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The 5 Tools for Entrepreneurs on the Go

For entrepreneurs, staying connected is no longer an advantage, but an absolute necessity.

Alon Alroy

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The structured 9-to-5 life is a thing of the past, and new digital capabilities have dramatically changed what we are expected to accomplish on any given day.

Yet, face-to-face meetings still happen regularly, traffic jams seem to have increased, there is more news than you could possibly process and the number of ‘must attend’ industry conferences keeps growing.

While there are tools to help solve all these problems and more, below are a few areas that have been helping me and other co-founders navigate a growing number of priorities.

1. Bring offline, online.

As important as you are to your office, your schedule will rarely permit the amount of time you’d prefer to be at your HQ. Since you can’t always be there physically, finding ways to accomplish certain tasks remotely can be a huge advantage.

Related: Track your Time in 3 Simple Steps

Scanner Pro is one of my most used apps, allowing me to scan any document to PDF on my phone — allowing me to share any hard copy document digitally, anytime and anywhere.

A second tool that has proven especially effective is SignNow, a ‘wet ink’ signature that can be transformed to eSignatures. The app lets you keep your team in the loop of all documents, use templates for standard contracts and even save the ones you use most to increase efficiency without requiring a stop at the office in the middle of a manic day.

2. Own your email.

Whether we like it or not, many entrepreneurs are enslaved by their email. To keep my inbox organised I’ve been using Mailbox and since downloading the app I’ve kept my email interactions prioritised and my inbox at (almost) zero.

A second tool that I’ve grown increasingly dependent on is Rapportive by LinkedIn, a simple email plugin for Gmail. When reading the latest email from a client a box pops up along the side giving a full breakdown of their contact details according to LinkedIn, their social media hyperlinks and even a place for you to write a brief note about your interaction with them.

The ability to maximise email is of crucial importance to an entrepreneur and can help them save time, improve the depth of their conversations and be far more effective each day.

3. Get organised.

For entrepreneurs there simply aren’t enough hours in the day and any tool that can help them automate, remember and organise is a welcome benefit. 24me and Evernote are two apps that allow me to stay on top of my tasks and notes. They integrate seamlessly with my calendar and offer robust functionalities.

4. Make conferences valuable.

As the founder of an event networking platform, I’m biased in my opinion, however I try not to go to conferences that don’t offer tools to help attendees network and be more efficient with their time.

My favorite tool (of course) is Bizzabo. It allows attendees to maximize their event experience and focus on finding the key people to meet.  While perusing the conference floor I also use Hello by Evernote to scan business cards and turn them into LinkedIn contacts or save them directly to my phone, making networking post-event even easier.

5. Improve your memory.

Time is precious for entrepreneurs and having ways to hack through the complicated and arduous login procedure is a welcomed benefit.

Dashlane logs you in automatically and saves significant amounts of time. Not to mention, the app stores your passwords with a four step encryption model that ensures you will never have to press the dreaded ‘forgot your password’ again.

Another indispensable app is Refresh, letting you refresh your memory in real time of contacts with whom you will be meeting during your busy day, another way to save time and never forget an important detail.

Hopefully, these tools will help make your life easier by focusing on growing your business instead of wasting time on managing yourself.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Related: 4 Ways That Tech Can Help Squeeze More Hours Into The Day

Alon Alroy is the Co-Founder, CMO & BizDev of Bizzabo, a software platform for event organizers and attendees.

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Can A Simple Checklist Transform Your Business?

If checklists are useful for building a skyscraper or performing complex surgery, they just might be right for you, too.

Thomas Smale

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What do test pilots, surgeons, architects and hedge fund managers all have in common? They all turn to one simple tool to make them more efficient: the humble checklist.

In his book, The Checklist Manifesto, renowned surgeon and author Atul Gawande explores how breaking down complex processes into boxes to be ticked off on a list can save lives and stop something as significant as buildings collapsing.

Related: How To Work Less And Still Get More Done

After personally adopting this simple rule in the processes at my own business, I’ve found Gawande’s simple solution of using a checklist to be surprisingly effective. So, I want to spread the word on how entrepreneurs can incorporate checklists to optimise their business operations’ efficiency. Here’s how to do that.

Break it down

No matter what the industry, professionals face more complexity in the workplace than ever before. Breaking down complex tasks into simple, verifiable steps can have remarkable effects, even when those steps appear explicit or mundane.

