6 Great Time-Management Apps and Tips That Boost Productivity
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Starting a business is hard, and it takes a ton of work. But if you manage your time well and make every hour count, it’s possible to find success. In order to do that, you need to develop good habits and strategies that can maximize your productivity.
Boosting your productivity can come in many forms. It might mean learning how to spend less time on email or it might mean making healthy choices that will give you more energy throughout the day. It might mean learning about time-management apps or stealing ideas from other entrepreneurs. It might even mean learning tech shortcuts that can help you master your laptop.
This article isn’t meant as a step-by-step guide to becoming more productive. Instead, it offers you dozens of options that can help you manage your time. Pick what works for you so you can be more productive without feeling like you have to sacrifice too much -- and don’t worry, you don’t have to sleep in your office like Elon Musk.
Start your day the right way.
Whether you’re building a house, a business or anything else, you always start with the foundation. The same is true for a productive day, and how you spend your morning can dictate what the rest of your day will be like. Set yourself up for success by making smart, healthy decisions early. Here are a few good tips.
Get the right amount of sleep. Richard Branson likes waking up early in the morning. Arianna Huffington prefers to sleep in a little later. You should do what’s best for you -- for example, Entrepreneur staff writer Nina Zipkin spent a month trying to go to bed and wake up earlier (up by 6:30 a.m.), and found it wasn’t for her. Just know that there is such a thing as sleeping too much. Find the right amount and make sure you’re actually awake while you’re awake.
Meditate. Tony Robbins recommends you start each day by focusing on your breathing, and he does three sets of 30 Kapalbhati Pranayama breaths each morning. Oprah Winfrey also makes time to meditate each morning.
Exercise. It might not seem appetizing to jump out of bed and onto a treadmill, but exercising in the morning can give you more energy, boost your mood and help you stay sharp.
Eat something. It’s like they always say: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your food choices matter -- at least, unless you’re Warren Buffett. The 87-years-old still eats McDonald’s with a Coca-Cola each morning.
2. Shut out distractions and find time to focus.
It starts innocently enough. You get a notification that you have a new email, text or social media mention. You only intend to check it for a second, but instead you end up going down a rabbit hole that eats up an hour or three without you even realizing. While we’ll never be able to shut out those distractions altogether, you can improve your productivity by limiting wasted time, effort and energy. Entrepreneur’s Lydia Belanger wrote about ways you can limit distractions, and here are five of my favorites:
Say no. You might be tempted to say yes to everything, especially when you’re just getting started as an entrepreneur. You might think that more equals more opportunities. However, it often just dilutes your vision and efforts when you should be focused on what makes you and your business unique.
Help others stay on track. When you’re talking to other people in a business setting, try to focus on the task at hand. Be civil, but don’t let them veer off into tangents. You’ll save everyone time.
Use an app to restrict your online activity. Apps like StayFocusd will cut you off from certain websites if you spend too much time on them in a given day. Or you can use an app such as Forest, which gamifies staying away from your phone and can actually help the environment.
Figure out what times are best suited for certain tasks. If you tend to think best in the morning after a workout or a cup of coffee, then do your brainstorming then. Or start each week by taking on your most important tasks on Monday. Learn what schedule works for you, then be mindful about following it.
Block robocalls. Even if you’ve stopped answering calls from unknown numbers, the ringing can take you out of your flow. You can pretty easily block recurring callers on an iPhone or Android, and wireless carriers offer options for blocking spam numbers, too.
3. Optimize your calendar.
One great way to make sure you stay organized and productive is to rely on your calendar. However, setting up your calendar requires some legwork. Entrepreneur contributor John Rampton wrote about the 10 steps he uses to make sure his calendar keeps him as productive as possible, and it can help you do the same. You can read the full piece, or skim through his tips below.
Start by adding all of your recurring dates and activities to your calendar. Whether it’s on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, there are some activities you always have to do. Add these in first.
Establish boundaries. You know when you do your best work, so block that time out for working. That way, you won’t be distracted, which means you’ll be more productive, which means you can leave work at a reasonable hour. For example, Rampton tries to finish everything by 6 p.m.
Emphasize important dates and deadlines. Or, even better, color code each of your tasks and appointments. That way, you can see at just a glance what sort of activities you have lined up.
Include time buffers. Things often take more time than you expect, which is why scheduling back-to-back meetings isn’t a great idea. Instead, add in half an hour -- or an hour, if you have to travel.
Be flexible. Especially if you’re working with a team, things will come up and you’ll have to reschedule. This is another good reason to have those time buffers built in: Sometimes, that time will just allow you to prepare or recharge, but it will also help you stay available if someone needs to change their plans last-minute.
Use a combination of tools. Rampton says there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating a master calendar. He relies on Google Calendar for his daily routine, but he uses other tools to schedule meetings or projects. Find which tools work best for you.
Capture information. When a new idea, task or event pops up, write it down and add it to your calendar. That way, you won’t forget about it, and you won’t be distracted trying to remember it.
Put one person in charge of the calendar. If you’re working alone, this is easy: You’re responsible for your schedule. If not, make one person responsible for the calendar -- letting too many people edit the calendar will only muddle things up.
Share the calendar with your team. This just keeps everyone on the same page, and it can help cultivate a collaborative atmosphere. Your team members can know what to expect moving forward, and they can also provide input on the calendar. That way, you’re not inconveniencing anyone by accident.
