The Young Entrepreneur Council asked 14 successful young entrepreneurs for their best (and least obvious!) tips for staying focused and productive while building a fast-growing start-up. Here are their best answers.
1. Befriend the Whiteboard
Trying to shift through emails, meeting reminders, administrative tasks, technology builds, mapping, financials, and more, nothing helps to keep things organized better than having a whiteboard dedicated to the above. Set up the frame work sections and add items to be completed in that time period. Then, get it done, and erase when completed.
--Carmen Benitez, Fetch Plus
2. Create a 50-minute iTunes Playlist
When I need to focus my attention absolutely, I shut out distractions by starting a 50-minute playlist of favorite songs. Since I can't hear the phone buzz or computer alerts, I can focus my entire attention on the task at hand. When the playlist ends, it's time for a quick break. Then it's on to the next project and the next playlist.
--Kelly Azevedo, She's Got Systems
3. Step Away From the Office
There's something bizarrely romantic about the workaholism of a start-up; the 100-hour weeks are worn like a badge of honor by many a founder and employee alike. The best ideas come when you least expect it, so don't be afraid to step away from your work to clear your mind. You'll be surprised how refreshed and more productive you'll be when you return.
--Jason Evanish, Greenhorn Connect
4. Put Your Reputation on the Line
If you want to increase your productivity, start making public promises. The best people to make commitments to are your customers. Nothing will keep you as productive as an upcoming deadline for a new product launch.
--Pete Kennedy, eProfit Partners
5. Seeing Near and Far
Keep two lists constantly: one for the day-to-day or quarter-to-quarter stuff, things that have to get done; the other for the big dreams, stuff you'll do as you grow, earn money and scale. Make sure you're completing your first list often. Keep an eye on the second, but not at the expense of the first.
--Sam Davidson, Cool People Care
6. Disconnect With Extreme Discipline
Distractions are everywhere, and while you may believe you are the world's best multitasker, work-quality always suffers when you get interrupted. Close your email tab and all other programs, other than the one you are working on. You will work faster, and produce work of better quality. Answer your emails when you are done--or, if need be, at the top of each hour.
--Vanessa Nornberg, Metal Mafia
7. Don't Push Your Limits
Tackling too many things robs you of your energy and creativity, but most importantly, it leads to mediocre products. The only way to stand out from the noise is to do remarkable work. This requires assigning more attention, energy, resources, and care to a core set (or single) of projects. Steve Jobs's return to Apple is excellent example of how this strategy can pay off.
--Kent Healy, The Uncommon Life
8. Try a Task-Management Tool
We started using Trello--a simple and free task management tracking software--a few months ago, and it has really helped us prioritize tasks and stay focused. Now, we have Trello boards that manage our web development, editorial calendar and events. It easily allows you to assign team members different tasks and keep track of progress.
--Patrick Curtis, WallStreetOasis.com
9. Can You Concentrate?
I recommend using an Internet-blocking app like Concentrate to block distracting sites and email servers. There are times when you need to be connected to the Internet, but for the most part, you can make the most productive progress by focusing in and not jumping around from website to website.
--Nathalie Lussier, Nathalie Lussier Media
10. Look Beyond the Business
Create a list of things to delegate each day, things that aren't related to bringing in more business. Delegate those items to employees; this way, you can stay focused on the things that are vital to the success of your business--things that only you can do.
--John Hall, Digital Talent Agents
11. Share the Enthusiasm
I routinely schedule lunches and coffees where I get to just hang out with other entrepreneurs and talk about business. Without fail, I come back from these discussions refreshed and raring to go. A little time outside of the office can make me more productive than to keep staring at the keyboard, hour after hour.
--Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting
12. Announce Accountability
At your team meetings, announce out loud what you're going to accomplish or what tasks you are responsible. This not only puts your reputation on the line, but it shares the accountability and motivates the entire team.
--John Meyer, 9 Clouds
13. Stretch Your Legs
It's absolutely incredible how much you can work through during a good walk. The physical activity gets your brain working in a different way than it does when you're sitting at your desk. It's amazing how many random thoughts get knocked loose that you never knew you had.
--Brent Beshore, AdVentures
14. Align Work With Values
The only reason someone does not stay focused and productive in a busy start-up is because they are not aligning their true values with what they are doing. When you are doing what is highest on your value list, you don't need external motivation--you are already internally motivated to stay focused and productive.
--Louis Lautman, Young Entrepreneur Society