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Ask the Entrepreneurs: What Do You Cross Off Your To-Do List First?

Ask the Entrepreneurs: What Do You Cross Off Your To-Do List First?

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

Most people have a list of actions that they prioritize for at the start of the day, these lists can be created in tools such as Evernote, Wunderlist, Remember the Milk and a host of other tools (Ed: We’re building Listible to help you create lists), but there is usually one thing on your list you want to accomplish first to help kick-start your day. Here’s the question posed in this edition of Ask The Entrepreneurs:

What do you cross off your to-do list first every day, and why does it help you stay productive?

1. Make a Plan

    Before starting on the work of the day, I create an action plan. I list everything that I need to accomplish and review the list along with scheduled meetings. By going over the plans for the day, I am prepared to complete all the tasks on my to-do list.

    Alexandra Mayzler, Thinking Caps Tutoring

    2. Read for Fuel

      I read articles and blogs. I consider continual learning to be a top priority, so I always do it first. It fuels ideas and provides knowledge for the rest of my day.

      Brent Beshore, AdVentures

      3. Whatever the Biggest Priority Is

        As a work at home mama and business owner, my daily priorities are constantly changing. When my work day starts, I tackle the one thing on my list that contributes the most to the bottom line. Typically that means a call with a potential client or moving a new product forward gets crossed off my to-do list first.

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        Molly Mahar, Stratejoy

        4. Write First

          First thing first — I write. I spend the first couple hours every morning writing, whether it’s a new ad campaign, email campaign, or a guest blog post. Writing is the most valuable activity I can do in my business, and that’s why I put it first on my list every morning. Identify the most valuable thing you can do for your business — and do it first, before you check your email. Email can wait.

          Pete Kennedy, Main Street ROI

          5. Eat the Frog

            “If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time!” Do whatever it is that you don’t want to do, but need to do most first thing in the morning … and then the rest of the day is just peachy.

            Derek Flanzraich, Greatist

            6. Prepare Daily Indicators

              Our controller prepares our business “daily indicators” every morning. It’s an overall view of the health of our business. Evaluating the daily indicators each morning is a great way to get focused and keep day-to-day decisions in perspective as they relate to overall goals.

              Abby Ross, Blueye Creative

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              7. Check Twitter Feeds

                I use Twitter to catch up with the rest of the world and find out what I missed. It’s not a healthy addiction but it’s a great way to stay up to date.

                Ben Lang, EpicLaunch

                8. Review Growth Metrics

                  As the steward of a social media startup, we’re all about community growth. So every morning I review our growth numbers from the day before — how many sign ups have our reps gotten and are we on track to meet our monthly goals. If growth is stagnating, addressing the “why” is job one for the day. If a community is not growing, it’s dying.

                  Brendan Mangus, Habidy

                  9. First Things First: Email

                    Contrary to a lot of “guru” advice, I check my email first thing in the morning. Once I know everything is in order and moving forward, I can focus on my day.

                    Charles Gaudet, Predictable Profits

                    10. Calendar Check

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                      The first thing I do is look at my calendar to see how I’ve planned my day. Seeing what meetings are scheduled allows me to properly prepare myself and my team members for what we’ll be tackling that day.

                      Zach Cutler, Cutler Group

                      11. The 3 Easiest Tasks

                        I’m not really a fan of the whole “Eat That Frog” concept. I start my day with the three of the easiest tasks on my to-do list. This makes a little dent in my list right away, which makes me feel as though I’m on a roll. I always find that when this is the case, I burn through more tasks than I would when focusing on my biggest list items first.

                        Travis Steffen, WorkoutBOX

                        12. Call Every Teammate

                          We have a distributed team (Berkeley, Atlanta, South Korea, San Francisco). The most important thing I do each morning is talk to each teammate — I want to know how they are, what projects are on their plate, and what I can do to help them succeed each day. These calls create a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose, and provide a great opportunity to set team priorities.

                          Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

                          13. Yoga

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                            20 Minute Yoga is the first thing I have scheduled into my day. Yoga and stretching has so many benefits like improved circulation, strength building, better posture, and many more. It helps me get focused and feel good for the day ahead. I recommend checking out Tara Stiles on YouTube at youtube.com/tarastilesyoga. She has yoga routines you can do in 5 minutes from home.

