Ah productivity. That magical cure-all pill that will catapult you to success and fill your bank account overnight if only you follow this carefully developed list of tasks.
As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to go anywhere online without finding productivity tips and tricks from the most successful people. And while I love reading about the obscure sleeping habits of CEOs and celebrities, these usually bore me because they boil down to the same three things: wake up early, create a routine, and batch your tasks.
I have been running my own successful business for about two years. Like all entrepreneurs, I balance a busy workload of client work, sending invoices, balancing my accounts, marketing and advertising, managing social media, and doing all those assorted tasks that seem to pile up and multiply like rabbits. And if there is one solid lesson I have learned in that time, it is that I do not fit into this carefully built box for entrepreneurs.
I don’t get “dressed for the workday” every morning. Instead, I have a closet full of yoga pants and sweaters. I am never going to wake up early (9 a.m. sounds peachy to me). I don’t have an evening routine (unless eating ice cream while watching Netflix counts as a routine). I don’t have an online planner. And I have never once read an article while running on a treadmill. (I did try once, but I ended up watching The West Wing on my phone instead.)
And yet, in two years, I have never become overwhelmed. I have never missed a deadline or disappointed a client. I am not starved for sleep (in fact, I get about 9 hours each night), and I have been able to grow my business every month while also volunteering, spending ample time with friends and family, exercising, taking long (work-free) vacations, and having enough downtime to work on a screenplay. In other words, I am very productive, just not the kind of productive that leaves you burned out and living on caffeine.
Here are my (slightly) unconventional productivity hacks for non-conformists.
Know Thyself: Think of this as the golden rule of productivity. No matter which productivity tools you choose to use, no matter how to manage your schedule or when you find time to nap or exercise, it must work for you, personally. Someone else’s “foolproof” path to success may not work for you. That’s ok. Accept your personal behaviors and either work actively to change them, or lean into them. For instance, I am a movie addict. I watch a movie in my home several times a week. I can deprive myself with the lie that movie time can’t be productive, or I can use the time to fold laundry, brainstorm blog titles, design images in Canva, or put together my next email campaign. Lean into your habits and make them work for you.
Abolish Your To-Do List: There is absolutely no point in keeping a “To-Do” list separate from your calendar. If it’s important enough to be on a to-do list, it’s important enough to get added to your schedule with a time and a date. If you have to book a dentist appointment, open your planner right now and write, “book a dentist appointment” on the next open weekday. This is the only way to productively manage all of your important tasks and projects.
Eliminate, Delegate, & Automate: Delegation and automation get a lot of love in productivity articles, but elimination shouldn’t be, well, eliminated. There is a time and a place for saying no. If you are working with a particularly draining client, it’s okay to end the contract. If you started a blog thinking you’d love it, but realize later that it isn’t getting you closer to your goals, you are by no means obligated to keep posting. Take a look at all the work related activities that take up your time, and decide which you can delegate to an assistant or co-worker, which you can automate (email, social media, etc.) and which you should eliminate completely.
Remember “Done is Better Than Perfect”: I don’t remember where I first heard this phrase, but it changed my life. I am not a perfectionist, but I have a healthy fear of rejection. I used to mull over blog posts, marketing brochures, and the like for hours after they were complete. This was a colossal waste of time. There is nothing wrong with aiming for perfection, as long as you don’t aim for so long that your arms grow heavy and you drop the bow altogether.
Take Mass Transit: In her book 168 Hours, Laura Vanderkam recommends recapturing lost chunks of time, like the time you spend sitting in a doctor’s office or the time you spend waiting on line at a grocery store, by filling those minutes with meaningful tasks. One way I’ve found to take back my time is the increased use of mass transit. Instead of listening to music or people watching, spend the ride working on a project, listening to a podcast or TED Talk, or catching up on reading.
Use Productivity Apps: I have a hard time sitting down to write for long periods of time, so I have adopted the Pomodoro Method. Essentially, you set an alarm to work for 25-minutes, then you take a 5-minute break. This is a complete Pomodoro. I use a Pomodoro app to keep me on track. Another great app is Pocket. I have a tendency to get distracted while combing social media for useful content for my website and profiles. Rather than get sucked down the rabbit hole, I just save interesting articles to Pocket and then read them between tasks (or while in transit).
Batch Tasks By Day: I know, I know. I said this was on every list. But hear me out. This isn’t quite the same as setting aside one hour each day for emails or three for client calls. Rather than thinking of batching tasks by the hour, consider batching them by days. I do all of my social media planning for a few hours on Mondays. On Tuesdays, I spend a few hours on content creation. Since I’m already in the “flow,” I am able to get more done in one long writing session than I would in five short writing spurts. You may choose to batch all of your invoicing and budgeting on a Thursday mornings, or all of your “big picture” planning for Saturday afternoons.
Get A “Productivity Partner”: Among the best ways I’ve found for staying on top of my calendar and being as productive as possible is enlisting the help of a friend. Partner up with another entrepreneur or friend, and hold one another accountable every day. Start your day with a five-minute phone call to discuss your objectives for the day and list your plan to achieve them. Your buddy should do the same. Then, check in again at night. Having to tell your partner that you failed to accomplish your goals may be just enough to keep you focused throughout the day.
There is no one right way to be productive. But there is a wrong way, and that is whichever way leaves you feeling overworked and underwhelmed about your career and life. The reason you chose to be an entrepreneur was (presumably) to break out of the corporate “box.” Don’t intentionally climb back in with a one-size-fits-all productivity plan. Find what works for you and make no apologies.
And on that note, I’m off to watch The West Wing.