By David Henzel, co-founder of How We Solve—an umbrella company for services and tools that help you solve your startup’s growing pains.
Being productive literally means getting stuff done, and it is one of the few ways to achieve anything in this life. But just how productive you are can determine whether you are at your A-game or if there is room to improve. Any successful entrepreneur knows that first you have to make it work and then you make it better. We all have room to improve our focus, and the honest truth is if you devote time to honing those skills, you can end up achieving your goals in less time.
1. Know how you spend your time.
The most important tool for being productive is planning and physically blocking out time in your schedule for those areas you want to focus on. You may feel so overwhelmed that you don’t think you have the time to set aside for additional activities or even planning, for that matter. But the thing is, you actually do because we all have space to move things around so we spend time on what really matters to us.
The first step to planning your optimal schedule, however, is to be aware of how you actually spend your time. There is immense benefit in tracking how your day actually unfolds to understand where you can make adjustments to be able to prioritize your true needs. By clearly noting how much time you are spending and on what, it becomes easy to recognize areas of improvement in which you can either delegate or eradicate certain activities altogether.
Another invaluable method for boosting productivity is noting which hours of the day you are more energetic and enthused to get those pressing tasks done. Knowing when you work best and under what conditions is key to being able to plan your day for ultimate success.
2. Plan for productivity.
The bottom line is: To be productive, you have to plan for it. Everything in life becomes more efficient and organized if you have a rough plan in place and there is no getting around it. This is also true for every role you play in your life such as your personal, professional and family interests. Scheduling those healthy habits that allow you to thrive in each of those areas can help you reach your ultimate level of productivity.
I never used to plan for family time, and vacations especially would fall by the wayside, in lieu of perpetual professional obligations. Now, I not only reserve regular family time, but I also plan vacations well ahead of time as it not only saves money, versus last-ditch efforts to get a trip together, but it also provides my wife with the highly valued anticipation for that exciting trip that is pending.
Not only is it wise to plan for the day, week and month, but it is also crucial to have an idea of what your next quarterly calendar looks like as well as your overall plans for the year. But the most important tip when it comes to planning for productivity is planning in the time to plan. I always set aside time on Sunday evenings to plan for the week ahead and every evening I plan out the next day. This is an excellent way to make sure you have a clear agenda of what you want to get done and how you want to do it.
3. ‘Eat the frog’ early.
As Mark Twain is often attributed for saying: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” Applied to productivity, your “frog” is that pressing task you need to achieve in the day, and it is best to get it done first. The earlier you eat the frog, the less the task weighs on your mind, which literally frees up your time. So, the tip here is to make something difficult as easy as possible—the sooner you get it done, the better.
4. Timing is everything.
There are a number of proven productivity methods out there that serve as excellent guidelines on how to improve flow and focus and beat procrastination. The most common method to make significant headway on anything is the Pomodoro Technique, in which you simply set a timer for 25 minutes and commit to devoting yourself entirely to a specific task for that allotted time period. Once 25 minutes have passed, you can take a five-minute break and then resume for another session. This process trains you to get into the flow and become addicted to making achievements by the way of Pomodoro sessions you can actually check off.
If 25 minutes seems like too much to handle then play by the Five-Minute Rule, which is basically “just do it for five minutes.” If something seems challenging, then just break it down to what you can do in just five minutes. Set a stopwatch and begin to tackle the task with the understanding that you can stop once the five minutes are up. In most cases, you will find you get so into the flow that you don’t notice that five minutes have actually passed.
The ultimate state of productivity is being fully present in everything you do. This is why taking the time to apply some of these techniques that will help you reach that flow state we all aspire to can save you time and boost your productivity to the maximum in the long run.