                            Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World

                            14. Write 3 Thank You Notes

                              I start every workday by writing three thank you notes. It is extremely important to show appreciation to those who have contributed to your success in any way. Gratefulness sparks a cycle of positivity whereby which those who are appreciated are likely to provide further assistance in the future. In regards to its role in my daily routine, writing these cards puts me in a more positive mindset

                              Dave Kerpen, Likeable Media

                              15. Ask These 3 Questions

                                These three things gets automatically added on my digital To Do list every day:
                                (1) Who am I required to be today?
                                (2) What is the one thing that I want to enjoy today?
                                (3) What is the ONE thing that I am required to do today?

                                Peter Nguyen, Advertiser360

                                16. Morning Checklist

                                  Each morning, I complete the same checklist: look at calendar, review projects list, answer e-mail, answer voicemails and texts, and clear daily paper file. This has three benefits: It helps me process everything effectively; it makes starting my day effortless; and it allows me to plan effectively based on the most recent information.

                                  Elizabeth Saunders, Real Life E®

                                  Featured photo credit:  Laptop (notebook) with cup of coffee and notepad with pen via Shutterstock

                                  More by this author

                                  9 No-Brainer Ways to Track Employee Time Ask the Entrepreneurs: 12 Things Entrepreneurs Should Stop Doing Ask the Entrepreneurs: 9 Best Note Taking Tools Ask the Entrepreneurs: 12 Tips for Mastering Public Speaking Ask the Entrepreneurs: 9 Tasks You Should be Outsourcing

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                                  Last Updated on November 27, 2020

                                  15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

                                  15 Office Design Tricks That Will Increase Your Productivity at Work

                                  Where you work has an enormous impact on how you work – on your ability to focus (and stay focused) and your overall ability to be productive. That means the design of your office, whether you work at home or in a larger company environment, is of supreme importance. This isn’t just about Feng Shui, this is about producing results and getting things done.

                                  According to studies done on workplace and productivity, the most significant factor in determining an employee’s ability to focus is their physical environment. In fact, it’s been said that a well-designed office can increase your productivity about 20%. However, despite the studies and statistics, nearly half of the employers interviewed don’t consider workplace design a good business investment.

                                  So what is a productivity hack to do? What if you work in an environment that doesn’t promote focus?

                                  Check these 15 factors and make changes where you can. A little adjustment can produce a lot of impact.

                                  Lighting

                                  Lighting is one of the most important factors in staying focused and feeling inspired to create, yet it’s one of the most overlooked and least invested in. Bad lighting can cause fatigue, eyestrain, headaches and overall irritability. Dark spaces can actually produce depression.

                                  If you work in a company office:
                                  You probably have no control over your general lighting so bring in your own, if need be. Consider using natural light bulbs or a light therapy device.

                                  If you work from a home office:
                                  Open the windows and doors and let natural light in. Using lamps in a variety of areas for cloudy days or when it’s dark.

                                  Chair and Table

                                  If you’ve ever sat at a desk to do work but found yourself adjusting, stretching and moving too often to actually stay focused, then you’re aware of the importance of having a correctly fitted table and chair. In today’s work environment where so many of us are sitting for most of our day, it is critical that your throne fits your body probably.

                                  Consider these quick ergonomic checks:

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                                  • Eyes 24-36 inches from the computer screen. The top of the monitor should be below or at eye-level.
                                  • Feet should be on a foot rest or resting on the floor.
                                  • A slightly reclined chair posture is best to reduce pressure on your spine and minimize lower back pain.

                                  If you work in a company office:
                                  Ask for an adjustable chair. Add pillows for your lower back or bum, if you need it. Many companies will also provide risers for computers to adjust the height of your computer screen (and a separate keyboard to keep your hands and wrists in the ideal position)

                                  If you work from a home office:
                                  Invest in a decent chair or at least use a few pillows to make the chair more comfortable. If the table is too high, add pillows to your chair. If it is too low, consider buying leg risers from your local hardware store and using books beneath your computer to raise the screen. Use a separate keyboard.

                                  Clutter

                                  Your mama was right, it’s important to clean up your room. Clutter may help the creative mind create, but it isn’t necessarily helpful for focus and productivity.

