Being productive and getting things done can often mean the difference between success as an entrepreneur and failure. So this month we are going to be focused on productivity and helping you to organize everything that you need to do to get more done. In this episode, we are going to introduce some of the biggest productivity drains that entrepreneurs face and how to overcome them. This is the first of two episodes on this topic, so be sure to also listen to part 2.
Episode Key Points
- The impacts of not being productive and getting your work done, both personally and in your business
- The real answer to whether you can multi-task and what it means to approaching your work
- A quick overview of Kanban and how WIP (Work in Process) limits can help get your tasks done faster
- Everything has a notification and distracts you away from your work
- How to keep track of everything that you need to do (and get it out of your head)
- Not knowing what you need to do next will cause you to be less productive
- If your work isn’t visible, it is easy to get lost and not realize how much work you have or how much you have gotten done
- Your time is spent on a mixture of valuable work and wasteful work
- You need to have a process to help maximize your productivity
Episode Free Download
Prefer to read the transcript instead? Click the plus icon --->
Ariana: This is the “Serial Startups” podcast, show 23. In the previous episode, we walked through our journey in becoming entrepreneurs. Today, we’re going to begin our three part mini series around productivity and getting your work done, starting with some common challenges and solutions.
Tom: This episode of the “Serial Startups” podcast is brought to you by the productivity mini course.
Ariana: Do you struggle to get all of your work done? Does it always seem like your week is never long enough? Does this cause you to be stressed out and depressed? We all have the same 24 hours in a day. The key to getting more done in that time is to focus on productivity. Head on over to SerialStartups.co/productivity, to learn how to become more productive in your business today.
Welcome to the “Serial Startups” podcast, where we bring you the real deal when it comes to masterminding a business, juggling personal relationships, and a busy household. We are your hosts and serial entrepreneurs, Tom and Ariana Sylvester, and this is the podcast for people who want to get more out of life. We want to show you how to build multiple streams of income and get on the fast track to being your own boss. Join us as we talk about our ideas, successes, and failures, both in business and in life.
Tom: All right. Welcome back to the “Serial Startups” podcast. We just started February, and our focus for this month is going to be all around productivity and getting your tasks done.
Ariana: Why are we talking about this, this month?
Tom: Because this is a common struggle, not only that we faced in the past, but every single client or other entrepreneur that we talk to faces these common challenges.
Ariana: Yeah. There’s definitely a lot of impact to this. I, for one, have lots of them. Stress, depression, frustration, exhaustion, all revolving around not getting enough work done, or having too much work to do and not knowing how to do it.
Tom: Yeah, and I mean, as entrepreneurs, this is just part of the process. It doesn’t mean that you have to accept it, but especially when you’re starting a business, there’s so much to do and so much to figure out. I think a lot of times entrepreneurs get overwhelmed with the sheer amount of what they have to do, and when they haven’t really figured out what some of the challenges are, and how to improve them, they run into, just like you said, the stress and the depression, and it just kind of builds on itself.
All right, so in addition to the physical things that could come up, this could also impact your business, so if you’re not able to actually get some of the work done, especially some of the critical work, you may actually miss some of the key dates in your business, you might lose sales if you can’t respond back to customers, you might actually lose customers. Ultimately, you could lose revenue and make less money in your business. It’s important from a physical and from a personal perspective, but it’s also important for your business to be able to actually get the important work done that you need to.
Ariana: And it makes you lose a little bit of your professional edge, if you’re not able to respond to people on time, or if you’re missing due dates or forgetting to do things you were supposed to do. It just makes you look a little unprofessional. I’ve had that happen sometimes.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve been talking to a lot of people, and we really listen to what you guys say, in terms of what topics we’re going to talk about each month, and this one came up time and time again as we were talking to you guys, especially as people were planning out what they wanted to accomplish this year. We were talking about how January has been going, and some people were already struggling with, “Well, I want to accomplish all these big things, but how do I actually get them done?” I’ve spent a lot of time consulting, not only small businesses and entrepreneurs, but also very large organizations, really around productivity and a lot of the stuff that we’re going to be talking about this month. It’s obviously a topic that I have some experience in and I’m very passionate about, and it’s something that …
Ariana: Very passionate about.
Tom: Are you sick of hearing me talk about this yet?
Ariana: No. Maybe a little bit.
Tom: Maybe a little bit? All right, well, one more month and then we’ll let it go for a while.
Ariana: Yeah, right.
