Let’s face it – business owners have a lot on their plates. Whether you’re managing teams locally or globally, your day-to-day thoughts and activities are likely consumed by the need to accelerate the growth of your company.
With so much to manage, it can be difficult to stay focused and productive. Overscheduled days lead to stress (and, let’s be honest, stress eating). Work can spill over into the evening hours, disrupting work/life balance and impacting your health. In turn, poor health leads to worse performance at work, deepening the cycle of diminished productivity.
Research from the Health Enhancement Research Organization, Brigham Young University, and The Center for Health Research at Healthways highlights some of the connections between productivity and health. According to their results:
- Employees who eat healthy throughout the day were “25 percent more likely to have higher job performance.”
- Those employees who exercised for at least 30 minutes, three times a week, “were 15 percent more likely to have higher job performance.”
- “Absenteeism was 27 percent lower” among employees who ate healthy and exercised regularly.
Yes, their research focused on traditional employees, but the results are just as true – if not more so – for entrepreneurs. If you want to be as productive as possible, you have to be proactive about managing your health and minimizing stress. Here’s how eight successful business owners do it:
1. Start Canceling Meetings
Sound crazy? Stewart Butterfield, founder of chat tool Slack, went all in on freeing up his calendar, repeatedly cancelling recurring meetings until he’d eliminated all but the ones that were absolutely necessary.
Speaking to The New York Times, Butterfield defended his decision, stating:
“We just went through this process of canceling almost every recurring meeting that we had to see which ones we really needed. We probably do need some of the ones we canceled, and they’ll come back – but we’ll wait until we actually need them again.”
2. Ginsu the Mega Tasks
Successful entrepreneurs don’t let big tasks overwhelm them. Everything you need to be accomplished – no matter the scale – is just a series of steps or actions.
At Zapier, CEO Wade Foster breaks down big tasks into small, actionable steps. “My biggest “hack” for productivity is to break a task into the small piece that’s actionable. That way I can get started. As soon as I do that you start to realize big tasks don’t feel quite so big.”
3. Question Your Actions
Look at your schedule – at the individual line items and appointments that are blocked in – and ask yourself if this is really the best use of your time. There’s a huge difference between being busy and being productive, and there’s no clear indicator that’ll tell you if what you’re doing is an efficient use of your time – unless you ask.
Constant analysis of daily activity is how Pandora’s founder Tim Westergren stays productive each day. Writing on LinkedIn, he shares:
“These are hard choices, but I do believe that when it comes to productivity, no email efficiency technique, calendaring trick, or special filing system will have near the impact of being smart about what you work on.”
4. Kill Your Attachment to Your Smartphone
If you’ve ever found yourself blindsided by a four-hour Candy Crush marathon, the potential that smartphones have to be distractions that pull us away from work and ruin our focus shouldn’t come as a surprise. But it’s true. A mobile device with notifications turned on takes away your control, and the only way you can stay productive is to stay in control of your daily routine.
Ometria founder Ivan Mazour disconnects from mobile tech by keeping things on silent – always – so that communication becomes asynchronous and he stays in control, checking his notifications, messages, and calls at specific times the same way people block time for email.
5. Create Mind Maps
Kanbanery founder Paul Klipp is a self-professed productivity geek who’s got his daily routine down to a science, thanks to mind maps. Klipp does this because he recognizes that the brain is for processing, not storage.
In practice, Klipp uses a multistep process to empty his mind by mapping out everything that needs to be done, establishing priorities, and setting tasks up for the week. Further, to handle his weekly tasks, Klipp works in Pomodoro breaks to ensure every task takes place in a burst of energy and focus throughout the day.
6. Evaluate Projects In Two Dimensions
Daniel Shapero of LinkedIn uses a simple 2×2 chart called the Priority Matrix to prioritize projects and allocate resources based on value and probability. The Matrix helps Shapero break projects down into four categories:
- Home runs, which have a high value and a high probability of success. Shapero actually delegates these projects, but keeps a close eye on how they’re being executed.
- Big bets, which have a high value and a lower probability of success. Shapero gets personally involved here, knowing that a high level of his investment will be necessary for the project to gain traction.
- Small wins, which have a lower value, but high odds of success. Shapero delegates here as well, but spends less time managing the project’s execution.
- Junk projects, which have low value and low odds of success. Interestingly, Shapero puts a high amount of effort into these projects as needed – not to turn them around, but to destroy them.
If you feel like you’re spinning your wheels and putting your effort into the wrong things, Shapero’s Matrix could help guide your productivity.
7. Sweat It Out
Kirill Makharinsky, cofounder of Enki, injects intense exercise into his daily routine to build the energy reserves needed to get through difficult or long-engaging tasks. Describing his personal routine, as well as its impact on his productivity, Makharinsky states:
“I aim to do an intense 1-hour workout in the late afternoon of every day (usually a hard swim, bike ride, Crossfit or Barry’s bootcamp), which provides me plenty of energy to keep focus until late in the evening. Depending on your schedule and morning/evening work habits, you may choose a different time or a different workout type. But I estimate that I am often up to 50% more productive on the days I stick to this habit relative to those when I don’t.”
8. Take Adequate Breaks
It might sound crazy, but working less can actually mean working more productively. A study led by Emily Hunter, Ph.D., and Cindy Wu, Ph.D., at Baylor University found that the more time that had passed since the beginning of the workday, the less useful a break was. Their takeaway recommendation? That people who aim for peak productivity take breaks throughout the early morning, and get a good long break mid-morning.
We all know that traditional energy cycles put peak energy times during the mid-morning and mid-day. The interesting conclusion they’ve drawn, however, is that it’s easier to keep that energy up and replenish it with an early break, as opposed to one taken later in the day.
Ultimately, there are as many unique solutions for enhancing productivity as there are unique people in the world. Experiment with these suggestions, but don’t limit yourself to them. Find the combination of practices and principles that makes you as productive as possible.