In The Checklist Manifesto, Gawande tells the story of Peter Pronovost, a critical-care specialist at John Hopkins Hospital. Pronovost developed a five-step checklist designed to prevent a common and sometimes deadly complication faced by patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit (ICU): the central line infection.

The steps in this list aimed at prevention are basic. For example, one calls for caregivers to “wash their hands with soap.” Despite such an obvious precaution, Pronovost’s team discovered that in over a third of patients observed, at least one step of the five recommended ones was skipped.

As part of the solution, Pronovost empowered nurses to stop doctors from proceeding if they witnessed even one step in the checklist being bypassed.

This simple regimen led to staggering results. In one hospital, over the course of just over two years, the central line infection checklist “prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs,” Gawande wrote.

Caring for patients in an ICU is extremely complex, but the wisdom of the checklist is that it breaks patient care down into incremental and verifiable steps.

Keep it short

One key to creating effective checklists is to keep them short. A good rule of thumb, Gawande says in the book, is to “keep it between five and nine items, which is the limit of working memory.”

You must also “define a clear pause point at which the checklist is supposed to be used.” Keeping the list short forces you to boil down complex processes into the essential, required steps.

“Keeping it short” also means that you will most likely end up with multiple checklists, each tailored to a clearly defined set of circumstances.

Keep it simple

Hand-in-hand with keeping checklists short is keeping them simple. Checklists should use clear and exact language. Gawande also stresses the importance of formatting. Limit your list to one page and avoid clutter and the unnecessary use of colours. Your lists should be clean, simple, and concise.

Daniel Boorman, the checklist guru at airplane manufacturing giant The Boeing Company, has suggested the use of both upper- and lower-case text for ease of reading, as well as the use of a sans serif font like Helvetica.

Boeing makes extensive use of checklists — for everything from routine processes like readying an airplane for takeoff to emergency situations like smoke in the cockpit. Every situation that a pilot might encounter comes with a corresponding checklist, as is shared in the book.

Decide between “Read-Do” and “Do-Confirm.”

There are two types of checklists: READ-DO and DO-CONFIRM. A READ-DO checklist is similar to a recipe. It consists of a set of clearly defined tasks that you check off as you complete them. With a DO-CONFIRM checklist, “Team members perform their jobs from memory and experience, often separately.”

Related: Become A Life-Hacker

But then they stop. “They pause to run the checklist and confirm that everything that was supposed to be done was done.” Before building your checklist, you will need to decide which of the following two options to use.

Use checklists to facilitate communication

Even extremely complex tasks, like the building of a modern skyscraper, can benefit greatly from the use of checklists.

Not only can the floor-by-floor construction of the building be broken down into many small individual tasks that must be ticked off as completed, but a checklist can also help facilitate problem-solving and communications when complications inevitably arise.

Gawande discovered that the builders he interviewed relied on “one set of checklists to make sure that simple steps are not missed or skipped and another set to make sure that everyone talks through and resolves all the hard and unexpected problems.”

Using checklists to ensure that the appropriate experts consult with one other to resolve any issues that come up and reach an agreement on how to move forward is one of the tool’s most valuable applications.

Despite buildings’ being bigger and more complex than ever before, creative and diligent use of checklists has significantly sped up the building process, according to the experts Gawande consulted for his book.

Where to start

checklist-app

Not surprisingly,  a plethora of tools are available to help you incorporate the use of checklists into your business process. Here are just a few:

  • Checklist. The eponymous Checklist app offers a robust free plan with unlimited checklists, team management, due dates, reminders and more. The app is available for iOS and Android, or on the web. One of Checklist’s greatest strengths is its community. You can choose from thousands of user-submitted checklist templates to help get you started.
  • Tallyfy.Tallyfy is a powerful solution for automating your business processes with a particular emphasis on collaboration. If you and your team can benefit from applying the principles behind The Checklist Manifesto, Tallyfy is well worth a look.
  • Manifest.ly. If your team, like mine, relies heavily on Slack for collaboration and communication, Manifest.ly is a checklist tool that boasts seamless Slack integration. You and your team can work on checklists and receive notifications without ever leaving Slack.

Final thoughts

Checklists are a potent tool that have been shown to work in a wide variety of industries and circumstances. There are almost inevitably processes in your business that the clever application of checklists will improve.