Tom: But ultimately, what we’re going to focus on here is really what are some of the biggest challenges that people have, and then what you’ll hear through this is not only some of the work we’ve done with clients, but also, how we’ve implemented a lot of these systems to help us run our multiple businesses.
Ariana: All right, so here’s what we’re going to go through today. We’re going to list out some of the biggest challenges to being productive, and then for each challenge, we’re going to dive in a little bit, and give you some simple tips and strategies, to help you improve that productivity. With that, let’s jump into the show, the biggest productivity drains and how to avoid them. All right, so let’s go ahead and dive in with our top productivity challenges. Number one, and this is a big one. You are multitasking.
Tom: Oh, yeah. I mean, this is one where time and time again, I talk to people and they’re like, “Oh, well I can multitask. I can do a lot of things at once,” but the reality is, as humans, we really can’t multitask. When we think we’re multitasking, actually what our brain’s doing …
Ariana: What? What do you mean we can’t multitask? I totally multitask.
Tom: Getting down into some of the nerdy stuff, our brain just switches really fast between two activities, and although that sounds good, the reality is, when our brain switches, it actually causes us to have to re-focus on that other task. If you’re deep in thought on one thing or doing something, and then something distracts you, it takes time to now think and focus on the new thing that distracts you, and then ultimately, when you go back to your original task, takes time to get back and say well, “Where was I? What was I writing? What was I doing?” That context switching, that cost that it takes to switch, actually causes a lot of inefficiencies when you’re trying to be productive. Then, in addition to that, so that’s just an example of doing two things. Now, if you’re trying to do three things, or four things, or five things.
Ariana: Oh, you mean me?
Tom: The cost of that just goes up and up. I’m going to look at you a lot when we go through this show.
Ariana: Stop using me as an example.
Tom: Yeah, so I mean, ultimately, the example I give people all the time, and it’s no Ariana, if you have a task that let’s say takes eight hours, if you cleared your schedule off and that was the only thing you focused on today, when would you get that task done?
Ariana: In eight hours.
Tom: Yeah, you’d get it done today, but now let’s say you have two tasks that are both eight hours and you’re going to spend half your time on each of them. How much would you have done today?
Ariana: Hopefully four from each task.
Tom: Yeah, so you don’t have any of them done, right?
Ariana: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tom: How many of them would you have done tomorrow?
Ariana: If you were productive, and four and four, and then four and four, you’d have both tasks done.
Tom: Yep, except for the fact of that context switch between them. Not only does it make you less productive, it actually makes all of your tasks take a lot longer to actually get done.
Ariana: So how do we fix that?
Tom: All right. If you are listening, you’ve probably guessed it, but it’s limiting multitasking. The technical term for this is limiting your whip, or your work and process. There’s a lot of studies out there, and we won’t go into it, but ultimately, you want to work ideally on one thing at a time, and get that one thing done. Now, the reality is, you might want to work on two things because one thing might get to a certain point and get blocked, or you’re waiting on someone, and then you jump over to your other thing, but you really want to figure out, what is your maximum whip limit, and then really focus on starting less, and finishing more things.
Ariana: I can’t help it. I just whip it good.
Tom: I give you a lot of soft balls. I just see which ones you actually take.
Ariana: I couldn’t. It was in my brain.
Tom: Yeah, and so we talked about Kanban in one of our previous episodes, and you can check that out at SerialStartups.co/show11, and basically, what Kanban is, is you make a list of your tasks, you prioritize them, and then you work through them and you’re limiting your work and process as you go. If you want to find out more about that, definitely check out that episode.
Ariana: Tom’s a big Kanban lover.
Tom: I am. You’ll find out more as we go through this. All right, so number two, next productivity drain that a lot of people have is that they allow distractions. When we look at this, everything wants your attention nowadays. People want your attention, companies want your attention, every app on your phone wants your attention.
Ariana: Facebook wants your attention.
Tom: Yep, so by default, every company, every person is setup to distract you. Facebook has notifications, emails pop up on your desktop, and what all of those things lead to is what we talked to about in number one, which is multitasking. If you’re in the middle of doing something and suddenly your phone buzzes, what are you naturally going to do? You’re going to jump over and look at your phone, and now you’re multitasking.
Ariana: Can’t resist. You have to check.
Tom: All right, so what are some of the solutions that we can do to avoid this issue?
