Terrific Productivity Tips to Make Your Week a Triumph
It’s a summer weekend and you’re savoring another barbecue or a wonderful stroll by the beach and thinking, “How do I carve out more moments like this? If I only could be more productive during the work week”
To help you in your quest, we polled some Entrepreneur.com contributors for their top productivity hacks. See if any resonate for you.
Christian Gaiser: Practice email (and meeting) discipline.
Reply to every email immediately if the response will take less than one minute or if a task needs to be delegated. This keeps the organization moving fast and you don’t become a bottleneck! Too many times leaders become a bottleneck in the organization when their team members need feedback or a “go” or “no go” response.
If an email discussion leads to more than two emails per person, get on the phone or schedule a quick meeting or a Skype call. This saves everybody time.
Try to end every meeting at least 10 minutes before the scheduled time. In many cases, this kills any unnecessary discussions.
I place a greater focus on managing my energy, more so than my time. I find that if I pay close enough attention to how my energy levels are throughout the day, I generally know what projects to tackle and when. I encourage my staff to do the same. And, yes, time management is important, too.
My productivity hack is to send myself voice messages through my iPhone while away from work to remind myself of a necessary followup I forgot to record, or idea I want to run by someone.
Meiko Patton: Start with grateful moments. Aim for quick wins.
I get up at 4 a.m. when everyone else is sleeping. I pray, dwell on what I’m grateful for, review my list of things to do for the day, and then I go to the gym and work out.
At work, I do all the easy tasks first for quick wins, then I tackle the harder tasks. I make sure I work for 60 minutes straight uninterrupted, then I take a five-minute break. Then I’m right back at it again.
Godard Abel: Manage energy instead of time.
I find that managing my energy level by taking care of myself, which includes daily running and eating and drinking reasonably well, allow me to get much more done and be much more conscious when I am doing my work.
Sujan Patel: Exercise each morning.
Working out first thing in the morning is my caffeine. I don’t even drink coffee anymore. I just don’t need it. Exercise gets me energized for three to four hours and my creative juices flowing. That combined with tackling my biggest or hardest task in the morning leaves me stress free and feeling productive for the rest of the day.
Requests for phone calls and coffee dates can quickly spiral into out-of-control email streams:
“What about Thursday?”
“No, how about next Tuesday?”
I’ve cut out the back and forth by using a service called YouCanBookMe. You link it to your Google Calendar, and people can automatically book the times that you’ve indicated that you’re free. In my case, I’ve limited my availability to certain “office hours” that I’ve set aside for the purpose, ensuring that I can batch my meetings and avoid wasted time.
I have redefined my relationship with email. I convey to key people to text me rather than email if it’s urgent. I reply only to emails that need a response. I keep the number of people on emails to a minimum to avoid unnecessary emails to those who don’t need to be included. I’ll request that someone else handle an email if the person is in a better position to do so. Just because an email is sent to me doesn’t mean I’m the best one to respond.
Jim Joseph: Avoid those massive conference calls.
Conference calls — the ones with toll-free numbers, conference codes and big invitee lists — are wildly inefficient, especially at the beginning of the call. Invariably many people don’t arrive on time. So although the host might attempt to begin by asking, “Who’s on the line?” the call never gets going until several minutes after the official start time. Every time someone new dials in, he has to announce himself, which ends up being a huge time suck for those who actually dialed in on time.
Some hosts then attempt to bring the new person up to speed on the discussion that’s been started. The bigger the conference call, the bigger the delay each time a person pops into the call and has to be announced. This happens over and over again. By the time the team can actually dig into the content, we are all exhausted. If you have to do a dial-in conference call, keep the list short and only invite those completely necessary to the call — and send out an agenda with an invite list ahead of time.
Ryan Holiday: Revive old-school note cards.
I use a 4-by-6 note card for my daily to-do list. Every day I start sketching out my list for the next day and put it down on the index card. The next morning, I get up, write a little in the morning and then start crossing off stuff. The list is five to 10 items tops — big items. If that’s all that I get done that day, I can be sure that I moved the ball forward in some manner. And of course, I take great pleasure in tearing up the list as soon as all the tasks are done. There will never be an app or a program that can re-create that experience — at least in my eyes.
I also use the note cards to create what’s known as a “commonplace book.” I write down what I see, hear, think, like or need on note cards, which I then organize by theme in card boxes. At this point I have hundreds of thousands of these cards, which I always turn to if I need an anecdote, a fact, inspiration, a strategy, a story or an example. (See photos here.) Ronald Reagan kept a system like this. So do many writers. I learned it from the author Robert Greene. I’ve built up a huge offline, physical database, which contains a good portion of the knowledge I’ve been exposed to over the years. It keeps me amazingly productive, gives me a ritual to follow and is a resource whenever I need it.
