Hacking Productivity

by Mindy Crump

4 min read

They say if you want something done, you ask a busy person. So we asked some busy people how they get so much done, and these are ten top tips we got from successful Canadian entrepreneurs:

1. Have a Work Day

Running a startup, you often work all hours, but when we feel our work day is limitless, we become too relaxed about meeting the day’s objectives on time. Shauna Harper, owner of Live Work Communications, found that getting up earlier and scheduling a more typical workday instead of staying up all night made her more productive with the tasks she needed to get done during the hours designated for work. Use an app like Sleep Cycle to get yourself out of nocturnal mode.

2. Have a Work Space

Set up a dedicated desk in your home or find a coworking or shared space to work out of to reduce the likelihood that you’ll try to multitask. Recent research shows that as little as 2% of people are even capable of multitasking (click the link to find out if you’re the superhuman exception) and the rest of us are just flipping back and forth and getting less done. So create a space that’s just for work with no other tasks to distract you.

3. Do the Pomodoro

Since work still shares the screen with a world of fascinating information, email popups and instant messages, it’s hard not to become distracted. Some of the most productive people in the world live by the Pomodoro Technique – sprint hard then take a break. Set your own intervals, and during the sprint (say fifty minutes) stay focused and refuse to be distracted. Then take a break (say ten minutes) to check Twitter, reply to personal emails, or read the news–whatever used to distract you from work.

4. Track Your Time

You can’t schedule yourself effectively if you don’t know how long a task will take, and we’re not very good at estimating it, even from memory. Think how different an hour feels depending on whether you’re presenting to a client or replying to emails. Track your time using a tool like the QuickBooks time tracker, and then you’ll know whether you need to set aside twenty minutes or two hours to reconcile your payroll next time, and you’ll notice when something is taking more or less time than it should.

5. The To Do List:

Tried and true, the to-do list is the single common denominator among productive people. Whether you’re using project management software, a simple app like Wunderlist or, like James Somers, owner and wellness coach at Elation Nation, a good old-fashioned pen and paper, write down your to do list in the morning and prioritize the importance of what needs to be done during the day. “You can see what you’re accomplishing and what you still need to do” James says. And who doesn’t love checking things off?

6. Only Handle it Once

If your receipts go on an epic journey including shoeboxes and sorting stations to get from your wallet to your ledger, you’re wasting time. Institute the OHIO rule, and promise yourself that the first place you put anything after you receive it will be the place it belongs. QuickBooks mobile apps and integrations make this easy for all things financial. Apply the rule to all your documents, and you’ll save time shuffling things around and looking for them later.

7. Get It Out of Your Head:

You’re creative, so you have a lot of ideas, and you’re tempted to act on them now before you forget them, but that kills planned productivity. Quebec City business coach Davender Gupta simply writes those brainwaves down. “It reduces my tension factor of have I forgotten something?” he says, so he can focus on the tasks at hand. Use the tool you know you’ll always have with you–whether that’s a pen and paper in your purse or, like Gupta, Evernote on your smartphone–and always build time into your day to come back to your notes, and properly schedule follow up.

8. Get Someone Else To Do It

Your startup is your baby. And you know what’s best for it, but at some point, you’ll need to find people who can help you take care of it or it’s not going to grow. “Understand that business is a team sport, and you always have to be building the team and tweaking the team,” says Rivers Corbett, founder and CEO of Relish Gourmet Burgers. For Rivers, it’s important to have the right people with you on your business adventure. Hire people who you trust and who compensate for your weaknesses so you have time to play only to your strengths.

9. Get a Startup Sponsor

It’s lonely at the top, and it can be easy to slip into a rut when you don’t feel like anyone is watching. Find a mentor you can be accountable to, join or start a founder meetup, or ask a member of your board to check in more regularly. Any of these people can help keep you on track, and will also save you time by lending their experience and knowledge to your problem-solving.

10. Be Honest With Yourself

Productivity issues can stem from several things–procrastination, lack of direction, perfectionism, disorganization, systems breakdowns, even poor communication–so get real with yourself about which one is hurting your business. Then find the right solution to the right problem.

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