We all have 24 hours in a day. So why do some entrepreneurs produce more than others in the same amount of time AND make it look easy? Why do some business owners barely make ends meet for years while others coast to a six-figure income in just one year?
As a new entrepreneur, it becomes clear pretty quickly that you are responsible for all aspects of your business. There are so many things you have to do before you even start doing actual work for your clients. From accounting to billing to customer acquisition to customer retention to marketing to answering phone calls to being on top of your email game – the list goes on. This can become overwhelming to most new and even seasoned entrepreneurs. So why do some entrepreneurs accomplish so much more in the same amount of time?
I believe that the most successful entrepreneurs have one thing in common: being highly productive. By being a highly productive individual you will accomplish more in less time, make more money, work less hours and have more time to focus on the things you want to do.
It doesn’t matter how hard you are working if you aren’t being productive. The tips I am about to share with you will enable you to work smarter, make you feel less overwhelmed and will dramatically increase your productivity. Implement these tips into your personal life and work life and you will accomplish much more than you ever thought possible. These tips will work for anyone especially solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, business owners, freelancers, bloggers, etc.
1. Set Realistic Goals and Shorten Deadlines
When you become self-employed, you have full control of deciding what to do with your time. Transitioning from a full time job where your boss sets all your deadlines to entrepreneurship where you set all your deadlines can be tough for those that never learned good time management skills.
Many entrepreneurs think that by setting longer deadlines to complete a project, it will allow them more time to come up with a better strategy or new ideas to make that project better. But what it actually does is make that project seem more complex and more stressful to complete. If you avoid giving yourself unnecessary extra time and instead give yourself shorter deadlines to complete a project then you will increase your productivity.
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. For example, if you give yourself 1 full week to complete a 3 hour task then that task will increase in complexity, seem more difficult and cause more stress. However, if you assign the right amount of time to a specific task and give it an exact deadline you will gain back that lost time of stress and the task itself will reduce in complexity.
How I Apply this Productivity Tip: Before I start any work day, I jot down 3 things I need to accomplish on a post-it note. I make sure that these 3 things can be realistically completed in 1 day. I don’t set myself up for failure and write down more than I think I can accomplish that day. If I finish those tasks early then I give myself the rest of the day off or work on a few extra things that I had planned to do later on in the week. I personally like to take off of work several days a month so I try to make each work hour as productive as possible. This allows me to complete all my projects on time, make a great and steady income and have a relatively stress-free lifestyle.
Takeaway: Stop procrastinating. The real secret to mastering Parkinson’s Law is to consciously and deliberately apply it to everything that you do. By having a clearly defined and realistic goal and also shortening your deadlines, you will dramatically increase your productivity.
2. Get in the Zone
In order to implement Parkinson’s Law you need to figure out how to get into your own personal productivity zone. “The Zone” is a state of mind where you accomplish everything you need to do and eliminate all distractions.
How I Apply this Productivity Tip: I have a ‘zone area’ in my home a.k.a. ‘my lair’ (a dark but well lit area secluded from civilization) where I go to completely zone in on a particular project. Emailing, social media, texting, TV, outside noise, open tabs on my computer and other people are not allowed in the zone. The only exception is I leave my phone on (but texts on mute!) and only pick it up if it is a very important call and I am about to close on a sale. Otherwise I let it go to voicemail.
I usually spend about 3-5 hours “in the zone” before I even take a break. My essentials for getting in the zone are:
- Yerba Mate Lemon Elation: for some reason this helps me really focus and get things done! (this contains caffeine so coffee, tea or some other drink will do – figure out what works best for you!)
- Classical or instrumental music – classical music has been shown to increase productivity and stimulate your brain! It also is very relaxing. If you don’t like classical music, then any instrumental music will work or keep it completely silent if you can’t focus with any noise. I find that instrumental music helps drone out any outside noise if you live in a city. It also makes work seem less like work.
Once I have completed everything I need to and emerge from my lair I feel immensely satisfied. Warning: This feeling will become addicting and you will start to feel the urge to get in the zone more often.
