7 tips for being your most productive you

by on April 15, 2014

7 tips for being your most productive youThis post is sponsored by Visa Business.

We all have those days. 5 o’clock rolls around. The work day is over. And you’re sitting there without a clue as to what you got accomplished. Where did the time go? What have I been doing all day??

It’s not a good feeling.

But as small business owners and entrepreneurs, we all have days like that. In fact, everyone does, no matter if you’re a stay at home mom or an office worker. Sometimes it all just hits the fan. A crisis. An unexpected hurdle. Not feeling on top of your game. It’s just a fact of life. And we have to allow ourselves the space of having bad days where we don’t just power ahead, business as usual.

But as an entrepreneur, you want need to be productive. You want need days filled with accomplishments, propelling yourself forward and taking steps towards to your goals. It’s crucial to limit or address those ‘oh my god I didn’t get a thing done’ days.

If you’re consistently finding that you’re just not getting stuff done or you know that you could be more effective, it’s time to look at how you work. That’s what I’ve decided to do with my goals for this year, one of my intentions being “effective action.”

I just felt – way too often – that I was spinning my wheels.

Or wasting time.

Or not making progress.

So I decided to really look at how I spend my time; how I organize myself and actively practice being productive. Yes, it’s a practice – trying things out, deciding what works for you and what doesn’t, and then making sure that you stick with the tactics that help.

Here are some of the things that work for me…

Make lists

I absolutely LOVE lists. I just can’t live without them. I use them to organize my week and my to-dos. This ensures that nothing ever slips through the cracks and I’m never sitting there thinking about what I should do next. My list keeps me on the right track day in and day out. Some people love digital lists, whether it’s on their smart phone, or perhaps an online list tool like Teux Deux. I favour good old-fashioned pen and paper (and the delicious feeling of physically crossing something off the list).

Make your schedule a habit

There are certain ongoing tasks that, as a business owner, you always need to get done. I have found that by sticking with a regular schedule, these tasks become habits and then I never forget about them or have that sinking feeling that I haven’t done this or that in days. That’s a stress I don’t need, thank you very much.

So I quickly check into social media accounts 1st thing in the morning, as well as review and flag important emails, and check in on blog comments. That is part of my routine now and how I ease into my day, getting into that first cup of java as I go.

The afternoon always involves a round of emailing, going through what I’ve flagged and responding as required.

The right work for the right time

We’re all very different in terms of energy flow. There are those of us that are morning people and hit the ground running. Some of us take longer to get into our groove and might peak in the late afternoon.

Whatever your best time of day is, use it to get your priority work done – the work that needs your closest attention or your best in creativity or plenty of get up and go energy. Save the work that is less taxing on your mind for the times of day when you tend to lull.

I wouldn’t call myself a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m definitely at my best and perkiest in the morning. So that’s when I focus on getting the toughest tasks done. That’s when I do copywriting, marketing strategy work, SEO and all those other tasks that require my complete and focused attention.

I save the not as demanding stuff, such as responding to emails, doing routine admin tasks or doing some networking and interacting on social media, for the afternoons, when I tend to crash a little.

Be flexible (what was right yesterday may not be right today)

But, I don’t stick to this schedule with absolute rigidity. Some days, the morning is definitely not going to be the best time to shine – perhaps I had one too many glasses of wine the night before or just didn’t get a good sleep. Other days, I’ll get hit with a major burst of creativity in the afternoon and be flowing with all kinds of ideas, whether it’s for blog posts or content for a client’s site. So I’ll honour that and be flexible to take maximum advantage of how I’m feeling. If you’re in the zone, you’ll always get stuff done faster and be more productive.

Be strong with distractions

In trying to be more mindful of how I’m spending my time, I’ve had to face the fact that I get distracted. Being someone who works online, the Internet (yes Facebook, I’m talking to you) is always ready and waiting with something shiny and interesting to entice me and mess with my focus. So once social media has been checked in the AM, it gets closed.