Even the most complex tasks, such as the building of a modern skyscraper, open heart surgery and flying a commercial airliner have been shown to benefit greatly from the use of checklists. As Gawande wrote, “Checklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realised.”

Using checklists to establish a higher level of base-line performance for you and your team can similarly pay big dividends in making your business more efficient and error-free.

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

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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13 Ways to Develop Laser-Like Focus

Here are some surprising ways to help boost your focus and performance

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If you want to be successful, you have to find strategies that will help you focus despite all of the distractions that prevent you from doing the task at hand. Luckily, with the help of science, developing laser-like focus is easier than you think.

To start, make sure you’re sleeping well and getting regular exercise. These are the basis of productivity, performance and focus. Next, simply look at the colour red – just the sight of red can boost performance and focus.

If that doesn’t work, turning up the thermostat in your office is another option. According to research, people who work in a room set to around 25 degrees are more successful and focused than people in colder work spaces.

There are plenty of things you can do to boost your ability to focus. To learn more, here are 13 ways to develop laser-like focus:

1. Sleep

Here’s a no-brainer: sleep has a direct link to cognitive functions such as the ability to focus and perform. According to the National Sleep Foundation, quality sleep, which is between seven to nine hours, helps us think clearly, remember more and make decisions.

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

A lack of sleep can result in an inability to pay attention and focus, lower productivity, slower reaction times and forgetfulness.

2. Use the ABC method

According to Harvard Business Review, our brains are constantly distracted by “internal and external environments,” meaning thoughts, sounds or interruptions. One way to prevent distractions is the ABC method.

As HBR explains, ABC stands for: aware, breathe and choose.

To start, become aware of your options by choosing whether to pay attention to distractions. Next, breathe and relax while you choose to focus or get distracted.

meditate3. Meditate

From stress to anxiety, meditation has long been known as an incredible tool in managing emotions. Another advantage of meditation is its ability to help people focus.

Related: Work Smarter: Margaret Hirsch’s Success Habits

Researchers found that after three months at a meditation retreat, people came out with an incredible ability to focus and an overall improvement in cognitive functions.

4. Get dressed up

The saying, “Dress to impress,” stands true. When people dress up in order to prep for a particular project or task, their ability to focus goes up. According to a study, students who wore white lab coats while conducting experiments made half the amount of errors as the students who were dressed regularly.

5. Don’t multitask

While multitasking might sound like the more productive thing to do, it actually has a negative effect on your ability to focus.

Related: For Vusi Thembekwayo, Focus Leads To Big Wins

According to the American Psychological Association, multitasking and constantly switching between tasks will actually take away from focus because you’re not allowing yourself time to adjust to one thing.

6. Turn up the heat

According to research, a warmer workplace will help you focus better and be more productive. In fact, one study found that a group of workers in a room set to 68 degrees made nearly 44 percent more errors and were half as productive than employees in a 77 degree room.

plants-in-office7. Go green

Plants around the office have long been known to have a positive effect on employee morale, focus and productivity. However, it turns out you don’t necessarily need actual plants for this. In a study, a group of researchers found that by taking a 40-second break and simply looking at a computerised image of a green roof, employees’ focus on a particular task improved.

8. Look at the colour red

Whether it’s the colour of your bedroom walls or the background image on your computer screen, colour has a major effect on us psychologically. A 2009 study published in Science found that when people saw the colour red while they were focusing on certain tasks, their performance, memory and attention to detail improved.

9. Use natural light

Working 9-to-5 in a windowless room with artificial light is far from motivating and in fact can be downright distracting. A study found that people who work in offices filled with natural light experience substantially less eye strain, headaches and blurred visions, all of which deter focus and performance.

10. Get your cardio in

From better sleep to lower stress levels, exercise has many benefits, and that includes improved focus and performance too.

In an article published in Harvard Health, researchers found aerobic exercise increases the size of the area in a person’s brain called the hippocampus, which in turn results in better memory and thinking skills.

However, this was not the case for exercise such as weight lifting and muscle toning, which had little to no impact on a person’s cognitive abilities.

11. Drink some coffee

According to research, a moderate amount of caffeine – around one to two cups of coffee a day – is beneficial to a person’s focus, alertness, performance and mood. However, it’s important not to overdo it, which can result in dehydration, anxiety and headaches.

