entrepreneurs, you probably get at least a dozen marketing emails a day that you never pay attention to. These waste your time and attention, so be proactive and unsubscribe from them.
63. Keep teleconferences to a minimum. Phone calls are still a decent way to have a conversation, even in this modern era of technological advancement. However, multi-way calls, where people speak over one other, can be nightmarish in complexity. Keep teleconferences to a minimum.
64. Establish running threads of communication. Try to keep as much conversation “on the record” as possible. This holds people accountable to what they’ve said, and serves as a reference point for anyone confused about what was said, when and by whom.
65. Reduce everything to bullet points. Bullet points are an easy way to make your content more readable (and more skimmable). Try to include them as often as possible to help improve comprehension of your messages.
66. Focus on action items. No matter how you communicate, you should turn your ultimate focus to action items. Why are you communicating? What do you and the other participants need to do once you leave here?
67. Don’t interrupt anyone unless absolutely necessary. Interruptions distract you and break your train of thought; they’re productivity killers. Set a standard of non-interruption by interrupting people only when it’s an emergency.
68. Keep all your notes in one place. Earlier, I recommended having a note-taking app for on-the-go needs. Here, you’ll need to make sure your entire team’s notes are all centrally located and (possibly) publicly available.
69. Learn to speed read. Speed reading will enable you to consume more content at a faster rate and comprehension level. There are many ways to learn speed reading, including apps to guide you in the right direction.
70. Reduce alerts. Alerts, such as new email, text or tweet notifications, serve as minor interruptions that disrupt your thinking and demand your attention. Try to reduce or eliminate them wherever you can, even for communication apps relevant to your team.
71. Get feedback on everything. Feedback is your best tool for personal growth. Try to get feedback wherever you can, from workers, from bosses, peers and clients. The more you learn about yourself, the better.
72. Give feedback on everything. Similarly, you’ll want to give feedback to everyone you work with to build a better overall working environment. Everyone can benefit from this, and you’ll establish an atmosphere where feedback is expected and encouraged.
73. Ask for help before you need it. You can’t be a superhero 100 percent of the time. As an entrepreneur, you’ll be pushed to your limits, and you’ll need to ask for help. So swallow your pride and do this sooner rather than later.
74. Be concise. Concise communication is almost universally better communication; you waste less time and are forced to get to your central point faster. There’s also less ambiguity. Practice conciseness in your daily life and all forms of communication, and you’ll naturally improve in your abilities.
75. Listen more.
No matter what your position is, you can always listen more. Listening attentively increases your understanding, teaches you more and even makes you appear more intelligent to the other party. Commit yourself to listening more and listening better.
76. Hire on potential. If you’re in a position to hire, consider hiring based on potential, rather than past experience. Experience is good, but it also demands a higher cost up-front, and it tells you nothing about where a person could be going. Ask about the future, and you’ll learn more about a person’s potential path.
77. Learn to delegate effectively. Delegation is key to keeping your plate clear and helping your organization operate smoothly. Knowing when to delegate, delegating to the right people and being as clear as possible in your communications can all help you out here.
78. Know your outsourcing options. Sometimes, your team just won’t be enough to handle a specific project or execute your workload. In these cases, it pays to know your outsourcing options, which may include a network of contractors, a corporate partner or even a freelancer marketplace like Upwork.
79. Find a good mentor. A good mentor can help you in a number of different ways, giving you advice, providing feedback on your work, finding your direction and even just bonding. Mentors are everywhere if you attend networking events regularly and stay plugged into your community.
80. Share time-saving strategies. If you find a strategy that helps you save time, share it with the rest of your team. There’s no reason to keep it a secret. Encourage them to do the same.
81. Use better coordination and project management software. If you’re like most entrepreneurs, your team relies on some kind of central force for the bulk of its collaboration -- something like project management software. There are literally thousands of options here, so do your research and choose the best fit for your brand.
82. Set better standards for communication. If you’re a team leader, you’ll be in charge of setting the standards for how your team communicates. Don’t be afraid to formally document some guidelines for communication, including how to structure emails, and follow those guidelines to set a good example.
83. Hold one other accountable. Foster an atmosphere of mutual accountability among your team members. Encourage your teammates to call each other out when they’re doing something inefficiently, and embrace that criticism when you encounter it. This will help you maintain a more consistent environment without resorting to micromanagement.
84. Facilitate open dialogue. Make your employees and peers feel comfortable talking to you about anything; this takes a while, but can be done through mutual trust, building your approachability, and active listening. Open dialogue will help you gather more feedback, address problems more proactively and get to know your team better.
