When you have a huge team, a massive budget and top notch tools, you don't have to worry so much about your personal productivity. If you don't want to do a task, you can pick from one of your many employees with the skills to do it instead.
As an entrepreneur—whether that's you furthering your career, starting a side project, or working on a new startup—you don't have that luxury.
You need to make the most of the hours in the day. A lot of startup culture glorifies the founders who pull all-nighters while drinking risky amounts of caffeine and never showering, but that kind of behavior quickly leads to burnout and puts entrepreneurs out of action.
But the startup life shouldn’t be defined by constant, grueling self-sacrifice. If you're prone to over-extending yourself and you're starting to feel the negative effects, the good news is that a lot of work can be automated, scheduled, or optimized at little cost to you.
This guide to personal productivity methods for entrepreneurs will help you stop wasting time, get more done in a day, and feel better while growing your business. Tweet this
Save Your Energy With Automation
No one likes data entry, but for most roles it's a necessary evil. The good news is that most data entry tasks can be avoided if you set up some simple automation.
For example, at Process Street, I have automation set up that adds tasks to Trello, summarizes information in Slack, forwards data to spreadsheets, and adds contacts to our CRM.
No more manually pasting, updating, checking, or notifying. Learn to integrate your tools, and stop giving yourself repetitive strain injury.
Automate Your Team Communication
All of your SaaS tools—Trello, Evernote, Slack—can talk to each other. If you communicate with your team over Slack, for example, you can use Trello's native Slack integration to automatically notify channels of new tasks, and work in Trello without switching apps all the time:
This saves you from updating Trello, then copying the information over to Slack. The integration takes notifications out of Trello and your emails, and feeds them into the place your team is used to checking throughout the day.
Not only does it help you stop communicating the same thing twice, it also helps your team stay up to date (and you all get a summary of activity from all your different apps in one place).
Another quick way you can update multiple places and people at once is linking your project management and task management tools to Evernote. Using Zapier, you can specify a tag that automatically pushes notes as tasks to Trello, or another task app. So, instead of firing up the relevant app every time, use Evernote as your dashboard for creating tasks and sharing information with your team.
Automate Your Meeting Schedules
Email is enough of a time-waster as it is, so cutting out the frustrating back-and-forth around meeting scheduling is a must.
I use a tool like x.ai to have Amy, an email AI (artificial intelligence) assistant, handle the job. The tool works when you “CC” Amy into the email thread and ask her to work out a time you can meet the recipient. She'll handle the back and forth, then automatically update your calendar.
If you feel unsure about leaving this task up to an AI, don't worry. We've been using x.ai at Process Street ever since it was in private beta, and it has been flawlessly arranging meetings with everyone from investors to high-ticket customers.
Automate Your Marketing Communication
Marketing emails come with two dangers to your productivity and personal brand:
- You're not sending any at all, or
- You're spending way too much time sending them
The best way to combat time-wasting email management is to set up an autoresponder sequence that sends the material that will help your audience come to know and trust you, like blog posts, offers, news, and updates.
Isn't this too impersonal though? Well, it doesn't have to be. Irrelevant marketing emails do happen, but your contacts will tell you what they want—if you have the right tools in place to listen and respond.
With a tool like GetResponse, you can set up marketing automation workflows where the recipient's actions have an effect on what they are emailed. For example, leads who signed up through different forms can get different emails. That way, the communication is always tailored for the context in which they interact with you.
Autoresponders are one of the tools you can truly set and forget without risking coming off too spammy or impersonal. The key is to then spend more time at the front end creating valuable experiences for your contacts, and less time in the mechanics of mailing.
Schedule Now, Relax Later
If you can't automate it, schedule it.
Nothing gives me more peace of mind at work than knowing a machine is in total control of my scheduling, and saving time on blog content, social media, reminders, and emails.
Schedule Blog Posts
Keeping your personal or company blog updated with fresh content can quickly become a challenge if you're working right up to the deadline every time.
When you know you have to get a post out every Tuesday, you'll begin the week off knowing that anything you start will be eventually driven off the rails by a deadline.
So, instead of rushing to hit publish, write a batch of posts ahead of time and schedule them out.
Create A Flow Of Social Media Posts
While it's not great for your brand to treat social media as a fully scheduled affair, it does save you getting lost in the distracting realms of Twitter and Facebook several times a day.
...But also, you're probably going to want to go deeper than that.
Why not create a constant stream of your past content, industry-relevant posts, and articles that mention you?
To do this, you can use Buffer and Bulk Buffer to add a huge backlog of content to your social media profiles. To automatically curate industry-relevant content, connect your Buffer to a tool like Quuu, and take the automatic approach to becoming a go-to in your field.
