Productivity is often hailed as the key to success.
Entrepreneurs, business owners, managers, team leaders, marketers, copywriters and creatives – every one of them is looking to hack it, improve it, exceed it, master it, to make it a part of their daily lives. Which might explain why so many articles have been written about productivity, and countless theories expounded about the best ways to improve it.
Covid has also managed to shift our perspective on productivity. While we were used to seeking it in the office, we are now forced to adopt it from our own homes.
In practice, this means we are faced with a whole new set of challenges – distractions now asail us in the form of the TV, our family, children and pets, the household chores we need to get to, and all the entertainment we could ever dream of.
In this post, we’ll be looking at a theory that may sound a bit old (what with all the productivity hacks along the lines of “get up at 4AM and get everything done by 9AM” out there), but that can help you improve your personal productivity.
Tracking metrics that pertain to your own personal productivity can help you become more prolific and more creative, enabling you to design marketing campaigns that are more attractive and that provide a better ROI for your clients. So let’s see how you can make a start.
Define Your Most Productive Tasks
The first action you want to take is to identify your most productive behaviors and tasks. Also identify the less productive ones with a slightly lower ROI, but that you still consider to be above average in terms of productivity.
What is it you thrive on? Writing email copy, writing out PPC ads, tracking campaign metrics, communicating with clients?
Write down each specific task broken down into the minutest possible particle – replying to X emails in X amount of time.
Your key here is to monitor the time you need per each task, as that will allow you to plan your days. If you know you only need half an hour to do something, you can fit it into the schedule better.
Ideally, you want to devote most of your time to your most productive tasks – if you can get the most done in a certain segment, this is where you want to be making the most difference.
Also monitor how your productivity changes with regard to these tasks depending on what you have been doing off work – more on that in a bit.
Define Your Biggest Time-Wasters
You also want to identify the things you do that are sapping your productivity and/or time. Are you checking your emails every 10 minutes? Do you keep looking at your phone? Do you spend a lot of time reading the news or on social media? Are you continually distracted by the people you live with, or the fact that the remote is just right there?
When you know what is diverting your attention, work on eliminating the unwanted distraction. Maybe you’ll lock your personal phone in your drawer or ban social media from your computer – do what you need to do to facilitate a more focus-inducing environment.
Identify Bottlenecks In Your Workflow
Some activities are not a waste of time, but they take more time than they need to – particularly for executives and other high level team members. These activities need to be done. But they don’t need to be done by the people who make the big bucks. Those people could save their time and energy on tasks that they are uniquely positioned and/or skilled to accomplish.
Are you really slow when it comes to posting on social media? Do you spend way too much time on calls?
Identify the aspects of your job that take up a large portion of your time, are essential to the business, but aren’t super productive. Your goal is to swap them for your more productive tasks (which you have identified above).
Try delegating, making a new hire to take some of the load off, or redistributing tasks within the company to better suit your strongest points.
Another option is to seek out software tools to automate these bottleneck tasks. By leveraging these options, you can keep the wheels turning on these tasks and free you up to focus on high productivity tasks.
There are a number of tools that help you work more efficiently. Email and spreadsheet shortcuts help save time on essential, but low level tasks. Swydo can help reduce time spent on client reporting (for both in-house marketing teams and agencies), an essential activity that often drains time unnecessarily from creative teams.
Define and Track Your Non-Work Activities
Equally important (some would even venture to say more important) are the activities you engage in outside of work.
It is a mistake to believe that work and play, or work and life are somehow two separate entities that have little to no impact on each other. If you’re having a bad day at home, you will need to exercise some extraordinary effort to put those thoughts and emotions behind you, and solely focus 100% on your work. True masters of compartmentalization are rare, so chances are, what you have going on in your personal life will affect your productivity.
Three specific aspects of your non-work time will have a major impact on how productive you are, so let’s start there:
How Much Do You Sleep?
Sleep and entrepreneurship are intricately linked, especially as nearly half of all entrepreneurs believe that it’s necessary to sacrifice sleep in order to succeed.
Our generations have been raised on the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” mentality of the hustle economy – and we truly do believe that sleep is the one thing we can, and should, be sacrificing in order to have more time to get out jobs done.
But quite the opposite is the truth, and sleep is the ultimate way to perform better at work and become more productive. That’s because sleep is directly linked not only to productivity, but to all kinds of cognitive processes, creativity included.