12. Take a break

It might sound ironic, but taking breaks can actually help improve focus. Research shows that short breaks restore a person’s motivation and help them achieve long-term goals.

Related: How to Train Your Brain to Stay Focused

According to an article published in Psychology Today, “Research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task.”

13. Listen to classical music

Save your favorite rock or rap album for after work. Researchers from Stanford University discovered that classical music in particular triggers the part of the brain used for paying attention and focusing.

Why classical? According to the study, people’s minds tend to wander while listening to music but because classical music features many “transitional points” where there is silence, it helps keep people aware and attentive.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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5 Lame Excuses That Unsuccessful People Always Make

You need to eliminate these five excuses from your mindset immediately.

Jonathan Long

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Even the most determined and motivated entrepreneurs will come up with excuses as to why he or she cannot do something. Obstacles arise and then self-doubt enters the mind – making an excuse is the easy way out.

I made excuses in the past – several times. Looking back, those excuses resulted in missed opportunities and ultimately failure. It doesn’t matter if you want to lose weight, get an online MBA, hit a specific revenue milestone or start a business – excuses will be the cause of failure. Here are five excuses to remove from your mindset immediately – they are complete BS.

1. “I don’t have time”

Time is our most valuable asset. While we only have 24 hours in a day, we make time for things we want – people we want to see, activities we want to do, etc. The only thing getting in the way are excuses.

Have you ever been in a relationship and the other person dropped the “If you really wanted to see me, then you would make time” line? I know I have heard it several times in the past, and guess what? None of those relationships worked out because I didn’t want to put in the effort.

The same applies to entrepreneurship. Want to start a business but you are working a nine-to-five? Get up earlier or stay up late – if you want it bad enough you will make the time.

Related: Motivation-Boosting Tips From 8 Of The Greatest Entrepreneurs

2. “There aren’t enough opportunities for me”

If there are walls or barriers standing in your way you need to figure out how to get around them, or simply plow right through them. There is nothing easy about being an entrepreneur. There is never going to be a simple straight line from point A to point B.

Saying there aren’t enough opportunities is an excuse that allows you to quit before you even start. Create your own opportunity – figure out how to solve a problem and you can write your own ticket.

3. “I don’t want to risk disapproval from family and friends”

You need thick skin to play this game and not let the opinions of others influence your decisions. If your friends aren’t supportive, then you need new friends. While you can’t get a new family, you can remove yourself from their negative energy.

I was lucky to have had very supportive parents growing up. My dad was my biggest support system when I was just starting out, and the reason I became an entrepreneur. He passed away several years ago, but still remains my number one source of motivation – I bust my butt daily because I know how proud he would be.

The odds are very high that there will be family and friends telling you that the chances of succeeding are slim and that you should take a more secure or stable path — ignore them. It’s easy to agree with them, because it gives you an easy way out. Use their disapproval as motivation and wake up each day hungry to prove them wrong.

4. “I should be content with where I am and what I have”

Life is very short – the average lifespan in the U.S. is 78 years – that’s 28,470 days. Not very long when you think of it that way, right?

You should never be content and always strive for more. I have been going to night runs lately, taking advantage of the cooler weather this time of the year in Miami. The other night while running I was paying attention to the cars driving by – Phantom, Lamborghini, Ferrari, etc. – all the exotics were well represented.

Now, material possessions like cars don’t necessarily translate to happiness, but they do indicate one thing: The people driving them – or the people that bought them – were not content with average. Saying you are content is the equivalent of saying you don’t want to work any harder.

Related: Successful Adulting: Why Studying Isn’t So Scary

5. “I’m scared of the risks involved”

No risk, no reward.

It’s as simple as that. You have to accept that fact that every entrepreneurial venture or opportunity comes with risk, and a lot of it.

Take a look at some of the most successful entrepreneurs and companies and you will see that there was always a lot of risk involved. Elon Musk received $180 million from the PayPal acquisition and he put $100 million in SpaceX, $70 million in Tesla and $10 million in Solar City. He then had to borrow money for rent.

Was he scared of the risks involved? Not a chance. Very few people would take $180 million dollars and roll it into new ventures – they would be on a permanent vacation. The risk was well worth it, as Musk is worth about $21.5 billion today.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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