I know … I get it. So many ideas, so many dreams, yet not enough time. Not true!
For the life of me, I can’t remember where I first heard the saying “You do have time to do that; it’s just not important enough to you right now.” This really resonated with me and is something I’ve applied to most areas of my life since my gray matter soaked it up.
Thinking this way is a big game-changer, purely in the sense that none of us realize how much time we do have during a day, and conversely how much of that is soaked up by unproductiveness.
As an entrepreneur and professional writer myself, I know exactly how hard it is to get into a groove and to feel like I’m on top of my game.
I’ve tried countless tools, read what feels like thousands of self-development books, and smashed my eardrums into oblivion with podcasts, yet my productivity levels remained stagnant and lacking.
How did I make the change to a more productive me?
I found that everything slowly started to gel, and my productivity levels shot up when I:
- Understood my “why.”
- Established a priority, not priorities.
- Made my workspace less distracting.
- Started to plan, do, and review.
Let me put each of these into context for you.
What Is Your “Why”?
No doubt you’ve heard of Simon Sinek (the man is awesome!) and his Start With Why ethos.
His focus on why we do things opened up my eyes as to why I’m an entrepreneur. He pushes you to ask yourself:
- What’s your purpose?
- What’s your cause?
- What’s your belief?
So go ahead. Ask yourself these three questions. In fact, I encourage you to grab a pen and a piece of paper, write down these questions, and answer them in turn.
Do not continue reading this article until you’ve done so.
I know you’re cheating by reading this sentence straight away—a classic case of an unproductive mind, which confirms that you need to up your productivity game!
By identifying and understanding your “why,” you’ll automatically have more focus on the work you do and feel like there is a force driving your productivity levels.
To give you an idea of how this might apply to you as an entrepreneur or a professional writer, your “why” could revolve around:
- Having multiple streams of passive income so you can focus on spending time with your family.
- Having the time and freedom to work anywhere in the world.
- Using your written content to impart needed truth to a deserving audience about what’s going on in the world.
- Being so passionate about a subject or niche that you have a burning desire to educate others about it.
Truthfully, it’s so easy to wake up and not bother to do any work, choosing instead to hang out at a coffee shop, watch Netflix, go to the gym, scroll social media (ugh!), or do anything else you can think of instead of doing some work.
Why is this? Along with not understanding your reasoning for being an entrepreneur, you are lacking direction and don’t have a focused priority.
Priority Not Priorities
When it comes to determining a priority, you should focus on two things that will help reduce any to-do lists and feelings of being overwhelmed. These two things should trigger a lightbulb in your head and reshape your productivity levels:
- Eat a frog.
- Do less to achieve more.
Eat a Frog
Please don’t actually do that; just read this excerpt from Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!:
“Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.”
Imagine a world where you’d wake up and would automatically get the tough things done first, freeing up the rest of your day to do the things that really fulfill you. How would that feel?
It is such an awesome feeling to get the crappy things done first. Most of us feel like we have an endless stream of things to do, and we just put them off, and they build, build, and build until we feel so overwhelmed that we end up doing none of them.
Some of these potential “crappy things” might ring true for you:
- Doing your accounts regularly (so easy to leave it until the last minute!)
- Writing an article summary for further approval in a niche that isn’t suited to you
- Setting up a meeting with a business contact that you keep putting off (usually because you prioritize someone else or work, not necessarily because you don’t like them!)
- Clearing your workspace of clutter (see below for more on this)
You can change the horrible feeling of being overwhelmed and clearing your frogs right now by doing this:
- Write down everything that you have to do—or that you feel you have to do.
- Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t do some of these.
- If the answer is nothing, remove them from your list. If there is a severe consequence to any of the items, these are now your frogs. I’m talking consequences such as overdraft charges, losing a work contract, someone’s safety becoming at risk, a child getting in trouble at school, that kind of thing.
- Next, write a date next to each one if there is a concrete deadline for these.
- Starting with a ranking of 1 being the most time-sensitive, put a number next to each frog in the order that they need to be done.
By doing this, you now have an organized list of frogs. Your goal for this list is to get one done each day (obviously more if there is a finite deadline on that day—don’t stitch yourself up) when you start your working day—not as soon as you wake up, just when you’ve planned to sit down and work.
