“Far too seldom, we give ourselves the margin necessary for flexibility, growth, and rest.” — Jonathan Cutrell
The challenge for most of us professionals is not what to do but how to accomplish it all.
Author and Speaker Maura Thomas, calls productivity subjective (and hard to measure) because each person has to decide what is significant, and the significance changes with the time frame.
With millions of words written daily on improving work productivity, how does one filter, customize and actually execute what works for us?
Hear proven ways from successful entrepreneurs and professionals who work to meet their goals, balance priorities and pressures and even manage distractions. Use these tips as a blueprint to design and accelerate your personal productivity approach and win.
Break it down & Build it up
Carmine Mastropierro, President Mastro Digital has a smart mantra. “My number one biggest productivity tip is to break down every project and task into actionable steps. For example, writing market report on a to-do list is very vague and can make it seem more intimidating. Instead, you could break it down into plan, outline, collect sources, write first section or similar. When you go to actually perform the task, you know exactly what you’re doing. ”
This is the one
Author and Speaker Nancy Gaines recommends ruthlessly prioritizing. “Like March Madness and the Olympic Gold, there can only be *one* winning priority. Prioritizing can be extremely difficult for people because everything appears to be equally important. A priority must 1) make you money, 2) save you money, or 3) put a system in place. In the end, choose the one priority that moves your success forward and you will be more productive.”
Eat that frog
“Look at your to-do list, find the biggest task and eat it! By tackling (or eating) the largest task first, you feel like you’ve already had a productive day. You also give yourself plenty of time to factor in any delays or problems.”
Georgene Huang, CEO of Fairygodboss agrees. “As a working mom, my biggest productivity tip is ruthless (and intentional) prioritization. I tend to devote my energy to bigger projects or tasks when my mental energy is not exhausted (i.e. in the morning) and prioritize minor tasks that don’t need as much thought to lulls in my day (e.g. answering emails on my subway commute).”
Digital Marketer at Ridester Hamna Amjad, a professional and a mother of two kids adds- “First thing that helped me immensely was identifying my peak hours- time during which my performance is at best. I keep all my hard and important tasks for this time so that I can fully concentrate on them and do my best. Checking emails and all other small tasks can be done even when you are not so fresh.”
“If the task is particularly large and time-consuming,” adds Content Marketing Manager Hannah Whitehouse, “break it down into small actionable steps (or bites) that are easier to swallow.”
Power in a plan
Business Guru Jojo Pastors believes in planning. “Plan tomorrow, today. Write it down, know how much time each task will require and plan accordingly. This includes prep work, such as phone calls etc. Be realistic: don’t over schedule your life so you can’t get it done.”
“The single biggest productivity game-changer for me was writing down my to-do lists at night,” says Business coach James Pollard. By writing down my to-do list at night (for the next day) I am able to think through what I got done during the day, what still needs to be done, etc. Plus, when I wake up, I can just get straight to work- no thinking or motivation required.”
Entrepreneur Rachel Kenyon of Happy QuickBooks Girl adds, “Re-writing your to-do list at the end of each work day will do two things: It will remind you of things that would otherwise blur into the page. You’ll also get tired of writing the same things over and over. Don’t underestimate the power of checking things off your list. It’s like seeing pounds drop from the scale or dollars stack up on the bank. It’s motivating.”
CEO Zondra Wilson of Blu Skin Care has weekend advice. “Take time on Friday afternoons to plan the week ahead. Most of us are already checked out by the time Friday afternoon rolls around. So instead of forcing yourself to work on a big project during this time, how about planning for the week ahead? Specifically, you’ll want to make a three-category priority list, with slots for work, relationships, and self. Put two to three items in each category, then look over your calendar for the following week, and see where you can fit them in.”
Great way to start prepared on a Monday morning!
Honor the Limit
“Limit your time on a task”, advises Founder Craig De Borba of On Point Internet Marketing. “Schedule out your day according to time slots and give yourself that amount of time to work on that task. If you don’t finish the task within the time period don’t worry, move on and come back to it when you have free time or the next day. This way you are more focused and diligent in getting it done, and inevitably more productive.”
