The 12 Secrets of Productive Entrepreneurs

Just this week, I read another study about multitasking and productivity. In fact, I stopped in the middle of what I was doing (replying to an email), and checked Facebook, which led me to an article that a friend had posted, which led me to a .pdf of the study. Which led me back to replying to that email a good hour later.

The joint study by the University of California and Humboldt University in Berlin claims that our ability to focus has decreased significantly over the last decade. And even though we may perceive interruptions that share a context with the main task as beneficial (for example, if we interrupt one email in order to reply to another), the actual disruption cost is the same as if we were interrupted by a different context altogether. And even when we do complete the interrupted tasks on time, this results in higher frustration and more stress.

I definitely didn’t need the study to tell me that we are quickly losing our ability to concentrate and do productive work. I was living proof of that behavior, and living proof of the frustration that came with it.

Studies are great at pinpointing the problem. But what could be the solution?

I asked twelve entrepreneurs and CEOs what they do to stay productive.

And they all came up with very different (but complementary) advice. Here’s what they said:

But wait … instead of using this list as yet another distraction, here’s what you can do: skim the list, pick ONE of the pieces of advice and put it into practice. Measure the results. If it doesn’t work for you, come back to the list and try another gem. Deal?

1. Manage your energy, not your time

Instead of managing my time, I manage my energy. I know that I am most energized in the mornings which means that I am also most productive in the mornings and get less productive as the day continues. I adjust this by doing work that needs heavy-duty brain power in the morning, and work that’s less taxing in the afternoon. For example, I do development, planning and financial analysis in the morning and I respond to emails later in the day. It works great for me and it doesn’t hurt my output.

– Rahwa Haile, Co-Founder of Maidstr

2. Pre-plan for decision fatigue

Studies show that humans can only make a limited number of decisions per day before they get “decision exhaustion” so I eat the same thing for breakfast and for lunch every day and I have the exact same morning routine every weekday morning. I’m a creature of habit, so this suits me.

I also have a laminated set of papers that show me my outfits in the morning. That way I don’t have to put together a new outfit from scratch every morning — I simply look at the different pre-put-together outfits on my sheets and choose.

I’m sticking to this method because I’ve noticed that reducing the number of decisions I have to make on weekdays is critical to priming my brain for the more important decisions I am making in my professional life.

- Sarah Pease, Director of Marketing at

3. Practice mindfulness

Building a daily meditation habit can help you be more productive.

Just a few minutes each day, before you start work, of sitting up straight, closing your eyes, and focusing on your breath, will do wonders to strip away anxiety and stress, and will allow you to be much more productive throughout the day. An increase in mindfulness — which is the ability to be aware of what’s happening in any given moment, as well as be aware of the emotions you’re experiencing — will help you to get better at choosing how to act as opposed to letting your emotions overcome you.

– John Turner, CEO/Founder of QuietKit

Pssst! John published a 7-day course on how to build a daily meditation habit.

4. Start tapping

I’m a professional dance instructor and movement specialist, and this is one of the easiest exercises that I teach to office workers. It’s so easy to do, but so effective in making employees more motivated and productive at work.

Anyone can use it anytime during the day to help them feel more re-energized. Tapping releases the stress, tension and stagnation in our body. It’s also great for increasing blood circulation, energizing your mood and helping you feel more productive.

Here’s how to do it: in a standing position, ball one of your palms into a soft, loose fist. Use that fist to gently tap around your shoulders, arms, hands, chest, hips, legs and feet. Remember to keep the fist light and make sure the tapping is comfortable.

- Ashley Chatman, Co-Founder of Dance Break

5. Let go of self-sabotaging myths

Analyze if what you’re telling yourself is affecting your productivity. Most of my coaching clients instantly say “I can’t” when we come up with an alternative to their status quo (which usually includes a lack of productivity). That is often just an excuse, and it leaves the lips so quickly and routinely that you might not even know that you’re sabotaging yourself.

How often have you said, “There’s just too much to do and too little time?”

I call those things that we tell ourselves “myths.”

Spend one day paying attention to your myths, the things you tell yourself that sabotage your motivation, productivity and fulfillment.

Write them down every time you utter one of them. At the end of the week, look at all of the negative phrases that are keeping you stuck. Even if it seems like you’re faking it, write down a positive statement that you can say to yourself instead. Next time you hear yourself saying one of the self-sabotaging “myths,” replace it with one of the positive statements — your truth. Productive action will follow.