It's shameful to admit, but if I didn't have my phone to prod me into getting work done, I'd forget every major task every day. With scheduled recurring reminders, you don't need to have a memory any better than a goldfish.
If there are concrete duties you need to do every week, the best way to handle reminders is just to use something like auto-repeating cards in Trello, iOS Reminders or Todoist and set up a recurring task plus notification. In my case, I remind myself that a post has to be fully edited every Tuesday and Thursday.
This tip works well if your calendar is already blocked full of meetings, because you can separate recurring tasks from one-off events and get a clear, urgent overview of your pending duties.
Schedule Email Communication
Don't even try to keep track of everyone with whom you’re corresponding over email: you'll only go insane. You're probably talking to customers, investors, and leads by the bucketload, so it's understandable if you don't have the mental bandwidth to remember everything. There's a few ways you can schedule follow-ups, or at least remind yourself they need sending:
Capture Your Thoughts, Tasks, and Ideas
Your mind doesn’t work the same way that you organize your todo lists. Unfortunately, you will start forgetting important information if you try operating everything from memory. For that reason, you need a way to capture ideas wherever you are.
You can use a paper notebook, or an app like Apple Notes or OneNote. Whatever the medium, just make sure you have something. It's conducive to coming up with great ideas in the first place because your brain knows you won't just forget about them.
A good habit is to do a brain dump every evening or at the end of every week: write down everything that's on your mind, regardless of whether it feels irrelevant. When you next come to look at that list, you can format it into proper tasks, and add them to your task manager.
Write Your To-Do List Properly
The way you write your to-do list can have an effect on how you get work done. Unclear, general, or unactionable items require you to put in extra thought before you can start on the task.
As a guideline, use “verb the noun with the object” as a template for naming tasks. For example, “mail James the memory card.”
Also, in Getting Things Done, David Allen teaches that if a task is too big to tackle at once, make a subtask that's the next specific step you need to take to get started.
With these simple tips, your to-do list will be much easier to tackle.
Don't Reinvent The Wheel
Silly mistakes happen when you work from memory, or try to delegate a task with a few quick instructions. For anything you're going to do more than twice, it's worth creating a process.
- Processes are the fastest way to explain a task to a new hire or introduce a new task to your team.
- Processes are the most foolproof way for you or anyone who works for you to check their work is correct.
Creating something other than deliverable work doesn't sound like a great productivity tip, but by the 50th time you explain a task or make a mistake, you'll be wishing there was something more formal in place to help you out.
To start creating processes, just make a note of the tasks you do every week. Keep a notebook on your desk and jot them down as they happen. It might be proofreading an article, processing invoices, or promoting a new piece of content.
The thing is, you're not going to want to do these things forever. You're going to want to delegate them at some point. When you do, you'll have a flawless set of instructions there that will be a great help for whoever's taking over.
Take Care Of Yourself
All the apps, automation, and processes in the world can’t help you if you’re not physically able to take advantage of their assistance. On days where I fool myself into thinking I'm too busy to drink a glass of water or eat breakfast, I always find myself crashing by 2pm—especially with creative work.
Even if you're in the habit of not eating properly, you can overcome the inevitable crash by eating breakfast whether you want to or not—eating consistently will make you hungrier over time, which makes it easier to stay on track. For more information, check out this post on food and productivity, and this one for insights on how hydration affects your workday.
Sleep is also important, albeit varied. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the amount of sleep you might need can vary from 6 to 11 hours a night. Such a wide range is something to experiment with.
While advice to “get a better night's sleep” might seem counterintuitive to the essence of entrepreneurship (which is all about the hustle), nothing will run you down faster than a whole week of 4-hour nights. But if you find yourself oversleeping, the best fix is a sleep-tracking alarm clock. I use Sleep Cycle, which detects the best time to wake up, and found I was oversleeping three hours every night. There's no simpler trick to gain 180 more minutes in the day!
Building up your personal productivity when you’re an entrepreneur swamped with handling each and every part of your business is like constructing a pyramid; you need a solid foundation before you can start focusing on the little details.
Studies show that focusing on health and well-being improves your base productivity, meaning that you need to first address sleep, food, and drink before taking a look at the way you process emails, automate work, or manage your tasks.
The first step: Get your energy intake balanced (think meal planning), and make sure you’re getting enough rest. After that? Cut out the tasks that waste your time, and focus on automating as much as possible.
You’re an entrepreneur! You have the stamina, creativity and ingenuity to develop a productive routine that gears you up for success.
Good or bad, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Find us on Twitter (@trello)!