Of key importance to writers, and those in the freelance world in general, is the avoidance of missing deadlines and ensuring that you’re upholding your trustworthy and highly respected brand—after all, you are your own brand!
The impact of being organized and clearing your frogs regularly will cascade into your working day, amping up your productivity levels and setting off a chain reaction.
Do Less to Achieve More
Priorities. There are so many! Where do you start?
Now that you’ve organized that horrible list, you probably feel less overwhelmed but still have other lists and tasks floating around your head, especially the ones that didn’t make your frog list.
Even though you’ve numbered your frogs, they’re still effectively all priorities. And that in itself is a misnomer.
Greg McKeown describes this concept very well in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less:
“Somehow we would now be able to have multiple ‘first’ things.”
Just think about that for a second. How is it possible to have more than one thing that comes first? The word “priority” was initially born as a singular word and remained as such for a good few hundred years until it evolved into a plural form. In essence, it’s really not possible to have more than one priority at one single point in time.
So, how does that sit with us entrepreneurs? Well, when we’re working, at that very moment in time, we should have only one priority. When you’re working on one thing, nothing else in your working environment matters. You should be focused solely on completing that task. Ignore your long list of frogs and other things that need to get done.
For your list of frogs, as long as their deadlines allow you to do so, you’re going to choose one for each day. And, as mentioned above, this is to be done at the start of your working day.
The same applies to everything else that needs to be done. If you’re writing a piece for your blog, ignore your social media notifications. Ignore that you have washing that needs hanging up. Ignore that annoying argument happening outside your apartment.
By focusing on that single task at hand until it’s complete, your productivity levels will shoot through the roof and have a domino effect into other areas of your life. The sense of achievement that results from doing this is out of this world!
And so, by reducing your lists and taking the pressure off yourself to do everything now, you’re upscaling your productivity levels and achieving more.
Cleanse Your Workspace
Being super productive by reducing your lists and focusing on one thing at a time sounds pretty simple. Yet, our brains seem hardwired to want to be distracted.
So, what can you do to reduce the impact of distractions? There’s no one thing that will work for everyone. For example, you might prefer to work in silence, whereas another writer/entrepreneur might need certain music to stimulate their creative juices.
Either way, reducing distractions in your workspace will help immensely to ensure you focus and become more productive.
Try these steps to get off to a good start:
- Dedicate a portion of your home to work.
- Ensure this area is purely designed for you to work in.
- If you can’t have a room just as an office (a desk in a bedroom, for example), then have your desk area containing only work-related items.
- Make it clean, tidy, and organized so everything has a defined place and a purpose.
- Doing this, you know where everything should be and aren’t wasting time looking for a calculator, your notebook, or a pen.
There are so many things you can do to reduce distractions; the list seems entirely endless, but the above should help.
Of key importance in this area is to remove your smartphone or tablet if you don’t need it for work. Technology has been incredible for us entrepreneurs but also serves as the largest distraction for many.
Do any of these thought processes sound familiar?
- I’ve written a really good paragraph for my blog. I’ll just see if anyone’s liked my latest Insta post before I carry on.
- Oh, crap, I have an unread email. I’ll quickly read it now to make sure it’s not important.
- Before I forget, I’ll move some money to make sure I have enough in that account for grocery shopping later.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. But you’re also doing yourself a huge disservice by allowing yourself to be distracted. These things have a place and should form a part of your weekly and daily planning (more on this next), but not while you’re supposed to be working.
The single thing that made me more solely focused on my task at hand was to ensure my workspace was purely meant for work. If you do one thing to make sure this happens, turn your phone off, and put it at the other end of your home.
Plan, Do, Review
We’re awesome at planning things using our diaries. But for many of us, that’s where being productive stops. It’s easy to fill our calendars full of tasks and actions, yet somehow we seem to fall short when it comes to getting those things done.
This happens when you don’t have a closed loop, of which the three elements (Plan, Do, Review) are the key and form a continuous process.
Not closing the loop is like a business not tracking its sales. The leaders might set sales goals and have fixed sales prices and costs, but if they don’t close the loop with the review stage, how do they know if certain product lines are performing profitably? How do they actually know how much sales and profit they are generating until they have to report this at the end of the year?
