When you are a Start-up founder, it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Your car is always running on empty, your trash is always full, and you have no time to spare – to unwind. Your focus, your life, your energy is all going into your new venture. Which is great, but are you actually efficient, or is rushing around like a headless chicken actually hindering your productivity?
I went around and asked some Sandbox Members what their advice is to stay efficient and productive. It’s no surprise that the majority of our members had similar advice. Here is what they think are some of the most important tips for entrepreneurs.
1. Start by making a list
Make a list of all your responsibilities as a business owner. Prioritize them. Income-producing tasks should be at the top of your list. Place your prioritized list on your computer monitor. This will help you focus.
“To organize everything I need to get done, I use Wunderlist, a popular productivity app for creating, managing and sharing personal and business to-do lists.” – SBS member
For businesses, time tracking and management tools help keep everyone focused and on the same page, eliminating wasted time searching for emails and mis-communications about which team member is responsible for which task.
Organize your work space:
Organize everything in you office by category. For example, place all your marketing files and information in one place, financial paperwork together in another. This can help you focus on each project and task individually and help with efficiency in the office.
On the same note – take some time to set-up a proper filing system, so you can find the information you want when you want it. The secret to an effective filing system is to keep it simple!
Your mind and body need movement. Exercise not only tones muscles, but improves brain power. A 2013 study by the Montreal Heart Institute showed aerobic exercise increased cognitive function. This is because exercise increases blood flow to your brain, meaning a jog might be just what you need before a brainstorming session.
As a recently published study, by the Columbia University Medical Center, illustrates, exercise’s impact on the brain is far more complex–and powerful–than just oxygenating brain cells.
According to recent research, here’s what happens when you head out for that lunchtime run:
- As you exercise, your muscles contract, Releasing chemicals, including a protein called IGF-1.
- IGF-1 travels to the brain and stimulates the release of several chemicals, including brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). Regular exercise increases levels of BDNF.
- BDNF stimulates neurons (brain cells) to branch and connect in new ways.
- New junctions between neurons are the basis of learning.
What does this mean? Bodies that exercise regularly stimulate brains to have higher levels of BDNF; brains with higher levels of BDNF have greater capacity for knowledge!
In the words of Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, BDNF is like “Miracle-Gro for your brain.”
Not only does exercise help make you smarter – it also reduces stress hormones and increases the production of endorphin’s that give you a natural high. Getting in a workout, whether before work or during the workday can allow you to approach your work with a calmer mindset. “The more stressed you are, the more unable you are to make really good, rational business decisions,”
3. Prepare in Advance
Take some time the night before to prepare, organize and schedule your next day, you will run a lot more efficiently this way.
“I don’t do this nearly as often as I should, but if you only do one thing each day then spend a few minutes each night organizing your to–do list for tomorrow.” -SBS Member
When you do it right, you outline the tasks you want to finish the next day and the people you need to connect with. Develop a short list of the most important items for me to accomplish. It takes 10 minutes that night and saves 3 hours the next day.
4. Separate Work-life From Personal-life
Getting into a work groove, can actually be pretty difficult. Especially if you are sitting on your couch with your cats! . While many independent entrepreneurs effectively run their businesses from their homes, coffee shops and other public spaces, some of the most important feedback I got was to separate home and work life.
Sandbox CEO Roman Gelfer says he works most effective and efficiently when he comes into Sandbox Suites. “Having a set time and place where I work, helps me concentrate”
If you work from home, there’s no real accountability, says Roman. “It’s too easy to get distracted by your bed, your TV, and other temptations. Family and chores can easy take up your time. Working away from home creates accountability, and this separation is important.”
Research shows that people who work out of the home or use coworking spaces are more effective. It makes them work faster since you’re surrounded by energy and productivity. It’s not always right for all of us – some people can work like crazy from home – but most will benefit greatly from coworking.
5. Don’t respond to Emails!
This was one of the most interesting and surprising tips I got, on more than one occasion.
My first reaction – What!? – how can you NOT respond to email?
Okay, of course you can’t completely ignore email, but you need to recognize how much of a constraint it is to actually getting things done.
“It took me awhile to get over the urge to open my inbox, but eventually I realized that everything can wait a few hours. Nobody is going to email you about a true emergency (a death in the family, etc.), so leave your email alone for the first few hours of each day. Use the morning to do what’s important rather than responding to what is “urgent.”” – SBS Member
In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss teaches a good technique for handling email by leaving it for certain times of the day and suggests batch processing.
Batch processing is great and I’ve done that with my email, so this is the first step you need to take. Create specific periods were you knuckle down and get your email processed. There will be emails you can answer in two minutes, so you sit down and bang these out the door. Then you go through and sort the rest of the emails into project and action folders for when it is time to work on those projects.
I’ve learned to quickly scan my email, delete the messages I don’t need, respond to the two minute emails and then just ignore the rest until my next batch process period. This way you can focus on whats important – but also have an agenda to tackle the rest eventually.
Of course you should scan your email at least once a day to make sure nothing critical is there, but most email can be left for a while without reply while you knuckle down and do the things that actually move you forward in your business.