Follow the System
“Every week we figure out what we need to do to get closer to achieving our goals, and put the corresponding sticky notes in the ‘to do’ column of the KANBAN. Once we start a task, we put the sticky note in the ‘doing’ column. Once a task is done, it then moves to the ‘done’ column with other completed tasks.
The KANBAN means that we don’t have to stick to a schedule as such, but are CLEAR on what needs to happen each week for us to move closer to our goals.”
Business Strategist Honey Patel’s go to system is calendaring. “I calendar EVERYTHING: commute time, sleep time, lunch/dinner, social activities, specific work I am doing and when, so I can focus that time on getting specific things done. Because I track ALL my time in the calendar, I know what time I have when to do what. For example, I have a 30 min train commute time so I pick 2-3 tasks I can get done in that time.”
Work on the system
Systems Strategist Alaia Williams recommends constantly evaluating for systemizing and automating anything you can. “Every time I feel like I’m stuck in the weeds of my business and not making real progress, I look at what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and look for ways to improve. Get as much off your plate as you can so that you can focus on the things that only you can do (or that you can do most efficiently). Allow clients and vendors to schedule appointments online. Send out automated appointment reminders. Automate billing and expense categorization. The more you can automate and take off the plates of you and your team members, the more time you have to spend on high touch and high value activities.”
Less is More
Career Coach Erin Blythe Sanders says, “As a 24×7 entrepreneur, I discovered that I had to work…. less. Once I made the decision to only work on my business four days a week while setting aside Fridays for household management and weekends for actual free time, it made all the difference in the world.
Having less work hours in my week meant, those that I had, needed to be super focused. I had to prioritize in a way that made me so much more effective it was shocking!”
Business owner Brittany Trama of Your Automated Biz advocates simplifying. “Instead of using separate to-do list and note taking apps, Use your calendar to keep track of your to-do list. Why? Because you’re already using it! Your calendar is already a core part of your productivity toolbox.
Trama also feels that there’s a mental cost to switching back and forth between multiple apps (to-do list app, notes app tool, project management tool) which hurts your productivity. “So if you can minimize the number of tools you need to figure out what you should be focusing on, you’re going to be much more productive.
Using Google Calendar as my to-do list has changed my life. By having everything in one place, I can make sure nothing falls through the cracks. I have more time to focus on getting work done and I’m also saving money by reducing the number of applications I purchase.”
“As an entrepreneur, you should prioritize finding a balance between your career and private life, which includes taking days off,” says CEO Earl Choate of Concrete Camouflage. “Working more hours does not mean higher efficiency. Productivity comes down to output, not how many hours you log.”
Touch once and be done
Angela Nino, Training Manager at Versitas says- “My single best productivity tip is to *never touch the same piece of paper more than once.* My mentor from my college days gave me that advice and I still use it to this day!
I open all of my mail every day. Much of it goes into the shredder or recycle. The rest I deal with right away or file away. I treat my email messages in a similar manner and do something with it right away or I file it into a folder according to priority. I have an email folder for to do today, finish by Friday, and when I get time.
It is amazing how much more productive I am because of that one tip. There is less physical, email, and office clutter, which makes it easier to work and think.”
Assign ‘meet the world’ day
“I batch all my meetings into just two days Monday and Thursday,” says Paul Bromen, CEO of Upon a Mattress. “Tuesday and Wednesday are focused on deep, high value work. Meetings can be energizing, but they disrupt the concentration I need to deliver impact,” he adds. “Because I work from home this also saves me time in the morning. On Monday or Thursday I put effort into looking my best. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll wear my pajamas until it’s time to hit the gym.”
CMO Lisa Masiello of TechMarc Labs agrees. “I became more productive after I started scheduling client calls and meetings on two or three specific days of the week. The meeting interruptions throughout the day were not conducive to increased productivity. Although days with back to back meetings or calls can seem long, they free me up on the other days of the week to be able to concentrate on specific projects for extended periods of time.”
