Improving Your ‘Flow System’ for Entrepreneurial Success and Productivity

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As some of you know, I’ve been engaging in annual “reading challenges” during the past few years. One of the most memorable books I read last year (which I highly recommend) is Superwealth by Max Borders.

Borders’ takes a step back to look at the hot-button “inequality” debate, adding some historical perspective, realism and a big dose of free market economics. He also offers an economic theory that can be applied by entrepreneurs to our daily work flow and productivity.

Hi theory is based upon the work of Duke University physics professor Adrian Bejan, which holds that “living beings and inanimate phenomena” have what he defines as “flow systems” in common:

“Flow systems – from animal locomotion to the formation of river deltas — evolve in time to balance and minimize imperfections. Flows evolve to reduce friction or other forms of resistance, so that they flow more easily with time. This view has been termed the constructal law, which Bejan first stated 13 years ago.”

The flow system can apply to anything in nature, including the human body. The idea is that systems work best when things are most easily allowed to flow from one point to another.

In his book, Borders discusses with Bejan the idea that “flow systems” also apply to market economics. That is, the economy works best when it is allowed to flow like a river — but stops up when too many obstructions (like a dam) are put in the way. Such obstructions could include over-regulation, over-taxation, etc.

So, how can this “flow system” theory apply to our daily productivity and the running of our businesses?

What kind of obstructions are in your way on a daily basis that impede your productivity? Do you check your email constantly, setting you off on tangents and throwing off your daily priorities?

Is conference call overload disrupting your flow and causing you to waste valuable time on needless calls?

Is decision fatigue late in the day making it hard for you to make simple choices and, thus, threatening your ability to get things done?

Yes, “flow systems” can apply to your daily routine.

Examine your daily schedule and do a “productivity” audit at the end of each day. What obstructions can you remove that are impeding your flow and hurting your productivity?

Improve your flow — and you will improve your productivity and success.

Need Some Help Meeting Deadlines? Read This.

 

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Have an impending deadline that’s stressing you out? Many people have experienced that type of stress before. Meeting a specific timeline can be difficult but sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to keep the project moving. Whether someone is depending on you or you’re the last piece of the puzzle, deadlines are in place for a reason. But sometimes they feel impossible to make. Here’s 5 time management tips to help you meet that deadline in time.

Stop procrastinating once & for all.

The primary reason why many people miss important deadlines is not because they have too much work do. It’s actually because they procrastinate too much. We’re all guilty of that. When we’re first given a task to do, we think we have more time than we actually do. The deadline slowly creeps up on us and before we know it, it’s due tomorrow and we haven’t even started. Avoid this situation and end your procrastinating once and for all. Start as early as you can so that you’re not in a mad rush later on.

Ask for more time upfront if you need.

When you’re given a project, take a moment to immediately assess it. Try to estimate how much time it would take you to complete it. If you feel like you weren’t given enough time, ask for more upfront. It’s much easier to get your deadline extended when you first receive the project. If you wait until later on, you’ll risk the success of the project itself as well as your overall reputation.

Prioritize your tasks.

If you have a deadline looming, you have to look at all your tasks in totality and prioritize them. De-prioritize the ones that you don’t have a hard deadline. They can wait. Spend as much time as you can working on the most important tasks or the ones that are due the soonest. It’s impossible to do everything as once so don’t even attempt to. Work on one task at a time and then move on to the next.

Check in with yourself daily.

It’s important to track your progress on a consistent basis so that you know whether or not you’re going to hit your deadline. Check in with yourself daily and see how much you’ve actually gotten done. Adjust your schedule as needed. By doing this, you will know much sooner if your project isn’t going as planned and you will give yourself more time to react.

Plan to finish earlier.

Give yourself a little wiggle room by planning to finish earlier than needed. If your deadline is this Friday, aim to finished by Wednesday. If you don’t, you’ll still have a couple days buffer. But if you do finish early, you’ll have a little more time to go over your work or just sit back and relax.

 

3 Tips to Consistently Hitting Your Personal/Professional Goals

image“This is the year.”

