It's a familiar scenario to all entrepreneurs - you start a new business, then find yourself floored by the sheer volume of work to be handled. Although hard work can be part of the high, it can also be your downfall, leading you to flit from task to task, rather than getting individual jobs done. The straightest path to success is through a stratagem for enhanced productivity - these are my top five tips.
- Focus. People's minds work in lots of different ways. Some people have a sushi-train brain, where several different 'dishes' move round in a perpetual circle. Others are more like high-speed rail - they know their destination and don't stop until they get there. In business, it pays to try and work like the bullet train. Having a full menu of ideas is fantastic, but you're only ever going to make anything of them, if you actually focus long enough to get them to work. When you start a company you have so much to deal with, but if you handle one job at a time, you'll get through them all. So rather than juggling six jobs at once, just stop, breathe, focus, and start work on the first.
- Start each day fresh. I always try to 'wake up with complete amnesia', meaning that I forget yesterday's disappointments and start today completely new. If you're working on a never-ending 'to do' list, you'll always feel like a failure. Jobs lists do back up, and although it's important to have one, so that you can keep track of vital tasks, don't let it dominate you. Ask yourself a simple question when you sit at your desk each morning - 'what really matters today?' - that way you can give yourself some positive focus and get on with what's important, rather than being held back by the past.
- Outsource what you don't need to do yourself. In the early days of any business money will always be tight, so it seems obvious that the easiest way to save cash is to do everything yourself. Although there is some logic there, what you'll really be doing is running yourself into the ground. Sometimes it pays to invest in the right people, and even if you can't afford to employ someone full time, you can often find a freelancer (through a site such as PeoplePerHour) who can take care of the things that aren't necessarily within your skillset, and they will do it in a fraction of the time it would take you to complete the task, probably to a higher standard, while allowing you to push on and focus on the areas that no one else can.
- Learn from others. Starting up a business can be lonely, and you will inevitably learn from your own mistakes. However, it's a lot more fun to learn from the mistakes of others! If I want to learn about a topic, I invite someone who has mastered it out to lunch. Not only does it help to get the information that you need, but it also gets you out of the office. In the early days that can be equally beneficial, helping to lift the mood and give a little perspective. Tackling a problem from another person's viewpoint can, in some cases, instantly resolve it. In other cases, it can provide the information you need to keep you away from similar pitfalls. Another benefit is that simply talking to people can help you to feel more optimistic - psychologically, we're social animals, so it does us good to actually get out and mingle.
- Reflect and improve. I started these tips with the advice to focus, because sometimes being single-minded is the only way to get ahead. However, there is a difference between being single-minded and bloody-minded. When you're working on a project it becomes really dear to you and it can be difficult to see that what you're doing might not always be that great an idea, or that it is a fantastic idea, but you're approaching it the wrong way. Taking time to sit back and reflect on what you're doing, how you're doing it, and why you're doing it that way, can save you an enormous amount of wasted time, effort and energy. Block off some time at the end of each week to reflect on where your business is going and how you can make it better. Be objective. Be critical, where it's needed. It will pay off in the long term.
As your business grows, you'll find your own ways of working, but these are some of the things that I've found useful in my own career. I'm doing well - but there's always so much more to learn!