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The 5 Productivity Tips That Stick

 

Productivity Tips
Need for Speed

One thing about being an entrepreneur that is dramatically understated is the requirement for self-discipline.

Experience has been a brutal but effective teacher though. In this post, I’ll share with you the painful lessons I’ve picked up over the years to gain better control of my time and attention.

The internet offers us endless options – for everything. Whatever your favorite thing to do online is – it’s a few clicks away. As a producer, or an aspiring entrepreneur, this is both a blessing and a curse. Nothing could be better than the ability to innovate in virtually any space you can think of, but the world of distractions that is the internet – will inevitably stop you from making progress fast enough. That is, if you don’t pay attention. 

The internet is like taking being a child in the biggest toy store in the world where the toys you can see get better every second – and are always a couple of feet away from you. Worse – they’re free and the child’s friends personally deliver gifts to him at random moments during the day. If you wanted to purposefully design something to hijack the consciousness of everyone in the world – against their will, it would be the internet. 

It’s almost impossible to focus, and if you’re a freelancer or an entrepreneur, you’re going to need to figure out how you’re going to win the greatest war of all – the one against yourself. In addition to the infinite challenges you need to deal with externally, you are going to have to patiently keep your mind running smoothly, consistently, and free from distractions.

Of course, there are tools out there that are built to help you in the fight – and I won’t name them, a google search is enough to display many, but the first battle that needs to be won is psychological. Absent a social structure that forces you to adhere to a strict routine, you’re going to have to be master of your time. That means you need to figure out what time you’re going to go to bed, and what time you’re going to sleep. When you’re going to eat, and how many times a day. How much time for distraction you’ll allow yourself and how often you’ll break from routine. You need to control how often you see other people and how many hours you spend working consecutively.

These aren’t trivial things. These details matter because done badly – they can really slow you down. Or worse, they can burn you out.

I read a lot of books on productivity and I do have a system that I use. But the advice that has stuck with me – because they’re easy to implement and sticky are just five things. I have forgotten everything else – because it was too complicated. When something feels too unnatural and forced, you will never sustain it. Here is the best advice I’ve read and applied successfully over the years. 

Tip 1: One Habit at a Time

I got this one from Power of Habit. If you have bad habits you want to change, it’s a bad idea to think you can change several at the same time. You’re going to fail. A much smarter thing to do would be to focus on one habit at a time. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new habit you want to take on – or an old habit you want to get rid of. Your willpower is limited – you need to be economical with where you’re going to be spending your willpower dollars. And if you spend too much, you’ll end up paying for it one way or another. I try wrestling with one habit every two months. It’s not true that a habit takes twenty-one days to form. It varies from person to person and the average is somewhere around two months.

Tip  2: Have an In-List

This is another idea I learned from David Allen and it’s brilliantly simple. Instead of trying to assign priority to the task you thought of that same moment – you place it in an in list. You can use a physical or virtual notepad or note taking tool for this, but key is that speed is your primary concern here. Remember, you’re going to sort everything out later, so don’t let the compulsive side of you take over and waste valuable time now in doing the sorting. Once you make this a habit, your day flows smoother with less interruptions. Another idea I wish I’d learned earlier in life.

Tip 3: Manage Tasks not Time

The worst productivity idea is to micromanage your day. If you think you can sustain a tight schedule where every single minute is accounted for, you’re dreaming. It’s not going to work. A million things are going to get in the way. 

You’re going to come up with ideas all the time. And there are going to be a countless number of things for you to do at any given moment. Your task as an entrepreneur is to figure out what’s important and what’s not. A good system to use is the matrix from Getting Things Done Fast. You denote whether each task is important or not, and urgent or not. You’ll end up with four possible combinations, and you always do what’s urgent and important first. Urgent just means that there’s a deadline and you need to get it done, while important means it’s a key aspect of your project but doesn’t necessarily have a deadline. Only organize your tasks into these categories when you have reached your in-list processing day mentioned in Tip 2. 

Tip 4: Define Your Goals

I’ve wasted a lot of time because of this one. It’s really tempting to think you’re doing work when you seem to be doing something that requires brainpower but isn’t fun. Unfortunately, there’s another name for that. It’s working hard, not smart, and it’ll give your morale and productivity the biggest hit. Instead, spend time – as much as it takes – to figure out what needs to be done. Even if you do nothing but that for a couple of days, it’s better than preoccupying yourself with purposeless, fruitless work. When you practice doing that consistently, you’ll find that it becomes a lot more difficult for you to waste time. I can’t think of a more important habit to embed into your mind than this one.

Tip 5: Plan to Organize

Inevitably, you’re going to have too many tasks on your to-do list, and when it gets messy enough, you’ll start to dread the day you need to deal with it all. Set a fixed day and time to deal with your mess. Mine is Monday morning. I never think about what to do when I wake up. I know it’s time to organize all the tasks I’ve been throwing at my future self for the past week. Doing this means I’m never overwhelmed with an overflowing number of things to do, and I never have to procrastinate.

 

 

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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