What is productivity? With all of its surrounding buzz, this word has almost become white noise, lacking any true meaning. But for small businesses in the fast-paced startup world, productivity could not be more critical for success. In fact, we’ve come across plenty of startups who failed simply due to a lack of this exact thing.
Plain and simple – productivity means getting more done with less. Committing to productivity is committing to a concerted effort to stay focused on your true priorities. The beginning of the year is the best time to think through your processes and reassess what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs to be improved.
We’re laying out 12 actionable steps you can take today to prioritize what really matters to get more done in less time in 2017:
1. Prioritize your relationships
For me, productivity starts with a weekly checkup. As the founder of Acuity, I play a number of roles within the company (CEO, marketing, sales, HR, etc.) as well as outside the company (husband, father, son, brother, friend, philanthropist). To keep track, I keep a running list of roles (there are currently 28). Every Sunday night or Monday morning, I write down one thing I must do that week to maintain that role or relationship. This helps me see the bigger picture of my priorities as it relates to the relationships most important in my life. To me, that’s the essence of productivity.
2. Make your priorities actionable
Before looking at your overflowing inbox or getting lost in the daily grind, set aside time at the beginning of each week to prioritize your to-do list. Be sure to create action items for each task. The more granular, the better. If there’s anything time contingent, add the task to your calendar. Add everything else to a larger running to-do list. This will help you move through your days with intention rather than constantly playing catchup and questioning what should come first.
3. Get strategic with your schedule
In 2017, commit to scheduling your time more strategically. Easier said than done, right? For me personally, I organize commitments based on when I’m able to function at my peak – typically this means the morning – and practice time blocking (a method promising a 150% increase in productivity). The most pressing items on my list are always scheduled first thing when I can give my full focus and attention. Save tactical items (the ones that need to get done but require less focus) for the afternoons.
4. Protect your time – fiercely
Whether you use Google Calendar or like to kick it oldschool with pen and paper, get serious about protecting your time. I like to use Calendy for all of my appointment scheduling. The interface is smooth and integrates seamlessly with Google Calendar and Office 365 so you never get double-booked or overcommitted. Before accepting an invite for a meeting, ask yourself if the time spend will get you closer to your weekly goals. Be sure to schedule clear work-blocks to tackle your biggest priorities – and then guard them as if your business depends on it
5. Reimagine your to-do lists
Find an incredible productivity tool you can stick with longterm like Microsoft To Do, Taskly or my personal favorite Todoist, (*side note, they also happen to be one of our amazing clients*). With all of today’s incredible technology, there is no reason to be scribbling your tasks on pen and paper only to lose it within a day. There is a time and a place for scribbling – your important to-dos are not it. With Todoist, you can access your list across 10+ platforms, collaborate with your team on shared tasks, and quickly add to-dos on-the-go from your mobile device. Easy – as it should be.
6. Find a mind dump
Juggling all of the thoughts that come up on a daily basis can be a challenge to say the least. For your bigger picture goals and ideas, lock down a tool that will serve as your personal mind dump. I use Evernote and truly consider it my second brain – the one that never forgets. I use the app to store notes, ideas, dreams, random thoughts, and more. Having it all in one place prevents me from wasting time searching for that random sticky note in my desk drawer.
6. Cut down on car time
Acuity is proud to be based out of Atlanta, GA, a place that is notoriously famous for terrible traffic. When commuting to work or traveling through town through meetings, it’s is a serious factor to consider. I use Waze to identify the most efficient and safest route possible. I’d love to know how much time I’ve saved with Waze…potential new feature (*cough cough*)? While we wait for autonomous cars (a technology that is getting closer to becoming a commonplace reality), Waze is an excellent option.
7. Use your commute wisely
Speaking of optimizing your commute, why not use the time to learn something new? Podcasts are an excellent, handsfree option that stimulate new ideas and keep our mind fresh. A few of my personal favorites: Tim Ferris, Saaster, Freakonomics, Radiolab, and How I Built This. You can also use the time to get your thoughts down (using a voice recorder) or to simply think through your day.
8. Enroll for TSA PreCheck
If you’re a frequent flyer, enrolling in TSA PreCheck is a no-brainer. Think of it as your fast-pass through the biggest airport headaches, like security. Ask anyone who’s currently using PreCheck – it’s a total game changer. Just think…no more taking off your shoes or sifting through your bag for liquids. You are automatically eligible if you pay $100 for Global Entry or $85 for TSA PreCheck only.
9. Upgrade your team communication tool
Rather than cluttering up your email inbox with quick questions and correspondence, use a direct message system. Slack is completely critical to our team’s internal communication process. Slack recently released a new feature giving users the ability to make voice or video calls directly within the app. Our team comes first, and Slack helps us prioritize that internal communication. Zoom is another great web conferencing tool we use for video communication.
10. Save time with text
We’re seeing more and more software products pushing SMS features because texting is such a common communication tool. As an XPAC member, I have the awesome opportunity to help shape Xero’s future product offerings. Their latest? An SMS enabled chat feature that allows users to interact with accounting information via text. Brilliant.
11. Get familiar with AI
With the rise of big data, artificial intelligence is the logical next step for businesses looking to get ahead and make smarter business decisions. With apps like Clara and Amy hitting the stage, 2017 will be a big year for smart bots. These tools will continue to develop to help businesses process and analyze data faster.
12. Get rid of the old
Author Jocelyn K. Glei says it best, “Productivity is really what you don’t do.” One of the most critical aspects of working efficiently revolves around getting rid of the what no longer work for you. Make a list of the processes, tools and habits from 2016 that DIDN’T work and set up a strategic game plan for eliminating them. Again, this plan needs to be actionable. Set measured goals and completion dates right from the start.
In 2017, what does being productive mean to you? For me, it means prioritizing what actually matters to live a fuller, more balanced life. This sort of laser focus keeps me calm and in control, no doubt benefiting my relationships and my business. Any can’t-live-without productivity tools or processes I missed? Feel free to comment below – we’re always on the lookout for the best business tools on the market.