85. Get a white board. This may seem simple, or even obsolete, but you won’t believe how effective a physical white board can be at improving team collaboration. It’s a great tool for team-based brainstorming and demonstration, or you could use it as a long-term institution for scrum methodology and similar approaches to project management.
86. Make everyone participate. Your team is just that -- a team. There are individuals, sure, but the true power here comes from everyone participating as actively and as consistently as possible. When you have team meetings or brainstorming sessions, force everyone to participate in some way. Everyone’s voice is valuable.
87. Make time for team bonding. Bonds can’t be artificially created, nor can they be forced, but they’re still important for your team members to work together effectively. You can make time for team bonding by going out to lunch together, playing games together or scheduling outside-work activities.
88. Use cloud software for file sharing and storage. By now, you’re already using cloud software to back up your files and share them with one other. This software is relatively inexpensive, ensures the safety of your files and keeps everyone on the same page. Even simple setups, with things like Dropbox and Google Docs, can improve your collaborative performance.
Analysis and improvement hacks
89. Learn to type faster. This may seem like you’re going back to high school, but think about it: How much time do you spend per day typing? If you’re an entrepreneur wearing many hats, this should be especially high priority. Improving your typing speed by even 10 or 20 percent could result in massive time savings.
90. Read books and high-authority articles (on anything -- no, really). Anything you read can and will be valuable to you as an entrepreneur. You might learn a new skill or get a briefer on a new industry, or you might venture into a magical world. Whatever you do, you’ll be improving your memory, focus and vocabulary, and opening your mind to new worlds and perspectives.
91. Time how long it takes you to do certain things. Use time-tracking software or even a simple timer at your desk to figure out how long it takes you to do each of your usual daily tasks. Then, evaluate any surprises. What takes you longer than you thought? How can you reduce this time?
92. Learn when you’re most productive. Everyone is different. Some people work best in the morning. Others work best at night. Most are all over the place. Pay close attention to your concentration and productivity levels, and see what you can do to optimize your schedule and cater to those peaks and valleys.
93. Note distractions and eliminate them. Distractions are the enemy of productivity, but they’re notoriously difficult to remove. The first and hardest step of the process is awareness -- so stay conscious of when you’re being distracted, and note what’s doing the distracting.
94. Remove your least-productive apps. Take a look at your phone and any other devices you have and take inventory of all the apps you have on there. How many of these are actually useful? How many just drain your time? It might be a hard move to make, but try deleting some of your most time-consuming, least-productive apps. You can always re-download if you really miss them.
95. Keep your devices and software up-to-date. The technology you use plays a major role in how productive you can be -- you can only go so fast with an older machine. That’s why it’s important to make sure you’re using the latest devices and software to keep you and your team operating at full capacity.
96. Organize a list of your best news sources. Rather than hunt and peck for the latest news stories on the topic of your choice, create and organize lists of news sources you can access faster in the future. You can use a blog reader like Feedly for this.
97. Keep in contact with at least two peer sources. Try to maintain at least two contacts within your industry, and keep in contact with them once or twice per month. You can hold each other accountable for your goals, exchange information and build off one other’s ideas.
98. Attend a new class or workshop once a month. There’s always more to learn as an entrepreneur, so try to attend at least one new class or workshop every month. It’s a great learning opportunity, it’s usually fun and you’ll probably get the chance to meet lots of interesting new people.
99. Get used to root-cause analysis. Root-cause analysis will be your best friend in identifying sources of your productivity loss. So you’re distracted -- how did you get here? Your assignment wasn’t done on time; why not?
100. Accept your failures and move on. You’re not perfect, and you’re never going to be. You’ll procrastinate, get distracted and take more time on projects than you should. It happens, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Accept your failures, and move past them.
101. Keep reading productivity and efficiency articles. This is my cheeky piece of meta-advice, encouraging you to read more articles like this one. Though you might have found this article in an effort to procrastinate on a tougher assignment, you’ve probably learned something valuable here; and that will likely reoccur with every new productivity article you read.
The term “hack” is always dubious when it’s applied to real life, but I hope these strategies, habits and ideas have been helpful for you. With such a vast quantity of potential ways to improve your performance (not to mention your health), you can be guaranteed that there’s at least one thing here you haven’t heard before, and that can improve your life as a busy entrepreneur in some meaningful way.
So, give them a shot! You’ve got nothing to lose, and hours of time and productivity to gain. For more help on starting a successful business, see The Modern Entrepreneur: How to Build a Successful Startup, from Beginning to End.