Running a business, especially in a tiny team of one, can be overwhelming. Sole founders, business owners and startups have a hundred things to do and it’s all too easy to lose focus and feel motivation drain away. This can be detrimental to your business, not to mention your well-being as a human.
So I asked our fellow UK business owners and startup founders to share their top productivity tips. After receiving so many thoughtful replies and helpful tips, I’m feeling seriously motivated and inspired!
Read on for some fantastic, real-life advice on how to stay productive, like a boss.
“I find myself procrastinating when I need to start a new piece of work. So to overcome the fear of starting, I give myself five minutes to initially work on something. I set a timer and challenge myself to getting something done in this ridiculously short amount of time. It’s no secret that people tend to work harder as deadlines approach, so all I’m doing is artificially creating a sense of urgency, which forces me to do something. I find that at the end of the five minutes I’m actually annoyed that I’m being interrupted by the alarm and carry on!”
Bethan Vincent, Entrepreneur
“Do the thing you want to do the least first thing in the morning”
Katrina Aleksa, Founder at Predella House
“The most important productivity tip is to learn to switch off and take time out away from a laptop, mobile phone or any other screen and preferably get outdoors. When I make myself do this I am far more productive when I get back to work. If I feel myself getting stressed or overwhelmed by how much work I have I make a point of going out for a walk, whatever the weather, or if it’s a sunny day, sitting in the garden and clearing my mind for 15 minutes.
Other than that I swear by working to a timer. I have to use a timer to charge my clients, but I use one for my own work too. If I allow myself 1 hour to plan my social media posts for the week ahead, then I HAVE to finish it within the 1 hour allocated. I find that timing myself makes me focus on the task at hand and get the job done, otherwise I’d sit there planning away for hours!”
Emma Read, Freelance Virtual Assistant
“To keep up my A-game, I prefer to be in my office (whether that’s at home or outside) by 9am. The days I don’t are almost write-offs as everything moves at a snail pace and you spend a little longer having your breakfast in front of the TV. I believe what you do first thing can set the tone for the whole day. So you have to be up and at ‘em, ready to take on the world, or at least do some good business.”
Halima Khatun, Director of HK Communications
“Focus on one thing – define your core purpose in 7 words or less and make sure everything you do is aligned to achieving it, and making it a reality.”
Lol Morrison, The GameChanger Consultancy
“I often find running a small business can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. If one of us is having a bad day then it’s likely that everyone else will also be finding things tough and therefore not be able to provide the support or distraction. Hence it’s very important to help out each other, to keep the spirit up.
So what we started doing is (must say the original idea came from the movie ‘The Intern’)…. we bought a bell and whenever there’s a piece of good news in the company (no matter how trivial it is, e.g more visitors come to your site this week or bring in new client etc), someone will ring the bell and announce the good news to the team. It’s a good way to keep the good vibe running within the company and it does work!”
Gerry So, Director of Okappy
“As a full time Postgraduate law student and co-founder, I’m constantly battling time management and productivity, trying to squeeze out every last minute. My favourite productivity tip is putting my headphones in and doing a great work out. I somehow do my best thinking on the treadmill… and in fact some of my best and most creative ideas have actually come while listening to music and running.”
Simone Fattouche, Co-Founder of BillHive
“My fave productivity tip is to make sure that I follow a format no matter what I do. If I resolve to clear my emails I will make it my mission to clear them. Not divert away from it when I get busy. If I have paperwork I make sure to respond to it all. I try not to pick and choose tasks. Either do them or bin them but don’t procrastinate on them.”
Ali Afzal, MD, Tax Smart Group
“I’m Chris Meah, founder and CEO of School of Code. I’m also finishing my PhD whilst starting this company. My productivity tip is to chunk your time. Completely dedicate a couple of hours to something specific, and don’t switch contexts during that time. That should go for emails too – dedicate an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening to responding to emails. That way you won’t have your day interrupted with constant looking at them.”
