Why Entrepreneurs Should Attack the Uphills, Coast the Downhills

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When I ran cross-country in high school, my coaches used to tell us to “attack the uphills” and “coast the downhills.”

The reasons were simple: It’s easy to loose momentum and rhythm when you hit a hill, so it’s best to attack it to keep your forward motion. The “attack” mentality can also help you from simply running out of mental gas on a steep hill.

Coasting on the downhills is meant to use gravity to help you conserve energy while picking up momentum, and to avoid injuries through “choppy” running down a steep downhill.

The same lessons can be applied by entrepreneurs and business owners looking to stay motivated and productive on a daily basis.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get out of bed on a day when you have a rough project, heavy travel or simply don’t feel like working.

These are the uphills.

The worst thing to do on these “uphill” days is to lay in bed dreading the day, procrastinate, or otherwise “coast” into the workday. The best thing to do is to attack!

Get up, take a walk, do some exercise, grab your coffee, put a smile on your face and take the day head-on. Don’t let the hill stop your momentum, and and keep pushing through to the top of the hill.  (And, if you follow our dual to-do list productivity hack, you should reach the hilltop within the first hours of the day!)

The “downhill” days are those on which you complete your priority to-dos early, and your schedule is free of calls and meetings.  Sometimes, our first temptation is to get ahead of the game by starting on tomorrow’s to-do list, or trying to fit in some extra calls.  Usually, this turns into busy-work and wasted time that, quite honestly, should be used for enjoying life, spending time with your family, and just doing something fun.

It’s on these “downhills” that you should coast. Conserve energy.  You’ll have another uphill in a day or two.

The most important part is not not let the uphill days spill over into all of your downhills days. How can you keep that from happening? Simple: Search our directory of past posts about productivity here.

Do you have any tips on how you attack your uphill days with gusto?  We’d love to read them in the comments!

Why You Should Use Two Separate To-Do Lists to Achieve Max Productivity

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If you’re like me, you have a to-do list a mile long that seems to get even longer with each passing day.

At least, that’s the way I used to operate — until I started my process of using two separate to-do lists: A weekly list and a daily list.

Here’s how it works:

1) The Weekly To Do List

This is where I dump all the projects and to-do’s that pop into my head throughout the day. As soon as I think about them, I put them in my “long to do list” in Evernote. I make sure not to check this to-do list throughout the day, and I only glance it at quickly in the morning when I’m pulling off items to include on my daily to-do  list.  This longer, weekly to-do list serves as my mental inbox, and getting things out of my head and into this inbox serves as stress reliever.

2) The Daily To Do List

Each morning, glance at my big to-do list and pull off three or four (no more than four) project items to tackle that day.  It’s vital that you select no more than three or four items, which should only include one or two big items for the day.  I nail out these priority items first thing in the morning, before I’ve even checked my email.  This ensures that my important items for the day are hit early, leaving the rest of the day for the emergencies, unforeseen projects and client calls that are sure to come.

I find this dual-to-do-list strategy has really helped keep me on track.  It helps me focus each day on my priority items without jumping around aimlessly on my mile-long to-do list.

The key is really tackling the day’s priority to-do’s first thing in the morning before I open my email inbox.  If I finish my priority to-do’s early, and find myself ahead of the game, I also try hard not to jump ahead to the next day’s priorities.  Why?  Because it helps me keep an even-keel of consistency — and allows me to enjoy those days when I’m ahead of the game without piling on more work.

How do you manage your to-do lists?  We’d love to hear about your productivity tips in the comments section!

Some of America’s Most Productive Entrepreneurs Share Their Productivity Hacks

As an entrepreneurs, we thrive on busy schedules and packed agendas.  But what about big-time CEOs and celebrity entrepreneurs, such as Suze Orman, Richard Branson, or Deepak Chopra?

The editors at LinkedIn have done a great thing by asking some of their top influencers to share their productivity “hacks” via the hashtag #productivityhacks.  The result was a collection of some excellent tips from some of the most productive people in America.

Here are just a few of the hacks:

“Want to work smarter in 2014? Try talking to people. Not tweeting them or texting them but good, old-fashioned conversation.” — T. Boone Pickens, Founder, Chairman and CEO at BP Capital

“Ultimately, the way I hack is by creating a tremendous team of people around me. I’m a human hacker.” — Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO Co-Founder of Vayner Media

“Look at your emails in bursts, don’t constantly check them all day or you will never get anything done. Manage your mobile, don’t let it manage you. And remember to look after your body – including your eyes! You’ll soon see you get lots more done, feel healthier and can read all about it.” — Richard Branson, Founder at Virgin Group

“You will never, ever catch me multitasking. I think people who boast about their ability to simultaneously juggle multiple projects or chores are fooling themselves if they think they are operating at peak productivity. I measure productivity not simply by the clock, but the quality of the work. Multitasking is the ruination of quality.” — Suze Orman, television host, author, motivational speaker, producer

Those are just a few of the tips you’ll find from more than 70 different “celebrity” businesspeople and entrepreneurs by clicking here.

Do you have any #productivityhacks you’d like to share?  Please let us know in the comments!

LinkedIn also put together this infographic to summarize the tips from its celebrity influencers:

Why Saying ‘No’ is a Skill that Successful Entrepreneurs Should Master

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From the time we’re in middle school to the day we enter the workforce, we’re taught about the importance of having a positive mental attitude. Throwing negativity out the window, we’re told, is the key to success.

That’s one of the reasons that saying “no” has such negative connotations. Saying “yes” keeps us moving forward and, quite honestly, it’s so much easier than saying “no.”

I speak from experience. A few years ago, after almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship, I learned that one of the most valuable things I could do for my businesses was to learn to say, “no.”