Takeaway: Set up a productivity zone and get in the zone about 1-2 hours after you wake up. It is better to do this early on in the day so that you don’t have to worry about it later. Don’t complain about how much work you need to do, just get in the zone and do it! Once it’s done you will feel relieved and accomplished.
Do you have a mental block and just can’t get in the zone? Forget about work, go out, do something fun and either get in the zone later or do it first thing the next morning.
3. Stop Multitasking
You can’t really work on two or even three things at the exact same time. When you “multitask” you are effectively diluting your productivity potential. Having too many things on your mind is not going to let you zone in on the important task at hand. Pick one project or task to work on, work only on that one project and finish it. By working on only one project at a time, it will help you focus on what really needs to get done.
How I Apply this Productivity Tip: I pick the most difficult or tedious project that needs to get accomplished and finish it first. It has to get done no matter what so I like to get it out of the way so it doesn’t build up and become more complex or stressful. Side-note: Usually I don’t work on tedious or annoying tasks because I have figured out how to get out of doing it or have paid someone else to do it. I’ll touch on this topic more in another post.
Multitasking Exception to the Rule: Choose a brain-related task and a non-brain related task to do at the same time. An example of this is taking a walk and taking a scheduled call.
Takeaway: Get in the habit of only working on one project at a time. Close all non-pertinent tabs on your computer, don’t log on to your social media channels and focus in only on the task at hand. Once that task is completed then move on to the next one. Also, don’t overwhelm yourself with too many tasks. Go back to the post-it-note idea and choose only a few things to work on in 1 day. Then go down the list and finish each item.
4. Stop Wasting Time on Things that Don’t Make Money
The Pareto principle a.k.a. the 80/20 rule states that 20% of what you do will yield 80% of your results. Conversely, it also means that 80% of what you do only yields 20% of your results. This principle can be applied to several areas of your life and business to dramatically increase your productivity, sales and free time.
Example: 20% of your customers represent 80% of your sales.
If you earn $100,000 a year and have 100 customers then by applying the 80/20 principle that means 20 customers are paying you $80,000 and 80 customers are only paying you $20,000.
Pinpoint the 20 customers that are paying you $80,000. Put all your energy and resources into getting more of these high paying customers. Ie. If you notice that most of these customers are coming from Facebook advertising then triple your Facebook advertising budget and eliminate all other forms of advertising.
Once you identify the traits of the top 20% of high quality customers (who represent 80% of your sales) within your business and how to get more of them, it will dramatically increase your revenue. Similarly, if you can pinpoint 20% of your products or services that produce 80% of your revenue then introduce more of those products and services. Identify the 80% of products and services that are only generating 20% of your revenue and phase them out. They are wasting your time.
Read more about how to maximize the 80/20 principle in business: Perry Marshall, one of the top direct marketing experts, wrote 80/20 Sales and Marketing: Definitive Guide to Working Less and Making More. If you want to Master the 80/20 principle and watch your business revenue skyrocket then I highly recommend purchasing this book right now by clicking here. It is one of the best business books I have ever read for actionable steps on how to drastically improve your business.
In Marshall’s 80/20 book he also takes the Pareto Principle a few steps further and explains how the Pareto Principle is exponential. First find the 20% of your customers that represent 80% of your revenue. Within that initial 20%, you can once again apply the 80/20 rule. This means you can even further narrow down your ideal customer by finding the top 20% of your top 20% of customers (it comes out to the top 4% of your customers overall) and this top 4% of your customers actually represents a whooping 64% (80% x 80%) of your total revenue.
How I Apply the Pareto Principle: In my website design and SEO company, I used to offer many more services such as graphic design (PDFs, ebook designs, banners etc), social media marketing and WordPress plugin modifications. I found that these projects took up a lot of time, I didn’t really enjoy working on them and they didn’t add much to my bottom line. I also found that 80% of my revenue was coming from very specific website and marketing projects that I enjoyed working on. So I applied the 80/20 principle and started to turn down all projects that were not the exact website and marketing projects that gave me the highest revenue. While some may see this as “leaving money on the table”, I saw this as an opportunity to spend more time on target marketing to attain the high quality customer that I wanted to work with and that added more to my bottom line.