Spend time researching the most effective apps to help you automate many of your repetitive daily processes. If a particular task takes from two to five hours or more a week, spend two to three hours researching an app to help better manage it.
For instance, updating a calendar for my business has become a time-intensive task that I’ve considered outsourcing to a virtual assistant many times. But now after doing some extensive research and testing out many different apps, I’ve found the Sunrise app extremely worthwhile in helping me better manage my calendar. Since the app can be integrated with Google Calendar, iCal, my iPhone calendar and other widely used calendar and scheduling programs, I’ve cut down the time I spend on scheduling.
If I hadn’t spent the few hours to research paid and unpaid app options to better manage this task, I wouldn’t now be saving a few hours every week. Analyze your daily work habits once a month to see where you can begin to save time through the help of a trusty app or another approach to your work flow.
Tim Berry: Test out alternative book chapters.
WordPress, the software used for composing web pieces, totally works for drafting a book: It’s free and designed for drafting text and including illustrations, so of course it’s obvious how it could be used to compose a book. What isn’t quite as obvious is that you can use categories and dates to set chapters and sections and order the appearance of each.
Here’s my trick: WordPress likes to sort what it calls posts (a book author might call them topics, segments or whatever) by the date published. So just manipulate the date settings to control the order. And the date settings can be easily edited to change the order at any time.
Also try PowerPoint for organizing a book. What’s cool is that you can set up chapters and topics and stories and discussions as slides in PowerPoint or Keynote. Then you can manipulate the slide shuffle view to work on structure and flow, easily moving pieces around, using trial and error to see what’s best. The books I’ve written have been nonfiction and this works very well for that. Usually some topics could go into more than one chapter, so shuffling them around is a powerful process. (I’ve also tested this shuffling about process in works of fiction.)
I use Snagit plus a “private” YouTube setup for communicating about web-related topics. Snagit is a screen-capture software program by Techsmith for images or video, but it has lots of competition. The functionality I use is narrating the audio while I click about on my computer screen.
What I end up with is an easy way to explain something to somebody when we both can’t be beside the same computer at the same time. I work with a developer in the Ukraine who’s sleep when I’m awake. I use the screen grabber, talk to her, then save it as a short movie. From there I post it (free) to YouTube as an entry that is not indexed but that can be accessed by anyone with the right link. My developer receives a link to a narrated discussion upon waking up the next morning. It’s also very useful for many different kinds of one-way communications requiring a computer screen and my talking.
I use free software called Phrase Express, which provides a way to define shortcuts for frequently used phrases. I use different email signatures depending on the person I’m writing to and need to frequently type in my website addresses in messages I send. So I have set up shortcuts for each of these phrases and have seen a huge improvement in my efficiency.
Don’t feel constrained to work the traditional 9-to-5 schedule. If you’re most productive 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. like I am, work then. If you’re most productive 11 to 7, work then. It doesn’t make sense to work when you’re the least productive just because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”
Complete the most challenging project of the day first so you can tackle it when you’re the most productive. Then move on to less challenging and smaller tasks.
Take some time to work out during the day. It’s good for your mind and body. I work out on my treadmill desk from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and again from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Because my most productive hours are from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., I find the afternoon workout in particular gives me a much needed brain boost.
Don’t check your email first. Don’t say, “Let me just knock out these other little things first since they won’t take long.” These things are just busy work and doing them is almost the same as procrastinating. I begin each day looking at one scary project and focusing on it until I’ve cracked it. Only then do I worry about the other stuff.
I never have more than three things on my to-do list on any given day. For less important stuff I stash away reminders somewhere else. This forces me to make hard decisions about what’s actually important and steer away from tasks that are mere distractions.
Dan Yoo: Make the most of a commute with car talk.
Riding an hour to work each day, I stuff my morning drive with books on tape — mostly books on business — to catch up on my reading and get my head in the game for the workday. That’s a big chunk of time for me to really learn and digest things.
I call my wife on mye drive home to get caught up on matters on the home front. We talk about the daily things we need to do to run the household — issues with the kids, things we need to buy, problems that need to be sorted out. When I get home, we can just relax and enjoy our time as a family. Also when I’m on the phone in the car, my wife gets my undivided attention. I can’t be distracted by emails when I’m driving on the highway!
Have you tried any of these techniques? Do have your own productivity hack? Let us know in the comments section below.