Time management, productivity and efficiency are usually top priorities for entrepreneurs.
But when you’re faced with a long to-do list, it can be hard to know where to start in order achieve your goals.
We asked 18 successful Australian entrepreneurs for their tips on improving the way you work.
From being equipped with the right tools for the job, to the age-old adage of “the early bird gets the worm”, here are the top tips from these Aussie entrepreneurs.
For me, the most important tips for improving the way you work centre around being organised, and having the right tools for the job. In my role as CEO of a tech company, AirService, that mainly means the right digital tools for me to be efficient throughout my day.
That begins with my trusty 15-inch MacBook Pro. Small enough to carry easily when I travel but still large enough to comfortably work on spreadsheets or 2-3 documents open side by side. In the office, it’s hooked up to an external monitor at my desk so I can work on two screens at once.
On those screens, my two main productivity apps are Airmail 2.0 and Evernote. Airmail 2.0 I love as a replacement for Apple Mail. Coordinated with Omnifocus for email reminders, I actually manage to achieve inbox zero by the time I go to bed most nights, despite usually receiving over 100 emails a day.
Evernote is just quite simply the best method for organising your life and business that I know of. I have a Daily Workflow notebook, with my to-do list for every day since 2012. Each morning I start a new note for the day with that day’s to-do list, giving me a good idea of what I’m looking to achieve for that day. I have another notebook with the notes from every single meeting or teleconference I’ve been in since 2012, which means I can refer back to them or search them at any time. I also use it to manage my business contacts, to jot down ideas on the run, and a hundred other small uses. And the fact that it I can access it all on my phone and iPad as well means it really does act as an external memory.
How we work and hire people is evolving.
The traditional 9-5 working day is dying with an increasing number of employers allowing greater workplace and employee flexibility.
Staff need to be super connected, responsive and contactable out of hours. If they’re off the grid for too long, they’ll miss out on potential opportunities.
For employers - they should think carefully before hiring a full time staff member. There might be a better, smarter and cheaper way to get the job done through a short term contract or project, rather than the expense of a full time head count.
My advice would be 'focus on the top 3'. Always know what the top 3 most important things you want to achieve or work on. Then everyday, have a to do list and make sure that something on that the top 3 things on that list will help you achieve your goal. If you do this, then you will realise your vision.
Everything seems urgent these days but it rarely is, and the world isn't going to end if you don’t look at your inbox for a few hours. If it's super important people will find a way to get in touch in other ways.
Phones are massive time wasters too; get an app called Forest if you're super attached - it gamifies the experience of not using your phone.
On a daily basis, I set 6 tasks, from most important down. I start at number 1 and don't move on until it’s completed or pushed as far forward as possible right now. You can only really get a few major things done in a day so make sure they are the right things. If that takes some time to plan in the morning then do it - it’ll be worth it.
Here’s a list of things that work for me to get stuff done:
• Exercise in the morning - gets the blood flowing and the thinking clear
• Finish your shower with 30 seconds of freezing cold water
• Plan your day and your 6 priority tasks in the morning
• Take mini-breaks during the day to freshen up.
• Set times to check emails and phone messages three times per day. I do 10am, 1 & 5pm.
• Unplug at a set time at least an hour before bed, and chill out
• Read, prepare for the next day (workout clothes etc) and meditate just before bed
• Get a good sleep at night - so important for performance
My top tip for improving how you work is to add everyday nimble tools that support and underpin your processes. At OpenAgent, we use Trello to support our sprint planning and to help everyone stay on track with their work and prioritise the right tasks. I personally use Inbox by Gmail to manage my emails and stay on top of everything by using reminders, follow-ups and marking priority items on the go. My inbox feels under control for the first time in a very long time!
Managing my inbox more effectively and maintaining a separate to-do list have been an essential element of improving my work productivity.
My approach is to quickly determine if an email can be responded to or 'actioned' within three minutes and, if not, then I move the item out of my inbox and into a separate to-do list rather than continuing to clutter up my inbox.
I recommend the Wunderlist app for managing to-do items because of its intuitive 'drag and drop' interface and collaboration features.
I also highly recommend listening to business related audio-books on your daily commute to turn this into productive time.
1. Find solace in every day
Every business leader has a myriad of challenges to face each day and experience has taught me those challenges are best overcome with uninterrupted thinking time.
That's why I find solace and value in starting my day at 4am.
It's not a struggle to get out of bed, I relish it. It's an investment.
