When I started my business, I dreamed of the things I was going to achieve and how I was going to help people, and inspired by incredibly successful self-starters, I put together my little blog around 10 years ago.
Like all young and inexperienced entrepreneurs, I made mistakes. But while most of my business mistakes had a simple (albeit expensive!) solution, the hardest lesson I had to learn was getting rid of the habits that were killing my productivity. I wasn’t working at full capacity and procrastination was severely impacting the amount of work that I was getting done and the success I was able to achieve.
Thankfully, I realized soon enough that I was sabotaging myself and my business, so I started implementing some tips that I learned the hard way. Here is what helped me improve my productivity:
1. Use the S.M.A.R.T technique for your tasks
A technique that came in handy and that helped me tremendously with setting tasks was S.M.A.R.T. Allow me to introduce it to you:
S (Specific) – In order to be attainable, your goal needs to be as specific as possible. For example, don’t just write down “answer emails” as a goal. It should be closer to “answer 10 urgent emails from customers and distributors”. That gives you a certain volume of work that you need to hit, instead of setting an arbitrary or exceedingly vague goal, like “answer emails”.
M (Measurable) – Another mistake I used to make is that my tasks were never measurable. “Fulfill orders” is not a proper task; “fulfill 50 orders”, however, is a task that can be measured and for which you can hold yourself accountable. I found that it also helps to make lists of the tasks that need to be achieved, because they’re easy to measure and offer a sense of satisfaction when you tick them off.
A (Attainable) – I’ve found that overestimating my time or strengths cuts way down on your productivity, and it leaves you feeling rubbish when you don’t achieve your (unrealistic) goal. That’s why it’s important to keep things reasonable and realistic. It’s better to aim slightly lower, finish your work, and then do some extra, than to aim unrealistically high, fail to reach your goals, and then feel inadequate.
R – (Relevant) – When you stop and analyze your tasks, you may realize that some of the goals you set for yourself aren’t what you want or need in your life or for your business. Take some time to think about whether the goals you’re setting are relevant to the growth of your business. Otherwise, you’re just wasting valuable time and effort.
T – (Timely) – Listen, setting a goal is pretty much useless unless you also set a deadline. Simply put, there is no incentive to actually do the work and achieve the goal if you’re not under a time crunch or are being held accountable. Some of us need the deadline to motivate us to work faster, harder, and more efficiently.
2. Make sure your environment is conducive to work
Most start-ups begin at home, but that may not be the ideal working environment. At least, it wasn’t for me. If working at home involves listening to your crying kids, taking the dog out, or hearing the TV from across the house, then you’ve got a problem.
If you want to get any work done, you need to optimize your environment. That will mean different things for different people, but generally, it’s a matter of being able to isolate yourself somewhat from the commotion. That can be done in a few different ways:
Use headphones – Sometimes, you’re stuck at the office with loud co-workers, and if it’s an open-space concept, there’s not much you can do to get away. That’s where the headphones kick in. You can isolate yourself from your noisy environment so you can focus on your work.
Designate a home office – Designating a room as your home office can really pay off in terms of productivity. When there’s a specific space for work and you can close the door, that separates you physically and mentally from the rest of the house. When you’re inside your office, you’re in work mode. Outside, you can go back to home mode.
Rent a co-working space – Alternatively, you can just join other freelancers or remote workers at a co-working space. The inherent pressure and accountability of a shared work environment can be the motivation you need.
3. Employ productivity techniques
Some of us just need some help and there’s no shame in that. You can use some tried and tested productivity techniques in order to boost your success rates. Here’s a few I found worked for me:
Breaking tasks into pieces – Especially when you’ve got a major project that you need to finish, it can feel like an insurmountable amount of work. That can delay your start. If you break it down into more manageable chunks, it won’t seem as intimidating and it will be easier to take on and finish.
Pomodoro – Work is also easier when you break the amount of time into smaller increments. All you need is a timer. Pick a stretch of time to work, like 20 or 30 minutes. Then, you can take a 10-minute break. You will find that the pressure of the mini deadline will boost your productivity.
Start with your most important task – Your most difficult, most important, or most complex task is typically what you avoid, leading to procrastination. Start with that one, get it out of the way, and achieve more in your day.
4. Learn to delegate
This is something you’re going to learn once you become successful and have tons of stuff to do, but you can’t do everything by yourself. Nor should you. Your time is extremely valuable and if you waste it away on boring admin tasks, for example, it slows you down and cuts way down on your productivity.
When something is not absolutely essential or does not require your input, you can delegate it to an assistant, an intern, or someone on the admin staff. That frees up more time and energy for tasks that are worthy of your time and that are going to help you achieve your goals.
5. Introduce some accountability into your life
Accountability is a big deal with productivity, so you need it in your life in order to push yourself into doing your best and maximize your productivity. You can hold yourself accountable, or you can have someone else do it for you.
Self-accountability can be created through external motivation. For example, you can set up rewards and penalties for yourself when you hit or fail to hit your goal. That way, you’re going to create motivation where there may not be any, and you’ll have to hold yourself accountable for succeeding or failing. This can positively impact your work style and productivity in the future.
My procrastination habit was harder to kick than I thought it would be. But after I started holding myself accountable through various methods, my productivity soared. Now, I’m one of those people who achieve more before 7 am than most do all day.
It required a lot of discipline, hard work, and an ironclad routine, but I managed to change my habits. Now, I want to teach other young, misguided entrepreneurs how to focus and channel their energy into becoming the productive businessmen and women they know they can be.