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Ask the Entrepreneurs: 13 Ways to Stay Productive on Your Darkest Days

Ask the Entrepreneurs: 13 Ways to Stay Productive on Your Darkest Days

Ask The Entrepreneurs is a regular series where members of the Young Entrepreneur Council are asked a single question that aims to help Lifehack readers level up their own lives, whether in a area of management, communication, business or life in general.

Here’s the question posed in this edition of Ask The Entrepreneurs:

Failure can be pretty devastating but it’s part of business. What trick do you use to stay productive on those dark days?

1. Keep a Thank Bank

Martina Welke

    I started keeping an email folder labeled “Thank Bank” in the early days after starting our business to keep all the supportive messages, positive comments and thoughtful introductions I received. On the really hard days, I go back through the folder to be reminded of all the people who believe in what we’re building, and it never fails to motivate me to forge ahead.

    Martina Welke, Zealyst

     

    2. Play With Positive People

    Kelly Azevedo

      It’s easy to get down in the dumps and attract all those people who knew “that would never work” and like to wallow in your misery. Instead, consciously seek out the positive people you can work with who will lift you up after a failure. These people don’t necessarily have to be entrepreneurs, but it helps when others know what you’re dealing with and can provide perspective.

      Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems

       

      3. Practice Meditation

      Robert-J.-Moore

        Meditation is a great way to gain perspective by putting emotional distance between you and the stressful things in your life. It’s a great complement to the lows you experience on the bad days.

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        Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

         

         

        4. Take a Step Back

        peter minton

          Go for a walk and breathe some fresh air, grab lunch or drinks with some friends, call your family, play with your kids, whatever works for you to refocus and gain some perspective. Remember why (and for whom) you are working so hard, take that deep breath and attack that next challenge.

          Peter Minton, Minton Law Group, P.C.

           

           

          5. Try Music and Napping

          Michael Bruny

            I use a playlist I call “Get It Going.” I also leverage naps as a reset button. When I get up, it’s a brand-new start.

            Michael Bruny, The New Art of Conference Networking

             

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            6. Focus on Getting Back Up

            David Ehrenberg

              I have faith in myself and in what I’m creating. And I remember that everyone who swings big misses sometimes — failure doesn’t matter, just the ability to get back up and go for it again. In the Bay Area, there is no stigma attached to failure. Here, people are allowed to fail because there’s a belief that in an environment where failure is allowed, there is the ability to create something new.

              David Ehrenberg, Early Growth Financial Services

               

              7. Use Failure as Motivation

              Bryan Silverman

                We use failures and naysayers as our motivation to continue to push. With each failure, we know that we are able to learn, and we are that much closer to the next success. Our fellow employees, due to our company culture, help foster that motivational mindset with one another as well.

                Bryan Silverman, Star Toilet Paper

                 

                 

                8. Look at the Past

                Wade Foster

                  Simply looking at a graph of our results over the past year will show the remarkable progress we’ve made. On bad days, we’re still a thousand times better than we were on day one.

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                  Wade Foster, Zapier

                   

                   

                  9. Keep Your Perspective

                  Jeremy Hitchcock

                    Perspective is the silver lining in the dark cloud of failure. Entrepreneurs are usually successful because they have both a willingness to serve and a love for solving problems. If there’s a problem in 2013, it means that the problem is hard. Realizing things don’t happen overnight and remembering why you’re working so hard to begin with are the best ways to get through even the darkest of days.

                    Jeremy Hitchcock, Dyn

                    10. Focus on Action

                    Elizabeth Saunders

                      You can’t guarantee success, but you can decide what actions you will take each day to move yourself and your business forward. When I need to increase my motivation and productivity, I come up with a series of actions to take. Then, I focus on completing those and celebrating what I can control (actions) without worrying about what I can’t control (results).

                      Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E®

                       

                      11. Learn From Failure

                      Ziver Birg

                        Always remember that experience is the result of failing and learning from that failure. As long as you’re learning from failure, you’re growing and improving. Always remember this, and smile in the face of failure. Positive energy is contagious. If you’re positive, chances are your team will also be positive. It’s hard not to feel great in a super positive environment like that.

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                        Ziver Birg, ZIVELO

                         

                        12. Leave and Start Fresh Tomorrow

                        Andrew Angus

                          On the darkest of days, I don’t use a trick to stay productive. It just won’t work. There are times when you have to realize that no matter how bad things are, you are in no shape to fix them, and you are only going to make them worse — so I leave. I get a massage, get a good night’s sleep and start again the next day. You need to end the pain quickly and start fresh.

                          Andrew Angus, Switch Video

                           

                          13. Realize Time Brings Perspective

                          Michael Costigan

                            Being effective at doing what you do is much more important than always being productive. If you experience a failure, even if it’s a massive failure and you decide to take the rest of the day off to unwind and do something you find happiness in, it’s okay! Sometimes, we think that we always need to be reacting to problems; we spin our wheels and don’t always realize that time brings perspective.

                            Michael Costigan, Youth Leadership Specialist

                             

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                            Last Updated on March 21, 2019

                            11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                            11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

                            Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

                            You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

                            But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

                            To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

                            It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

                            “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

                            The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

                            In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

                            Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

                            1. Start Small

                            The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

                            Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

                            Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

                            Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

                            Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

                            Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

                            It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

                            Do less today to do more in a year.

                            2. Stay Small

                            There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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                            But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

                            If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

                            When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

                            I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

                            Why?

                            Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

                            The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

                            Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

                            3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

                            No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

                            There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

                            What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

                            Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

                            This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

                            This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

                            4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

                            When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

                            There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

                            Peter Drucker said,

                            “What you track is what you do.”

                            So track it to do it — it really helps.

                            But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

                            5. Measure Once, Do Twice

                            Peter Drucker also said,

                            “What you measure is what you improve.”

                            So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

                            For reading, it’s 20 pages.
                            For writing, it’s 500 words.
                            For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
                            For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

                            Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

                            6. All Days Make a Difference

                            Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

                            Will two? They won’t.

                            Will three? They won’t.

                            Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

                            What happened? Which one made you fit?

                            The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

                            No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

                            7. They Are Never Fully Automated

                            Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

                            But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

                            What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

                            It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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                            The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

                            It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

                            It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

                            8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

                            Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

                            Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

                            When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

                            The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

                            Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

                            9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

                            The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

                            Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

                            You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

                            But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

                            So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

                            If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

                            This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

                            The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

                            Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

                            10. Punish Yourself

                            Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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                            I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

                            It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

                            You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

                            No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

                            The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

                            But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

                            11. Reward Yourself

                            When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

                            Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

                            The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

                            After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

                            If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

                            Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

                            If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

                            In the End, It Matters

                            What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

                            When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

                            And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

                            “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

                            Keep going.

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                            More Resources to Help You Build Habits

                            Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

                            Reference

                            [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
                            [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
                            [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
                            [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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