Frustrating isn’t it?
You work extremely hard everyday, but the rate of things added to your to-do list are faster than what you get done.
It feels like you’re never going to get ahead no matter what.
You thought everything was going to be done by the end of the day but you still have a few more “to-dos” to take care off. It’s 12 a.m. and you’re dead tired, so you add them to tomorrow’s to-do list and you head to bed.
Deep inside, you envy those millionaires and billionaires who get their work done and also spend plenty of time with their families—something you only dream of.
You think that they just happen to have some sort of super powers that you lack and there’s no way to solve it—so you’re doomed for life!
Actually, it has nothing to do with super powers OR natural talent. It’s the secret methods that they use that makes them different. And you can learn to become just as productive as them—and more.
1. Throw away your to-do list.
It happens to you doesn’t it?
You have more stuff on that list than the hours in the day. And to feel better about yourself, you do the easiest tasks and leave the hard long tasks for later. The only problem is, in the evening you’re tired so you procrastinate on the big tasks. All because you wanted to look at a short list. In fact that’s just one of the reasons you shouldn’t be working from your to-do list in the first place.
Productivity experts including the world’s billionaires don’t use to-do lists, they use calendars to schedule their tasks. Don’t believe me? Look for yourself.
“I’m not big on to-do lists. Instead, I use e-mail and desktop folders and my online calendar.”
To-do lists have many problems. Some of them are:
- It’s tempting to write a long list of tasks that you won’t be able to find time for.
- It doesn’t account for time, so you misjudge the amount of time it takes to finish your list and therefore keep adding more throughout the day.
- You procrastinate on what you hate and do the tasks you enjoy, burning your energy on low-priority tasks in exchange for high-priority tasks and that’s holding your business backwards.
On the other hand, calendars are:
- Time-conscious, so you know exactly how long each task should take therefore avoid cramping in too many tasks in a day. It’ll force you to eliminate the unimportant stuff.
- Easier to manage since your day will be written down in front of you.
- Most importantly, motivate you to do the work in time and within the time frame; otherwise the whole day is ruined.
So that’s the number 1 secret that you need to apply if you want to see any change in your life.
Now the question is, how do you use a calendar and what calendar should you use?
There are two types of calendars out there:
So which one’s better?
It’s an easy guess. The electronic one tends to be better because:
- You can automatically put your daily tasks on repeat and save time having to write them every day.
- You can carry it with you at all times (in your smart phone or any other device).
- You save paper and the environment.
The best electronic calendar to use is Google Calendar.
Now for the real question: how to use a calendar?
- Well for starters, there’s an excellent tutorial for Google Calendar on Youtube.
- Once you’ve watched it, you should now understand how it works. So open up Google Calendar.
- Now move the tasks from your to-do list and put them as events on the calendar. Make sure you assign enough time for each task. The default is 1 hour, so make sure to reduce it for tasks that require less time.
- You’re all set. Make sure to referesh the Google Calendar app if you made the edits from a computer.
2. Don’t work on urgent tasks first.
A lot of people think urgent means high priority. Although sometimes true, that’s not always the case.
So what is urgent? Urgent is people’s way of telling you to get their stuff done first. It can also come from people who worry and have low-tolerance levels or bad judgment with priorities.
Ok, so what exactly is a high priority task?
There’s an excellent matrix by MindTools that shows the four kinds of tasks you will encounter. Effort on the X-axis and Impact on the Y-axis.
Listed in order from high to low:
- Major Projects are what you should focus on first thing in the morning while you’re on maximum energy. They require the most effort and they give the highest rewards, they include whatever hard work that leads to your startup’s success or puts money in your pocket.
- Quick Wins are tasks that have high impact but require less effort and that’s why they’re called quick wins. You can do these after you’ve completed the major projects.
- Fill Ins are low value tasks that don’t need much effort. You do these to fill in your free time or you outsource them.
- Thankless Tasks are those tasks that don’t matter much to the success of your company but require a lot of effort to do. They are thankless because the efforts you put in get you little to no reward, these must be outsourced when possible.
Remember these when you’re creating your schedule on the calendar.
3. Make time for email and social media.
Contrary to the “don’t check email or social media except once a day” advice that’s been going around, experts such as Kevin Kruse (who interviewed 9 billionaires,13 Olympic Athletes, 29 Straight-A Students, and 239 Entrepreneurs) say that the most effective method to manage email is by implementing “The 321Zero System”.
