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The Smashing Business Blog

The Blog from Smashingbusiness.co.uk. We're all about helping you run a "Smashing Business." Whatever your niche, we hope you find some inspiration or help here. If you'd like us to feature a particular topic just email us at hello@smashingbusiness.co.uk

Introducing our New Service

Ben Lumley - Sunday, November 15, 2009
We've launched a new service this week that we thought you'd like to know about.

For many of you, you may already be following Smashing Business on Twitter @smashbiz

Well we've now started @smashbizlinks from where we're posting out just links that we find that you may find useful as a small business owner.

So if you want in on some great content that we find from all over the internet then why not follow @smashbizlinks

How to be more productive and reap the benefits

Ben Lumley - Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Running a successful business, whether online or offline is all about being productive. The more productive you can be with what you have to do, the more or less you will have to do depending on how you look at it. For example, if like me you love to work and really enjoy getting stuck in to a project then if you can be more productive you can actually create yourself free time that can be used for more work. Alternatively if you want to be able to work a few hours a day and then kick back and enjoy life then working productively can allow you the freedom you crave.

That’s easily said though, isn’t it? Think about the last time you sat down at your desk on a Monday morning and said to yourself “I’m going to get loads done today/this week”, only to find yourself on Friday afternoon despairing because you didn’t manage to complete anything that you said you would. Being productive takes discipline and hard work but is at the same time completely achievable. Here are my top tips for being and staying productive.

1.       Have a Todo list

Todo lists are the bedrock of any great Productivity system and when used properly they can make you more productive all on their own.

The human brain just does not have the ability, in the way that we use it, to remember everything you need to do and how you need to do it. It definitely doesn’t have the capacity to remember something that you need to do and then stop thinking about it until the required time. A great example of this is those times when you’re laid in bed and out of nowhere you think “I so need to do xyz in the morning” so you make a little mental note only to completely forget about it in the morning. Help your brain out a bit and start writing out a todo list and you’ll never forget anything again.

Todo lists don’t have to be fancy and can be as simple as a piece of paper; the important thing is that you make one, no matter you put it on. My personal set up is as follows (this might sound really bizarre but it really works for me).

·         I use a variety capture devices while I’m out and about (a capture device is anything that you can store information on to act as a reminder) which I then use to write down create my todo. These devices including my phone’s note and tasks functions, my voice recorder on my phone (I use this when I driving) as well as my Moleskine notepad brought from loveyourstuff.co.uk

·         I then transfer anything I’ve captured on to my two main todo lists. My first todo list is the awesome task function from Google which integrates with my Gmail as well as my Google Calendar. My second list is on my whiteboard above my desk and is an exact copy of my Google todo list which breaks down all of tasks into today, this week, this monththis year. and

The best way to create a list when you’re working at your desk all day is to write it down the day before. By creating tomorrow’s todo list at the end of today you can save a great deal of time and effort that you’d usually spend at the beginning of the day racking your brains trying to remember all the things you need to do. Makes sense right?

However you create your todo list it’ll be the cornerstone of your productivity if you use it right. I’ll write more soon about how to use a todo list effective – so stay tuned.

2.       Work when it’s the best time to work

Do you ever find that throughout the day your energy levels ebb and flow? Do you find that you work better in the mornings than any other times of the day? If you have the freedom with your work routine to work around these up and downs then I implore you to, you’ll get so much more work done in a lot less time.

My ideal, when working from home, is to start working around 6-7am through to around lunchtime when I start getting hungry. In this 6 hour period I usually try to crack on with the big important tasks that I need to cross off my todo list for the day and leave the littler tasks till later. I do this simply because in the morning I like to work at my desk and have loads of energy, so can focus on the task at hand in more formal surrounds. After a bit of food I usually chill out and kick back. Depending on how I’m feeling I might work on some smaller little fun tasks on my list or if I’m not in the mood I might just put on a DVD or have a nap or just mess about online for an hour or two.

