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The 5 Secrets to Prioritisation

Time is money and for entrepreneurs, it’s imperative both are utilised to their fullest. To maximise both, founders must prioritise.

Jake Gibson

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Galia-Kerbel

When we first started out, we were wrestling with some problems on how to build our personal finance website, NerdWallet. I got some great advice from my friend Drew Houston (the founder of Dropbox).

“It’s okay to have growing pains, as long as you’re prioritising correctly and working to address them. Every company looks messy from the inside,” he told me.

Am I prioritising correctly? There’s the rub.

When I was working on Wall Street, prioritisation was dictated by the situation. Compared to growing your own business, prioritising on a trading floor is easy, because you’re always putting out fires but you know what the fires are. But knowing how to prioritise to ensure your business makes millions of rands in the next six months – that’s a more difficult task.

Here are some lessons I’ve learnt so far.

1. Beware the seduction of task-based lists.

The elements of prioritisation are simple: Know what tasks need to be done and rank them in order of priority. Stephen Covey of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People fame suggested ranking tasks across four metrics: important/not important and urgent/not urgent.

Obviously, tasks both urgent and important go first, issues not important or not urgent go last, and the rest fall somewhere in between. You’ve got your list.

This is fine, but the process can create a false sense of satisfaction: If I cross everything off this list, will I have done my best work today?

This might work for middle managers at a mature company, but for an entrepreneur this can be a Sisyphean exercise in futility. You’re never going to finish that list and would waste time each day revising it on the fly.

Galia Kerbel, founder of award winning company Greater Than PR

“Earlier in my career I worked for Marcus Brewster, who mentored me. He followed the Eisenhower Decision Principle, which basically states that what is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important,” advises founder of award winning company Greater Than PR, Galia Kerbel.

“Urgent tasks need your immediate attention, put you into a reactive mode and narrow your mind-set. Important tasks contribute to a long-term vision and mission. Operating in this mode puts me into a responsive mind-set that helps me to spot opportunities.”

2. Focus solely on themes that will drive growth.

Of the 100 things that crowd the entrepreneurial mind as things you ‘need to do’, about 98 will incrementally improve your company – but two have the potential for exponential growth. Focus on those few, and the rest of your niggling worries will take care of themselves.

A better way to think of prioritisation is not tasks but themes. What are the two or three principal things that will drive growth? You really have to understand the key drivers of your business and anything that doesn’t move those drivers isn’t a high priority.

For example, in the early days of NerdWallet, a key driver was getting the most amount of web traffic in the least amount of time. That became a filter through which we sifted every task and decision. If it didn’t meet this metric, it wasn’t a priority.

3. Forget perfectionism.

Entrepreneurs are often Type A over-achievers. It’s really hard to let things go unfinished and not be perfect. But if you’re serious about prioritisation, you need to be able to drop something midstream to focus on another task that has greater potential to drive results.

It may feel counterintuitive, but in the rough-and-tumble drive to start a company, perfectionism can be a problem. You have to be willing to do things half way just to get more done with the higher chances to yield strong results. A big ask for high performers.

4. Do the hardest thing first.

Procrastination isn’t a species of laziness, it’s avoidance – and we naturally avoid things we don’t want to do. Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, once said that the first thing he does in the office each day is the task he dreads the most.

Whatever you don’t want to do, do it first, and it eliminates the nagging dread that will sap energy away from other tasks as you postpone the inevitable.

5. Don’t plug leaky boat holes — switch boats.

If you’re spending your time spreading your fingers and toes across leaks springing up through the hull of a business venture, you may wish you had more feet and hands to cover the deck. But maybe the real problem is the boat itself.

As NerdWallet co-founder Tim Chen puts it: “Don’t spend your time plugging a leaky boat, spend your time switching boats.” Time spent bailing is time taken away from adding more profitable vessels to your fleet.

Prioritisation pressure never goes away. If things are going well in your business, something will always seem on fire. If you’ve got things under control, that’s a big red flag – it’s a sign you’re doing what’s urgent, and not what’s important.

Jake Gibson is the co-founder and advisor of NerdWallet, a startup focused on offering price-comparison tools for financial products. Prior to joining the company, Gibson did a long stint at JPMorgan Chase, where he traded derivatives and managed new automated trading technologies.

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4 Psychological Reasons Entrepreneurs Should Embrace Procrastination

Do you struggle with procrastination at the office? If so, believe it or not, it might not be such a bad thing.

Lucas Miller

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procrastination

There’s always something you’d rather be doing. Even right now, you might be reading this article in an attempt to avoid carrying out a less palatable endeavor.

