When you’re an entrepreneur, who inevitably wears many hats, managing your time can get tricky—especially when it’s tempting to work all day to grow your business. But being successful doesn’t mean being a slave to your work. Below, four accomplished entrepreneurs share their productivity strategies and how they overcome potential obstacles.
Productivity Strategies for Success
1. They’re clear about their priorities.
“I think the most important element is that I have a very clear sense of what is most important for me to accomplish at any given time,” said Peter Bregman, a consultant and Harvard Business Review’s most popular online columnist. He begins each year by identifying five priorities. He then uses these top goals to create a nontraditional to-do list, which he calls a “six-box to-do list.”
He explained: “Each one of my five areas of focus gets a box in my to-do list. The sixth box is labeled ‘the other five percent’—that’s where I put everything I think I need to do that doesn’t fit into my top five—and I keep that box very small.”
2. They’re strategic.
Bregman, who’s also author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, knows how to use his time. He recommended readers be strategic “about the highest and best use of their time and make discreet, specific decisions about how you are going to spend each hour.” If you don’t make deliberate decisions about your day, “it’s almost impossible not to let distractions carry you away,” he said.
3. They begin the day with enjoyable activities.
Professional life and career coach Kristin Taliaferro believes that starting the day off on your own terms is key to productivity. “If you begin your day checking email, for example, you’re at the mercy of everyone else’s agenda and that can absolutely shape your day and cause you to be unproductive with your goals,” she said.
Instead, she recommended readers engage in enjoyable activities (like walking or reading spiritual texts) and “wait until you feel grounded and clear about your agenda for the day.”
4. They don’t multitask.
Multitasking creates the illusion of productivity. “It’s very easy to multitask and jump from one thing to another without completing anything—that leaves us busy all day but unaccomplished,” Bregman said. He makes it a rule to “finish one thing before going to the next.”
Bregman and other entrepreneurs prefer to work in blocks. He typically begins his workday by writing for several hours. Then, he gives himself 30 minutes to respond to email. (He takes these email breaks throughout the day, which he said works better than responding to email as it comes in.)
Taliaferro, who also believes multitasking is rarely effective, tries to schedule back-to-back phone appointments in the mornings and later focuses on writing projects or responding to email.
Brittni Melhoff, founder of papernstitch.com, a curated exhibition site for artists and makers to showcase their work, and editor of the papernstitch blog, suggested readers try the pomodoro technique. “It will help you manage your time by breaking your day down into 25-minute intervals, so you can focus on just one task at a time,” she said.
5. They batch tasks weekly.
Melhoff schedules “different reoccurring tasks for different parts of the week,” such as writing blog posts on Mondays and marketing and client work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. “I find it really helps to keep my mind focused on one topic for the day, whenever I can, so that I don’t drive myself crazy with every tiny little thing each day,” she said.
Similarly, Taliaferro sometimes “set[s] aside an entire day [to wrap up] ‘loose ends’” for her business.
6. They keep their energy up.
Taliaferro always takes at least one break “in the middle of the day to refresh my mind.” As she explained, “Productivity has a lot to do with how you feel. If you remain energized, you can work smarter and get more done.”
She also makes sure to eat healthfully, exercise, get enough sleep and engage in other self-care activities. “This helps me feel strong and centered when I’m actually working,” she said.