– Gaby Merediz, Founder of Make Your Perfect

6. Optimize your work space

In your work space, think of yourself as the bull’s-eye on a target.

In the inner ring around you, you should place the items that you use most frequently. This is different for everyone, but maybe you use your smartphone and your laptop constantly throughout the day. These are the things that you should keep closest to you.

In the next ring of your bull’s-eye, you should keep the items that you use at least a couple of times per day. This could include your printer or your filing cabinet.

And finally, in the outer ring, keep the things that you are only using occasionally like reference binders. These items don’t need to take up space close to you.

Use this bull’s-eye reference to decide how to set up your work space. When you do, you will find that you waste less time accessing your work tools and more time being productive.

- Schae Lewis, Co-Founder of Mission 2 Organize

7. Just get outdoors

When I’m bogged down with a problem, I just take a moment to grab coffee, walk around and clear my head. Sometimes you need a change of scenery to recognize the issue. Don’t wait too long.

I also got into the habit of take my calls when walking from one place another. It’s about the only thing you can do well on the go. This doesn’t work for all calls, but for more casual or listen-only calls, it’s a great way to fit in lunch, coffee and the phone backlog.

- Trevor McEwan, Founder Pearoftheweek

8. Zone out and think small

The next time you have a spare moment, instead of reaching for your phone or tablet, just let your mind wander. Your brain needs quiet time to make connections and generate insights.

Thinking small also helps. You don’t have to persuade yourself to do everything on your to-do list; you only have to persuade yourself to do the NEXT thing. Sort by due date with only a few things due every day.

– Maura Thomas, Founder of

9. Use the hourglass method

For those not required to punch in from 9 to 5, measuring work and time is a big challenge. It’s important to set an end for your work day. Otherwise, getting a snack or making a personal phone call seem like very important things, very often.

The enemy of discipline is not distraction. It’s a combination of guilt, avoidance and pressure.

I took down all the clocks in my home office. I even put a piece of tape over the computer screen clock. I keep various hourglasses on my desktop and take on tasks in 20, 30 or 60 minute intervals. After a while, I could see the sun was going down and that I’d overturned the hourglasses for about a dozen tasks. Sometimes I’d have completed much more than this and there was still a lot of daylight. Thus, I did my work in less time that day. This system gives me a sense of measurable (task-by-task) accomplishment and also does away with the losing battle I’d have with the clock.

- Courtney Capellan, Digital Analyst, daWorks

10. Set an “index card limit”

Productivity has always been a challenge for me. I’ve tried a lot of things to boost my productivity. Some work really well (e.g., Pomodoros) and some work really poorly (e.g., digital task managers). For the last few months, I’ve been doing something that has helped a lot. It’s so simple, but the results are tangible.

I’ve been writing my daily to-do lists on an index card.

Here’s why it works. Index cards only have 10 lines on them (8 if you like to leave a blank line at the top and bottom, as I do). It means that I am forced to prioritize and pick only the things that will fit on the card. It also means that my daily to-do list can’t grow so large that it is paralyzing. It makes out at 8 items.

As an entrepreneur, it is incredibly easy to be spread so thin that nothing substantive gets done. I’m actually able to finish a to-do list on a given day, which is a huge psychological win. Momentum tends to build upon itself.

- Eric Marthinsen, Co-Founder of Embedded Now

11. Schedule an appointment with yourself

One of the most overlooked tips in being more productive is to schedule an appointment with yourself every week to discover and implement a new tool or system directly related to being more productive. It’s this investment of upfront time that reaps significant long term gains in productivity.

- Nicole Bandes, CEO of The Productivity Expert

12. Just eat that frog

To be more productive, figure out what your most important task of each day is going to be. Refer to this task as your live frog.

Each day you must eat that live frog first thing in the morning. You don’t have to enjoy it, but you must finish it. There is no other option.

Once you begin treating important tasks like this, you can be more productive. That heavy weight will be off your shoulders because you completed the most important task for the day. So as Mark Twain said, eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.

- Jordan Sizelove, Conquer Your Now


We have a free micro-course that will teach you how to unlearn procrastination through small, daily steps.

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Photo by Tim Gouw via Unsplash

Originally published at on May 19, 2016.

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