Ariana: The biggest solution, which I have done on a lot of things, is turning off notifications. This includes your phone and your desktop, because desktops now, with the new Windows, everything has a notification all of a sudden. I do not need to see 5 million Dropbox notifications all day long, so I actually went into my control panel and turned off the notifications for Dropbox because even if you’re working, and it pops up in the corner, it still distracts you for those couple of seconds to see, “Oh, what’s that?” Then, you have to get back into that work mode, so I’ve gone ahead and done that already, turned off those notifications, and then your phone.
Tom: Well, I was going to say that’s an excellent example because a lot of people won’t look at that as multitasking, but to your point, if it pulls your attention away and then it does take you time to re-focus back, even if it’s just a couple of seconds to look down at that thing.
Ariana: Yep, and the phone, I’ve turned it off so that it doesn’t buzz. I have it next to me, and if someone starts calling and it’s an emergency, it’ll light up and turn on and I can take the call, but otherwise, I don’t see the Facebook, I don’t see emails, I don’t see Google Voice. Anything that I don’t need to check on right that moment, I don’t see those.
Tom: Yeah, and I think kind of related to that, so one thing is that those notifications may come up. The other thing is that we just may naturally gravitate towards looking at some of those sites, or wanting to check our email because it’s part of our habit.
Ariana: Yeah, turn them off on your computer. Don’t have them open in Chrome, because all of us with those million tabs open. Don’t have a Facebook tab open because you’re going to gravitate over there to look.
Tom: Yep, and I mean, there’s even apps out there, so if you haven’t built the self control yet, you can actually have apps that will set, you can block certain websites at certain times. If you’re someone that’s going to check your email quite often, you can go and have it block Gmail between this time and this time so that you’re forced to do your work.
Ariana: Yep, or turn on airplane mode on your phone …
Tom: Oh, that’s a great idea.
Ariana: … So you don’t get text messages or notifications from all those apps.
Tom: Yep. Very good idea. What about non-electronic distractions?
Ariana: Non-electronic distractions? What, you mean like children?
Tom: Children. You know about that.
Ariana: I know lots about that. Yeah, those are a huge, huge distraction. We have tried to get work done with the kids around many, many times, and sometimes we’re more successful at it than others, but the truth is, they are a big distraction and they don’t mean to be, but even if they’re not talking to you, they’re a distraction, because you’re always listening out for that, “Oh, no. Did they just fall and hurt themselves?” Or, “Oh, no. Did they just break something?” If you can find someone to watch the kids while you’re working or somewhere to drop them off while you need to get work done, that’s a huge help with those distraction issues.
Tom: Yeah. I mean, that’s been huge for us, because like you say, even if you’re not directly working with them or if they’re not bugging you, you’re still going to be listening, you’re not going to be completely focused on the work you need to get done.
Ariana: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, or if you have a spouse that can take the kids while you work, or you guys can swap. That’s a great one, too, and have some noise cancelling headphones or something while you’re working, because yeah, those ears don’t turn off.
Tom: All right. What’s up next?
Ariana: Our next one, big problem of mine, you can’t keep track of everything. If you’re like me, you have 5 million things to do buzzing around in your brain all the time. This could be business stuff, this could be household stuff, this could be kids, relationship, anything. You might have all these things you’re thinking about like, “Oh, I’ve got to do this. Oh, I’ve got to do this. Oh, I forgot about that,” and you need somewhere or something, somehow, to put them all in one place that you don’t forget about them and you can prioritize them. If you don’t have a system, then you find yourself missing things which then leads to that stress of, “Oh, I forgot to do this, this, this, and this and now I’m passed due on this bill,” or, it’s going to stress you out. So, Tom, what’s the solution?
Tom: The solution is to get a system. Ultimately, you want to make sure that you have a way to capture everything that you need to do. This is actually something that we stole from the book, “Getting Things Done,” by David Allen, but essentially, what he says is that your brain only has so much capacity to process things and if you’re trying to constantly think about all the things you need to do, you’re not actually able to use the majority of your brain to do the work, because you’re trying to keep track of everything.
Ariana: Yeah, that’s [big 00:13:00].
Tom: What he recommends is you have a way for when an idea pops in, when there’s something that you have to do, you have a way or a process to capture that, and then a system or process in place to actually look at all the things you need to do, and organize them for what do you have to do when, so that you’re freeing up your brain from trying to keep track of everything, so you know what’s in your tool or your system, or your process, and then you can focus just on the next things that you have to do.