Here is how The 321Zero System works:
Schedule 3, 21-minute sessions on your calendar to process them (morning, noon, night).
Empty your inbox in that time frame.
Although his advice doesn’t include social media, it can be included with today’s smartphone addict people who prefer sending WhatsApp messages rather than emails.
So instead of assigning 21 minutes for email you can assign 30 minutes for both email and social media (15 minutes for each). That way, you get to spread your replies to messages and notifications throughout the day instead of once a day, which isn’t practical in this day and age.
If you want to take email management to the next level you can read Kevin Kruse’s full article on how millionaires manage their email.
4. Have super focus.
A study conducted by Professor Gloria Mark found that after a distraction it takes an average of 23 minutes to completely regain your focus!
So what does that mean?
Well, let’s say your spouse comes through the door and interrupts you for just “two seconds” which usually takes a minute or two—maybe five.
What seemed to your spouse like a two minute interruption turned out costing you 25 minutes of focus time!
And that is why you don’t let ANYTHING disturb you at all costs.
So how do you gain super focus until everything else fades into the background?
Simply by making a few adjustments:
- Work in a silent room.
- Clear your desk and only leave what you need at reach.
- Put your phone on silent (not vibrate) or flight mode then place it flat on its face so you don’t see the screen light up or even better, put it in another room.
- Hang a “Do not disturb” sign on your door and lock it. Let everyone know that you want to be left alone.
- Turn your desk towards a boring plain wall. The last thing you need is the mesmerizing view through the window or coloful wallpaper.
- Work in periods of 25 to 90 minutes and have a 10–30 minute break between each session.
- Stay well hydrated. Keep a bottle of water next to you.
If you want to take your focus training to the next level then I recommend you read Laser-Sharp Focus. A No-Fluff Guide to Improved Concentration, Maximised Productivity and Fast-Track to Success by Joanna Jast.
5. Let someone else do it.
This may sound counter-intuitive; isn’t this supposed to be about you getting work done?
Well yeah, but you can’t do everything on your own. You’ve got the same 24 hours as everyone else and you’re obviously not an expert at everything.
Things like accounting or logo design can take up a lot of time. These kinds of tasks should just be outsourced if they take up too much of your time and you can find someone cheap to do them.
I’ve seen so many authors waste half of their time on designing their books when they could have given the job to someone on fiverr for a measly $10.
So instead of wasting your time on things like book designs that can take hours to do, outsource them. Focus on tasks that create the most value and the ones you’re good at, like writing.
6. Don’t plan the night before.
Many entrepreneurs give the advice that you should plan your day the night before. You’ve probably seen it all over the Internet.
But after a long day of making decisions your mental ability to make more decisions decreases. According to research done in a court room, judges were more likely to give a favorable ruling in the morning compared to later on in the day.
The reason behind this is because your willpower is like a muscle, and it gets tired after making decisions. For that reason, making planning decisions at night isn’t a good idea.
Planning is vital for optimal performance. Without a plan, you’re likely to procrastinate rather than execute your plan.
A solid plan is time and energy consuming. That’s why you should plan for the whole week rather than spend time each night or morning planning your day.
A good time to create your schedule would be the day before your work week (Sunday morning if your work week starts on Monday).
You may have to make some minor tweaks before you go to bed and that’s totally fine, as long as it isn’t a major planning decision.
While planning your week follow this guideline: The morning is for high-priority tasks, as we mentioned previously.
7. Do average work.
Are you a perfectionist? If you’re not, then good for you. If you are, then you’ve got yourself a serious problem. Because to you, nothing is ever finished.
You focus on every single detail and try to make your work “perfect.” But I can assure you that nothing ever is perfect.
Humans cannot create perfect.
Even the Rolce Royce phantom, a masterpiece, isn’t perfect. It is an excellent product, but not perfect. It can still break, yet it is very durable.
But as a young startup your products don’t need to be anything near that. Your aim is to launch a minimal viable product that just does the job and then keep improving it based on feedback—you know, the lean startup way.
As long as the thing you’re doing works, then it is complete! End of Story.
8. Learn the hidden shortcuts.
Sometimes it’s just all about moving faster and cutting corners. Lazy people like me love this one, and it’s the simplest of them all, yet many of us don’t take advantage of it.
Have you ever thought about learning the shortest route before driving? Learning how to read faster? Or just finding a way to be able to do something in a faster way?