I get my second burst of daily energy around 5pm so usually bring my laptop into the living room and work away while the kids play and my lovely wife cooks up something tasty for dinner. This second wind can last through to midnight if I’m really on it but my workflow is usually a lot more relaxed than my morning’s effort as the TV is always on or there’s a film playing. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t always get a lot done in the evenings but it’s a hell of a lot more than I would get done if I worked in the afternoons.

To add to your existing productivity work when you’re body and mind wants to work. Work with your natural energy levels and the amount of stuff you can get done will soar.

3.       Reduce distractions

Nothing saps your productivity more than a million distractions from all around you. Whether they are self imposed distractions like checking your emails or reading your Facebook newsfeed for the hundredth time or if they are distractions imposed by others like phone calls, other work colleagues coming to see you, family members being around or from that building work from next door’s apartment. Distractions can be not only unproductive but frustrating especially when you’re trying to hit that big deadline.

To completely remove all distraction is just not going to happen and even if you managed it you’d find something else to distract you. The best you can do is minimise the distractions and work with the rest. Here are my top tips for reducing distractions.

·         Change where you work. If you work from home in a busy family room you’ll never get any work done, so see if there is anywhere that you can relocate your working space to. You don’t need a massive space just somewhere quiet and away from others where you can concentrate.

·         Use noise reducing headphones. Sometimes where ever you work you won’t able to avoid noise from others so you have to find ways to shut that distraction out. Noise reducing headphones are great. Put the radio on or some music that you can just ignore and have as background noise and you’re away. Be careful not to make it too loud of distracting or it’ll only add to the things sucking your attention away.  (If you don’t like to listen to music while you work then just wear the headphone anyway because they’ll still cut out noise from around you.)

·         Shut the internet off. Often when we work we creating our own distractions. If you’re working on a computer then this is easily done. Turn it off! If you can simply close down your browser and that is enough to stop you going online great, do that. If you more easily tempted that turn your wireless adapter off, unplug that cable or even turn your router off until you’ve struck a few things off your todo list or you’ve completed that big task that needed to be finished today. Actually while you’re at it turn the phone off too.

4.       Keep your environment effective

“A tidy desk makes for a tidy mind.” A tidy desk also leads to lots productivity. That’s because you can’t be productive when you’re hunting out the one important file under a mass of junk that you haven’t cleared for over a month. Think about it...how much time do you waste each day searching for the file or datasheet or DVD or post-it note under all those papers you scatter across your desk? 10 minutes, 20 minutes? That’s just a big waste.

Take a Monday morning and get that desk in order. Only keep on there what you actually need and anything you don’t need get rid of or file for future reference. Make sure you leave some things to motivate you as well, don’t just have a sterile work area. Try adding a photo of your family, an inspiring quote, a quirky holiday gift, or even a geeky gadget. What you want to do is aim to have a space that is functional and enables you to be productive while remaining personal.

5.       Keep it simple

If you’re anything like me, you’ll start something new or find a new way of doing something and you completely immerse yourself in it, finding out everything you can. I got in GTD a while ago, a system I still use daily, but instead of finding out what I need to know so that I could implement the system and start getting something out of it, I went off and completely immerse myself in everything I could find about GTD. I watched youtube videos, read blogs, and followed people on twitter. You name it, I did it. The problem was that I spent so much time finding out about GTD that I actually wasted time rather than saving it.

With anything like this, where you try to find a new way of working, there is no point spending hours and hours finding out how to be more productive or manage your workflow better if you’re not allowing yourself the time to apply it. Find a system that works for you, either using a pre-existing system to the full or by hacking one so it works better for you and then start using it, tweaking it as you go.

You’re in business for a reason, to offer products and services that will benefit a whole heap of people. You can’t do that if you’re spending all of your time finding out about productive. Keep it simple and reap the benefits.

Follow smashingbusiness at @smashbiz

Or me @benlumley6


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