How many times have you said “there aren’t enough hours in the day?”
Frankly, I’d be surprised if I found out everyone hadn’t said this at some stage. Most people have an ever-replenishing to-do list – and that’s before life away from your desk.
Applying your unique combination of skill, experience and knowledge isn’t something that you can outsource – and that reason makes time an entrepreneur’s most valuable asset.
The good news is, you’re not making the most of your time.
I can say this with confidence because 99.9% of people are in exactly the same boat – and this is the very reason 99.9% of people aren’t living the life they dream about.
What do I know?
Being a business mentor doesn’t automatically make me understand the intricacies of productivity – but I’m lucky enough to have worked with some extremely talented individuals who do – many of whom are armed forces veterans.
Here’s the thing:
Productivity isn’t something you’re born with; it’s an art that must be practiced, a muscle that needs to be exercised.
The instilled discipline and drilled efficiency that the armed forces inspire in people is unmatched in virtually any other walk of life. Working with veterans opens your eyes to new levels of productivity and can teach anyone an important lesson:
There are enough hours in the day; you’ve just got to know how to access them.
The following 11 hacks will help you to run your business and your life with a military level of productivity…
#1: NET (no extra time)
We do hundreds of things every day on auto-pilot.
Walking, driving, shaving, making the bed, running, cooking dinner – to name just a few.
We’re unconsciously competent at these tasks; we change gear without thinking and boil pasta without reading the instructions.
Since our brain isn’t engaged while we take part in these tasks, it gives us an opportunity to engage our thoughts elsewhere, hence ‘no extra time’ is added to your day – and what better place to use this untapped time than for learning?
Audio books are ideal for this, what’s more, you can adjust the playback rate on most apps so that you can take them in at 1.5/2.0x the speed they’re read at. The average commute is 25 minutes, cooking dinner probably takes another 20. Turn this into learning time and you’ll consume 20 or more books and the knowledge within every year – choose those books wisely and your entrepreneurial skillset will expand rapidly…
#2: Get your sleep right
Everyone’s sleep requirements are slightly different, but generally 7-8 hours each night sees us at our peak mental performance the following day.
The perfect combination of sleep and productivity comes when you understand exactly what’s right for you. Evenings can be enormous blackholes for time – with a little TV and some social media interaction it’s 11pm before you know it - and 12am before you’re asleep.
If you can, there’s a huge amount of productivity to be had if you adjust your bedtime backwards and start the next day earlier.
Try to avoid screens for 2 hours before you sleep. Our phone’s apps are designed to stimulate your brain and keep you engaged – not ideal for winding down. Reading, prepping tomorrow’s food, tidying and planning are all good alternatives that come with their own benefits.
Waking up early is no mean feat though, so I recommend the following:
Understand your natural sleep pattern.
Using an app like Sleep Cycle can help you to understand what’s happening when you’re in asleep and has an extremely effective alarm function that will wake you when your sleep is at its lightest point – helping you to feel switched on and alert right through the day.
#3: Harness the morning
If you can master your sleep and get up 2 hours earlier than you ordinarily would every working day you effectively give yourself an extra day each week.
What’s more, because you’re making that ‘extra day’ anywhere between 5am-9am (depending on your sleep requirements and chosen bedtime) that becomes one of those magical days where no one calls and interrupts, no one urgently emails and there are fewer notifications stealing your attention.
The maths is actually jaw dropping:
Add 2 productive hours to every working day and you add 520 hours to your year. Even with a hefty 50 hour work week that’s the equivalent of over 10 extra weeks of productivity every year – a sure fire way to get a lot more done, or at least feel a lot less guilty about taking a week or two absorbing some sunshine on a foreign beach.
#4: Make your own energy
It’s no coincidence that extremely high levels of productivity in military personal follows physical training each morning.
The good news is – science tells us this doesn’t have to mean running a marathon every day, in fact, a minimum of 12 minutes at an elevated heart rate is enough to produce hormones that increase awareness and mental agility for the rest of the day.
The great news is, it’s not just how switched on we are that’s bolstered when we exercise in the morning; our body’s ‘feel good’ hormones are kick-started too, leading to a more positive mood through the day.
Not only will exercise help tweak your brain’s performance every morning – it’ll also keep you healthy too, supporting your immune system to fight off illness. Want to turbo-charge your results? Get a double hit of those awareness and feel good hormones by jumping in a cold shower after you’re done, boosting circulation even further.
As productivity hacks go, engaging in some physical exercise is one that will have the greatest impact most quickly – there really is no downside.
#5: Take regular breaks
Our brains aren’t designed for being focused on just one task permanently – so if you want to maximise the time you’re spending with your mind at full throttle it makes a lot of sense to rest it frequently.
If you’re at your desk all day, get up, go and get some fresh air, stimulate the visual parts of your brain in different ways.
If possible, find somewhere you can be completely free of thought, even just for a few minutes.
Some people refer to this as ‘meditation’ – other call it ‘mindfulness’, whereas some prefer just ‘clearing your head’. Whatever you choose to call it, thinking of nothing, or focusing just on your breathing can help to slow your thoughts and internal monologue – and a slower thought process general leads to more rational and considered decisions.
#6: Use the right fuel
We can all occasionally lose sight of the fact that our bodies are biological machines, with the right fuel required to see a positive energy output.
