I want to begin with a confession, I battle with distraction and overwhelm on a daily basis. Productivity is an issue.
Distraction and overwhelm are the dark side of freedom and opportunity that entrepreneurship offers.
Focus is fleeting. There’s a host of things I could do, new ideas pop up almost hourly like big shiny fun objects of brilliant opportunity. But the truth is, these are more distracting than brilliant and if I’m not careful they throw me completely off track of my deadlines and goals.
The other massively distracting thing I do battle with daily is the obligations I have to a highly engaging 3-year old which ultimately wins when things come right down to it. So, productivity is essential for me to survive and thrive as an entrepreneur.
I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time reading and researching productivity. I’ve taken workshops and implement much of what I’ve learned. Today I’m going to share the basics for productivity that really work for me if I commit and follow through.
Start the night before.
Before I wrap my day or before going to bed, I make sure I make my todo list for the next day. This effectively eliminates having to think and get clear before I attack work the day. Plus it allows me to make a plan while things are still fresh. Morning has many distractions. Just getting my daughter out the door to daycare can take anywhere from 45min to 2.5hrs, so when it’s time to work I benefit from sitting down, opening my task list and diving in. No thinking. No time wasting.
Don’t check your email.
Now, this is in some ways is counterintuitive and HARD to resist. But I guarantee if you can get something meaningful accomplished with the early part of your work day, it will inspire you to keep killing it. Plus, email leads to Facebook, leads to Twitter, leads to Instagram. It’s a slippery slope, I know!
Not checking your accounts is a high leverage habit that you can begin as a practice rather than an absolute and build your focus muscle. Schedule time in your calendar for email and social networking so it still gets done, but be efficient about it
Do the hardest thing first.
I learned this from Dale Partridge and it’s changed everything. If you put the thing you have the most resistance to doing at the top of your list, you’ll actually do it and you’ll feel amazing. Since we always over estimate what we can get done in a day if you put that hard thing towards the bottom, it’s likely you won’t get to it and it will hang over you, sucking your energy for yet another day.
If you put that hard to do thing first and get it out of the way, the rest of the day feels so much easier. You’ll reduce overwhelm and gain an inspiring sense of accomplishment which becomes a wave to carry you forward.
Get a system.
It sounds and feels a bit robotic (even corporate… gasp!) and I resisted systems for a long time because of it. Here’s the thing, if you don’t have a system in place it’s likely you’re losing a lot of productive time. I keep it simple. I use Asana for task management and Focus Booster, a time tracking app that breaks work into 25 minute sessions with 5 minute breaks in between. There are days I don’t use it, but when I feel squirrely or have deadlines or am generally feeling resistance to starting, the combo of these two systems get me in the zone almost effortlessly.
Fact: it’s hard to stay focused. And somedays all the apps in the world don’t do shit, if you’re just not feelin’ it.
As a committed lifestyle junkie, blue sky and sunshine can be my ultimate undoing as I wrestle between getting outside and doing what needs to be done so I can really enjoy getting outside without the burden of unfinished work lording over me.
Beyond that, accountability helps to drown out fear and procrastination. I accomplish this in two ways. One is my daily calendar and to-do list (a combination of Google calendar and Asana). I see what it is I need to accomplish and lay it out in my calendar. Then I just follow that. Simple.
The other accountability tool I use with is a fail proof system is a biweekly Mastermind that I’ve been part of for over a year. For me, my community is everything. Being connected to other people who understand what I do, see me and champion my success and hold me accountable is a HUGE motivator.
Masterminds not only work for accountability but I get to call in the brainpower of 4 other CEO level entrepreneurs who troubleshoot, brainstorm, call me on my bullshit and offer me resources and access to their networks to help everything move forward. Masterminds create a huge shift. I’m not just part of one, I run business strategy Masterminds. That’s how much I believe in them!
Have a plan…
It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re not sure what the overarching goal is that you’re moving towards. But even if you have an overarching goal, it needs to be broken down into actionable tasks (that can go into your system!). Goal setting in this way allows you to keep focused on what needs to be done next and keeps the project moving forward without getting distracted by shiny objects (or blue sky and sunshine).
I suggest to my clients a minimum of a 90-day plan that lays out your goals for each quarter, then breaks it down into the tasks you need to do each week. That way when things come up, as they do, if it’s not on the plan, it’s likely it doesn’t need to be done. There are all kinds of templates you can download but you can easily make a plan in an Excel spreadsheet.
Schedule time for Self Care in your calendar.
Because if you think that you can work with crazy deadlines and stress without fuelling your spirit, you’re on a fast track to Burnoutville and potentially therapy and quite likely a trip to your doctor. Trust me, I’ve been there. And then I had my ass kicked by my friend and mentor Jonathan Fields from Good Life Project who instructed me to get outside every day and hike in the mountains (cause that’s my thing) and when JF speaks, you listen. Dude wrote the book on How to Live a Good Life, literally!
The thing is, if you don’t schedule time off on your calendar, you probably won’t make time for yourself and this is when we get into a whole world of hurt. Side effects of overwork include stress, lack of sleep, overeating, high blood pressure, depression, adrenal fatigue, blah blah blah…
Get outside. And if that’s not your tonic, then sit and meditate, go to the gym, see friends (yes that counts!), do yoga. Do whatever it is that recharges your batteries.
Don’t try this entrepreneur gig without it because we’re not in this game just to work our asses off, there are rewards to being the boss. And one of those is carving out time to do the things you love, that fill you up, and that balance the effort with which you apply yourself to your work.
Got a productivity tool that you swear by? I’d love to hear about. Jump in and share in the comments below.