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Increase your productivity and focus

Jessica Mishra

As an entrepreneur, productivity can be a challenge. We have flexible work schedules, we work from home or coffee shops, and we have control over some or all deadlines. I personally love the flexibility of being able to do what I want, when I want. With ultimate flexibility, though, can come distractions and inefficiencies. Throughout the years of being an entrepreneur, I have learned some tips that help me to stay focused and be as productive as possible.

Set a Weekly Work Outline

A to-do list for the week is a good place to start, but I recommend taking this a step further. Have a general outline of what tasks you will work on each day. Assign approximate amounts of time for each task. Be sure to leave time in the day for checking emails and responding to requests/firedrills so you don’t feel stressed when they pop up (because of course they will). Also, know that you will probably flex items on your outline throughout the week, but at least you are starting with a framework.

I find that I feel happy when I am able to hit all the items on my task list for the day. It drives me to be productive and if I get everything done for the day I will either reward myself by stopping early or get a jump on the next day’s tasks (which makes me feel ahead of the game).

Notice Your Productivity Rhythms

Start to notice when you are most productive during the day and when you are least productive. When I am feeling like I am in a lower productivity mode or am feeling tired, I typically try to do the tasks that take the least amount of energy. For example, I might do repetitive, data entry type tasks at that time because I can churn those out with minimal effort.

When I notice I am feeling more focused and productive, I take on tasks that are more challenging and use more brain power, like research or learning a new accounting concept. It can also be helpful to lump tasks of a similar type together. You can fall into a groove when you work on tasks of the same type instead of switching around throughout the day.

Limit Email Checking and Social Media

We are so connected these days. There are many ways we communicate with each other. Email, Facebook, Slack or other chat service, phone, text, and the list goes on. You may not realize it but every time you interrupt your focused work to say check email or take a peek at Facebook, you are affecting your productivity. Your brain switches to focusing on something else, and then you have to get refocused when you switch back to your work task. I find it helpful to limit the number of times I check email or social media during the day.

If this feels too structured, you can simply set a goal to not check email until you finish a designated task. For example, if I am working on writing a blog post, I tell myself I cannot check any email or social media until I have a first draft done. That way my head stays in the game and I don’t get distracted.

Other suggestions:

· Turn your phone to silent and flip the screen to face down so you are not constantly distracted by incoming calls or texts.

· Turn off sounds and limit alerts or other notifications on your computer. Little windows or “dings” constantly going off are distracting.

· Let your clients or employees know when you will be checking email. I have seen people put this in their email signature. They craft a polite message just informing those that email when they can expect a response.

Reward Yourself

The human brain loves reward! All work and no play makes you a dull boy/girl. You can set mini-deadlines for yourself during the day, and then reward yourself when you meet that deadline. You could call your best friend once you finish up one of your deadlines, go for your favorite workout, or spend time with your sweet kitty or pup. Take a coffee or tea break or grab a healthy snack. I say healthy snack because sugar is the enemy of productivity, but moderation in all things of course. My latest favorite is a chocolate banana peanut butter smoothie break. I also love breaking for a noon-time yoga class. My productivity is usually increased after class as an added bonus.

Set Boundaries

Have structured hours in which you work. This is different for each of us, but I find that the brain stays more focused when it knows what the end time is. This can be flexible. Say you typically keep office hours from 9-5 and then one day you work until 6 or 7. That is totally fine, I just think keeping some kind of boundaries can help you be more productive during the times that you have set to work.

It is also important for the brain to have rest and relaxation time. If you are an athlete, you know you need proper recovery time after a workout. This is the same for the brain. If you have the appropriate amount of rest, then your brain will be ready to work once you go back to it.

I know this one is a struggle for many people and may not even be possible with your particular type of work, but as much as possible try not to check emails into the evening hours. Give your brain a chance to disconnect and I promise you will see the rewards. Your clients will also learn that you check emails when you are in the office and won’t expect a late night response.

As an added bonus tip, did you know that starring at a screen an hour or two before bed can impact your sleep? The blue light released from a screen can affect your melatonin production. Less quality sleep leads to less productivity. If possible, try to not look at your phone too much an hour before bed.

I hope these tips were helpful. Please share your favorite tips for being productive!