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PRODUCTIVITY

6 Sneaky Ways to Boost Your Productivity

Here are some productivity tips that often fly under the radar but that can hand you hours at the end of a week.
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Entrepreneurs can never get enough of productivity improvements. There's too much to do as it is and you still want to maintain a decent work-life balance.

There are plenty of standard tools to improve effectiveness: adopt a formal planning system, use the legendary $550,000 time-management tip, or delegate tasks that others can do, among others.

Embrace your day of temporal waste

Every day has waste that you cannot eliminate. There will always be a few minutes between conference calls, a wait for an appointment, or a meeting that breaks a bit early (OK, so the latter is the projection of wishful thinking). But the blocks of newly available time aren't long enough to get back into the regular swing of your day; you'd have to stock just as you got going. So keep a productivity kit with you. It will include what you need to work on very short projects or small parts of a larger one. You might compose a memo or email, double-check some figures, or do some targeted Web research. Get some of these done and you speed up the larger things in your day, while keeping often unimportant but nagging items from distracting you when you can least afford it.

Spend time thinking, not doing

People often make the mistake of wading into a task as soon as possible. It sounds virtuous, but it's wasteful. There are few things in business that suffer from better planning and less furious reaction. Whether you're writing a program, developing a new marketing slogan, creating a presentation, or rearranging the factory line for a new product design, planning works wonders. You think you're wasting too much time thinking until you see how much you cut the time that would otherwise go to rework. Planning is particularly important on a daily basis. Either first thing in the morning or the night before, review what you need to accomplish and order tasks by importance so you at least do what is most critical.

Give up and go back to bed

Entrepreneurs frequently work on short sleep. You're trying to power through fatigue because there are all those important things to do. Unfortunately, you're sabotaging those efforts. Sleep deprivation adds up and negatively affects your health and thinking. The vicious part of the problem is that while you're short on rest, you don't realize how your brain is quickly gaining the consistency of an overly ripe melon, slowing you down in every possible way. If you're trying to work away and keep nodding off, don't grab another cup of coffee. Take a half hour as soon as you can and catch a nap. Give it some time and you'll be surprised at how much regular tasks zip along.

Goof off

This is similar in nature to taking a nap. When you work for yourself, there are times of intense activity. But then you'll also have spells when things slow (particularly if you get enough rest to become more efficient at regular work). Take the time when you can afford it and do something fun, relaxing, engaging, or enriching. The crunch time will come soon enough, only you'll be refreshed.

Become a ridiculously bureaucratic nitpicker

Entrepreneurs don't tend to be the people who like the mind-numbing demands of officious taskmasters. But it's good at least once, and possible every year or two, to become one yourself. You apply absolute rigor to yourself and record the amount of time you take to do everything, whether various tasks at work, having a snack, traveling, or balancing your checkbook. Put the time into general categories. After a week of following yourself around with a notebook, do the tally and see where you actually spend your days, not as you'd like to think you do. It can be a sobering reality that will drive you to completely change how you approach everything.

Go jump into a cold lake

If you've ever gone swimming in a cold lake or ocean, you know that there are two ways to approach it. One is to slowly creep in, inch at a time, and suffer the spreading chill every step of the way. The other is to plunge in, stifle a scream, and quickly swim about. Shortly you either become acclimated or lose your ability to feel the pain of the cold and you can get about why you're in the water in the first place. The same thing probably happens with your to-do list. Some tasks are a little fussier, but more often than not if you just power through, you'll soon be done and can move to the next thing.

Last updated: Jun 16, 2014

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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