There are usually two major factors in your life that are holding you back from dominating the world (or at least being as productive as a world dominator): time and money.
If you had no money but lots of time, you could use the extra hours to find a job, start a new business, sell your services or do any other incoming-generating activities. And if you had no time but lots of money, you could hire assistants to take care of a bunch of little tasks that waste a lot of time but are required or tackle one major project.
So if you want to earn more money, you need to find a way to engineer more hours into your days. But unless you have a time machine (in which case, please share with us!), you're going to have to learn how to be more productive. As Paul J. Meyer said:
“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.”
Here are 10 tips on increasing daily productivity, along with quotes from super-busy but successful entrepreneurs for some extra inspiration.
1) Do the Most Important Tasks First
There are usually only one or two important tasks to do during the day that are essential in moving your business forward. Of course, we all have seemingly endless to-do lists, but let’s be honest—only one or two things are significantly important.
Nobel Prize-winning novelist Ernest Hemingway got up with the sun and rather than go for a walk, shoot the breeze with Gertrude Stein and other famous members of The Lost Generation or mix himself a stiff gin martini, he immediately got to work on his writing. At this early hour, not only is your brain fully rested, but there is no one around to disturb you.
“I think a simple rule of business is, if you do the things that are easier first, then you can actually make a lot of progress.” ~ Mark Zuckerberg
The ability to define this one main task is key to your productivity, and by scheduling the most important task for first thing in the morning, you will set the tone for the rest of the day.
I'm one of those rare people who still prefers pen and paper to online to-do lists. I use Productivity Planner which is a notebook made up of simple to-do lists for each day. Every page is divided into three sections: the most important task of the day (you only get one!), secondary tasks of importance, and additional tasks. I also love that it starts every day with a motivational quote.
2) Track Your Working Hours
You'd be surprised (or maybe not) at how much time we waste during the day and never even know it. Between reading every e-mail as soon as it comes in, checking your social media every hour, and finding inspiring quotes for a blog post, tracking your time is a good strategy to increase productivity by seeing where it's leaking out.
“The way we measure productivity is flawed. People checking their BlackBerry over dinner is not the measure of productivity.” ~ Timothy Ferriss
By evaluating your day, you can figure out which areas of your workday you’d like to change and make better decisions on managing your time.
For instance, TMetric is a new free time-tracking app with a simple, user-friendly interface:
It allows you to create new tasks, manage projects and clients, add tags, edit your working hours, set billable time and rates for each project, and get detailed reports on all your tasks and projects. TMetric can also be integrated with many other services you use such as Trello, Asana, Visual Studio and many more.
3) Inbox Zero E-mail Management
Are you aware of how much time you spend on e-mails each day? If you read, respond, organize and archive every e-mail that arrives in your inbox throughout the day, you are wasting a whole lot of time. Contrary to what many believe, the most successful entrepreneurs only check and write e-mail twice during the day: first thing and last thing.
“Focus on being productive instead of busy.” ~ Tim Ferriss
“Inbox Zero” is a new approach to e-mail management that helps you keep your inbox empty at all times. To help yourself do this, set up a rule for yourself that you'll only deal with e-mail once or twice during the day at a maximum. It's also a good idea to develop a habit of limiting all e-mails to five or so sentences; unless you're a professional editor, the majority of people tend to write verbose messages in an effort to get their ideas across. Try trimming yours down and see how much time you save.
SaneBox is a simple e-mail tool that defines which messages are important to you and which are not by clearing your inbox from clutter and prioritizing the messages that really matter.
4) Keep Meetings Short
If you work in an office, then you've probably been to more meetings in one month than a non-office worker has been to in a year. According to Inc., 45 percent of all meetings are staff meetings and most of them last between 31 and 60 minutes. For some reason, managers love to call employee meetings (maybe it's the coffee and donuts?), but the truth is that half the meetings that last half the time would do just fine.
“The least productive people are usually the ones who are most in favor of holding meetings.” ~Thomas Sowell
And if you're having one-on-one meetings, give people just half the time they want to meet with you. It forces them to be brief, clear, and to the point and allows you to save more of your valuable time for your high-priority tasks.
“Even when I'm meeting with prospective clients, I'll limit almost every conversation to no more than 20 minutes. If it takes longer than that to address a concern or talk through a proposal, then nine times out of ten we're either not a good fit for working together or I haven't done a good enough job communicating our value propositions. Time boxing all of my meetings forces me to be more effective with my time both in and out of meetings.”
