When I started my first business in college I was working crazy long hours, without much concern for my overall productivity. This wasn’t a sustainable way to live and after feeling burnt I realized a serious change was necessary.
Embracing productivity was that change.
Increasing my productivity has improved my overall pace as an entrepreneur. This allows me to accomplish the same amount of work in less time, giving me more time to dedicate to my number one priority, family.
Pacing yourself is essential because it prevents you from using all of your energy during the first few miles of the race (in this case the start up phase of a new project or business), allowing you to run further while improving your overall time.
Today I want to show you how I dramatically boosted my productivity and reclaimed my life from the time devouring monster of running a business.
The Magic Two Minute Rule
Getting Things Done is an extremely popular personal development book by David Allen. One could argue that this book launched the entire GTD movement and is the inspiration for hundreds of productivity apps that many of us use on a daily basis.
I highly recommend you read it, but if there is one thing to take away from this book, it’s the “two minute rule” which has dramatically increased the amount I am able to accomplish on any given day.
I love the two minute rule because it is beautifully simple and yet incredibly powerful.
Whenever you are faced with a new task throughout your day, ask yourself one simple question:
“Will this take me less than two minutes to complete?”.
If the answer to this question is yes – do it immediately. Don’t write it down. Don’t add it to a list somewhere. Don’t try and remember it. Just do it.
I am still amazed at how much more I am able to get done after building a daily routine around this principle.
My inbox went from 400+ to zero emails (and it now stays that way). I no longer have a daily list of ten to fifteen things that need attention before I can even start working.
More importantly, projects I am involved with are more efficient because many of the tasks that require my attention are handled immediately. Once I dug a little deeper, I found that the two minute rule is extremely effective in boosting productivity for two reasons.
It prevents a build-up of distractions
First, productivity is hindered by the gradual accumulation of many small tasks. When faced with a new task, we make a conscious decision to either handle it now or deal with it later.
The subconscious mind often has other plans and doesn’t stop thinking about a new task simply because we make a conscious decision to deal with it later.
Willingly or not, throughout the day we waste a substantial amount of time and brainpower thinking about the small things that we decided to put off. This is completely unnecessary and the solution is to simply handle minor tasks before they become burdens.
It doesn’t detract from the current task at hand
If something only takes two minutes, you should be able to return to what you were doing beforehand without much trouble. If it takes longer than this it may require more brainpower which may make it hard to get back into what you were originally working on.
Work in Power Hours
Increasing the amount of hours you work, doesn’t actually mean you will get more done. Working insanely long hours usually kills your productivity and leaves you feeling miserable and burnt out. This is why it’s so important to set time limits and work “power hours.”
This is actually a trick I picked up from Nathan Barry.
Completely commit yourself to work on something for one hour. At the end of that hour, decide if you want to keep working, and if so, fully commit for another hour.
By doing this, you are forcing yourself to remain focused.
Once that hour is up, you can do whatever you want but during that hour you need to give 100% of your available energy to the task at hand.
Now that I implement power hours in my workflow, I am able to complete tasks within the hour, which previously would have taken me two to three hours.
If you are an entrepreneur or business owner and have no set hours, it is extremely easy to start down the dangerous path of working more while accomplishing less. So, this technique can be extremely effective by helping you increase your productivity while also improving your time management.
Use Actions That Move You Forward
It’s easy to forget just how many responsibilities we are trying to keep track of at any given time. Getting these out of our heads can create a sense of clarity and help to establish a clear picture of how we can move forward.
Instead of just making a list of tasks I would like to accomplish – I like to write down the action required to move each to the next step.
So, for example, instead of writing “Build Social Media Campaign,” I may write, “Create Twitter Account For Project A” as the first step to get a new social media campaign underway. You are much more likely to complete a task when you turn it into an executable action that will move the project forward.
Technology is an enabler of many things, including distractions. With immediate access to an infinite number of animated gifs of cute animals on Buzzfeed (You know you want to click that… which proves my point), it’s a miracle we still accomplish anything at all.
However, there may still be hope for humanity. I have found two extremely simple ways to crush the majority of meaningless distractions that battle for my attention every day.