There's a clarity you get in the darkness, in your own home, and committing to it every day gives you an unfair advantage over your competition. You don't get two or three hours to yourself in the office.
In my early career I would spend those hours in my favourite cafe, wherever I needed to go to step away from the calls and emails and day to day communications. After two decades in business, it's still the best weapon in my armoury.
2. Don't be afraid of long meetings
In the face of plenty of criticism about unproductive, drawn out meetings, some of the most valuable ideas and solutions at Pureprofile have come from lengthy, deep dive sessions.
The deeper you get into the subject matter, the more you stretch people's thinking and it's impossible to force creativity in a 30 minute window.
It's obviously important to understand how far things can and can't be pushed, and you certainly don't want to meet for meeting's sake, but there's so much to be gained from making time for ideas.
3. Get visual
I'm a very visual person and I work best when I can see how everything connects.
I love scribbling on incredibly large canvasses, mapping things out to analyse them. It's also a great way to communicate large volumes of information to staff - charts, pictures, graphs, sketches. The visuals created in a workshop will often stay with people long after they've forgotten what you said.
Needless to say, my favourite app is OmniGraffle.
4. Organise yourself
It's a cliche for reason. Find your favourite productivity hacks and make them habit. Getting 200+ emails a day is impossible to stay on top of so I've invested heavily in folders and filters and subscription boxes.
And as odd as it might sound, I keep all my emails - in fact my oldest goes back nine years. I still reference some of the early communications to stay in touch with my original vision and remind myself how far I've come.
Entrepreneurs should always know what their outcomes are and have clearly defined outcomes that they are aiming for. I always work with the aim, the outcome, and the impact of the outcome in mind. It’s also crucial to have clear and honest communication every single day, amongst every person in the team. The team at Rare Birds huddle together daily to ensure that we understand and appreciate each person’s workload.
Entrepreneurs also have to understand how to lead up and lead down, in order to be able to lead the people in their organisation, and allow others to learn how to lead. That way, the process of delegation becomes a multiplying effect. If you multiply leadership in the business, more gets done and it gets done more effectively. Remember to measure everything that can be measured, particularly numbers. Things never stay the same, they either go backwards or forwards, and measurement will help you stay on top of this.
My top tip for encouraging your team to work better is to get uncomfortable. Motivate them to do something that they haven’t done before, but provide them with the encouragement and support to do so. That’s where the magic happens. They become more confident because they know that you have their back, and their comfort zone expands.
The best way to improve the productivity and output of your team is to have the right tools for your trade. We are big on using startup offerings to improve how we work and ensure projects are running smoothly. By implementing the appropriate project management systems and web-host systems for our business, we are able to effectively support each other. Technology has become very much of our culture at Oneflare and has helped us achieve our goals, and we don't see that changing any time soon.
It might not be what everyone wants to hear, but waking up early and getting to the office at 7am is one of the best ways to manage your day effectively and improve how you work while you're there. Being one or two hours early means that you can use that time to catch up on all those small tasks that increase stress and disrupt the day. It also gives you time to catch up on emails before the rest of the world is back online. It doesn't mean overworking yourself, as getting that head start will help you manage your time efficiently so you're not regularly staying late. Another thing that works well for my team is to keep meetings to thirty minutes maximum. This motivates everyone to really focus and keep to the agenda.
When people arrange meetings to 'catch up' - ask them for a purpose or outcome from the meeting. It’s totally fine to meet people for a general conversation, but in order to stay focused you need to make sure you don’t waste your whole day in these meetings!
Don’t get lost down the 'email rabbit hole' (also applicable to the TechCrunch rabbit hole and Buzzfed black hole). Set yourself a certain period to check emails and read the paper - but don’t let one email/article move to the next, to the next etc - you’ll never escape!
Don’t assume you’re the best at the finer details. Often as a founder you’ll assume you’ll know best about all the finer details - the size of a font, the width of a button or the colour of a logo. Try to release your inner control freak by hiring people who are better than you and then allowing them to do what they do best, better than you!
1. Start early!
I find my best work is done hours before my team arrives into the office. After a morning coffee and gym session my most productive time of the day is 6-8am. In this time I always complete the task that will add the most value to the business on that given day.
You can't do it all yourself, and your business won't grow unless you delegate key roles.
3. Avoid Meetings
I am a big believer in less talk, more action. So I avoid meetings at all costs, because more often than not a meeting can be avoided by a quick phone call or email.
