What are the best productivity hacks for entrepreneurs?
From using email folders to stopping task-switching, here are 20 answers to the questions, “What’s your most effective productivity hack, and how does it help you get back more time?”
- Filter Your Emails into Folders
- Just Say, “No”
- End Your Day by Making a List for the Next Day
- Take Time for a Mind Dumps
- Try the Pomodoro Technique
- Batch Similar Tasks Together to Save Time
- Review iOS’s Screen Time Feature
- Optimize Your News Intake
- Automate as Much as Possible
- Create To-do Lists
- Schedule Yourself Out-of-Office
- Treat Yourself
- Pre-prepare Your Meals
- Set a Timer
- Look for Alternatives to Meetings
- Eat the Frog First
Filter Your Emails into Folders
Folders are a great way to organize your inbox. I create rules to filter certain emails into their respective folders to avoid clogging the primary inbox. For example, you can filter all the newsletters you receive into one folder. That way, your emails are sorted automatically, which will increase your productivity and make it easier to prioritize unread messages.
Just Say, “No”
Get comfortable with the word “no.” Don’t let “shiny object syndrome” take your eyes off your goals. Companies that lead with the big picture in mind, devoid of distractions, are companies that achieve big things.
In the end, you’ll have more time and be more productive when your workload is laser-focused. No matter how tempting a business prospect might be, say “no” to the said prospect if it doesn’t get you one step closer to achieving your ultimate career/company goal.
Liza Kirsh, Chief Marketing Officer, DYMAPAK
End Your Day by Making a List for the Next Day
My day isn’t done until I write some scheduled tasks in the next day’s calendar. This hack has saved me time, energy, and, best of all, allows me to end my workday with a sense of completion.
Writing tasks for the next day also relieves my brain for the rest of the night, so I can truly leave work behind. When my schedule is already written, I’m much less likely to suddenly start planning my day at 11 pm that night.
Scheduling the next day’s tasks helps me get a head start the next morning and saves me tons of time. When my tasks are already scheduled for the next day, I can immediately tackle the most important items on my list the next morning, using my valuable brain power on essential tasks rather than scheduling.
Take Time for a Mind Dump
This doesn’t sound productive, but making myself take ten uninterrupted minutes to free-write or “brain dump” in a journal allows me to be more focused and productive throughout my day. I think it is because all those small to-dos, worries, and random thoughts that cry for attention throughout the day finally have an outlet.
I can review the free-write later if it brings up a solution or task that needs tending, but for the most part, it allows me to mentally purge the clutter.
Try the Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique helps manage time more effectively and efficiently by breaking my tasks into manageable chunks of time. I set a timer for 25 minutes and focus only on the task at hand with no distractions. After the 25 minutes is up, I take a five-minute break to get up, move around, and recharge. Then I repeat this cycle of 25 minutes of work and five minutes of rest until I complete my task.
This method helps me stay focused and motivated, so I’m not wasting time on distractions. It also helps me break my tasks down into manageable pieces, so I don’t feel overwhelmed. This way of working also helps me stay organized and track my progress.
It’s easy to see how long I take to complete each task, and I can use this information to plan out my day more effectively. Additionally, it helps me stay motivated and prevent burnout, as there is a defined end or break in sight.
Batch Similar Tasks Together to Save Time
Batching involves doing similar tasks at once to save time. I was recently preparing for a work project when I realized that by reading the research material, writing an outline, and taking notes all together instead of separately, I could cut down on my total working time significantly.
My rule of thumb is to make sure all related or adjacent tasks are done concurrently so that my motivation remains high throughout a project and my attention span stays focused. Batching also allows me to spot patterns in what I’m working on more quickly, which helps prevent burnout and boosts efficiency.
Review iOS’s Screen Time Feature
The Screen Time feature for iOS was a real eye-opener that has helped me shave hours off my work week. You can look at real-time reports that show how much time you spend on your smartphone by app, website, and more. The data alone is enough to help improve habits.
When I first started using Screen Time, I aimed to cut my screen time by 5% weekly. I could see the biggest culprits and set time limits for specific apps—some were deleted altogether!
Reducing screen time gives me more time to focus and fewer distractions at work, but it also has secondary benefits that significantly improve productivity. Less screen time reduces stress-inducing cortisol production, improves sleep habits and quality, and reduces eye strain that can affect how well we work.