Ariana: Yeah. I mean, there are a tonne of tools out there to do this. For me personally, I use a couple. I have this really cool little app, it’s very simple. I use ColorNote, and it’s just like Post-it notes for your phone, but it allows you to make a list, so for me, this is my big grocery list, and random errands that I need to run, and I can quickly just hop on my phone, type it in, and save it, because you know, if you’re walking around and you remember, “Oh, yeah. We need more of this,” and it’s going to stress you out when you get to the grocery store and you forget about it and come home. That’s when I do throw them in there, and then also we use Asana.
Any kind of tasks, “Okay, I remember I have to do this for this business,” or, “I have to remember to send that in for that business,” jump on Asana, which is nice, it has a mobile app, and just quickly add that task in so that when I go on my computer later, and look at my list of tasks, it’s on there and I don’t forget about it.
Tom: Yeah, and I mean so the key with that is you want a way to capture everything that you need which you said is your color in notes or whatever, and then you ultimately want a way to be able to schedule those for when you need to get them done.
Ariana: Which is Asana.
Tom: Yep, so you want to look at those like two different activities, and we’ve actually, over the years, developed basically what we call our weekly productivity guide. If you guys want to check that out, we actually have it as a free download for this episode. You can head on over to SerialStartups.co/show23, and basically, what that walks you through is the process for capturing everything, and then what you should do every single week to be able to plan things out and then also reflect back on how the week went, and continuously improve your weekly process. All right, so number four is you don’t know what you need to do. This is a problem that many people face when they’re looking at how to be more productive. You actually, when you sit down to do your work, if you don’t know what the next thing is that you need to do, or what you’re going to do that day, you’re going to spend a good portion of your time trying to figure that out.
Tom: Or, you may get distracted and now go over and look at Facebook. I say it time and time again, one of the biggest time hacks that people can have is just being clear and having clarity on what they actually have to do, because if you sit down and know that you’ve got to get these three things done today and here’s the order of them, now you can sit down and jump right into being productive, rather than sitting down and trying to think, “Well what have I got to do? Oh, I’ve got to do this thing,” or, “I’ve got to do this thing. Well, which one do I do first? Oh, something else came up.” That clarity is really going to help, and what we recommend with this is you actually spend some time doing planning versus the time you spend executing. If you think about planning, planning typically, you’re not being productive in the traditional way, and you’ve got to think a little bit deeper about, “What is everything that I have to do? All those tasks that I captured, and how do I organize them?”
Versus execution, where it’s like, “Well, I’ve already planned things out so now I’m just going through and running through all my tasks.” Kind of going back to that weekly productivity guide. What we do is we have one day a week where we do our planning, and it doesn’t take a whole day, but we allocate that day and that time to do planning. Then, the rest of the week, we know what we have to do each day, so we can sit down and actually just get that work done.
Ariana: Problem number five, you don’t see your work. This is another one that I used to have problems with, which is why I’m going to talk about this problem. If you don’t see what you need to do … I’m a very visual person, so I needed that capability to look at all the things that I needed to do in a list format. I was a huge Post-It note person, still am, and having the ability to really see all of my work listed out and see our goals listed out, it made it easier not to forget them and not get those things done. That is our solution for this problem, is make that work visible. Whether you need to put it up on the wall, make yourself a quick board and a vision board, or whatever you want to call it with your goals, and your tasks that you need done, or you could even do it electronically.
There’s a lot of tools out there like we mentioned that you can go ahead and put those items into, so that way, when you go to sit down, you open it up and you say, “Okay, these are all the things that I have to do. I can see them. They’re visible”. You can see what you have gotten done, because that was another issue I used to have, is not feeling like I got anything done, but once you do a task, then you can kind of check it off. “Okay, I got that done,” then at the end of the week, you can see and you can compare. “These are all the things I was supposed to get done, here’s the things that I did get done, and it might make you feel a little bit less stressful when you get to that end of the week.”
Tom: Yeah, and to your point, I mean so we actually do some of this where it’s physically on a wall so that we’re forced to see it, so we do that with our goals. That way, when we do goal planning, we can literally stand around our goal wall and kind of figure out where should everything fit, and it’s very easy to move it around. Then, when we do our week to week stuff, like the actual stuff we’re going to work on, we put that in an electronic format, so that we have access to it, no matter where we are, and then to your point, it’s much easier to then go back and be able to see what things did we get done, what things didn’t we get done, and we can kind of get a better feel for what we can actually do week after week. All right. Next is number six, is your process is filled with waste. The problem is that when you’re doing work, it can either be valuable work, or it can be wasteful. The majority of the time, the processes or the work that you’re doing actually contain both.