Procrastination is normal, and especially so these days. Social media, streaming television and movies, the ease of internet access, and the ubiquity of smartphones can all distract. There are ample reasons why people procrastinate, and it’s always been thought of as a blockade to productivity.

But the perception of procrastination doesn’t always match the reality.

“Procrastination is not just avoiding or delaying a task,” says David Ballard, head of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organisational Excellence. “It also has to include an aspect that’s counterproductive, irrational or unnecessary.”

In fact, active procrastination can often help you get more things done. Below are four psychological reasons entrepreneurs should sometimes lean into procrastination

1. Procrastination helps spur creativity

West Wing creator and Molly’s Game director Aaron Sorkin once said on the Today show, “You call it procrastinating, I call it thinking.” Sorkin puts off writing sometimes until the last minute, and the results speak for themselves.

Even if we’re not all award-winning writers, when you’re putting something off, it doesn’t have to be a distraction. It can simply be a break, and that break can open up a world of new ideas.

When you allow yourself more time to sit and think about what you’re working on, different pathways to a result can bubble into your brain. A 2012 study in Nature discovered – through brain imaging – that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) lay largely dormant when rappers were free-styling. Some athletes might even refer to this as “the zone.”

For entrepreneurs, procrastination might be just the thing to trigger an answer that would be impossible to reach if they didn’t let their minds wander away from the task at hand.

Related: Are You A Procrastinator? Don’t Be By Doing These 3 Things

2. Procrastination aids memory recall

In 1927, Lithuanian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik first discovered how interrupting an event can actually help people remember it. After her professor noticed waiters at a nearby cafe remembered open tabs better than those that had already been paid, she tested the hypothesis by giving a series of puzzles to people to complete, while subtly interrupting half of them.

Those that were interrupted were able to recall details with 90 percent more accuracy than those who were allowed to complete the task. The Zeigarnik Effect was borne.

The same could be said for today’s entrepreneurs. Breaking for lunch, hitting the gym, reading a book, jumping on another task or simply staring out the window can help you better remember the various moving parts in the mission you’re trying to finish.

3. Shockingly, procrastination can enhance focus

This seems like a paradox on its surface. How can you focus better by interrupting what you’re doing – i.e. procrastinating?

Instead of bearing the monotony of working on a single task until it’s done, it’s more helpful to move away – at least briefly. Concentration wanes if we don’t break up the the tedium. Similar to triggering creativity, we’re better able to concentrate if we take a brief blow.

study in 2011 looked at this psychological effect. Subjects were asked to remember random digits while performing a visual task. They found that once people were asked to recall the digits, their performance on the visual task declined over time. But when researchers interrupted the visual exercise with sporadic reminders of the digits, their visual scores remained high no matter the duration.

The short of it: Take a break every once in a while, even if you’re on deadline.

4. Procrastination often yields better decision-making

Oftentimes, entrepreneurs will receive an important email that needs an answer. There’s no hard timetable on the answer, but because of the weight of the question, people drop everything to arrive at an answer. If you don’t take a moment to sit back and let the full import of the question sink in, you’re liable to make the wrong decision.

Researchers at Columbia performed an experiment to test this idea. Would a little more time actually lead to better decisions?

Related: 6 Steps To Go From Procrastinating To Productive

First, they asked the subjects to determine which direction a set of black dots was moving across the screen. At the same time, a cluster of coloured dots starting moving to distract them. Participants were asked to judge as quickly as possible.

When the coloured dots moved in the same direction as the black dots, the results were basically perfect. But when they moved in opposite directions, the accuracy dropped.

Second, they performed the exact same experiment, but subjects were asked to answer when they heard a clicking sound, which they varied between 17-500 milliseconds – a time span meant to mimic real-life decisions, like driving. Researchers found that when decisions were delayed by about 120 milliseconds, their accuracy significantly improved.

However, the researchers differentiated between prolonged and delayed decision-making. If subjects made the decision too quickly, the brain was still filtering out the distractions (coloured dots). But if it took too long, it could be hindered by other distractions.

The same could be said for procrastination. Procrastinate too much, or for too long, and nothing will ever get done. But, as we’ve seen, there are some serious psychological benefits to procrastination.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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(Infographic) 9 Daily Rituals To Boost Your Performance At Work

In a rut? These daily rituals can help lift you up.

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morning-ritual

Some rituals might seem like nonsense, but it turns out, they can be helpful when it comes to productivity and job performance. Studies have shown that rituals can help us take on tough challenges at work, boost productivity and even decrease anxiety. How do you know what type of ritual is right for you? Here are some ideas.

Instead of starting your day with a hot shower, try opting for a cold one. Cold water increases blood circulation and releases endorphins, which can boost a person’s mood and make them more productive. Another helpful ritual is shutting down distracting devices. For example, turn your smartphone on airplane mode for a few hours so you can hone your focus on a single task until its full completion.

