Owning a business means freedom, right? Kind of. In a way. Eventually that is the goal.
In many cases however, an entrepreneur has to work much harder in the early years of a business, in order to get it off the ground, than a typical “employee” does. It is not unusual for an entrepreneur to consistently work 60, 70, even 80 hour weeks in the early years of the business until the cash starts flowing, a consistent base of clients is developed, systems are built, and things are running smoothly.
There is an “initial” aspect of freedom in that you have the freedom to choose what you do each day. As an entrepreneur or business owner you don’t have a boss standing over you, giving you deadlines, and structuring what you are going to do each day. You are your own boss. If you can’t structure your freedom with consistent discipline, and productive habits, it is likely that your business will struggle.
My wife and I have been entrepreneurs and 100% self employed for almost seven years now. We have had to experiment with many productivity methods in order to find things that work for us. I wanted to share a couple of them here. I’m not suggesting that this is the “bible” of productivity. However, I can state with confidence that these simple tips have really helped us in our business to be more productive, to be more efficient in what we do, to get more done in less time, and generally be more successful.
Here are my top “eleven” productivity tips to make your business great:
1. Understand clearly what your goals are
“If you don’t know where you’re going, it doesn’t matter which way you go.” I think I once heard that as a kid watching Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Whether or not I’ve correctly quoted (or misquoted) this isn’t material. What matters is the advice itself, and it is very true. All plans to be more productive are moot if you don’t know what it is that you want. If you don’t know where you want to go, it’s no point planning a trip. So start there. Define what your top life goals are, your top 5 year goals, you top 1 year goals, you top quarterly and monthly goals.
2. Don’t become emotionally attached to your “to-do” list (or in other words, if a list stresses you out then get rid of it)
I use a “to-do” list which I chunk down and prioritize (more on that to come). I use a monthly / weekly / daily system. For many people that would be emotionally overwhelming. I am able to use this system because I don’t get emotionally tied into my list. I don’t feel bad about myself if I don’t accomplish my list each day. My emotions are entirely independent from my list. My list is just an “extension of my brain”. It is a place to store ideas, that I can access later to determine priorities (the things I’ll do today). It is about as emotional to me as a file folder. If you are getting overwhelmed emotionally with your to-do list, stop it. Seriously.
3. Effectively prioritize using the “RPM” method
Ok – we’ve dealt with the “emotional” issue of the to do list. So assuming we are taking a “storage” approach to the list, lets actually use it for some good. I use the RPM method taught by Tony Robbins. It works really well. R (results), P (Purpose – or “why” I want the result), and M (massive action plan). This method takes me back to point 1 – what are my goals? So I start there. I look at my goals, then I tell ask why I want them (the “P”) – this gives me motivation. Then I look at the list that I’ve made (point 2) and pick the actions that I can do today (my massive action plan) to move me closer to my goals (the “R”). Simple, easy to understand, and powerful.
4. Become a master of “chunking”
Chunking is probably the most important productivity tip that I have ever seen. So building off point 3 – we have chosen the actions that we are going to do today to move us closer to our goal. Now I give those actions a certain “time allotment” to get it done. I schedule the “chunk” in my Google Calendar. Then I block everything else out to get it done. No social media, no phone calls, no email checking, no nothing until that is done. I do this for writing books, blogging, doing internet marketing, building our Scentsy business, other consulting projects I’m doing, working out, even spending time with my family. It is a series of chunks and it works really well.
5. Understand that a task will always occupy the amount of time allocated to it
Generally speaking, for a large number of “tasks”, they fill the amount of time allocated to them. I have seen this over and over and over again in writing. If I give myself an hour to finish a blog, or write 500 words on a new book, I will get it done in that time. It forces me to focus. If I give myself all afternoon, I’m not as focused, I’m not as efficient. So I intentionally try to give myself a set time to accomplish a task and during that assigned “chunk” I really get down to business. In the vast majority of cases I finish what I set out to do in the assigned chunk. If for some reason it takes more time, then I adjust (but again no emotions are involved in the process).
6. Try to engage “flow” in your chunks
I’m a real believer in flow psychology. Some people call it “the zone” or “the moment”. Whatever you call it, the experience is the same. It’s when we get so involved in what we are doing that we block everything else out. Time seems to stand still, and we tend to be “super-focused” and “super-productive”. I try to channel this in every assigned chunk that I give myself.
