As an entrepreneur or business leader, you probably think more about traction and growth than anything else. However, these is another element that's equally important to your success - your productivity.
I recently had a conversation with Dmitry Dragilev, Founder of JustReachOut, on the importance of productivity to your company's success.
JustReachOut is a PR tool which currently helps 2000+ entrepreneurs and startups reach out to journalists and get press coverage daily all on their own without the help of PR firms. A few years ago Dmitry grew a startup named Polar from 0 to 40M pageviews per month in 2 years through PR outreach and got acquired by Google.
Here's what Dmitry shared:
Entrepreneurs have no shortage of ideas and opportunities but most of them fall behind on effectively executing their growth strategies. Productivity can be especially challenging for entrepreneurs because there are no organizational processes to keep them on track and no boss to report to everyday.
Personally, I know how hard it is to stay productive because I have been working remotely for years.
Here are a number of productivity methods that I have applied over the years that have helped me to consistently execute my growth hacking strategies.
1. Start Right
How you start your day determines the pace that you set for your entire day. If you begin your day with a feeling of positivity and accomplishment, that feeling will keep you charged up for your entire day. On the other hand, if you begin your day by checking out your Facebook or Twitter feeds, you are unconsciously giving yourself permission to procrastinate for the rest of the day.
A quick way to build momentum in the morning is to make your bed right after you get up, a tip that Tim Ferris swears by. This might sound trivial, but it gives you a small sense of achievement and control. This feeling propels you to take on the next thing on your to-do list.
It also reinforces within your mind a very important principle - that success is a result of consistently executing a number of small steps.
Try to begin your day as early as possible - no later than 6 AM. Unless you are a night owl, your willpower and energy are at its highest levels in the morning. Make use of that for your most important work - work that requires high levels of analytical or creative thinking. Besides, you get a lot more done in the early hours of the morning because distractions and interruptions are at a minimum.
Finally , waking up early gives you time for rituals like exercise and meditation - both of which are crucial for your physical and mental well-being - and consequently your productivity. You also have time for a healthy breakfast, which keeps your energy levels high.
2. Design your Environment
Experts like Cal Newport and Edward M. Hallowell and many others agree that distractions are the biggest productivity killers of the 21st century. How we handle these distractions make a tremendous difference to how much we accomplish.
However, trying to fight distractions is like fighting a losing battle. We have a limited store of willpower. If you waste your willpower on staving off distractions, you have less of it for working on important tasks. Therefore, rather than try to fight distractions, design your environment to minimize them.
When I walk into my office every morning, I have three things already setup for me:
- My laptop up and running
- A to-do list
- My primary work tools--Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Photoshop--already open
This way, I don't have to dawdle around while I wait for the laptop to load, or figure out what tasks to tackle for the day. I hit the ground running and use that momentum to charge through my day.
Another powerful way to avoid digital distractions is to use the Freedom app. Freedom is a tool that blocks several apps and websites across various devices for selected periods of time. It can also block the entire Internet. Writers like Seth Godin and Tim Ferris use Freedom to stay focused while they write.
3. Track your Productivity
You know the importance of tracking your financials, your web analytics and your key business metrics. So why should your personal productivity be any different? Measuring your productivity is one of the simplest ways of improving it.
If you track how many hours you've worked, your mood and energy levels during the day, and your number of tasks completed, you can spot weaknesses and improve your performance.
If you want a tool that works in the background and tracks your time usage, check out Rescuetime. You can also use tools like Toggl or Timedoctor to keep track of the number of hours you are spending on each task.
Personally, I connect Toggl to Google Sheets with a Zapier integration to automatically log each day's time.
To push myself further, I create a create a lower and upper limit (in daily hours). Dipping below the lower limit invites a penalty. Going over the upper limit gets me a reward.
I then create a chart for the month so I know whether my productivity is going up or down. Here's what your spreadsheet might look like:
And here's the accompanying chart I add, to view my productivity at a glance:
At a glance, I can see if I'm doing well, when I'm slacking off, and how many hours I'm working every day/week/month on average.
4. All about Habits
All the above productivity tips might sound nice on paper, but how do you consistently execute them? For example, how do you remind yourself to make your bed in the morning, exercise, determine your priorities, avoid email in the first 2 hours, or even measure your productivity? Moreover, how do you do all the above without feeling overwhelmed?
A better way to measure your progress is by using the X-card technique. (Some people call this the "Seinfeld Technique," named after comedian Jerry Seinfeld who committed to working every day to hone his craft, without breaking the chain.)
Creating an "X-Card," an index card divided into a 7×7 grid of 49 boxes. On top of each card, write the habit you want to stick with. Every time you stick to that habit, you mark it with a big X in one of the boxes.
For example, if you decide to go to bed every day before midnight, this is what your X-card will look like:
Remember: building a habit means taking the same action every single day. So you will need to stick to it every day till it becomes second nature.
5. Determining Priorities
If you are like most entrepreneurs you are probably faced with multiple priorities every single day. These priorities keep clashing with each other, making you unsure about what deserves your attention the most. You keep rushing from one task to another, often resorting to multitasking as a means to get it all done.
In reality, most of these priorities aren't 'priorities' at all, even though they might appear to be. By definition, you really can't have multiple priorities. What's really happening is that you are getting bombarded by too many tasks and you don't have a robust system to determine what's more important. Ask yourself truthfully - how often do you encounter a genuine emergency that needs immediate attention?
The first step in building a robust prioritization system is to plan your day well. Decide on what you need to accomplish on that day and include that in your plan. I use Todoist to create a daily list and I stick to it.
Sticking to your plan is obviously far more difficult than making your plan. I want to reiterate that most of the unexpected work which crops up will not be as important it seems to be. However, unexpected tasks are bound to distract you and interrupt your flow. The key is to have measures in place to avoid distractions so that you can stay on task. For instance I don't have email on my phone and I pause email in Gmail so it doesn't distract me.
It's About Execution
How you tackle your day won't just determine your productivity -- it will determine the very success of your entrepreneurial journey. So the next time you think of a growth hacking strategy, do spend time to plan how you will execute that strategy on a day-day basis.