I was amazed. I took a Lean Six Sigma class several years ago, and our professor, like the first day, said, “Oh, I’m going to show you guys how 95% of what you do is actually a waste.” Everyone in the class is like, “Yeah, what are you talking about?” But the reality is once we went through and said, “Here’s a typical process that we do in our business, here’s all the steps that it takes, here’s how long it actually takes to do the work versus how long it waits for something else,” I mean, the professor was right. Majority of what we did was actually a waste. The problem is when you have waste in your process, that takes time and effort away from the valuable pieces of your process. The solution here is to map out your process and essentially, you want to look at what are all the steps and the time required to get something done, and then what pieces of that are valuable, and what pieces aren’t valuable.
Ultimately, what you want to do from there is look at the ones that aren’t valuable, and especially the ones that take the most time that aren’t valuable, and you want to figure out how do you reduce or remove those from your process. A technical term for this is really do “value stream mapping,” where you’re going to figure out what’s valuable, and then figure out how you get it through your process, but ultimately, what you’re going to do is say, “How do I get this thing from here to there doing the most valuable work, and then cutting out the stuff that isn’t valuable?”
Ariana: Yep, and our last problem we’re going to talk about today is you don’t have a process. This is a big one for a lot of people. I used to be one of them. The problem being, you aren’t able to focus and get things done because you don’t have that process. You feel like you’re constantly trying to figure out how to get everything done. This is still me sometimes.
Tom: Yeah, and ultimately, the solution for this is to take a step back and actually figure out what your process is. How are you going to spend some time doing planning versus execution? Are there certain days or times where you’re going to do one thing versus the other? Everyone may have a different process, but the key is you want to have a process that works for you, and like we mentioned earlier, our free download for this show is actually our weekly productivity process, so if you want to check that out, you can go back to the show notes at SerialStartups.co/show23, and we’ll take you guys through a basic overview of how we plan out our work every week so that we can maximize our productivity.
Ariana: All right, so we threw a lot at you guys today. Let’s do a quick recap on all those problems and solutions. Problem one, your multitasking. Solution, limit your work and process. Try to pick one or two things to do at a time, so that you can actually check off those things on your list.
Tom: All right, so the next one is that you’re allowing distractions, so what you want to do is identify what things distract you during the day and then figure out ways to either turn off those distractions or avoid having that distraction happen in the first place.
Ariana: Number three, you can’t keep track of everything. Solution, develop a system for capturing those ideas and things that you need to do.
Tom: All right. Number four is you don’t know what you need to do. You want to make sure that you spend some time planning so that you figure out what you need to do, and then once you know what you need to do, it’s much easier to actually do that work.
Ariana: Number five, you don’t see your work. The solution, make it visible, whether it’s physically on the wall, or electronically on the computer.
Tom: All right. Number six is your process is filled with waste, so you want to basically go through and figure out what’s valuable and what’s wasteful, and then over time, start removing the wasteful things so that you’re doing more of the valuable stuff.
Ariana: Last, number seven, you don’t have a process. Solution, take some time to come up with your process.
Tom: All right. There were a lot of tips that we gave here, and we didn’t want to overwhelm you guys, so we’re going to come back next week and actually have the other half of your productivity training.
Ariana: We didn’t want an hour long podcast, and we didn’t think you did, either.
Tom: Yep. We’ll come back next week and actually give you the other half of these, but Ariana, do you want to get into the tip of the week?
Ariana: Sure. We want you to go back and identify a few items from this list that might impact you and make a change. For example, if you are allowing distractions to interrupt you, make a change. Turn off those notifications from social media or email.
Tom: All right. That is our show for this week. As I mentioned earlier, we have all the show notes and that free download which is our weekly productivity guide, and you can check that out at SerialStartups.co/show23.
Ariana: Our next episode is going to be part two, more productivity drains and solutions.
Tom: Yeah. I’ll tell you, I think the ones we have coming up in the next episode, some of them are actually my favorite.
Ariana: Oh, all right then. Something to look forward to. Have a good week, you guys. Thanks for listening.
Tom: All right. Bye, guys.
Ariana: Bye. Do you want a free copy of the guide we use to be more productive each week? Head on over to SerialStartups.co/productivity guide to download your free copy, and if you want step by step guidance for implementing the process to help maximize your productivity and achieve your goals, head on over to SerialStartups.co/productivity for access to our productivity mini course.