The closing of the loop comes in when you don’t just stop after you’ve completed your review. You then replan and start the loop again based on the results from your review:
It’s a continual process.
Most of us aren’t in a closed loop, entrepreneurs especially. It’s a side to human nature that we’re all great at planning things, we’re less great at the doing, and even worse at the reviewing of how we’ve performed and then planning again based on the results. We usually don’t realize our error until we’ve already failed at something and are then forced to start the loop again.
Let’s break down this closed loop process so it makes more sense.
Starting with your list of frogs as an example, a good idea is to use a Sunday evening to plan your week in advance. Take your list of frogs and enter them into your diary. Start with one per day.
Remember, you’re going to do them at the very start of your work period, so you also need to define in your diary when you’re going to be starting work each day.
Don’t forget to include time for other things you need to do. Of great power is when you bookend your day with productivity boosters such as:
Sandwiching your workday around these will inspire you as an entrepreneur. As a writer, this routine may be super helpful—assuming you’ve already planned your day in advance—but in case you need some direction, here’s what can be part of your morning routine to kick off the writing process:
- Stay in bed for 10 minutes upon waking, and use deep-breathing exercises—can act as both meditation and mindfulness.
- Upon standing, open the curtains/blinds, and appreciate the weather outside.
- Grab a glass of cool water.
- Spend 15 minutes stretching or doing some yoga.
- Read for 15 minutes—needs to be positive and uplifting, NOT some dark and depressing true crime book.
- Get yourself washed and dressed for the day.
- Get to work (starting with your frogs).
These can be rearranged to suit your priorities and what works for you; no matter the order, ensuring that your mind is clear and set up for the day will definitely aid you to be at the top of your writing game. Have you noticed how electronic devices and social media don’t feature in here at all?
Stick to your diary as much as you can. You need to be flexible because things will crop up that need your immediate attention.
But by doing the things you say you’ll do, you’re giving yourself a huge pat on the back while ensuring that you’re getting stuff done. When you’ve done each frog or task, cross it off the list—there’s something hugely satisfying about that.
Don’t then check your social media or put the TV on—unless you’ve had that scheduled in, of course—continue with your work as needed!
After your first day, did you do what you needed to do? Did you get your frog done? If things are outstanding, they become a priority (remember, only one thing at a time is a priority) for the next day.
Are your priorities still in the same order? Has anything crept in that needs your urgent requirement? Are you also allowing yourself enough downtime? I will mention here that sleep is oh-so-important, especially for writers and entrepreneurs—make sure you’re banking in enough hours (eight!). It’ll pump up your productivity levels.
The review process needs to happen every evening in order to set yourself up for the next day. By doing this, all you have to do the next day is get up and start work. The thinking is already done.
This is where the closed loop process really works. At the tail end of the working part of the day, the review needs to happen, and this is every day. Priorities can shift all the time, so realigning them on a regular basis ensures the frogs and priorities don’t become too overwhelming.
It’s all about fitting in the most important things. By doing it at the end of the day, none of the time at the beginning of the next day is spent procrastinating, allowing you to be productive from the get-go.
How did the day go? What worked and what didn’t? Did you fill your day up too much? Do you feel more productive? What did you learn from others? What can you do tomorrow that will make you even more productive than today? Have you scheduled your exercise too early in the morning or too late at night and find you’re skipping it? Lots of questions to ask.
Your review process needs to happen daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annually. This is the step that closes the loop and is the one where most entrepreneurs fail. They might be good at the planning and doing, but by not seeing if a process is working by reviewing it, they’ll carry on aimlessly unproductive.
Becoming Your Productive Self
I truly believe that understanding your reason for doing what you do, focusing on one thing at a time, organizing your working environment, and creating a working structure that ensures you get your work done will all combine into your being so much more productive.
By offloading things from your mind into lists, creating a diary structure, and decluttering your workspace, you’re opening up your mental state to a much higher success rate.
Remember to start small. Achieve one thing a day, and within a month your habits will have started to change. Once success comes and you see this working for you, you can start to do more as you become more productive.