Aside from being an annual refrain of Chicago Cubs fans, the above quote is something most of us have uttered at the start of a new year. Our New Year’s resolutions are written down and, though we’ve had trouble keeping to them in years past — we are convinced that this is the year we’re going to stick to them.

Lose weight. Workout out every day. Learn a new language.

Unfortunately, the great majority of New Year’s resolutions aren’t met (this study says only 8% of them actually are achieved.)

These types of goals and self-promises aren’t just limited to the New Year. It can be a challenge to meet any goal we set for ourselves throughout the year, related not only to self-improvement but also to productivity, work, time management, etc.

One of our biggest mistakes when we set out to achieve these goals is that we consistently overestimate our ability to hit challenging goals, and we don’t put in place a system to make it easy to do so.

For example, on January 1, 2014, I declared a goal of reading 50 books throughout the year. I jumped into my endeavor with gusto, reading five books in the first month. I was pretty consistent throughout the spring, but then hit a snag in May … and again in June … July … August. I started to pick it up again in September, but by that point I was well behind. I only achieved my goal by reading 10 books in December — but I felt rushed and unsatisfied with my goal.

At the same time, I began taking banjo lessons about a year-and-a-half ago. Weekly lessons are great, and my teacher is awesome, but mastering a new instrument takes daily practice. Despite making a vague mental goal that I would practice every day, every week I fell into the same rut: At 10 p.m. on Monday, I’d remember that I forgot to practice, then I would commit to practice for an hour to make it up on Tuesday; then the same thing would happen on Wednesday … and so forth and so on until it came time for my weekly lesson. At that point, I was unpracticed and unprepared for my lesson and would embarrass myself in front of my teacher.

While these are personal goals, I’ve experienced the same thing at work: Goals of daily blogging, checking and posting to social media, networking, sending out sales emails, etc.

So, is this simply a result of lack of willpower? Am I just a weak person? Just too busy (between running two companies and raising a family with four kids)?

No, no and no. I’ve made a major change in 2015, and it’s already reaped dividends. There are three key principles I’ve put in place that have made me more consistent and, thus far, is helping me effortlessly hit my goals on a daily basis:

1) The 15-Minute Rule

Finding an hour to practice an instrument, or do any activity, can be daunting for a busy professional. But what about 15 minutes? This year, I’ve started scheduling 15 minute sessions every day for things like reading a non-fiction book, practicing the banjo, and even reading the morning paper. It may not sound like much, 15 minutes (I’ve found) is the perfect length of time — it’s a manageable stretch of time that I can tackle, without complaint, every single day. By consistently hitting this goal, I’ve also been able to read 8 books in 2015, and learned several new songs on the banjo (more than I learned last year when I was trying to find random hour-long practice periods throughout the week).

2) Consistency Beats Intensity

Don’t get me wrong — intensity is great. But consistency is what helps you hit your goals. Again, rather than try to find big, hour-long periods to read or practice, I just make sure I hit my 15-minute segments each and every day. No more and no less. This consistency breeds habits, and that helps me hit my goals without much thought.

3) Avoid Decision Fatigue

By scheduling daily 15-minute segments for everything from work-related tasks to personal development tasks — I also avoid decision fatigue. You may have heard the phrase, decision fatigue, to explain why Steve Jobs wore the same exact outfit every day. By cutting down on the amount of decisions (even small ones) that he made every day, Jobs was able to save his mental energy for the large tasks of running Apple. That’s why I not only schedule my personal activities consistently in 15-minute segments (except for working out, which I schedule for consistently 45 minute periods), I schedule them early in the morning.) By automatically having my workout, personal reading, newspaper reading, banjo practice and daily bible reading scheduled for every single morning — all of these activities have become habit, and thus don’t drain decision-making energy that I will use throughout the day. Studies have shown, as well, that when an executive spends a day making tough decisions at work — he or she is more likely to “cheat” on their diet at the end of the day, skip a workout, etc.