Chris Meah, Founder/CEO, School of Code
“I use the app Wally to keep track of my business expenses on the move. It’s been invaluable in helping me tot up all the pennies and pounds, as well as providing a great overview of where the money’s going. The user interface is really slick and you can customise your expenses, whether you’re buying fuel, products or stationery. And it’s free!”
Ally Potter, Founder, Wanderloom
“Set yourself achievable goals and make sure you mark them off once they’re completed. Seems simple, but when you’re just starting out, the challenge facing you can be daunting. It’s easier once your goals are broken down and you actually see yourself start ticking them off. The climb up gets that much easier and you feel you’ve accomplished something, even if it’s not the end goal just yet.”
James Hanline, Managing Director (and founder), SnapTank
“To increase productivity I create a to do list with high, medium and low priority! I also find it useful to take breaks and grab some fresh air!”
Hannah Duraid, CEO, The Great Escape Game
“I have been running a start-up business for the past 18 months and have learnt a lot, personally and professionally, in that time. One of the biggest learning curves i faced was how to both motivate myself and push myself to achieve financial and sales goals. In previous roles i have always worked towards targets and found this a good way to both motivate myself to achieve and to measure success. Consequently i outlined some monthly and yearly sales targets, along with personal goals, that i wanted to achieve and this helped me stay focused on the job in hand and motivated to drive the business forward.”
Simon Lomas / Owner / Blue White and Grey
“Write down your objectives each night before you go to bed.
Focus on these each day and tick them off as you go. If asked to do a task that’s not on your list – Does it really need to be done today? If not – Put it on your list for the next day.”
Chris Piggott, Co-Founder of Synextra Ltd (Cloud Technology Startup)
“Automate as much as you can! There are loads of tools online to save you time. My favourites are Hootsuite to schedule social media and Zapier to automate pretty much anything!”
Emily Barnes, Founder of designforme.com
“Never let fear get in your way!
‘It was my fear of failure that first kept me from attempting the master work. Now, I’m beginning what I could have started ten years ago. But I’m happy at least that I didn’t wait twenty years.’ ~ Paulo Coelho”
“For me, when you are running a small business, you have to do so many tasks yourself and don’t always get the chance to delegate. You can start to procrastinate when you have too much that needs doing, and you are not sure what needs doing first. I concentrate on one task at a time and start with the most important. I set small manageable and realistic goals to complete tasks and conquer them one task at a time.”
Mark Johnson, Managing Director , Cal Sameday
“Always remember the three Ps – patience, positivity and perseverance!”
Victoria, UK Lifestyle Blogger & Fashion Accessories Boutique Owner, Lyliarose.com
“I try to take half an hour at the beginning of every week to (roughly) allocate time to important tasks throughout the week and always plan time every day specifically for the ‘small’ jobs like social media updates. That way I can find a balance between focusing on everyday tasks and more strategic activities.”
Philippa Cambers, Founder, The Maker Place
“My tip would be that you can’t throw stones at every dog that barks. There are lots of things when running a start-up that can distract you from making sales. Even as you grow, you will get more people trying to sell to you, or people commenting on how things are done. Only you can keep focussed and be responsible for hitting the companies objectives.”
Karla Jobling, COO & Founder, BeecherMadden
A huge thank you to all the awesome business owners who helped me with this post! As, for me, I’m at my most productive when I’m feeling positive. When I feel myself begin to flail, it’s usually because I feel demotivated or when a project doesn’t work out as well as expected. I’ll go for a walk or ring up a friend for a change of perspective. I also find beautiful stationery (I’m looking at you Filofax) or a fresh notebook motivates me. Prioritising tasks with checklists and planning my week on good old fashioned paper keeps me organised.
Making lists, being held accountable and – perhaps counter intuitively – taking time out, will all help to keep you focused and productive. I hope you’ve found these tips as helpful as I have. Do leave a comment below if you’d like to share your own productivity hacks. Hope you have a productive, prosperous week!