One thing that I’ve been working on is my desire to check email. I have little pop-up alerts for new emails coming through. I had them off for a while since I know they are a distraction, but for me these alerts are very useful. I’m always working on a ton of projects at once, collaborating with others and sometimes it’s important for me to know right away that I got that response I was looking for. Timelines, deadlines and commitments can require prompt email communications.

But these alerts can be a curse. It’s like they’re just screaming, ‘hey look you just got a message from so and so and here’s the first few words of what they wrote but come on over to your inbox and click me, click me, click me, so you can see it all.’ In fact it just happened right this second as I’m writing. But I stopped myself from peeking into my inbox (I’m not going to lie, with some difficulty). If it’s not urgent, I tell myself firmly, no checking. Right now you are doing this. Period. It actually takes self-control.

Chunks of time

I’ve also been working with designating chunks of time for work. So for example, I am here at my desk and I am going to work for x amount of time before I can stop and take a break. I’ve seen some people recommend 30 minutes. That’s too short for me. My ideal is 1 hour to 1.5 hours. Then I stop, do a little meditation, take a walk, eat a healthy meal, or step out in the garden, and then return for my next chunk. I find that I get a lot done this way. I know that I only have so much time and it motivates me to make the most of it.

I also find this really effective for squeezing more tasks in. Say it’s 12:53pm and I decided that I would work until 1pm. Instead of just shifting to break time, I use that 7 minutes. I look over my to-do list and do a quick task, whether it’s write a quick email, or read an article.

Time your tasks

I’ve also been cultivating awareness around how long it takes me to do things. This clearer understanding of how I’m spending my time helps me to re-focus and re-prioritize. My perfectionism often results in me spending too much time on things that don’t warrant it. So before I start a task I think about how long I think is reasonable for it to take and I try to be mindful of that as I go along, giving myself permission to go overtime if needed, but gently reminding myself of priorities.

Bonus productivity tips

If you’re also on the quest for greater productivity, I’ll leave you with some last nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned on my journey…

  • Ditch ideas/approaches that don’t work for you. Productivity is a personal thing.
  • Try new things bit by bit. Coming up with 22 different productivity tactics and trying to roll them all out at once will overwhelm the heck out of you and may leave you so frustrated or disillusioned that you abandon them all completely.
  • Stick with it and be committed. Developing new approaches to how you work and run your business is like forming a new habit. You’ve got to keep on keeping on until being productive just comes naturally.
  • Be kind with yourself. Productivity is a process and a journey. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall off the bandwagon or don’t have the best day. Don’t expect overnight miracles and don’t set unrealistic expectations.

I’m not trying to say that I know it all, or that if you do what I say above, you’ll get everything done on your task lists and still have time to make a 3 course meal for your family every night. I’ve just shared what’s been working for me. Now I’d love to hear from you – what is your top tip for being your most productive you?

I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.

Image source: pandpstock001/freedigitalphotos.net

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin Lindeskog May 22, 2014 at 5:45 am

Martina: I am developing my own productivity system called F.I.X IT! I will check out Teux Deux. It looks that it could fit my personal kanban workflow, with a combination of low-tech pen and paper, whiteboards with stick-it notes and high-tech apps. Do you know how it costs after the 30-day trial period?

How long did it take to make your schedule a habit? “21” days? 😉
Martin Lindeskog recently posted..How to Make Social Conversations Lead to Conversions


Martina Iring May 26, 2014 at 9:00 am

Hi Martin,
Sorry, not sure about the costing. And yes, it definitely takes time and patience to develop those habits 🙂 Thanks for checking out my post and let me know how your productivity system goes.


Martin Lindeskog May 2, 2016 at 4:12 am

Martina: I am using TeuxDeux now. It cost 2-3 $ per month. I will tell you more about F.I.X IT! some other day! 😉 FYI: I will start a new podcast on productivity & tea, with Johan Gustaphzon, in the near future… 🙂
Martin Lindeskog recently posted..Testing Tuesday Tech and Tea Thingy


Martina Iring May 3, 2016 at 10:47 am

Thanks for the feedback Martin! I’ve heard good things about that tool, just haven’t tried it out myself yet. Productivity & tea – sounds intriguing 🙂 Keep me posted!


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