4. Choose an ergonomic chair
Furniture is my passion and also my business, so this would always be a favourite tip of mine, however it is really essential to choose an ergonomic office chair if you are sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day. Getting off your chair too and going for walks a few times a day, keeps the energy flowing, which is essential for a good work day.
1. Focus less on your email and social media and more on your people
Things just dont happen in your email, its just a communication platform.
Speaking to someone who is actually physically doing some work is what you want to do.
Try and close your email program for once.
Turn your email notifications off.
Relentlessly have your work in progress meetings and spend the time with people.
2. Focus on your business processes instead of your business goals
Your business processes enable other people to actually get things done without you. You can set the goal but if you add in a process to achieve it, people can actually achieve it.
Support that with an IT system to store information and make it happen and you will achieve your goal.
Monitor and improve that process and you will have a great business.
3. Do less things but do them great
Write a list of your top 25 priorities
Choose your top 5
Take extreme action NOT to do the other 20. Put actual barriers in place.
Now focus on your top 5 and get everyone aligned to it.
Be upfront, honest and transparent about what’s important for success in the business. For all businesses that is the performance of individuals that build to team and ultimately organisational outcomes. Set the goals and expectations right up front with all staff members – at the interview stage, again when they start, during the probation stage and into their full employment. Explain the consequences of good and poor performance and behaviours. Then measure these goals, objectives and behaviours every day, monitor an individual’s performance against them. Provide the right tools and work environment for people to succeed. This includes a culture of coaching and training individuals and teams to achieve the benchmarks that have been set and reward them for achievement. Counsel and manage poor performers and never be afraid to enforce the consequences for poor performance that is not in line with your company values.
1. Poor Planning gets Poor Results - Understand what is going to move the needle.
2. Block out slabs of times in your diary to work on 'the needle movers'. Be rigorous about protecting these times!
3. Batch your emails (and your meetings) to be efficient - don’t be a slave to your email - reply once or twice a day, rather than being constantly interrupted!
When I started my career over twenty years ago, office workers essentially worked business hours and designed their lives around these schedules. No matter how long these hours, there were regular starts and finishes to the work day. Extra hours of work involved 'bringing work home'. Technology-led process developments have changed all of that.
Today, the work isn’t brought home at all. Work follows the worker around in a continuous pipeline of interaction and correspondence. Real time responsiveness is expected in a work day that has no beginning or end.
Whilst these changes have somewhat intruded upon the way we organise our lives, advancements in technology have also allowed for workforce mobility and agility. This is more suited to today’s diverse family structures and schedules, allowing greater flexibility in both working times and location. This means that home carers more able to continue to participate in the workforce in a ways which would not have been imaginable twenty years ago. These advancements in business process help retain a pool of talent, which would otherwise have been lost.
Finally, advancements in communication and collaboration processes have also facilitated efficiency, consistency and best practice benchmarking in an increasing global business community.
Learn to fail fast. Success is often borne on the back of failure, but few business owners realise there’s a right way and a wrong way to fail. In the game of poker, as in the the modern business world: you need to outlay a little, be ‘in it to win it’, before you can decide if the hand is agreeable or not. If you like what you see, then commit to following through to the turn and the river. If you don’t, fold—you will only have spent a small amount on the failure.
The lesson from poker is that sampling is a good thing. After seeing the first three community cards, you’ll form a fairly good idea whether you have a winning hand. While it’s possible to eke out a win from the last two cards with a poor existing hand, the odds are low.
Treat business the same way: invest a little to sample an idea. It costs you less if you need to get out sooner, but without trying you may never succeed. Not only is it a quick and manageable way to start something, it also gives you an idea of whether an idea is viable because when you have a sample of it up and running you can gather feedback, which you can’t do with a plan.
Stress is the Enemy of Success. As the founder of yourtutor.com.au, I've spent the last decade building an e-learning company, and also educating myself about the best ways to build a productive team. My # 1 takeaway: We work best when we minimise stress. I encourage our team to find maximum focus by making time for physical exercise (our company participates in a weekly indoor soccer competition, local fun runs, etc). This holiday, we gave every employee an exercise tracker, and the camaraderie and friendly competition - even for a team distributed across the country - is palpable. We see benefits of stress reduction in the service we provide to Aussie students every night; we take the stress out of homework and study, and kids tell us how much better they feel -- and more they learn -- when they relax!