When I graduated from college, I had no work experience. And that didn’t sit too well with the real life that followed. The result? I repeatedly messed up at work or fell behind schedule because I lacked good productivity habits. Before long, I realised I needed help.
So I turned to productivity apps for answers. In the years since, I’ve tried everything from Asana to ZipSchedules, and I’ve progressed from being basically unhire-able to running my own successful business.
Which got me thinking: There are so many productivity tools out there today that it’s nearly impossible to decide which ones to choose. That’s why I rounded up some of the most productive people I know and asked them what tools they use, on a daily basis, to stay productive. Here are their surprising answers.
1. Andres Moran
Moran is the co-founder of Fundera, a reputable small business loan startup, and Vestable, a marketplace for small businesses. He’s often in touch with other business owners, and his favourite productivity tools are email-related.
Related: Can productivity tools help me?
According to some studies, U.S. workers spend as much as 6.3 hours a day compulsively checking and responding to email. Lowering this number by whatever means necessary should be high on everyone’s priority list.
- Yesware. “This email extension allows you to see whenever someone opens an email you sent. It also shows you their location and whether they viewed your email on mobile or desktop. Beyond that, Yesware allows you to store email templates and schedule emails to be sent at a later time.”
- Rapportive. “Rapportive allows you to see the social media profiles of recipients. The most utility I get out of it is to test different possible email address variations of a person I’d like to cold email.”
2. Preston Pesek
Pesek started his career in real estate on Wall Street but has since turned to running Spacious, the world’s first “time-share” co-working solution. Pesek says he spends a lot of time managing his remote team of employees and responding to emails.
According to surveys, up to 49 percent of millennials support better social tools for workplace collaboration, while 86 percent of employees and executives think a lack of communication leads to workplace failures. Being able to keep in constant touch with decision-makers and team members is key to a healthy organisation.
- Slack. “Can’t live without it. Our team is distributed, mobile, and we work in multiple locations throughout the day. Slack is where we can always find each other, and Slack calls have replaced conference-call UX, video, voice and file-sharing.”
- Mail. “There are lots of slick new apps out there for email, but nothing beats the clean and intuitive interface of Apple Mail. I ride the subway and draft underground. I send and forget, and don’t get that message “failed to send” [as I do with apps] like Slack and SMS. Apple Mail just sends when I’m back online.”
3. Jay Baer
Baer has advised hundreds of blue chip companies on everything marketing related. By the time he started Convince & Convert in 2008, he was well on his way to becoming one of the biggest names in digital marketing. Unsurprisingly, Baer does a lot of traveling and speaking.
In the United States alone, people go on more than 488 million business trips annually to meet with clients and prospects. At the same time, over $213 billion per year (or 1 percent of the 2014 U.S. GDP) is wasted on unnecessary meetings. Streamlining both travel booking and appointment setting can go a long way to cutting costs.
- Tripit. “This keeps all of my travel plans and documents in one place, and easily accessible via laptop, phone or tablet. I travel 180 days per year, and couldn’t survive without TripIt. I’d be wandering around downtown trying to figure out what hotel I booked.”
- Amy.io. “It’s the magic, human-like robot that schedules meetings and conference calls automatically. It offers the best of artificial intelligence, installed to your inbox and calendar. An amazing time-saver.”
4. Eric Siu
Siu is the CEO of Single Grain, a digital marketing agency based in San Francisco. He co-hosts the Marketing School podcast with Neil Patel, and is also the founder of Growth Everywhere, a podcast on startup growth. Siu spends a lot of his time sharing files, and has figured out how to do it as efficiently as possible.
Not counting time spent on TV, radio or video games, the average American consumes over 3.5 hours of online media every day. Every second, over 2.3 million people Google something. That’s a lot of clicking, liking and sharing. Knowing how to share things even faster and with a higher degree of automation is the secret to social media mastery.
- Droplr. “You can take screenshots of things and annotate them quickly. After Dropir takes the screenshot, it copies it to the clipboard and you can share with people. There’s a lot less clicking around and it saves a lot of time each day.”
- Alfred. “A search bar that lets you find any file very quickly or do calculations on the fly. This will allow me to find something very quickly and drag it into Mac to send to somebody. It can even launch apps, run searches in Wikipedia, etc.”
5. Joseph Warwick
Warwick, a content marketing consultant, is the former digital marketing director of Xerox and is currently a content marketing strategist at Blast Analytics. He’s a data-driven social media expert obsessed with tracking how he spends his own time.
Most of us think that we’re being as productive as possible at work. But when the average American worker wastes a median 2.5 hours each day, knowing how to keep better track of your time can be career-changing.
- SproutSocial. “It can be a challenge to respond to social media mentions and requests in a timely fashion, particularly when they’re spread across five or more social channels. Sprout has helped me consolidate all of my social into one place and better manage community engagement.”
- Harvest. “Harvest is a time-tracking tool that’s been a lifesaver and helps me understand whether I am scoping my client projects appropriately and staying profitable with my time.
Productivity is a deeply personal habit
Did you notice that no two people listed the same tool? Perhaps productivity isn’t something that you can just copy and paste from productive people. Maybe it’s more like a culture fit, a way of life that needs to be adapted to each person’s unique personality, work style and needs.
My personal favourite “productivity app” is Google Drive. Not only does it make sharing and real-time collaboration a snap, I also keep my daily to-do list in a Google Doc. Whenever I’m done with tasks, I cross them out. Any tasks that are left unfinished by the end of the day are simply pushed into the next day. It’s simple, but it gets the job done.
If you’re still struggling to be productive, try out some of these apps. Just remember: You shouldn’t use a productivity tool simply because other people do. Figure out what works best for you and stick with it. Sometimes the simplest productivity hacks are the most valuable.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
13 Ways to Develop Laser-Like Focus
Here are some surprising ways to help boost your focus and performance
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
7. 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.
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.
5 Lame Excuses That Unsuccessful People Always Make
You need to eliminate these five excuses from your mindset immediately.
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.
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.
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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