As you may have noticed from the themes of my columns, I'm on a never-ending quest to become a more informed and more productive person, and to shift my mindset in ways that help my business grow. For me, 2017 was a year of experiments, implementing small changes to help change the way I think about my time, my calendar, my priorities and my business' trajectory.

Here are a few of the things I tried that worked well.

1. Implement One "No-Meetings" Day Per Week

This was probably one of the more transformative choices I made for my business and for myself this year. Every week now includes at least one weekday where I don't accept any appointments, meetings or calls. 

The day rotates, based on whatever other immovable commitments I have that week, but it's an entire working day, blocked off on my calendar to prevent anything encroaching. Now, I still work on that day, just like any other. The difference is that I get to decide my own priorities, and to choose which projects and tasks I'm working on. It gives me the freedom to make my own schedule, and allows me to accomplish deep work without interruption or needing to "change gears."

If you want to read more about this, including how I implemented it, you can read my entire column on the subject

2. Automate Accountability

Earlier this year, I set up a Slack channel for my business, which I mostly use to send documents back and forth from my phone and laptop. Occasionally, I'll send myself articles to read or reminders of things. But I also discovered I could use the channel as a way to track my progress and hold myself accountable. 

I found an IFTTT recipe to send a daily reminder to a specified Slack Channel. I set up a dedicated channel, and used the recipe to send myself a nightly message that reads: "What did you do to move your business forward today?" 

I try to send a reply every day, even if it's an exasperated "ugh. nothing really." But most days, I have something to report: A new client, an outreach email, a submission for a speaking gig, or something else. Now, that back-and-forth exchange serves as a recap of my progress on any given week or month. This allows for easy reflection, and a nice kick-in-the-pants for the following day when I have nothing of substance to report. 

3. Stop Letting Email Control Your Life

I get a ton of email. (Like we all do, right?) But earlier this year, I decided I didn't want to live at the mercy of my inbox. I made a few small tweaks that have saved me time, reduced stress, and decreased the amount of time I spend in my inbox.

  • Do an unsubscribe sweep. Go through your inbox (and your Trash folder) and unsubscribe from any emails you waste time archiving or deleting every day. 
  • Use Google's built in "Canned Responses" or save Drafts of common email responses to copy/paste, and save yourself the time spent typing out common responses. 
  • Use the auto-correct feature on your phone to create your own canned responses on mobile. (On iPhone: Settings > General > Keyboard >Text Replacement) For example, typing "conf1" now inserts my conference dial-in information to an email or calendar invite. This also allows me to respond to emails on the go that would previously have had to wait for a desktop response.
  • I had a tendency to spend a lot of time on detailed email responses with lots of small talk or extra information when it wasn't always necessary, but after seeing this article on the efficiency of "Boss Style" emails, with short responses, I changed my approach. I now try to keep it as short and sweet as possible.  

4. Send Personal Notes, Often & Honestly

This might sound silly, but remembering to say "thank you" and personal congratulations to clients, partners, connections and others I come into contact with been transformative for my business and the connections I've forged this year. 

I've never been ungrateful, but being mindful of every opportunity to share heartfelt thanks has helped me create deeper connections and create more goodwill with the people in my life and my business. When life gets crazy, I'll even add automated reminders for myself -- ahead of time -- to send a note of thanks as a follow-up after something happens. This works great if you make note of people's important dates in some sort of system too: birthdays, anniversaries, launches of big projects, etc.

Reaching out, without prompting, to share a personal note or a small gift helps people feel appreciated, and creates a much more intimate connection in this world of passing tweets and aggressively empty networking. One of my favorite ways to do that has been SugarWish, which lets you buy a small bag of candy for someone and create a card with a custom message. The best part is you don't need their address (which I rarely do!) You enter their email address, and then they get an email letting them pick their favorite candy and select a shipping address. This makes thanking clients, partners, and other connections easy for me, and allows me to do it more often.