Productivity 101

What do you have to get done today? This week? This year?

As a busy entrepreneur, your ever-growing “to-do” list (you do keep a to-do list, right?) can be a primary organizational challenge.

Managing multiple tasks can quickly be made easier with a few helpful tips and tools.

Productivity models from the beginning of time have primarily centered around one of two models, “routine” or “what matters most.” As a small business owner, routine is often not an option. An ever-evolving schedule demands that you juggle a myriad of tasks of various level of importance, every day, throughout the day.

Identifying and effectively executing must-do actions are what you get paid for but you also need to continuously be knocking out those small, low priority items to keep your business moving forward consistently.

Whether you use an electronic or paper calendar, a quick categorization of tasks by high, medium or low level of importance is a first step in putting your day in perspective quickly… but you probably already knew that.

So how to tackle tasks of all levels in one day? Here are a few tips and tools:

1.) Capitalize on your personal peak performance times:

Find your sweet spots of productivity in order to schedule tasks according to when your energy level will be put to best use. If you’re not a morning person, don’t plan your most demanding jobs for first thing (even if it is your most important) but rather when your energy and mental clarity are more in line with the demands of that type of action.

For instance, my peak creativity and energy are about 11am. I try to schedule new business meetings and high level collaborative strategy sessions for this time. Late afternoons, for me, are more quiet, thoughtful periods of productivity where I’m able to digest research data and write documents that are not high energy or interactive but purely cognitive. Sometimes, it’s helpful to have a quick power nap to reenergize.

Helpful Tool:

UPDATE 9/1/2015
– Timeful has been acquired by Google and has announced that it will not longer be available. Any suggestions on alternatives? I haven’t found a time management app yet that worked as easily and efficiently.

UPDATE 4/14/2016 – FINALLY! Google has integrated the Timeful app into their calendar – calling it “Goals.” Very excited to test this out! Here’s their weird intro video:

Timeful is my favorite time management app. It’s free, easy to use, attractive and is so much smarter than (yet integrates with) other popular calendar programs. You can color code your tasks by priority or project for quick visual cues. Program your most productive times and even schedule “habits” that you want to include in your week such as “meditate each day” or “exercise three times this week.”

Timeful helps manage your to-do-lists and schedule in one place with intuitive time management features that will craft a perfect day for you centered around your priorities and peak working times.

Read more about this incredibly intelligent time management app.

Time Management App

2.) Do one thing at a time:

I know my last post was about how to multi-task, but this is different. If you’re working on a project that requires your undivided attention, then barrier yourself off from distractions. Put your phone on do-not-interrupt mode, close down windows, put on headphones, shut your door… do what you can to set physical boundaries to protect yourself from ‘things’ that may be vying for your attention.

Help push yourself to stay focused on that ‘one thing’ by setting a timer for exactly how long you want to focus on this particular project. Studies show that most people can focus intently on a topic for about 40 minutes. Try setting your timer for that long and don’t stop until the chime go off.

I also schedule small blocks of time, sometimes just 10 or 15 minutes, for doing some of the lower level priorities that can often be done during the time “around the edges.” Creating a schedule around your personal circadian rhythms supports you working at your most efficient.

Don’t know exactly where you spend your time each day?

Helpful Tool: Toggl is my favorite time tracking tool. It’s free and easy to use. Simply turn on the timer when you start on a project from your computer or smart phone (they are completely integrated). Name and color code your projects if you wish, stop the timer when you’re done and you get ongoing color coded graphs reporting how you spent your time each day, week, month or by project. They even email an end of the week report listing the time you spent on each project.


3.) Deal with distracting thoughts instantly:
This is one of the biggest challenges of many creatives and entrepreneurs. Staying focused means keeping your thoughts from bouncing through all of those other great ideas you have. I’ve found that keeping a pad nearby to instantly jot down a thought is the easiest way to get it out of my head to quickly return to the task at hand while preserving this new bright idea for later. I intentionally use paper because I don’t want to open another window that would beckon me to start another “project” or go through the context and window switching that would dramatically interrupt my flow.

Helpful Tool: Prefer electronic or voice note taking? Try the ever popular EverNote. Speak into it, categorize it (or not), and simple as that, your note is downloaded and easily integrated with all of the other notes, docs, photos and contact info relative to that project. The (free) mobile app is especially useful on the road or in-transit and will of course, correlate with your desktop version as well.

4.) Control Your Environment:
Are you really able to focus on a demanding mental task while in a coffee shop? Maybe you can. I can’t. The sensory overload and bustle of activity is distracting to me. However, I also know that when I’m working on something creative, I am stimulated by music, looking at nature or being in a different environment, so coffee shops can be a great place for invigorating creative energy. Environmental controls are at least somewhat within your control.

What works best for you?

Helpful Tips: productivity-hacksProductivity Hacks (PDF) from This dynamic project management and task management software offers robust collaboration features to help make sure everything gets done on a project with multiple contributors. They even have a free version with the basics for up to 5 users.

5.) Put governors on:

Tempted to check social media or Reddit or your email again? Don’t get lured into the rabbit hole! There are a number of powerful tools to help save you from yourself.

Site blocking apps such as Cold Turkey or Anti-Social
block whatever sites you tell it to for the amount of time you want it to.

I used to have this dreadfully unproductive habit of checking email ALL the time. Being told every time I had a new message utterly hi-jacked my attention. Turning notifications off was an obvious way to eliminate that intrusion. However, I found myself still clicking over constantly to check it! Email is my primary form of contact so it doesn’t work for me to limit it to just morning, lunch time and at the end of the day as some productivity ‘experts’ may suggest but I absolutely do not check in while working on a task.

Knowing what works for YOU is your key to fulfilling productivity.

Helpful Tips:

Productivity hacks

Don’t want to even LOOK at another window? Try TabZolo, a Chrome extension. Here’s a one minute video demo to show you how it can help keep you focused on one tab at a time!

You will be amazed how much can be accomplished in a short amount of time when you are not juggling tasks with phone calls, emails, social media, news sites or irrelevant thoughts that would compete for your attention.

40 minutes of high productivity is equivalent to about an hour of fragmented working. So imagine spending one hour per day on a particular project, 5 days per week. According to national averages, you will have accomplished the “big” task that may have seemed overwhelming, one bite at a time, plus
you will have gained 100 extra minutes!

Now THAT’S productive!