Make the calendar easily accessible. This is much easier with the cloud, because you can just have everyone log in to Google, but you can also print out a copy and put it near the proverbial water cooler.
By following these 10 steps, you can create a calendar that keeps you organized and productive, no matter whether you’re working by yourself or with a large team.
Related: Time Management
4. Steal productivity strategies from famous entrepreneurs.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it only makes sense that you should want to emulate the entrepreneurs who are doing the sort of things you want to do. You might not be able to launch a billion-dollar, electric car company tomorrow, but you can start by doing some of the things Elon Musk does. For example, you can compare your morning routine to the Tesla founder’s or learn about what successful entrepreneurs put on their desks. Entrepreneur Associate Editor Hayden Field even went so far as to try Musk’s routine of scheduling his day in five-minute blocks to see whether it would help her stay on-task throughout the day, and you can read about her experiences here.
Similarly, Entrepreneur contributor Carolyn Sun tried Sheryl Sandberg’s spiral notebook strategy for a month, and she wrote about how it helped her stay organized. Sandberg writes down various, daily to-do lists in a spiral-bound notebook. When she’s finished, she doesn’t just cross an item off her list, she actually rips the page out of the notebook. It’s simple, but satisfying, because it lets you physically let go of those tasks. It also works: After finishing the experiment, Sun decided that she wanted to keep using the notebook trick.
Sun also tried Winfrey’s meditation routine, which she wrote about here.
Who you decide to emulate should, of course, be up to you. While it’s definitely worth trying new things, you shouldn’t take anyone else’s routine as law, because everyone has their own approach. What works for Musk might not work for you -- and that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It probably doesn’t work for Daymond John or Bill Gates or other successful entrepreneurs, either.
In fact, it’s probably smart to pick and choose productivity tips from different entrepreneurs to find your perfect fit. If you’re looking for ideas, Entrepreneur associate editor Nina Zipkin highlights 30 different tips from 30 successful founders, and you can try them for yourself to see what sticks.
5. Learn these shortcuts and master your computer.
I spend nearly my entire day working on a computer, and I rarely feel as helpless and unproductive as I do when my device crashes, malfunctions, restarts unexpectedly, etc.
However, by learning the ins and outs of your computer, you can help avoid some of these problems and make sure you aren’t just staring at a loading screen all day. Even if that isn’t a problem, learning the shortcuts of your computer can help you complete tasks more quickly and stay better organized. Here are some tricks you can use on Macs, PCs and Chromebooks that will help you save time.
Macs are often more expensive than other computers, but they’re also highly valued for their design features and ability to sync with other iPhones. Entrepreneur Associate Editor Lydia Belanger broke down 20 macOS shortcuts that use command keys, function keys and other tools. In that story, you can learn how to clean up your workspace more quickly, multitask and write special characters, among other things.
Whether you use a PC or a Mac, you can use Windows operating systems -- and Windows shortcuts. Here are 21 shortcuts, which can help you do simple things like copy and paste or more complex tasks like customize your notifications.
If you use a Chromebook, you won’t be able to do everything you can on MacOS or Windows, but there are still plenty of options for you. Belanger also wrote about the shortcuts you can use on Chromebooks, which include adding apps, searching more quickly and typing in caps lock (since there’s no caps lock button).
Regardless of which computer you use, learning how to operate it efficiently can save you time and, just as importantly, a lot of frustration down the road.
Related: Productivity Apps
6. Download these time-management apps and stop letting email control your life.
How much of your workday is just spent writing or reading emails? Searching through inboxes and waiting for replies? It’s exhausting, and it takes you away from important tasks you need to get done. Entrepreneur contributor Jayson DeMers wrote about 10 email productivity tools you can use to make emailing easier and get more done. Here they are:
EmailAnalytics allows you to track your or your employees’ email usage. How long does it typically take to reply to an email? Who do you talk to most often? How long is your average email? Find out how you’re spending your time on email and figure out how to do it better.
UnrollMe tells you every email list you’re currently subscribed to. Once you know that, you can unsubscribe and save yourself time.
Boomerang can help you figure out whether you need to send up a follow-up email. If someone hasn’t replied to one of your emails after a few days, Boomerang can let you know by sending it back to your email -- kind of like a digital “return to sender.”
The Gmail app offers one-touch message replies. Don’t be afraid to use them, especially when you’re on your phone and need to send a message quickly.
FollowUpThen is another follow-up tool that can remind you and your recipients to reply or follow up.
IFTTT stands for “If this, then that,” and it allows you to set up automatic protocols for your email. It can help you with reminders, create filters and sort your emails.
SaneBox is a series of smart filters that learns how you tend to work and automatically sorts emails into categories based on importance.
Text Expander can create shorthand versions of your most commonly used words and phrases. That way you can write faster, even without typing any faster.
The Email Game does exactly what it sounds like -- it gamifies email management, encouraging you to organize your inbox.
Inbox Pause is another one that does what you think -- when activated, it stops new emails from coming in. Don’t worry -- when you unpause, you’ll receive all of your emails. This app just keeps you from getting distracted by new notifications every five seconds.
Which of these productivity tips or time-management apps do you want to try? Share your favorite time-saving tips in the comments below.