7. Do NOT attempt to multi-task (you’ll under perform in everything you do)
Multi-tasking (or attempting to do multiple things at once) is a really BAD idea. I don’t care what anyone says. You aren’t efficient. You don’t concentrate. You don’t channel flow. It takes you longer to do both tasks than if you just would focus on one at a time. You make more mistakes. You don’t pay as much attention. If you are a “master of multi-tasking” you should be ashamed of yourself (just joking), but seriously, stop multi-tasking, it isn’t good for your business.
8. Be selfish with your time when you are engaged in a flow-chunk (and don’t feel guilty about it)
Be where you are, and don’t be ashamed of it. In my opinion it is better for everyone. Meg and I both work from home. There are many distractions. We have to be focused. When I am writing I turn off my phone and make all calls go to voicemail. I don’t feel the least bit bad about it. People can wait. I don’t check my email when I’m working on a certain flow chunk. I do the flow chunk and nothing else until the time that I have allotted for the flow chunk is over. Then I move on to a new task. I schedule time to return calls, and return emails. I know many people who get so overwhelmed with emails, and Facebook. In my opinion they are doing it wrong. They are being passive. They need to take control of their schedule. Block (chunk) time for all the necessary tasks, but when you are engaged in something, don’t try to do something else. Be selfish with your time. It is not a bad thing. This is not emotional. Selfish doesn’t have the same connotations here that it does in religion or ethics. You still care about people. In fact you care so much that you want to be the best you. You can’t be the best you by spreading yourself thin and constantly giving divided attention. Focus. That is the most important word in productivity.
9. Get off social media, and turn off your notifications, when you are doing “chunked” work tasks
Social media is great. Our business would never succeed in the way that it has without it. Most of the sales of Unsuited have been driven through social media as well. So I’m not hating on social media. I would be an “employee” still without it. But it can be “death” to productivity. Seriously. It is so distracting. It kills your attention. You end up spending way to much time on it looking at silly stuff that doesn’t enhance your life and doesn’t grow your business. So chunk time for social media. It is good to have “you time” and if social media is a great relaxation for you that is ok. But schedule time for it. DO NOT attempt to accomplish a flow chunk and be on social media at the same time (remember what I said about multi-tasking). With social media on, while attempting your task, you will be highly inefficient. Also, and this is very important, turn off your notifications when attempting a flow chunk. Turn off your phone so it doesn’t beep. Don’t have any notifications anywhere near you. If you do, they will disrupt your flow, and you will have a hard time getting back into it. Notifications can be so addicting, but seriously, why do we need to check our email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. so much?
10. Understand your body’s “energy cycles” and schedule your flow chunks appropriately
What do I mean here? This is a concept I learned by reading the book The Power of Full Engagement. In quick summary – we all have different energy cycles. We need to make sure that what we are doing (and the energy required for that activity) aligns with our energy cycles. This is easy to do as an entrepreneur. You don’t need to work a 9-5 if you are more effective working a 5-2, or a 12-8, or a 9-12 and 5-11, or whatever else you want. Work your schedule in with your energy. Don’t force your energy around the schedule. If you are highly unproductive at 2pm then stop working – go for a walk. Seriously. You don’t have to “conform” to what everyone else is doing. Here is the one aspect of freedom that you can take advantage of even in the early years of your business. I like to work out at night. Meg likes to run at at 9:00am. Neither of us is “wrong”. I like to write in the late morning or early afternoon because my creativity and energy is peaked. I save “non creative tasks” for times when my energy is low (like first thing in the morning). If you are an entrepreneur really get to know yourself, your body, and adjust your schedule accordingly.
11. Schedule in “you-time”, and make sure that you take it.
All work and no play makes you a dull, boring, uninteresting, person. So take the same advice on points 1-9 and apply them to non-work tasks – family, hobbies, learning, exercising, entertainment. Be where you are when you are there. If you are at the movies, have the best experience at the movies ever. You can channel flow in any activity, not just work. You can channel it with your kids, spouse, partner. You can channel it exercising, or any other hobby or entertainment. Do it. Your body and mind needs to renew. If you don’t then you will be a dull person, and you won’t be as productive.