Consider ‘Just in time’
Tracy Julien, VP of Marketing at Guided Choice, encourages working under pressure. “Although it may seem counter-intuitive, some people really thrive under pressure. This allows them to be more productive in a certain time frame, more so than would seem possible. In order to create that stressful situation, try to block out less time for a task that would normally take a while to complete. It will cause greater focus to get the task done when you begin working and in turn, help in finishing it on time.”
Give up to grow
“When starting out, business owners waste a lot of precious time researching and learning different systems and tools that they may only use once,” says Productivity Consultant and Coach Marcey Rader.
“I try to be honest with myself about my strengths. If something is a great opportunity I might force myself to do related tasks for 3 or 6 months, but if it turns out to not be a strength I look to delegate it,” adds Founder Dayne Shuda of Ghost Blog Writers.
Businessman Mike Kozlik has some sage advice. “One of the best, yet most difficult ways for business owners to increase productivity is proper and thorough delegation. Leaders must gain trust in their staff members’ abilities to accomplish tasks with minimal direct supervision. Each action that is touched by the least number of people is an efficient process.”
In fact, Gaines has a great tip for solopreneurs to do just that. “Many people create a to-do list, then think they have to *personally do everything* on that to-do list. Delegate everything that costs less than your hourly wage – cleaning, yard work, laundry, errands, etc. Just do the tasks at your pay grade or higher.”
“Delegate, but don’t micromanage,” advises John Jonas, Founder Online Jobs. “You can’t afford to work more hours micromanaging when scaling up your business. That’s why it’s important to find people you can trust and train them to eventually run your business.”
To maximize your time and resources to have the biggest effect, CEO Peter Terani of Terani Couture stresses on outsourcing. “By keeping a core staff of employees who know the day-to-day roles, you’re setting your business up for stability. However, by supplementing that stability with outsourcing specialized workers (e.g. content marketers, graphic designers, SEO specialists) you’re able to maximize your resources (time and money) while still addressing all the critical needs your business has.”
Flexibility is the key
Chief Marketing Officer and mom Amanda Ponzar has a great perspective. “I am sending you this email working on my laptop at home in the bathroom while my child takes a bath. In this age of 24/7 work, it’s important to flex and work when it works for you. It may mean early morning, evening, weekends, holidays. Or, it may mean multitasking – taking calls during your commute or while you walk/exercise. It doesn’t mean working all the time, it means flexing to work when you can be most productive.“
This too shall pass
Attention management is a necessary skill today and with self awareness and a smart plan, distractions can be avoided.
To eliminate distractions, Corporate trainer and author Marlene Caroselli advises learning to identify what environmental factors impeded your productivity and which increase it. Leaving your phone in another room or silencing addictive notifications are fantastic ways to regain your own attention.
“Between social media alerts, emails, and drive-by visits, people can be distracted dozens or more times per day,” says Professor Alexander Lowry. I’ve read that people take ~25 minutes to resume interrupted tasks (after dabbling in a few other “work spheres” in the meantime). Pushing distractions to predictable times can easily save hours. Schedule time in your calendar for email/social media or when you will have interruptions and plan for it.”
I did good
At the start of every day, Founder Amanda Gulino of A Better Monday maps out her top 3 priorities for the day. ‘I almost always get more than 3 things done, and that feels like a win as a busy solopreneur who is focused on growing my business.”
“Instead of making a to-do list, I create a ta-da! list, which allows me to look over all my accomplishments for the day,” adds Mompreneur Leslie Fischer.
Intentional tweaks in your approach, however small, lead to eventual payoffs- progress from doing stuff to getting stuff done.
Productivity then, is not an act. It’s a habit!
Share you best productivity tip!
You can’t use up creativity. The more you create, the more you have.
A Designer and Entrepreneur, Aditi graduated from a top design school and subsequently started her own design and merchandising business. Co-founder at Maroon Oak, she has over 17 years of business experience with Two Dotts, her design consulting company and an Etsy store which serves as an outlet for her gifts and patented product designs.
A mother to a teen and a tween, she enjoys running, dancing and raising her newest baby, a Bichon named Miltie.