I also focused much more time on the 20% of customers that returned the highest amount in sales (80%) and tried to sell them on additional services. And I phased out the other 80% of customers that were not nearly as profitable and took up a lot of my time. From pinpointing these customers I was able to identify and attain new customers that were like the 20% and not take on customers that were like the 80%.
After a few months of doing this I saw drastic improvements to my revenue stream and often found that I had much more free time.
Avoid this mistake: A huge mistake I notice that new entrepreneurs make is constantly being “busy” but not being productive. They spend time working on tasks that are largely unimportant or that do not produce any real tangible results (These are usually part of the 80% of tasks that produce only 20% of your results).
Marketing Strategy Example: Let’s say there are 3 areas you spend the most time on when it comes to attaining new customers. First you spend time designing and creating posts for your social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Second you spend money on a magazine advertisement. Third you post craigslist ads. During a 1 month timeframe, let’s say you get 0 customers from social media, 1 from the magazine ad and 3 from Craigslist. Which one should you spend the most time on next month? Obviously Craigslist. But most people will continue to post daily to social media and continue to spend on the magazine ads. Stop this immediately. Apply the 80/20 principle and solely focus on what is bringing you viable leads and customers that are paying you for your products and services. Get rid of the time sucking tasks that are draining you and not paying you for your time. This will drain you as a business owner and turn entrepreneurship into a nightmare.
Eliminate tasks that don’t produce any results and more time on tasks that produce results. By doing this you will get more customers, more revenue and be much more productive with your time. Take a step back and think about what works and what doesn’t. Being an entrepreneur is all about trial and error. Try a few things and if they don’t produce any leads or income soon try a few other things. Once you find something that works don’t glaze over it and continue to work on things that don’t pan out in the form of revenue. Apply the 80/20 principle and see what happens. Put more resources and time into the task that is producing your best result duplicate it.
Simply put: don’t waste time on things that don’t work. This may seem like an obvious thing to do but it is startling how many entrepreneurs don’t do this and then complain about being overwhelmed. This tip alone will instantly make you more productive
Takeaway: Apply the Pareto principle to everything. The 80/20 principle can be applied to your marketing strategy, customer acquisition, work tasks and many other areas of your business and life. Turn down business if it isn’t part of the top 20 percentile. Stop working on projects that take up 80% of your time but only result in 20% of your revenue. Once you master the 80/20 principle, try to use it to gain exponential results and apply the 80/20 principle to your top 20% to further increase your profit and reduce your work hours.
5. Turn off Email and Social Media Notifications
Stop checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and any other new social media channels that may have come up overnight. You may think that you will only spend a few minutes on them but almost always you will get sucked into the social media black hole. Turn off the notifications, log out of your pages and put your phone away. Next, set a strict time for when you can post or respond to any comments/messages. Allot a 10 minute time slot in the morning and another optional one for the evening. Once you are done with all your daily tasks, then go wild and forget about the social media restrictions. But when you are working, taking time out to check social media is going to burn time and energy that could be spent on being productive.
Same goes for email. If you respond to emails right away then people will get used to you responding to emails right away. This is a terrible habit because if you actually are too busy to respond to emails one day then some clients will get mad that you haven’t responded to them in your usual fashion. Don’t let clients think you are available all the time.
Also, by answering emails right away you will open yourself up to what I like to call “conversational emailing” which is another time burner. My tip is to only answer an email right away if you are about to close a sale or its super, super important.
How I Apply this Productivity Tip: I am still overcoming my email checking addiction. Now, I try to only check and respond to emails at certain times of the day. It is marvelously freeing and I haven’t missed anything important. I also found that a lot of questions or problems people run into and email you about get solved themselves. If someone doesn’t have you to constantly email and it is urgent, 95% of the time they will figure it out on their own. I also don’t use email autoresponders because they are really annoying and probably annoy other people. But maybe that’s why people have them on, so you don’t email them so much, so you don’t get their autoresponder? Hmmm…
Takeaway: Create a habit of not checking your social media channels or emails all the time. Set a strict timeframe for when you can respond to comments, messages and emails. This will free up a lot of time in your day and will also help curb your insane, time wasting addiction.