This is part of the “Moving Forward” series offering advice to small business owners on technology, mentorship, productivity, and growth. “Moving Forward” is sponsored by Ink from Chase®. More posts in the series »
For most entrepreneurs and small-business owners, it seems like there are never enough hours in the day.
The pressure to make sure everything’s running smoothly means days go quickly and the to-do list easily gets lost amid ever-changing priorities.
How can you best use your time to be most effective? We spoke to several successful entrepreneurs about the tips, tricks, and hacks that keep them productive and efficient.
Here is some of their best advice.
'How you begin the day is really important,' says Lai, who is also a founder of the award-winning creative agency based in Culver City, California. 'I try to get up early, which is hard for me, as I'm not really a morning person. The first thing I'll do is go for a bike ride, and that really helps me clear my head, relieve some stress, and think about challenges I'm currently facing. It's important to start each day fresh and energized with the right frame of mind if you're going to be productive.'
'Then when I get to work, I'll write down on a small memo pad urgent items I have to get done today,' he says. 'I always keep it next to my keyboard, and I rip the pages off as I complete them. I find that writing things down in a list and crossing them off helps me prioritise so I don't lose focus. There's a nice feeling knowing you're getting stuff done, and that momentum helps me stay productive throughout the day.'
'One of my hacks is that every Wednesday is my work-from-home day,' Halligan, who is also a cofounder of the Boston-based marketing software firm, told Business Insider. 'So if I'm not travelling in a given week, or even if I am travelling, I keep Wednesday open and that's the day that I can just think and get stuff done.'
'The other hack I have -- I find that people work work work and don't think think think, and that the percentage of time people work versus think is off,' he says. 'I've tried to shift that, and I try to think lot and try to increase the amount of time I spend thinking about things versus on the phone or in a meeting or emailing people. So I see people working a lot, and I say what's your time spent thinking versus working?'
'I believe (and I don't do enough of it) that a CEO should spend at least a day, if not two days, a month outside of the office on a bike or something,' Stanek, who is also the founder of the data analytics company, told Business Insider. 'The day has too much focus on the technical stuff.'
'I get to the office at like 7, and I have a full day of calls,' he continues. 'The stuff that suffers is the strategic thinking. Where is the industry going, where is the company going, what should we do differently, what should we do better. That you can only do when you get on a bike, when you actually have no cell phone coverage. (It's) good practice for CEOs to be in a bit of isolation.'
An 80/20 analysis involves figuring out the 20% of your activities that lead to 80% of the results you want, as well as the 20% of your activities that consume 80% of your time. Any overlap, or lack thereof, informs how you can use your time more efficiently, says Ferriss, author of 'The Four-Hour Workweek.'
'As a business owner, it's very easy to fall into the trap of being busy, and being busy is not necessarily productive,' Ferriss told Business Insider. 'When you focus on the right things, and eliminate time spent on unhelpful tasks, you become more effective.'
'We start and end days with email,' Beauchamp, who cofounded the beauty product discovery startup with Haley Barna, told Business Insider. 'Balance is a long-term game. It's all work, all the time. It feels exciting. It's more intense than ever. I don't know how people do it without a partner. It's very true that on my hardest weeks my partner is having one of her best weeks and vice versa.'
The cofounder of nonprofit crowdfunding platform WeDidIt says finding a mentor early is the best way startups can focus on the things that really matter.
'You'd spend less time -- not waste weeks -- when you have someone who has already been there and done that to say, 'Hey, this isn't actually that important. You might as well make a decision now and move on,'' Sanni told Business Insider.
Barnett founded business management software company WORK(etc) after realising that he was fundamentally less productive working in an office setting.
'I've waged war with A.D.D. my whole life and the thought of sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day literally brings on a cold sweat,' Barnett told Business Insider. 'Any meeting that goes over 30 minutes is like being locked in a prison cell, and the concept of a half-day workshop is pure hell.'
His solution wasn't just finding a job where he could work from home, but founding a company aimed at making managing remote workers easier. As for the argument that you can't be as productive or creative working from home, Barnett disagrees.
'I would argue that being politely coerced into small talk about the weather or not being able to avoid (the) latest gossip is a cancer on creativity and productivity,' he says.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's advice that the most important career decision women make is who they choose to marry rings true for Smolyansky. She's raised two daughters while leading Lifeway, a Chicago-based company that makes kefir, which is similar to yogurt, and says having a supportive spouse has helped her be much more productive.
Smolyansky says her husband is someone who 'sees parenthood as a joint effort. We have alternative gender roles within our family, or kind of equal gender roles.' That frees her up to concentrate while on the job, since she can depend on him to pick up the slack when she gets particularly busy and doesn't have to constantly worry about her kids when she's working.
Moskovitz, a Facebook cofounder and now the CEO of Asana, which makes digital productivity tools, shared his favourite productivity hack in a post on a Quora:
'One of my favourite hacks is No Meeting Wednesdays, which we borrowed from Facebook,' Moskovitz writes. 'With very few exceptions, everyone's calendar is completely clear at least one day out of the week. Whether you are a Maker or a Manager, this is an invaluable tool for ensuring you have some contiguous space to do project work. For me personally, it is often the one day each week I get to code.'
Hsieh, who is also investing in a multi-million-dollar effort to revitalize Downtown Las Vegas, recently found that email was becoming a massive drain on productivity.
'In 2012, I felt like my email had gotten out of control,' Hsieh wrote in a LinkedIn post. 'I felt like it was a never-ending treadmill, and a lot of important emails I would actually end up never getting to because they would take a long time to respond to and I would just end up procrastinating… and several months later, they were still unanswered.'
His solution was something called the 'Yesterbox system.' It's outlined in full here, but the main points are:
1. Your 'to do' list each day is simply yesterday's email inbox (hence, 'Yesterbox').
2. If it can wait 48 hours without causing harm, then you are not allowed to respond to any emails that come in today, even if it's a simple one-word reply.
3. When processing yesterday's inbox, you must process 10 of yesterday's emails before you're allowed to look at any emails that are coming in today.'
Libin, who founded the wildly popular productivity app Evernote, is not really a fan of email, despite its ubiquity.
'One of the things I've tried to do is uproot any sort of email culture at Evernote,' he told the New York Times' Adam Bryant. 'We strongly discourage lengthy email threads with everyone weighing in. It's just not good for that. Plus, it's dangerous, because it's way too easy to misread the tone of something. If you want to talk to somebody and you're a couple floors apart, I kind of want you to get up and go talk to them.'
Actually getting up and talking things out ends up taking less time, and avoids many inevitable later meetings where people have to clarify and explain themselves.
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