The idea here is to stop the information overload that we all experience on a daily basis. Having convenient access to too much information can work against you, so sometimes increasing your productivity is as simple as turning off all of the craziness.
Eliminate Distracting Websites
Nanny for Google Chrome allows you to block certain websites during hours or days that you specify. This is obviously helpful because it prevents you from wasting time; however, it also made me more aware of how easily one can become distracted online.
Throughout the day I found myself visiting news and social media sites out of habit rather than necessity. Over time, using an extension like Nanny for Google Chrome helps to crush those bad habits.
Nanny also monitors how often you try to access blocked sites. After seeing my own results from this, I am convinced we truly are creatures of habit – you may be surprised by the results.
Turn Off Phone Notifications!
In the early days of iPhone, one of the most requested features by many users (including myself) was a system for real time notifications. Eventually Apple delivered, and along with convenience, this opened up the Pandora’s box of daily distraction.
As a little experiment, I decided to disable most push notifications after realizing the temptation to check email or twitter every time that little red circle with a number appeared.
I have completely turned off most notifications on my phone, including email. It’s almost impossible to remain focused when you are being interrupted by your phone 10 or 15 times an hour.
Interestingly this has made it easier to clear out my inbox each day now that I deal with it all at once, on my time, rather than throughout the day when I am focused on other things.
Don’t Be Afraid To Use The Decline Button
The universe has a habit of finding ways to interrupt us at the most inconvenient times.
Some days, phone calls seem to come in at the worst times, right when we are sitting down to tackle something important or once we are finally making progress on a project.
I’ve found it is important to always talk on your time. Although this may initially come across as selfish, it actually usually ends up working better for both parties – instead of feeling rushed or interrupted, you can give someone 100% of your attention.
You don’t have to ignore the call completely – I usually reply with a text explaining I am in the middle or something and will call back as soon as possible. You can also try to establish a time in advance that works for everyone.
Become a Master of Automation
Hopefully you’re starting to see a theme emerge. Small meaningless tasks are your enemy as an entrepreneur. They reduce your overall productivity and kill creativity.
You can use the two minute rule to handle most of these, but in some cases it is better to figure out how to automate recurring tasks going forward. There are some amazing apps and services that help me to do just that.
Buffer is AWESOME and allows you to schedule all of your social media posts ahead of time. This is a huge time saver if you have content that you are planning on posting multiple times over the course of a week.
This app (iOS only for now) allows you to automate interactions between different apps and services. So, for example, every time I star an email in Gmail, a copy is sent to my Evernote account. Users can create and submit new “recipes” so there are literally hundreds of different things you can automate.
A few of my favorite IFTTT recipes:
- Save starred emails to Evernote
- Tweet Facebook status updates
- Convert and send PDFs from Dropbox to Kindle
- Send files from Dropbox to Box
- Receive an email when a stock drops below a certain price.
The majority of these aren’t HUGE time savers, but over the course of a month or a year, the few minutes they save me each day add up.
With iMacros you can automate all of your repetitive web tasks. You can use this to automatically check and download analytical reports, fill out web forms, submit to social sites, etc. The possibilities here are almost endless. Once you record a macro, you can then replay it or schedule it to execute automatically.
Remember, it’s the minor tasks that eat up the majority of your time – so the more of this you can automate, the better! These are just a few of the many programs out there designed to save you time by helping you to tackle the small things.
Exercise is Essential
Energy is vital to productivity, and exercise is vital to energy. It’s hard for me to put into words the importance of exercise, because it has become a fundamental part of my daily routine and life. The increase I have seen in the amount of energy I have now versus before starting exercising is incredible.
As an entrepreneur, you often endure ridiculously long hours and an immense amount of stress. Making sure you have a healthy outlet for this pressure is essential.
Personally, I enjoy running, since it’s easily accessible and I can get in a decent run in under an hour (although recently I’ve been training for a marathon which can take substantially more time).
If you haven’t exercised in awhile, the first few days or weeks can be pretty draining. However, I found that over time my overall energy level and stamina have increased to the point where I now have way more energy now even after running 20+ miles per week.
Five years ago I had absolutely no interest in running a 5k, let alone a marathon, but now I can’t get enough and my productivity has benefited immensely from the additional energy running provides for me.