Source: Erin Doering of Unsplash
One of the greatest challenges that I’ve encountered as an entrepreneur is managing my work schedule so that I am always operating at peak efficiency. While it is nice to feel passionate about what I do, it is easy to slip into a routine consisting of long stretches of work punctuated by brief and irregular breaks. Consequently, while I am working hard, I am not working smart.
Optimizing productivity is not just a trendy concept. Each person only has a finite amount of time available for work. As a solo entrepreneur, saving time by working efficiently is critical to my success.
Below are five of the productivity tips that have improved my work flow and can be easily utilized by other entrepreneurs.
Five Productivity Tips for Entrepreneurs
1. Schedule creative time. Researchers of the scientific journal, Thinking Skills and Creativity, investigated how time management affects creativity. In their 2009 study, they discovered that creativity correlates positively with regimented features like daily and long-range planning, time management, and perceived control of time.
“Creative individuals who are able to manage their mental time have a much greater likelihood of meeting their creative goals,” the study authors explain.
Surprisingly, schedules and planning don’t add crushing pressure or strangle creativity. Instead, time management allows creative thinking to flourish. With a creativity schedule that provides and protects long stretches of time, you’re less likely to procrastinate by working on other things.
2. Document your thoughts so you don’t have to waste time recalling ideas. Ideas are merely forgotten thoughts if they’re not recorded, organized, managed, and implemented. How many times have you heard of a new business and thought to yourself, “I totally came up with that idea years ago”? That’s proof that great ideas mean nothing if you don’t manage them for later expansion and implementation.
It is easy to get distracted in the age of smart devices and you may think that jotting an idea down digitally is the fastest way. But the internet, and its barrage of emails, subtle ads, and ever-engaging content, can render these thoughts useless. I have a series of whiteboards in my office and they have been absolutely essential to increasing my work efficiency.
3. Track how much work you did to better predict future success. It is really easy to fall into the trap of focusing on the time spent working as opposed to the impact you had. Being accountable for your time is one of the keys to success. A big part of this, for me, is taking stock of what you actually accomplished during the day by tracking completed tasks.
Once I started specifically measuring how much time I was spending on each task, I found it much easier to create a manageable to do list, on future days. This is critical because while it is good to have lofty to do lists, most people feel better when they have a realistic list of tasks that are challenging, yet still realistic.
We can’t know the future, obviously. But we can learn from the patterns we experience, observe or measure.
From these patterns, we can forecast how likely certain results might be in the future. At least for KPIs or performance measures, that is the most useful context for forecasting.
Forecasting is not about prediction, the way a crystal ball or psychic has us thinking about prediction. The future isn’t yet known, and it’s not fully beyond our influence either. And that’s why building a forecasting model for a KPI or performance measure is so useful: it helps us discover the influence we can exercise. Forecasting a KPI helps us find leverage to improve that KPI’s results.
4. Try to have a couple of entrepreneur friends or people that have similar schedules to allow for socializing. When you are an entrepreneur, it is easy to let social interaction (outside of work) fall by the wayside.
One of the reasons is entrepreneurs rarely work traditional Monday-Friday, 9–5 schedules. I have found that having a few friends who are also entrepreneurs or have unique schedules are essential to socializing without cutting into my productivity. These people typically can relate to the concept of scarcity of time, and are more understanding when plans change or you are only free at odd times.
A few ideas:
- Immediately pull out your calendar when the topic of hanging out comes up. How can you expect to ever successfully meet up with friends if every time an idea for a prospective meeting comes up, you procrastinate on finding available times? If you are truly serious about “having lunch sometime,” pull your calendar out and schedule it on the spot. Even if the person you are talking to can’t give you an exact time that would work best, you can at least jot down some prospective days or weeks so you can have no excuse letting it slip your mind.
- Replace an unfulfilling and nonessential activity that you do regularly with socializing. We all want to believe that all of the things on our to-do list are irreplaceable and important, but if you conduct a brutally honest time audit, you are likely to find a few activities that you have been “busy” with that don’t matter and don’t ultimately enhance your life. Ruthlessly eliminate those activities and instead of looking for another empty time-suck, use that freed up time to spend with the people that care about you.
- Assess the activities you do that would be enhanced by including another person. Maybe the reason you are struggling to make time for friends is because you make traditionally inclusive activities, exclusive. There is no need to scramble to find a time slot for socializing if you are already participating in numerous activities that are suitable for companions. Some great opportunities to include friends are exercising, eating, running errands, or religious services if you practice. Let people join you in the things you already do and you will never have to “make time” again.
5. Analyze, evaluate, and automate. It is important to automate as many small, repetitive tasks. Whenever you find yourself performing a familiar task repeatedly, take a moment to analyze what the task consists of, evaluate whether the task can be automated and if so, at what cost, and if it is financially viable, implement the automation solution.
When you're trying to decide which aspects of your work you should automate, a great first question to ask is: What tasks do you perform the most frequently?
Tasks that need to be done often or on a set schedule are perfect for automation because the benefits are immediate. You'll spend less time every day on repetitive work, which can quickly become burdensome or annoying.
We all have those mundane chores that are a natural part of our jobs. But, when you’re running a small business, those chores can quickly add up. Next thing you know, your day is full of tasks like building manual reports in Excel or invoicing clients.
Automation can help save time and alleviate stress by eliminating these manual to-dos. It can benefit any part of your business, from customer service to marketing to sales. And when you fully embrace automation, you can focus your time on the things you care about