Some of the above tips seem simple – and they are – but they are also effective. Automating bite-sized, achievable goals every single day will help you to consistently take bites out a larger goal, and help you to stick to those work resolutions and personal objectives we set for ourselves on a regular basis.

5 Tips to Creating a Better Office Workspace

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An average working person spends a lot of time sitting at his or her desk. Whether you work in a cubicle or work from home, you can be spending as much as 10 hours a day at your desk. The way you set up your workspace has a huge impact on how productive you are. If you work in an environment that isn’t conducive to getting work done, you really just end up wasting a lot of time. Where you work can really affect how much you work. Here are 5 tips to help you create the perfect work space for you:

Keep your desk clear.

A cluttered desk can led to a cluttered mind. Disorganization, in general, creates unnecessary stress and anxiety. Before you end your work day each day, make it a habit to tidy up. Only keep on your desk what you actually need to work on, in addition to a few personal mementos. You should file away or throw away any paper you aren’t using at the moment. This will help you find things much easier and save you a lot of time.

Get a nice, big monitor.

We do enough surfing, reading and work on our smartphones and tablets. Treat yourself (and your eyes) by getting a nice, big monitor for your desk. It will allow you to focus better, provide less strain when writing or reading large documents, and provide a comfort level that small screen devices simply cannot.

Decorate with personal keepsakes.

Even though you should keep your desk neat and tidy, it’s still a good idea to keep a few personal keepsakes on your desk. Something as simple as a personal photo is a small reminder of what’s important to you. You have a life outside of work and your desk should be a reflection of who you are, not just what you do.

Have a comfortable chair.

Many people underestimate the value of a good office chair but if there’s one thing you can do to increase your productivity, it’s getting a comfortable chair. You do sit on it for 8 hours a day. Having an uncomfortable chair can lead to back pain, which is not only painful but also distracting. Save yourself the trouble. Many offices now are also using standing desk, which gives you the option to stand or sit anytime you want.

Put your desk near a window.

Being near natural sunlight is a simple way to make you happier and more productive. If you can, put your desk near a window so that you have plenty of light shining through. This will also give you a little bit of a view, for those times you just need to stare anywhere but your computer screen.

What does your work desk look like?

Good Habits Are Hard To Break

Good Habits Are Hard To Break

We all know bad habits can be hard to break (such as binge watching reality TV). But let’s look at it from another angle – habits, in general. Whenever we do something repeatedly, whether good or bad, we tend to stick to it. Instead of thinking about how to break bad habits, we should instead be thinking about how to form good ones.

Forming better habits can feel like a big task—but it doesn’t have to be. It is more about discipline over a longer period of time. Here’s 5 tips to help you make your good habits stick:

Start small (then think big)

Habits can be very challenging if we try to incorporate them into our daily routine, especially when it’s something big. We become overwhelmed and give up easily. Instead of trying to shoot for the stars, start small first. Think of little ways you can form good habits on a regular basis. For instance, if your goal is to have more productive mornings, try waking up 10 minutes earlier to start. Then work your way up to 30 minutes. Start small first to give yourself a motivational boost, and then think bigger once you know you can do it.

Commit to a time period

Commitment is the biggest hurdle when it comes to habits. It’s easy to say you want to form good habits but you also have to make it definitive. When you don’t set yourself to a time-sensitive goal, you start getting too relaxed and comfortable. Depending on what you want to achieve, aim to do it within 30 days.

Consistency is the key

Consistency is the key to everything, especially habits. You have to make a conscious effort to do it on a regular basis, whether daily or weekly. For instance, getting into a regular fitness routine is tough in the beginning but once you’ve worked it into your schedule, it becomes easier and easier. Over time, it’s like second nature to do it.

Give yourself a reward

Everyone needs a little push every now and then. When you’re starting to hit milestones, give yourself a reward. Giving yourself some recognition goes a long way. It also gives you something to look forward to. Don’t, however, make it a habit to reward yourself.

Just do it

At the end of the day, you just have to do it. The hardest part about habits is forming them. It takes both commitment and consistency. Think about your end goals and how these habits will help you achieve them.