Optimize Your News Intake
Limiting my news consumption keeps me focused on my game and makes me happier and more motivated during the day. While awareness and understanding of global happenings are vital personally and professionally, current events can weigh heavily on the heart and mind. It can also impact your focus, mood, and interactions with team members and clients.
For these reasons, I avoid downloading news apps on my smartphone and watch only an hour of news programming in the evening. While less news watching increases my productivity, less screen time also means I’m more present when interacting with my family, friends, and colleagues.
Automate as Much as Possible
Don’t get stuck in the “if-it’s-not-broken-don’t-fix-it” mindset: in 2023, this advice no longer applies. Instead, take a minute every day to look into automation apps, and consider how they might expedite those rote tasks that you think you’ve got a handle on.
For example, as a recruiter, following up after a meeting is crucial to establishing a connection. I used to manually reach out; now I just scan their business card and my email app sends an automatic message. If you find ten tasks that can be automated this way, you’ve likely freed up a valuable hour. And you’re not just clearing your schedule. You’re clearing your mind of clutter too.
Create To-do Lists
One of the best ways to actually get productive is by seeing the tasks you need to do in front of you and being able to properly assess how much time they will take, what you can do yourself, and what you need to delegate. Once they’re written and broken down into smaller tasks, it helps you become more productive and motivated to finish tasks so you can cross them off your list.
Schedule Yourself as Out-of-Office
Set a day or two each month on the calendar to show you will be out-of-office. This allows time to focus on completing projects and tasks without interruptions. With others believing you are out of the office, there will be no meetings on the schedule and fewer interruptions.
This will provide you with a solid block of time for completing important projects. You should look ahead on the calendar and identify deadlines. This will allow you to block your calendar early enough to prevent scheduling conflicts and ensure you have allowed yourself focused time before the deadline.
I’m a mixologist and restaurateur, so obviously, my favorite productivity hack is to motivate myself with treats! Simply rewarding myself with a delicious meal or a nice cup of coffee after a prescribed work block allows me to stay focused.
This means less time wasted procrastinating and more time working with purpose. Giving yourself something to look forward to—whether it’s a treat like food, coffee, or even some TV time—gives you a light at the end of the tunnel of work.
Pre-prepare Your Meals
My best productivity hack is to use pre-prepared meals. By setting aside a couple of hours once every few weeks and batch-cooking all my meals, I can spend significantly less time in the kitchen throughout the week looking up recipes and preparing food.
This allows me to use that extra cooking time for other tasks, like studying or running errands. It also gives me peace of mind knowing my meals for the week are already taken care of, so I can focus on other activities without worrying about what I’m going to have for dinner—saving myself valuable time and energy!
Set a Timer
I set a timer for 20 minutes, and for that period of time, I am hyper-focused on a specific task. During that time, I don’t look at emails or answer calls—strictly working on a specific project.
When the timer goes off, I will take time to check my email or just stretch. I will then set a new timer and begin again. By doing this several times throughout the day, I am able to get more done in less time and ensure projects are being completed. As little as two hours a day gives me 6 specific periods of focus for my tasks.
Mary Kay Bitton, Head of Product Innovation, FLO Vitamins
Look for Alternatives to Meetings
Business owners have a thousand things to do every day, so having your time sucked up by meetings can put you way behind schedule. That is why my best productivity hack is to reassess to find alternative types of communication.
Many studies have shown that one of the most unpopular and least productive forums for a business is the “all-inclusive” meeting, which every team member has to attend, even though only a fraction of the meeting’s content applies to them.
Therefore, by taking the time to assess whether a meeting is needed and looking for alternatives such as an email, a video chat, or a department memo that can suffice, I can save dozens of hours a month for more pressing matters. By first looking for an alternative to meetings rather than just scheduling them blindly, I have a productivity hack that gives me the time to be more productive and my team as well.
Eat the Frog First
Tackling a tricky task first thing in the morning infuses my day with a sense of accomplishment. While there always seems to be more on my to-do list than time, taking on a challenging item immediately keeps me focused on what’s important.
Brian Tracy creatively outlines this highly effective productivity hack in his book Eat That Frog! 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. So, with all the digital distractions, I can set my workday agenda by eating the frog first rather than letting all those emails and messages consume my attention.