                                  If you work from a company office: While you can’t control the cleanliness of the office at large, do keep your own environment around you clean. Spend 10 minutes every morning or evening making sure things are put away, filed, organized and generally out of sight so you’re not distracted by it later.

                                  If you work from a home office: Because you work from home, the entire house or apartment is potential for distraction. If you can afford it, hire a professional cleaning service to keep your home clean. If not, schedule a specific day and time to clean your home. Commit to doing daily pickup at a specific time. And spend at least 10 minutes every day making sure your office  is organized and tidy.

                                  Room Color

                                  The colors around us all have an effect on our moods and brain function. It evokes both a physical and emotional response. So choosing the right colors for your work space has the ability to affect your productivity. For instance, blue has been said to illicit productivity. Mind you, too much of anything can be overwhelming, even color.

                                  If you work from a company office: Bring in items from home that are a certain color that inspire you and keep you focused. Use postcards, magazine cutouts, even just blocks of color will do.

                                  If you work from a home office: If you work from home, you have much more control over the colors around you. Consider repainting a wall, adding color to the table you work at, or hanging pictures that are dominated by a specific color.

                                  Room Temperature

                                  Most offices keep their temperatures around 65-68 Fahrenheit but it turns out that this might not be good for productivity. Warmer rooms actually make people more productive.

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                                  If you work from a company office: Most offices are regulated by somebody else, so bring a space heater, sweaters and blankets to your work space.

                                  If you work from a home office: Depending on the season, open the windows or adjust the heat or a/c so that you’re more comfortable and warm. Pile on the sweaters in the winter or add a space heater to your feet.

                                  Room Scents

                                  Like the color of the space you work in, our sense of smell can powerfully affect our mood, mindset and thus our productivity. Consider adding scents to your work space to jar your mind into focus when you start to notice yourself drifting off.

                                  Try using these scents to stay focused:

                                  • Pine – Increases alertness
                                  • Cinnamon – Improves focus
                                  • Lavender – Helps to relax you during a stressful work day
                                  • Peppermint – Lifts your mood
                                  • Citrus (any) – Wakes you up  and lifts your spirits

                                  If you work from a company office: Most people will not appreciate added scents to their work environment so you’ll need to keep it subtle. Keep essential oils in your bag or drawer and when you’re in need of a boost put a few drops on a handkerchief or cotton ball.

                                  If you work from a home office: Use candles, incense or essential oils. You can also simmer herbs and spices in the kitchen to fill your home with a warm scent.

                                  Noise Level

                                  The noise level in a work environment can vary greatly depending on the size of the team you work with, the office design and company culture. But make no mistake, the noise around you affects your ability to stay on task. Not only can it be distracting, it can also raise stress levels making your ability to sustain productivity far more difficult.

                                  If you work from a company office: Bring in noise cancellation headphones and use music services like Spotify or Songza and choose concentration boosting sounds, like white noise.  Find out if your office offers quiet work spaces for times when you need the utmost focus.

                                  If you work from a home office: Sometimes the complete quiet can be as distracting as an office. Use a service like Coffivity to mimic the noise of a coffee shop, which has been said to help with concentration.

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                                  Air Quality

                                  Air quality can drastically affect our ability to focus and think clearly. Get this: OSHA estimates that the total annual cost of poor air quality in office environments costs employers $15 billion “due to worker inefficiency and sick leave.” Yeah, it’s serious business.

                                  If you work from a company office: Talk to them about installing air filters. If there is a way to bring in fresh air through windows or doors, arrange to have them opened for at least a portion of the day. If nothing else, get a personal air filter to have on your desk or nearby.

                                  Also, get a plant (or better yet, have the company buy and use more plants in the office!). Plants are great at filtering the air and providing clean, purified oxygen.

                                  If you work from a home office: Open windows and doors and let in the fresh air. Install an air filter or get a portable air filter to keep near your desk. And, yes, you too should get a plant.

                                  Different Spaces

                                  If you can manage it, give yourself more than one space to work from. Putting yourself in a new space with different qualities and things to look at quite literally shifts your brain and helps you stay focused.

                                  If you work from a company office: Many offices offer a variety of environments to work from: your personal space, lobbies, break out rooms, conference rooms, kitchens and eating areas and, if you’re lucky, they also provide lounge areas. Use all these spaces to vary your routine. Make sure your supervisor knows so they don’t think you’re slacking off and know tat you’re actually getting more done!

