If you are a “serialpreneur” who has more projects, ideas and startups than you have hours in a day, you do not need to be told that time is your most valuable resource. It is likely that you are used to multitasking and taking on way more than you can handle. The key to being a successful serialpreneur is having the capacity to organize your workflow and think big while keeping all of your plates spinning in the air.
There are countless blogs and websites dedicated to the latest app or software program that promises to make you more productive and better organized. The reality, however, is that change comes from within. While technology can be useful, the only true way to better manage your time and meet your goals is to establish new habits and strategies. Here are some approaches I took:
The Pomodoro Method: Little Breaks for Big Results
The Pomodoro Technique, named after the tomato-shaped timer utilized by the system’s founder, works on the concept of micro breaks. Even the most focused human mind begins to wander and stall without rest. Research shows that attention span and concentration levels dramatically increase on cyclical schedules — periods of intense, sprinting activity, punctuated by brief breaks.
Start with a 25-minute work sprint followed by a 5-minute break, and then repeat the cycle 4 times. Then, take a longer break of between 15-and-30 minutes, or whatever you feel is sufficient to prepare you for the next group of Pomodoro cycles.
Focus on making periods of both work and rest indivisible. During work sprints, do not glance at your phone or Facebook, do not get up for coffee and do not chit-chat. When it comes time for a break, physically get up and remove yourself from your workspace.
Mind Map: Visualize Your Goals
As entrepreneurs, it is easy to rely on our power for creativity and visualization. Converting those visual images into business processes can be difficult without the aid of mind-mapping.
Mind maps are visual aids that put an individualized, creative spin on traditional note taking and brainstorming. Built on a tree structure, mind maps are graphical tools that can include colors, numbers, text, diagrams or images. They can be flowery and artistic, or rigid and linear, but either way, mind maps paint an easy-to-comprehend, visual overview of large conceptual goals and the steps needed to achieve them.
Mind maps, which are excellent productivity and time management tools for both individuals and groups, can be drawn by hand on dry-erase boards or digitally crafted using programs like MindMeister, MindManager and XMind.
Mind-mapping can be a powerful complement to time management skills. Need to brainstorm ideas for your company blog? Quickly jot down titles, which you can later group under categories, and add notes about each of the titles while assigning to team members in minutes. Need to organize the workflow for a new project? Create a list of available resources in your mind map, along with a list of projects to be executed, and then move them from box to box. Mind-mapping can be used for a myriad of objectives and is a quick, efficient and effective way to organize a vast amount of information.
Avoid Completion Bias
The brain naturally craves the satisfaction that comes with crossing items off the daily to-do list. This can trigger completion bias — a phenomenon that steers people toward subconsciously tackling simpler tasks just to feel the glow of checking them off as done.
Structure your to-do list in a way that factors in the potential for completion bias. Consider doing an easy task first to build momentum and to satisfy your inner need to add a checkmark to your list. Then carry that momentum into the second task — which should be the most dreadful, laborious chore of the day with the highest likelihood of making you procrastinate. This gives you the best chance to do something important and difficult while you are still fresh.
Make Time to Learn
It may seem counterintuitive to entrepreneurs struggling to juggle their already overflowing workloads, but one of the best ways to boost productivity is to continue your education. From SEO to animal grooming to onion farming, there are countless online courses available at no cost or for very little expense.
A class, certificate or degree might seem like an unnecessary (or even impossible) time investment. The reality, however, is that you can learn new techniques and technology related to your entrepreneurial ventures. You can also form bonds and network with educators and other learners who could one day become partners, employees or clients.
There is no magic bullet that can make you a more organized and efficient entrepreneur. Managing your precious time comes down to making — and breaking — habits. Break your work into digestible chunks, be self-aware of your to-do list and remember to take the time to learn. It is all about making small changes every day.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.
Image credit: CC by Ryan Hyde