entrepreneur Tag

Are Productivity Tools Helping Us To Procrastinate?

In today’s world of relentless distractions including email, social media and app notifications, we’ve also become obsessed with organising that chaos through tools and processes which promise to bring order to our messy lives. But do these to-do apps, project management tools and the like really help, or are they giving us yet another reason to indulge in useless busy-ness?

Over the years I’ve tried everything, and I’ve come to the conclusion that our answers lie not in the tools, but a few simple principles.

Just Do It

The best thing you can do right now is just get on with it. If you look at successful people down the ages, they didn’t need any planning or productivity tools. Just the guitar, paintbrush or golf club required to do their thing. Their burning desire to create and complete something drove them on without having to overthink it. The most creative people I know all work like this, they simply do what they need to with minimal planning.

Realise the Preciousness of Time

For some it requires a major life event like losing a loved one or having a near-fatal accident to bring home the immense preciousness of life. For others, and I suspect this is a common trait in successful people, it runs through their head every single day.

So if you’re not thinking about your mortality and the fragility of life every day, try it. This sense of urgency you will feel is something you need to reconnect with on a daily basis.

This doesn’t just mean you should think about death every day. Just think about how precious today is, and at the end of it be grateful you got to have today, whatever happened. All the dead people you know would have done anything for today.

Know Your Calling

If you’re lacking that burning desire that naturally gives you the energy to get on with it, you’re likely doing the wrong thing in life. What is the thing that would truly excite you, and what’s stopping you doing it? Most likely the answer to the latter part of that question is fear. Fear to tell your family that you’re going to take a big risk and do something different from that which you studied or trained for. Fear of failure. Fear of losing your house. Fear of looking stupid. Fear of being told it’s not viable or a daft idea. Maybe even a fear of wasting your precious time (that’s a valid one!).

Answer that question and then…

A Simple To Do List

There’s clearly a lot of comfort in to-do list and time management apps. But having used a lot of them I feel that the filling in of tasks, checklists and deadlines is in itself useless busy-ness. We naturally love useless busy-ness. It makes us feel productive. It’s so seductive because it’s very easy to start (unlike the valuable things we should be doing).

Other things that fall into this category of activity are checking email, reading social media and wandering the internet. But useless busy-ness creates almost zero value for you or anyone, and is a killer drain on our two most precious resources — time and brainpower. Those resources, particularly brainpower — cognitive energy, attention or however you want to term it — need to be spent on what you’re really good at.

Keep a simple to-do list that requires as little management as possible. I have a Notes (on Mac and iPhone — your system has an equivalent) note containing a few small lists categorised by the life goal to which they contribute. Each task on there must drive towards that goal. There should also be a personal list for stuff at home like repairs, things to buy and looking after family. Each task should be the immediate thing you’re going to do. So instead of ‘publish a book’, just start with ‘write pitch for book about birds’. You don’t need a project plan for stuff like that because you know what comes next. Just get started.

So mine is a somewhat spartan approach to task management. But after all these years of trying so many different processes I’ve realised that being protective of my time and attention, because I appreciate its value, and then just getting on with it with a minimal to-do list is what works for me.

This post originally appeared on my Medium blog

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Video: My 3 Tips For Brands To Be Heard Online

I spoke at Enterprise Nation and O2 Business’ Digital Marketing Demystified event in London last month. I met some great business owners and marketers who were looking to take their digital marketing to the next level, and my talk focussed on social media, growth hacking and making the most of small resources.

The video team there asked me what my three top tips for business to be heard online were, and here they are!

1. Keep It Small – Do Less, Brilliantly

Many brands try to take on every social network and marketing channel and end up spreading themselves too thin. Ask yourself where your content and personality works best and just go there, at least initially. For instance if you are a small fashion brand with very little time, start just on Instagram and nail that before going elsewhere, as your content will work best and fuel a community most effectively there.

2. Keep It Authentic

Don’t worry about being too professional or businesslike in social. It is after all a conversation. Consumers today understand that there are humans behind your brand and expect to hear from them, with all their personality and warmth. So just be yourself rather than a ‘brand’.

3. Spend a Little

Over time, identify what content is working best for you and start to put small spends e.g. £20 – £50 behind pieces you feel should do well. Target the promotion at those outside of your existing network to reach new audiences (perhaps that of competitors even) who you wouldn’t have reached without the boost.

And most of all, have fun with it. If you enjoy it, you’ll do it brilliantly 🙂

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How To Have Great Ideas: The 4 ‘Rooms’ of Inspiration

Thanks to my business partner Chris, who basically insisted I read it, I’ve just finished ‘A Book About Innocent’, a frank and very readable account of how three guys started (and very nearly finished) Innocent Drinks, going from a van selling 24 smoothies at a jazz festival to a business worth well over $150 million.

Their brand is renowned for its original approach and new ways of doing things. In the book they talk about creativity and reference Michael Wolff who set up a famous branding agency in the 1960’s and had the idea of ‘Four Rooms’ which you must visit to cultivate good ideas. I think we all try to do this stuff but this serves as a great checklist:

1. The ‘room of great work’

Expose yourself to the finest ideas by going to art galleries, design museums and shows. Read magazines, books and consume any and every art form. Be inspired by them but do not do your work in this ‘room’ as you will find yourself dominated by its greatness.

2. The ‘room of understanding’

Whatever your industry, make sure you fully understand how it works – the technologies and processes behind it, where the parts of it come from and where they’re going. Do not do your thinking in this ‘room’ as you will feel constrained by its rules.

3. The ‘room of precedent’

Study all that has gone before in the sector that you operate within. Do this to learn what has already been done, what was successful and what failed. Again, don’t do your work in this room or else you’ll just end up plagiarising.

4. The ‘room of creativity’ 

The final ‘room’ is where you should do your work. It is dark and the only person in that room is you. You should go into that room naked. And it is here that you should dtart to think of ideas. 

So, if you’re a creative go buy that Art Pass, check out shows of musicians you love, subscribe to some pretty magazines here, here and here. Subscribe to blogs in your industry and use Google Reader and Twitter to keep track of them and key people in that sector. And engage with those people, join the conversations online and become a voice yourself through your own blog and social media. Most important of all – make sure you actually just go create, and have fun doing it 🙂

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