For starters, not many people really learn how to read or type faster. They think it’ll take them a lot of time and end up wasting more time than it would take to read slowly. Other people are just lazy.
Reading and writing are daily activities for entrepreneurs, and that’s why I’ll give you a few resources to improve your speed.
Here are some more tips:
- Dentists recommend brushing teeth twice a day, for 5 minutes if you have a manual toothbrush and 2–3 minutes if you have an electric toothbrush. For that reason, get an electric toothbrush.
- For driving you could drive faster, but then you may get into an accident which wastes time and your safety; in that case, just make driving time productive by listening to a podcast or lecture. Same goes with the rest of your transportation or idle time, make the most of it by listening to something beneficial.
- If you’re still in college and you want to impress your parents or just get good grades in the fastest way possible then apply the methods we have talked about in this post and tackle questions in a strategic manner. You do not need to answer every question in an assignment or test to get an ‘A.’ Work hard on the parts that are worth the highest marks and just quickly do the low mark questions. Don’t spend the same amount of time on a 1-mark question as you would with a 10-mark question.
There’s a shortcut to almost everything. You never know: you may end up creating a product that saves people some time. People pay for time -saving tools that make their lives easier. Always ask yourself, how can I do this faster?
9. Schedule to do The One Push-Up Challenge.
Because our willpower is limited, whenever we set a big goal such as workout for 30 minutes, we tend to get lazy. It just seems like too big of a task to complete. However, if you were told to do only one push-up, you wouldn’t need much willpower to get up and do it. The whole thing would feel like a joke. One push-up? I’ll do that right now, and since you’re already in the push up position why not do a few more? And since your heart is pumping why not do a few squats? Before you know it, you’ve done your 30 minute workout.
You can apply this to everything in your life such as:
Just give yourself a ridiculous goal such as wash only 3 dishes, and before you know, your kitchen’s sink area is shining clean.
This was inspired by Stephen Guise, author of Mini Habits.
10. Sleep like a bear.
You know what’s heartbreaking?
The worst part about sleep deprivation isn’t the risk of getting diabetes. It’s not the risk of heart attack, stroke, or obesity. It’s not even the inability for your body to remove toxic proteins from your brain cells (although that’s bad).
No, the worst part is that sleep deprivation costs the U.S $63 billion annually in lost productivity. I mean, that’s a load of cash.
If you can’t get your 7–8 hours of sleep, then take power naps throughout the day. It’s no wonder Google has sleep pods for employees. There’s no point of you working if you’re fatigued.
11. Use cloud storage.
How many times have you spent hours editing a document only to find out it’s the wrong version?
Or even worse: how many times have you sent the wrong document to your team member, boss, or professor?
And not to forget the number of files you have for the same assignment that looks something like this; assignment-1, assignment-1-draft, assignment-1-final, which bogs up your computer’s memory and takes a few minutes to figure out the latest version.
You probably felt like smashing the screen when that happened.
The amount of time wasted could be saved actually working on the document.
Good news for you, you can solve your problem by using cloud storage.
You can work on the document online to avoid duplicates and looking for files. And you can share the link to your document with a team member or boss. If you have to manually upload a file, then just download the final version with ease.
12. Don’t waste your time networking.
Networking is important but not if it hinders you from working on what matters in your business. When it comes to choose between working on something important or attending a networking event, then work always triumphs.
A good rule of thumb is to attend only 1–2 hours of networking events during a week. Of course this depends on the amount of work you have and the impact networking has on your business, for most experienced entrepreneurs with a big network the amount of networking needed will be less.
Now Imagine looking at your to-do list, except this time you’ve got each task scheduled on your calendar and you know exactly when you’ll finish each task.
Instead of stressing on the tasks you couldn’t finish on that day, you can now sleep in peace because you know exactly when each task will be done.
Not only that. You also won’t procrastinate on long tiring tasks anymore because you know how to make a long task seem like a joke by following the one push-up challenge.
All because you’ve implemented the methods presented in this post.
Guess what: you’re not the same person after reading this post. You now know the secrets to achieving insane productivity!
No more lost focus, no more doing other people’s “urgent” tasks and you know exactly how to deal with email and social media compared to the average Tom, Dick and Harry.
Sound crazy? It’s not.
You’ve got your roadmap now—now you need to follow it.
Your new productive self awaits.
Featured photo credit: Couch Potato/Banalities via flickr.com