Every morning I wake up with a single thought. Do more. Create more jobs. Write more articles. Make more investments. Do more consulting. Get bigger checks and more money. (Okay, that’s more than one though).
But in the words of the great Biggie Smalls: “more money, more problems”. All entrepreneurs face this problem. Despite this reality, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and creative people alike still want more (because they are crazy). That’s why you get tons of online guides on how to be more productive at work. Because people want to know how to do more without feeling more stressed out.
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Stress is a productivity killer. So in order to achieve more, we need to define what stress is, when it occurs and how to get rid of it.
Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Stress
Stress is first a thought in your brain, then a feeling in your body. That means stress is a choice, even though we are often guilty of not realizing this. Despite popular belief, there’s actually enough time in the day to get everything done. The real problem is that time frame between 12 PM and 4 PM when everyone is emailing, calling or knocking on your door. That’s when you feel like you don’t have time to breathe.
And yet that same morning you had earlier, nobody was bothering you? That’s when you feel like you could juggle two more tasks with ease. Your thoughts were calm and you were productive. Learn to manage your thoughts and you’ll become as calm as a motionless lake.
What you want is a relaxed awareness, a focused calmness, feeling “in the zone”, in the moment, without any sort of overload. Here’s how.
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Sounds easy but in reality, not many people have learned to refuse others. When you’re doing something, focus on it 100%, don’t multitask and don’t think about other stuff. By all means, don’t allow other people to interrupt you.
The cost of an interruption comes from the fact that our brain takes time to readapt to the context of a problem, so while you might be thinking you’re solving multiple problems simultaneously, you almost always end up chasing two rabbits and coming up empty-handed. That’s not to say that multitasking is wrong.
We’ve said it before, multitasking is usually wrong (here’s Science backing us up). Even doctors advise against it. David Mayer, a cognitive scientist had this to say to Entrepreneur Magazine about multitasking:
“Einstein was not multitasking when he was dreaming up the special and general theories of relativity.”
But the fact is, as an entrepreneur or freelancer you aren’t rewriting the laws of physics.
Multitasking is a skill which has its benefits but as a rule of thumb, you can’t apply multitasking to creative work, or to writing and email while talking to someone in accounting at the same time. Each task takes turns grabbing your attention and decision-making so what you’re actually doing is losing time since you are neither writing nor communicating at your best.
Multitasking works for simple, repetitive tasks; tasks that are straight-forward, mechanical, and don’t require creative thinking e.g. data entry, copy pasting data, skimming through notifications or newsletters etc. When faced with the possibility of multitasking, do what requires your attention first, then multitask the rest of the simpler tasks.
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Barbara Corcoran, founder of the Corcoran Group, said it best:
“The productiveness of any meeting depends on the advance thought given the agenda, and you should never leave a meeting without writing a follow-up list with each item assigned to one person.”
She’s right! We lose tons of time by going to meetings and brainstorming sessions unprepared. Whether it’s a client, associate or employee appointment, take the time to review beforehand what you’ll discuss and what you’re inclined to decide. Visualize a potential solution on your own. You’ll be suprised to find how little help you actually need from the other person.
Imagine what they’ll say in response to your opinions. Run an inner role-playing dialogue. You could do this in your car, on way to work, at the gym or when relaxing. You’ll end up looking like you always know your stuff and your meetings will be shorter.
Another important point is choosing your meetings carefully. Use phone calls, WhatsApp, Skype, smoke signals or radiowaves. Anything to maximize your time by traveling less. Here’s what Business Magnate Mark Cuban had to say about that last one:
“Meetings are a waste of time unless you are closing a deal. There are so many ways to communicate in real time or asynchronously that any meeting you actually sit for should have a duration and set outcome before you agree to go.”
I use Skype to talk to my girlfriend in the kitchen. Try it, it’s fun. Make sure you have an understanding girlfriend first.
Carry a Tech Sidekick
The hardest working man in Social Media, Gary Vaynerchuk says:
“I carry my laptop with me everywhere. If I have any downtime during the day, I’ll jump on my computer and answer e-mails.”
I encourge you to carry a device with you at all times. It could be a smartphone, laptop or tablet… it doesn’t matter.
What matters is what you can do with it, things like:
Write down Everything
Jot those ingenius ideas down as they come in. Summarise meetings on your sidekick. Conclusions, follow-ups, contact persons… we all forget the useful stuff, so this is a briliant trick to save time in the future. Plan your next day on it. Write down what you want to accomplish. Adjust accordingly the next day.
Change the working enviroment
This very article is written from a coffeeshop. I write, plan, consult and even do accounting this way. I usually do this when I feel I can’t work anymore. Switching your enviroment can do wonders for your productivity. Entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran agrees to:
“Go outside. All the big ideas are on the outside. You’ll never have a creative idea at your desk.”
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Observe yourself with it.
Study your circle. There is no magic formula here. Alternate the hours and see if you feel more productive. Find your rhythm. Here’s one extreme formula from Business Guru Jordan Zimmerman:
“Cut down on sleep. Why would you sleep when it’s time to live? Sleeping isn’t living. You sleep when you die. I get up at 3:30 every morning and I’m at the gym by 4. Then I ride 25 miles on my bike before breakfast. Being in shape is what gives me energy.”
Save and categorise your work for reuse later, especially if you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur. Your teachers and parents were right. You need to keep things clean and organised. It helps a lot.
I know I’ll upset a lot of “positive thinkers” with this one. And it is indeed pretty hard to admit, but feeling guilty about wasting my time is one of the top reason I was able to overcome my circumstances and create a better life for myself. It’s such a rooted habit now that I have trouble taking time off and relaxing.
That’s the bad part but I can live with that. The good news is feeling guilty about the time spent not working makes you richer. The trick here is that the feeling should be genuine. Here are a few exercises to help you create this state:
Count your blessings
Realize most of them were given to you for free (your body, mind, people you love, soul, youth etc). Then realize that all your blessings, whatever they may be for you, will go to waste if you don’t maximize their potential through hard work.
Think about the food you’re eating
Think about how much effort and work was put into your daily nutrition. People had to plant, wait, hope, work, harvest, hunt and kill for you to get your daily chicken rice. The dollars spent on that food surely don’t cover the effort. What are you really giving back to society in exchange for your food?
People Work While You Sleep
Think about the people you’re competiting against, half way across the world. They work while you sleep. Then, realize that no matter how young you are, you are not immune to the very same end which awaits everyone (death). The only thing that really matters is how well you’ve lived your life, what you’ve accomplished and created for you and others. Do you feel you’ll be remembered correctly yet?
An Exercise In Guilt
Close your eyes. Remember a time when you felt really guilty and ashamed about something. Relive that: see, hear and feel what you felt. Imagine that feeling as a current rotating inside your body. Then, while keeping the current rotating, remember a time when you pointlessly wasted your time. Feel the guilt and the shame coming from the current. Practice this exercise 2-3 times a week.
In order for any of these exercises to really work, you need to put some effort in them. Really think and visualize with each, and you’ll find yourself more productive than you ever thought.
Ready To Go
That’s it. Those are the less-known secrets to productivity. Now, if you’ll be able to be smart about the meetings you take, refuse some, refuse interruptions while working, multitask only repetitive tasks while carrying a laptop and feeling guilty, there’s no conceivable reason you won’t be a multi-millionaire entrepreneur or freelancer.
If the entire process seems too hard, that’s because it sometimes is. In order to be extraordinairy, do extraordinary stuff.