The metric you need to be tracking here is hours of sleep and how they make you feel.
Start by determining how much sleep you need. The recommendation might be 7 to 9 hours per night, but you might find you thrive on 7.5 hours exactly. Once you have a number in mind, your goal is to track it and be able to determine how your day or week is going to go, depending on the amount of sleep you’re getting.
This will allow you to adjust your schedule and to-do list so that you can distribute your focus in the best possible way.
Going to bed on time when working from home might be a challenge – after all, you don’t need to get to the office by a certain time. However, try to approach bedtime like you used to – and form the habit of getting up and going to work. Even if work is now just a room away.
What Do You Eat?
At this point, we could quote the “you are what you eat” cliché.
Instead, we will say this: a poor diet can cause you to feel fatigued, sap your energy levels, make you irritable and moody, boost your levels of stress, and make you more prone to sluggishness. A poor diet will ultimately make you much less focused and much less productive.
Take a long hard look at your diet. Are you fueled by fast meals and a lot of caffeine? Do you reach for sugar when you feel an energy dip?
If the answer is yes, you may want to consider changing your diet for the better.
Add foods that release energy slowly and that will not cause dramatic fluctuations in your blood sugar levels:
- Lean proteins
- Complex carbs
- Healthy fats
- A lot of veggies
- Plenty of fruits
You get the idea – get more “real food” and avoid processed and sugary foods. Even though the latter provide a more instant energy rush, their effect will wear off quicker.
Keep track of the food you eat and how it makes you feel. This will be all the evidence you need to get started on changing your approach to your meals.
Now that you are at home most of the time, you can certainly find the time to prep your own healthy meals. Meal prepping one a week is a great way to reduce waste, cut down on the time you spend in the kitchen, and ensure you get all the nutrients you need.
How Much Do You Exercise?
The final element of the productivity trifecta is exercise. The more you sit at your desk and the less you move, the less productive you will be.
Our bodies need movement in order to stay healthy, and exercise is directly linked to the way your mind works. The more sluggish your body, the more sluggish your brain.
Focus on getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every single day. You can, of course, up this a notch and do heavier intensity exercises several times a week. Your goal should still be to walk every day, and get those 10.000 steps in, minimum.
If getting out and about due to Covid is difficult – try to fo some at-home exercises every day. There are desk exercises you can try, and plenty of silent, low impact but very useful routines you can do.
What Do You Do When You’re Not Working?
Examine what it is you do when you’re not at work. This will have a major impact on your rest and recovery, and the ability to switch back on when you’re in the office. If all you do is a whole lot of nothing (i.e., nothing stimulating and restorative), chances are you will not be going back to the office refreshed.
Find a hobby that you really enjoy and that allows you to completely disconnect from the thoughts and emotions you’re exposed to while working. It can be literally anything from collecting stamps to skydiving, as long as it’s not job-related.
Schedule in some unstructured time – like taking a walk. This can significantly improve your creative thinking, as it can provide the mental space you need to consolidate your ideas and approach issues from different angles. A lot of breakthroughs happen when you’re not consciously working on a solution.
Socialize with your friends and family. Don’t sacrifice your personal life at the altar of your business – social time will recharge your batteries and allow your mind to recover from the strain it experiences at work. Without this outlet, you cannot feel as fresh and be as productive.
You will of course need to tailor socializing to Covid – but there are plenty of digital ways to stay connected with your family, and Zoom is just one of them. Play a board game online – with actual boards set up in each individual’s home. Do movie nights (Netflix has a great option for this), or make some meals together, but socially distanced.
Take the time to examine these three major areas of your daily life that play a vital role in your personal productivity. By doing that, you can significantly improve the way you approach your work, the way you structure your time, and the kinds of tasks you devote yourself to.
Just make sure you’re honest with yourself when scrutinizing your present productivity levels and the tasks you excel or don’t excel at. That will be the prerequisite to success.
Travis Jamison is an entrepreneur, investor, search engine mega nerd and proud pug parent. He started investing.io to provide a home for other entrepreneurs turned investors to connect with each other and expand the options of investing in entrepreneurial-type assets like websites and small businesses. You can follow Travis on Twitter at @Travis_Jamison or LinkedIn.