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Want to Be More Productive and Innovative? You Need to Do This.

Finding sufficient time to think strategically and work independently can frequently be a challenge, especially for leaders. However, creating time for strategic thinking can result in positive benefits to productivity and innovation.

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One of the first things I noticed when I left corporate America to start my own company was the increased amount of context switching. As entrepreneurs, we wear a lot of hats and are constantly juggling competing priorities. I knew that if I didn't stay organized, the day-to-day would quickly get in the way of strategic thinking. I realized the critical importance of carving out time for thinking and contemplation.

Whether you're an entrepreneur or work in corporate America, finding sufficient time to think strategically and work independently can be a challenge. That being said, we see time and again the benefits to productivity and innovation of doing so. A recent survey published in MIT Sloan Management Review found that companies that introduced meeting-free days saw a significant increase in productivity, satisfaction and engagement as well as a decrease in stress. Unstructured time to think is good for the individual and overall business results.

You know how important it is for you and your team to have time to think and focus independently on work, but how do you enable this type of culture? By implementing these five strategies.

Set this time as a non-negotiable priority

Establish time for innovation and strategic thinking and stick with it. Show the importance that you place on this by setting the example for your team. If you have meeting-free Fridays, don't agree to schedule any meetings during this time. This includes interviews and one-on-ones. You might think there's little harm in an occasional meeting, but you will find that the occasional meeting quickly becomes regular if you start allowing it.

Establish effective time management

There are no one size fits all best practices for time management, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Categorize the way you spend your time, and set aside goal percentages for the week. Common categories for entrepreneurs include marketing, selling, leadership (e.g. one-on-ones, all hands, etc.), strategy, innovation and routine activities (e.g. email). Then, think about how much time you ideally want to devote to each category weekly, and build your schedule accordingly.

  • Create calendar holds for each category. This will help to ensure that you devote time to each category.

  • Don't forget to schedule plenty of time for thought and reflection.

  • If you are someone who gets distracted by email, set aside a few times a day to check email.Close your email box the rest of the time. Several studies have shown that the cost of switching focus, even briefly to check email, can have a profound impact on your productivity.

Just say no

Even the most effective and efficient entrepreneur can't do everything. You have to be able to say no. You need to think about how you prioritize your work and goals. You then need to weigh this against the benefit (e.g. time back) of saying no. At the end of the day, only you can decide what to say no to, but you will need to do so.

Reflect on when you are most productive and do your best thinking

Is it in the morning after a cup of coffee? Maybe after you have just exercised? Once you find this time, turn off all distractions. If your email keeps drawing you away, turn off your wifi. Use a white board instead of your computer. Preserve this unstructured thinking time to maximize its effectiveness.

Reduce meeting time

Last, but not least, reducing meetings is a great way to harvest time back into your schedule. Every meeting should have a goal and expected outcome. That's not to say that you should only have formal meetings with agendas. For example, you want to maintain one-on-ones and networking opportunities. However, you should always know why you are meeting. Do you have meetings that can be replaced with another form of communication? Perhaps you are meeting for a project read out. If this meeting doesn't require collaboration or direction, can it be replaced with an email or executive summary? Not only will you benefit from a reduction in meetings, but your team will as well.

The life of the entrepreneur requires significant cognitive juggling. Recognizing and prioritizing the importance of time for unstructured thinking is critical for your success. While it can be hard to carve out this time, it can be done through effective time management, prioritization and reducing distractions and meetings. These practices are important for you as a leader and for setting a positive culture for your team.

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