Our brain is very much part of that machine – and it’s extremely sensitive to the conditions food creates in our body. Heavy lunches that comprise of sugar and simple carbohydrates require a lot of energy to digest – and can also cause our blood sugar levels to spike, leading to drowsiness and lack of focus in the mid-afternoon.
Just as making use of hidden hours can add up in our favour, losing hours to drowsiness and low energy can see that time disappear again.
If possible, try to avoid the following lunch time usual suspects:
Refined sugar (chocolate, sweets, hidden sugar in sauces/dressings, etc)
Instead, try to create lunches around:
Lean protein (beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, mackerel, etc)
Pulses and beans
Salad leaves and vegetables
Good fats (olive oil, avocados, unsalted nuts and nut butters)
These things might need a little prep the night before – and might not have the same immediate appeal as something sugary or salty, but let me assure you, your workload will thank you for it while others around you are yawning at 2:30pm…
#7: Don’t multi-task
This next hack is a simple one – but can take some adjusting to for those of us with short attention spans.
You might think that doing three things at once is smart use of your time – but actually, you’re far more likely to make mistakes and elongate the time needed to finish each job.
Where possible, minimise your email inbox, switch your phone to silent and dedicate your focus to the task at hand. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you work when your blinkers are on.
#8: Focus on what you’re good at
If you wake up every morning knowing you’ve got a day of your least favourite task ahead of you it can be very difficult to get started.
On the other hand, knowing you’re got a day of something you love lined up is likely to have you out of bed and in the shower ahead of your alarm. Don’t underestimate the power that your brain has on your desire to be productive – and as such, try to create days that you want to meet head on.
Consider making a list of everything your day will entail – run a highlighter through the things you like the least.
Now consider outsourcing those tasks.
There’s someone online who will do these for you – check sites like UpWork, Fiverr and PeoplePerHour and you’ll find everything from general assistants and book keeping support to advanced programmers and social media experts.
If funds are tight, consider exchanging skills, money isn’t the only way to pay.
#9: Prioritise and execute
Plenty of people will tell you to make a to-do list – fewer people will tell you how to use one properly.
As you approach your day you’ll be aware of one, two or more priority tasks. For most people, a priority represents a task that is vital to the next part of the business process – whether that’s establishing a key part of infrastructure, honing your service, creating a sales proposal – or so forth.
Understand what’s needed in the day to drive your business forward – these become your priorities.
Now decide which order these priorities should be tackled. Mark number 1 and number 2 on your list. Now focus on number 1 until it’s complete. Don’t be tempted to jump to number 2 or get distracted by something that’s a much lower priority.
Every time you flit to another less-important task, you create a transition – a small period of time is consumed, your focus drops and you lose productivity. Be methodical – and if required, ignore everything else going on around you.
Now, we all know your to-do list grows through the day – so when tasks 1 and 2 are complete, reassess and mark your next two most important tasks – then watch your productivity go through the roof as your tick them off.
#10: Have a quick decision making process
A quick decision making process is an absolute must for those who have served in the armed forces. Whether or not you are ever deployed in an active war zone, training acknowledges that an enemy will never ease off to give you time to create a ‘pros and cons list’ as you take cover behind a wall or vehicle.
For entrepreneurs, every decision you make has an ‘energy tax’ – the longer you spend mulling it over, the more time and energy is sapped away.
That said, rash decisions aren’t always reliable – so where possible, quickly consider the facts relating to the situation along with the risks that you foresee; then move swiftly based on this.
The likelihood of your swift decision being correct is boosted enormously here if you’re in the habit of following hack number 5 on this list – as the more cool and collected your thoughts are under pressure, the more you’ll be able to tune out the ‘noise’ and focus on what matters.
#11: Understand the ‘Pareto’ principle
Productivity and efficiency are closely related – but until you put both under the microscope you can’t be sure that you’re honing either skill.
A Pareto analysis is an ideal way of considering if you’re being productive and efficient as an entrepreneur. The principle suggests that 80% of a person or business’s success comes from 20% of the action input. Therefore 80% of the action is incredibly low yield – offering just 20% of the result.
To ascertain where your energy is going, you’ll need to start recording what your days look like. A simple way to begin is setting a chime for every 30 minutes on your phone or watch. When you hear that chime, make a record in your diary or notepad what that 30 minutes has comprised of – even if it’s just a simple tally chart.
Don’t worry – this isn’t something you’ll keep up forever, it’s just to give you an accurate picture of what your day looks like. It’s important to be honest with your recording – it’s the only way you’re going to be able to make the absolute most of your day.
When you’ve created a picture of an average day (perhaps after a week or so of recording) you can start to consider the time you take on each task alongside the money that you or the business brings in as a result.
You’ll start to see patterns, perhaps in your own work, perhaps in the time invested in employees, clients or particular tasks. Your business is unique – so I’m not going to make suggestions that are specific to you here – just ask yourself if your effort is commensurate with your reward – and ask yourself if you could do more of the high yield tasks if you dropped a few that ate up your time for little reward.
It’s one thing to work hard – it’s quite another to work smart. When the way that you work so directly relates to your ability to achieve your goal and stay alive in the process, it’s no surprise that veterans aren’t just productive – but extremely efficient in their actions too.