“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.” – Seneca the Younger
When you’re in the early stages of building your company, it may seem like Seneca didn’t have a clue what he was talking about (with all due respect to the famous philosopher). There never seems to be enough time to get everything done. And making matters worse, most entrepreneurs are balancing a number of competing priorities—including friends, family, and sanity—while they manage their operations.
I know the feeling of being overwhelmed with busyness all too well. After experimenting my way through various systems and learning from some of the best productivity hackers around, I’m going to save you some time by summarizing the best tips and tricks that I’ve found.
1. Stop trying to get everything done. It’s keeping you from getting the right things done.
When you’re first building up your new business, you’re often single-handedly responsible for doing it all – design, creation, sales, content, marketing, etc. But there is a big difference between doing everything and doing the right things. When we try to get everything done, we often get nothing significant accomplished.
All tasks are not created equal. If a tornado were approaching your house you wouldn’t bother updating your Facebook status, would you? (We all know that one person who probably would, but generally speaking the answer is no.) When you’re building a business there are tasks that amount to an approaching tornado and there are tasks that amount to updating your Facebook status. Prioritize them accordingly.
There are plenty of tools out there to help you with this. Personally, I useWorkflowy to keep track of every task I think I need to do and prioritize it accordingly.
2. Be deliberate with your time and proactively schedule your day.
Once you’ve prioritized your tasks, schedule them. Actually put them on a calendar.
Every week I start with a completed version of a calendar that looks like this:
This approach accomplishes a few things at the same time. First and foremost, it forces you to prioritize by getting honest with yourself about how much time you really have and what you can realistically accomplish in a day, week, or month. It also puts you in the driver’s seat of how you are spending your time. You are being proactive with your time instead of reacting to all the craziness that crops up from day to day. For me, it also had the benefit of reducing stress. I know how I’m going to spend the vast majority of my day, every day. That’s peace of mind.
3. Run your day from your calendar, not your inbox.
When you spend your entire day staring at your inbox, you’re staring at other people’s priorities. As emails come in, you respond. And you may have a clean inbox, but your priorities are getting kicked to the curb as you spend your entire day in a reactive state. I’ve managed to distance myself from email by turning off notifications and closing my inbox. I work exclusively from what my priorities are on Workflowy and my calendar. I check email when I schedule it (see number 2).
4. Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t know.
Time is the most valuable resource you have to offer anyone. Once you give it, it’s gone. You can’t get it back. Calls from wrong numbers, solicitors, surveyors, politicians, and appointment reminder machines are all not only a waste of time, but unnecessary distractions that disrupt your proactively managed schedule. Not only is taking calls a time waster, it’s also an efficiency disruptor: research suggests that the mere act of getting distracted for a few seconds can derail your thought process and work flow significantly.
If you don’t recognize a number, let it go to voicemail. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message. If it’s urgent, the extra few minutes are unlikely to change the world. Pro tip: Get an app that allows you to read your voicemail. You can skim the text in seconds. I connected my voicemail to my Gmail account.
5. Delete social media apps from your phone.
Perusing social media eats up more than 3 hours a day for the average American. That’s a part-time job! And I’m sure there’s a lot less to show for it than actually picking up a part-time gig.
If you want to maximize your productivity, spend less time watching cat videos. Easier said than done, I know. A quick and easy hack is to delete the apps from your phone. This doesn’t mean you need to abandon social media altogether. You can still access everything you need from your desktop and, when you absolutely must, the browser on your phone. This little trick worked for me because I found that browsing Facebook and Twitter was actually more of a habit than it was anything else. Forcing myself to take the extra couple of steps to open a browser, and type out the domain actually broke the habit and dramatically reduced the amount of time I spent on social media. And that reduced the number of times I unnecessarily distracted myself.
These are just a few hacks I’ve learned about over the years to help me increase my productivity. If you have others, I’d love to hear them!