And it’s made all the difference in the world — not only for my company’s success, but also for my productivity and my attitude.

Knowing how and when to deliver that strategic “no”, however, can be difficult. Here are three circumstances where it might be justified:

1) You’re swamped.

Okay, this sounds like an obvious one — but that doesn’t make it any less important.  In my experience, however, there seems to be an unwritten rule that people ask for favors or try to rope me into new projects only when I’m at my busiest. Sometimes, when we’re crunched for time, the adrenaline makes us think we can do anything. We feel like we’re in a zone and can keep adding fuel to the fire without consequence. Instead, you need to take a deep breath, look closely at your time and resources (and the profitability of the new request), and politely say “no.”

2) The request just isn’t profitable.

In his book, Four Hour Workweek, Tim Ferriss invokes the “Pareto Principle” in asserting that, on average, 80 percent of an entrepreneur’s profits come from 20 percent of his or her clients. Ferris shares his own personal stories of smaller, less-profitable (and sometimes abusive) clients dominating the majority of his time — while he struggled to keep up with the clients that were actually driving the great majority of his profits. Ferriss learned to say “no” and it made all the difference in the world.

It’s a common maxim among business owners that the smallest-paying clients are the most high maintenance. They don’t drive profit, and they eat up time that should be spent growing your paying client base and building your business. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, unless they are part of that 20 percent that drives 80 percent of your profits, it’s probably time to say, “no”.

Sometimes, less profitable projects may have additional benefit — such as marketing value or coming with the promise of future, more profitable business. Most times, however, the potential for future gain is overblown, and we should’ve said “no” from the beginning.

3) You want to maintain relationships.

Often, we end up saying “yes” to maintain friendships or relationships. Just as often, however, we end up with the exact opposite result. In my experience, saying “yes” to friends often involves taking on high-maintenance projects that violate the 80/20 principle outlined above. Our desire to be polite by saying “yes” is often not matched by our friends’, who tend to overstay their welcome by expecting a ton of work for very little profit. This can lead to animosity, ruined relationships and even a damaged reputation for your company. Saying “no” on the front end avoids these problems and, most times, your friends and colleagues will respect you more for being upfront and honest.

Knowing how to say “no” is also an acquired skill.

If you’ve come to the realization that you need to turn someone down, you have to figure out how to do it politely. It’s always ok to say “no,” but it’s never ok to be rude. If you need to say no, tell them you can’t because you have other commitments. You’re not obligated to give a specific reason but do so if you feel comfortable.

It’s also helpful to give the person suggestions. You may not be able to help but maybe someone else can. Or maybe you know of another way to go about doing it that will save them a lot of time. They will be appreciative of even the smallest tips.

And if you just need to say “No, I can’t do this”, then just say it. While it’s a little scary to think about the person’s reaction, you’ll come to find that it’s never even half as bad as we expect. People are more understanding than you think.

Once you’ve learned to say “no,” you’ll find yourself with more time to work on yourself and things that are important to you and your company.

How to Stay Productive, Happy and Grounded While Traveling for Work

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Frequent work travel — and the resulting time spent running through airports, getting in and out of cabs, and waiting in security lines — is a prime way to fall behind on whatever normal productivity routine you have in place while you’re in the office.

It’s also a way to get down in the dumps (being away from family does that), and get out of shape.

Over the years, there are several things I’ve done to help combat all of this.  Here are three:

1) Read fiction.

A good novel is a great way to escape and get your mind off the lonely hotel room or your uncomfortable airplane seat. After my meetings are over and I return to my hotel room (after I talk to my wife and kids on the phone), I love to dive into a good book. It helps take my mind off the fact that I’m away from home, passes the time more quickly and helps me sleep better at night (I have trouble sleeping in hotel rooms and I find that watching TV before bed makes for a busy mind and rough sleep).

2) Get Out and Walk (Or Run, or Use the Hotel Fitness Room).

I know one entrepreneur who put on at least 100 pounds after several years of running a company that required frequent travel.  Work travel often comes with cocktail hours and late work dinners.

But there’s no excuse for using travel as an excuse to pack on the pounds.  It’s not just about fitness, either. Exercise can help jump-start your brain, and keeping in shape helps your memory and your attitude.

Every hotel has a fitness room, and most of them are free. All of them are only a few steps and perhaps an elevator room away from your hotel room.

If weather and the hotel location permits, however, I prefer to get outside and run or go for a walk. It helps offset the hours on the plane, in a hotel conference room, or in a client’s office — and is often a great way to do a quick tour of a new city.

3) Try to Keep Your Morning Routines and Rituals.

One of the thing I dislike most about travel is a feeling that of lost control over my time and a disruption of my routine.  So I try to stick to my routines and rituals as best as I can.

Do you normally wake up at 6:30 a.m. at home and go for a walk?  Make sure you keep to that schedule while on the road.  Obviously, sometimes early morning flights or oddly-timed meetings can complicate this, but do the best you can.  It helps your mind stay on track and helps avoid a shock to the system when you get back home.

4) Don’t Work on the Plane.

In the days leading up to a work trip, I’d save up certain projects specifically to complete during my flight.  Not anymore.

Working on a plane, with all of it’s distractions, can be difficult.  If it’s a turbulent flight, working can literally be nauseating.  If you get a passenger in the seat in front of you who wants to take a nap, the reclined seat can make it impossible to open your laptop.

Most importantly, it just created additional stress.

That’s why I try to read a book on the plane, or simply put on some relaxing music (on noise-cancelling headphones, if possible) and close my eyes.

Work travel creates enough stress and fatigue.  Take your airplane time back and use it as a time to relax.  You’ll have enough time to work when you land.