~Ryan Robinson (content marketing consultant to the world's top experts and growing startups. He teaches 200,000 monthly readers how to start and grow a profitable side hustle on his blog)
5) Use Technology as a Tool
There are numerous online and offline tools to increase your productivity, so don’t be afraid to use them.
“Working on the right thing is probably more important than working hard.”~ Caterina Fake
Among the most popular are Buffer, which allows you to schedule your social media postings as far in advance as you have them ready to go rather than post them throughout the day, every day.
Asana is a great tool for managing projects and sharing tasks to keep yourself and your team organized and on track. Their tagline is that they are a “smarter inbox” because you can customize your settings to only receive the team or project updates you need rather than being overwhelmed with non-stop, unwanted messages. All the tasks that you need to do are listed by order of due date in your own personal Asana inbox.
Pocket allows you to save important or interesting web pages to read later. You might come across a great article but not have the time to read it, and then wind up forgetting about it later on. With this tool, you can save posts, videos and anything else, and then access them from all your devices, such as a smartphone, tablet or computer.
6) Multitasking Is a Myth
“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.” ~ David Allen
Despite what everybody says, multitasking is just a myth. In fact, multitasking can reduce your productivity by as much as 40%.
When you multitask, you accomplish all tasks less effectively rather than a few of them efficiently. As opposed to saving time, attempting to do more than one task at the same time takes longer and you're more prone to making errors. Multitasking is only possible when one of the tasks is automatic, such as walking and talking at the same time.
When you are video-conferencing on Skype, how many times have you peeked at other websites only to realize that you stopped following what the other person was saying? Multitasking goes beyond the workplace, too—we scroll through Facebook while walking down the street, write or read e-mails during a meeting, or even text while driving. These days you're considered a productivity hero if you do five things at once and lazy if you do only one thing at a time.
“Do three things well, not ten things badly.” ~ David Segrove
7) Use the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is one of the most popular methods of increasing productivity. This time management method was developed by Francesco Cirillo and though it has nothing to do with tomatoes, it did get its name from his tomato-shaped kitchen timer.
“Until we can manage time, we can manage nothing else.” ~ Peter Drucker
The Pomodoro Technique is based on the principle of doing a certain task for 25 minutes and then resting for 5 minutes. Although taking regular breaks every half hour (or even every hour) may seem counterintuitive, the paradox is that stopping to rest your brain helps you focus on the work even better when you resume. Taking regular, short breaks revitalizes your motivation and over time this method can improve your concentration.
8) Block Out Distractions
If you’re lacking the willpower to be self-accountable, there are numerous services that can help. For example, Focus is a useful tool that temporarily blocks distracting websites like Facebook or Twitter so that you can focus on important tasks.
As their website says, this tool is akin to closing the door and putting on headphones. Computers are no longer just for work—we use them to check in with friends on social media, to entertain ourselves on YouTube with funny cat compilations, or to play endless games of Solitaire.
“It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?” ~ Henry David Thoreau
Once you set it up, it will block anything from Twitter to e-mail for however long you decide and give you a motivational quote, too. So far it's only available for Mac.
9) Listen to Music
You can implement the Pomodoro Technique in another way by creating a 25-minute playlist with lyric-free songs and then don’t stop working until playlist is over. Experts claim that listening to the right music while working can increase your productivity. Here are some good choices from Hiveage's How Music in the Office Affects Your Productivity:
- Familiar Music – It’s best to choose songs that you are familiar with because the mind tends to listen more intently to songs that are new to you.
- Music in the Major Key – Background music that is in the major key results in better productivity.
- Classical Music – Classical music, especially Baroque, is ideal for music in the office.
- Ambient Electronica Music – This style of music is also an excellent option as it tends to be repetitive, rhythmic, and unaccompanied by lyrics.
Try out [email protected], a web app that allows you to set time limits and choose music to play while you work, has a unique collection of instrumental music that you won’t find anywhere else.
10) Wake Up Earlier
As time management expert Laura Vanderkam says in her book What Successful People Do before Breakfast: successful people wake up early to kickstart a productive day. If you love your snooze button, you may disagree with this, but she says that morning time is the key to taking control of the rest of the day.
“He that rises late must trot all day” ~ Benjamin Franklin
Vanderkam says that by getting up early, you can actually accomplish those tasks or projects that are much harder to take care of in the afternoon. If you don't feel like waking up so early, the author advises starting with small steps such as getting up just 15 minutes earlier each day.
So there you have it—ten ways to not only be more productive in your day, but to feel more relaxed and focused and, therefore, happy. And as the research shows, happy people tend to be 12 percent more productive and companies with happy employees outperform the competition by 20 percent.
Feel free to share your own productivity tips with us in the comment section below!