Whether you’ve got a big deadline approaching or an upcoming presentation, if you’re feeling anxious, one ritual to help calm your nerves is counting your breaths. A quick daily mindfulness practice, such as counting your inhales and exhales for 10 minutes, can help relieve stress and get you in the right headspace for getting work done.

Related: 14 Of The Best Morning Routine Hacks Proven To Boost Productivity

From journaling daily to doing five-minute desk exercises, check out Pound Place’s infographic below for nine daily rituals to boost performance at work.

1531498187_daily-rituals-work-infographic

Related: Your Crazy Erratic Sleep Routine Is Making You Less Productive

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Four Ways To Boost Your Daily Productivity

You can also, hopefully, become a happier human. Here are our suggestions…

Colin Thornton

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productivity

Given that most modern professionals are armed with a full array of sophisticated technology tools, it is safe to assume that our productivity and efficiency has reached dizzying heights…right?

Wrong.

With so many digital distractions and the constant pinging of notifications, most of us have severely dwindling attention spans. Several years ago, Microsoft released a study that revealed a consumer’s attention span is now less than that of your average goldfish. Moreover, our overall productivity might be plummeting. According to research from theHRDirector.com, employees are distracted at work every three minutes – and it can take us as long as 25 minutes to refocus. In addition, workers are more stressed out than ever before, a trend that has been attributed to the constant barrage of digital information and data.

The good news is that by making a few simple changes and employing the right tools (yes, tech tools), you can both alleviate your work stress and enhance your daily productivity. You can also, hopefully, become a happier human. Here are our suggestions…

1. Find Ways to Work Remotely

Although this may not be an option for everyone given his or her particular company or personality, research has shown that working from home – or from a quiet place – can boost your productivity.  The average workplace is a hive of activity and distractions, making it near impossible to get critical tasks done.

Related: 14 Of The Best Morning Routine Hacks Proven To Boost Productivity

Nowadays, with enhanced mobile connectivity, employees can escape home or to wifi-hotspots (with great coffee) to focus on their work. Stanford professor Nicholas Bloom recently conducted a two-year study on remote workers that showed a massive productivity boost among the telecommuters… Moreover, his study revealed that employee attrition decreased by 50 percent among the remote workers. Also, they took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days and took less time off work.

2. Turn off Your Push Notifications

Yes, that’s right. You can do it. There is simply no need to see a notification every time someone likes your post on Facebook or adds you as a contact on LinkedIN.  Also, that Whatsapp message on the group from old high school friends can wait. By constantly moving between screens, apps and platforms to keep up with ongoing digital communications, we lose focus and interrupt our creative processes.

In 2016, a Deloitte study found that people look at their phones 47 times a day on average. For young people, it’s more like 90. As Wired writer David Pierce put it, “push notifications are ruining my life. Yours too, I bet”.  It might be  time to turn down the digital input volume.

3. Use Productivity Apps

Yes, this might seem ironic and counterintuitive.  But, there are now several productivity apps that have been cleverly designed to help – not hurt – your ability to focus. There is Todoist, which allows you to put all your to-do lists into one, easily manageable place. This app syncs with virtually any platform – allowing you to complete tasks even if you forgot your smartphone at home (maybe a good thing?).

We also like Pocket, which collects your favourite articles and sites so that you can peruse them later, instead of ‘right now’. There are also great project management tools now available, such as Omniplan and Trello, which make certain tasks appear fun and often encourage collaboration and creativity. These apps allow you to create and group tasks, organise and streamline workflows, and to file documents in a simple and accessible way.

 4. Find Cool Ways to Collaborate

Although technology can fuel our efficiency (if used the right way) it can also isolate us from our peers and make teamwork (or talking to humans) seem a thing of the past. Yet many studies have shown that collaboration actually supercharges our contributions at work.

Related: How Dial A Nerd Managed To Dial Up Profits

For example, a recent joint study between the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) and Rob Cross, Edward A. Madden Professor of Global Business at Babson College, revealed “companies that promoted collaborative working were 5 times as likely to be high performing.” In addition, a 2014 Stanford study found that simply working alongside others drives ‘intrinsic motivation.’ And, as always, there’s an app for that!

The most popular tools include Slack, which allows for the sending of direct messages (DMs) and files to a single person or a group of employees. It also has the ability to place conversations into different channels (for specific projects, one for customer support, general chat, etc). Another handy tool growing in popularity is Microsoft Teams, which is included in many Office 365 packages.  Businesses may have Teams available right now and not even realise it or the powerful productivity boosts it can unlock.

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