What’s the one top habit that makes you most productive?
This was the question StartupNation asked of 16 successful entrepreneurs. The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.
1. Reflecting at the End of the Week
I spend at least an hour at the end of each week reflecting on the week and what I’ve accomplished, reviewing my goals for the quarter and planning the week ahead. This is a strategy taught in Roger Seip’s book, “Train Your Brain For Success,” and it is so strategic at increasing your productivity that I have my entire office do it. It may take two hours at first, but it will give you back 10.
2. Having a Client Deliverable Calendar
I have an up-to-date calendar that lists all of the client deliverables for a given week. By having a clear understanding of what needs to be completed and when, I am able to more effectively pace myself and create a workable schedule around those deliverables.
3. Blocking Facebook for 2 Hours Daily
The first thing I do every single morning is block Facebook and Gmail using the self-control app. These things give us a false sense of productivity. I use this time to write, and I get more done in those two hours than the rest of my day.
4. Always Having a Plan
A plan is so valuable because it forces you to think in more linear and decisive ways about the future. It provides a level of vision and insight that can’t be recognized when simply coasting from one idea to the next. But most importantly, planning helps provide the basic boundaries that most people need to be truly creative. Unlimited white space is far more stifling than it might seem.
5. Timing My To-Do List
Instead of making a to-do list with task descriptions only, I now add in the estimated time to complete the given task. This means that when I have a half hour to work on projects, I can skim my to-do list for items that will actually fit into the available time, and I can block time for projects that will take a more significant amount of time. Estimating task completion makes me more productive.
6. Blocking Time for Similar Tasks
Rather than jumping between dissimilar tasks, I group similar tasks into windows of time. For example, I only check email three times each day: 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. If I have writing to do, I block out time to do all my writing at once. This helps me get into (and stay in) a groove, thus making my activities more productive.
7. Keeping Sticky Notes Around
I physically write on a sticky note what I want to get done that day. Sticky notes are small, so you have to focus your to-do list.
8. Scheduling Anything and Everything
I have a Google calendar that states where I will be and what I will be doing for the entire day. From dinners out to vacations to client meetings, every planned portion of my day is documented (down to travel time) to make my schedule as productive as possible. Visually seeing how my time is spent each day helps me decide what is important and what I need to cut out to become more successful.
9. Leaving the Office at 5 p.m. Every Day
Most of my day in the office is spent in meetings, calls and unblocking issues for the team. I don’t get real, execution-based work done until nighttime, which I reserve for hacking on projects and cranking through emails. Leaving the office by 5 p.m. every day ensures I get home with enough time to see my family and still have the rest of the night to crank out execution work.
10. Catching Up on Weekends
It might be a drag, but I find an hour or two on the weekends catching up on e-mail or other tedious tasks really allows me to be free in the office to talk to employees or be more creative. This also allows me to get my fix of the WSJ and NYT so I don’t have to read them at work.
11. Letting Go
For me the key to being super productive is to clearly delineate between those items that I control directly and those that I don’t. If something is outside of my area of direct control, I just let it go and trust in its caretaker. This frees up my time to focus on the work that is my priority.
12. Not Using My Phone as an Alarm Clock
I no longer use my iPhone as my alarm clock. Why? Because it immediately led me to check my emails and social networks while in bed. This means upon waking up, I was being reactive to the universe. Now, I use an alarm clock that’s not my phone. After I awake, I meditate, establish my goals for the day and eat breakfast. Then, I check email. This allows me to approach the day with purpose.
13. Taking Breaks
One of the most important things to do is take breaks from time to time. For me, it works best to hyper-focus for an hour at a time, and then take a break to refresh my mind before I dive into another task. This way, I don’t risk burnout, and I get even more excited to accomplish more after my break.
14. Taking Care of Myself
For a long time I didn’t take care of myself. I would forget to eat all day and then slam a Coke and a Snickers bar. My body started to give out on me and I had zero energy. My husband forced me to start making better choices like drinking tons of water, bike riding and eating better. When you’re running a company there aren’t sick days. Your body is more important than your computer!
15. Planning the Night Before
I plan my day and my key to-do items the day before. This allows me to wake up and hit the ground running with a plan instead of wasting time thinking about what I want to achieve for the day. When I wake up, I set my intention for the day and how I want to feel, and then I get started tackling the plan.
16. Doing Small Tasks to Build Momentum
I like to start each day with small wins to build momentum. For example, I’ll knock out five calls in a row in a morning or do the things that take five minutes or fewer to complete. It visually makes my to-do list smaller, which gives me the energy to plow through the rest of it.