                                  If you work from a home office: If you work at a desk, add a comfortable couch or chair to the room. If your space is less flexible or ultra tiny, think about more creative ways to change your work space. Rotate the pictures on your walls every couple of days. Sit on the other side of your desk. Get a lamp and multiple colored bulbs. Or go work at a café, the library or in a park.

                                  Organization of People

                                  Most employers organize employees around job function or in specific divisions. Instead, studies show that people are more creative and productive when they are sitting with colleagues that share the same goal or client. Not only are you able to get answers and generate solutions quicker, but because you’re directly accountable to the people around you, you’re more likely to stay on task and productive.

                                  If you work from a company office: Ask your employer if you can experiment by clustering your group together in a conference room for a day or a week. Get feedback from everybody involved. Show the results. If your company won’t make permanent adjustments, perhaps they’ll allow you to work together a couple times a week when the conference room or lounge area is free.

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                                  If you work from a home office: This is a little bit more difficult because when you work at home you’re not with colleagues. You can recreate a similar space digitally, however. Create a Skype group and have everyone logged in during working hours. You can do morning accountability and check-ins while remaining available for questions, solution-finding and general banter that promotes creativity.

                                  Idea Storage

                                  Ever been working hard when you’re suddenly distracted by a great idea? At first you try to push it away, but then the next thing you know you’re 20 pages deep into an online search on the topic. Ideas should be encouraged and cultivated, but when they come right in the middle of another task it can be incredibly distracting. Instead, create a place to store your ideas that’s easily accessed from your work space.

                                  For both a company and home office: Keep pads of paper around, have a chalk wall, get a white board – when you have a spark of inspiration write it down right away to get it out of your head then return to the task at hand. Then, at the end of the day or when you have free time, collect all the ideas and review them. With a little time and space you can better decide if it’s worth pursuing or better to leave it on the back-burner.

                                  Refreshment

                                  Our brain needs nourishment to keep going, especially when we’re driving hard and staying focused. You can let a rumbling stomach go on for only so long before the brain shuts down. Assuming your different is like wanting your car to keep driving without having to stop and fill it with gas. A novel idea, but not realistic.

                                  If you work from a company office: Pre-make snacks for the day and/or week. Or, bring in prepackaged snacks. Keep in mind that junk food has properties of diminishing returns so if you’re buying your food prepackaged think nuts, fruit, unsweetened yogurts, and hummus and crackers. Likely, your company provides coffee, tea and water so you don’t have to worry about supplying that for yourself.

                                  If you work from a home office: If you work from home, this can be a key distraction. Try to reduce the number of times you walk into the kitchen each day. To do this, keep quick and   easy snacks pre-made or prepackaged ready and near your desk. Keep a water bottle nearby. And consider bringing a kettle into your office and stocking tea and coffee so you’re   not tempted to wander around the house and lose time poking through the pantry.

                                  Bring in Nature

                                  We are biological creatures, first and foremost. So we are deeply affected by our access to (or lack of) the natural world. It’s important for our psychological and physiological functioning, which directly affects our ability to be productive.

                                  If you work from a company office: If you don’t have windows in or near your work space, bring in pictures of the outdoor world. Keep a picture of something natural as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks outdoors at lunch or in between major tasks. Just a few minutes outside in the fresh air and sunshine can boost our mood and shake out the doldrums. Be sure to add a plant to your desk, too!

                                  If you work from a home office: Keep the shades open and, if you can, let in fresh air. If you can’t see anything natural out of your window, keep pictures of the natural world as your screensaver and/or desktop wallpaper. Take walks. Or, just step outside and put your feet on the ground. Put plants in your office – research shows that having live plants in your office makes you more productive, happier and less stressed.

                                  Digital Space

                                  For most people, our primary work is housed within our laptops and our physical environment simply the backdrop to our digital lives. Make sure your computer has software that helps you sculpt the digital environment that best elicits productivity. Use focus apps like this one or this to decrease distractions. Or design your day using intervals with an app like this one to keep you at your peak focus throughout the day.

                                  Featured photo credit: Phil Desforges via unsplash.com

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