Well, if you’ve made it this far on The Fire Path, then I KNOW you’re prepared to Ignite ;)
How to stay focused, work efficiently and be most productive
But don’t think we’re done just yet – this is perhaps the biggest, most important post of them all because it’s all about how to maintain FOCUS, efficiency and productivity on your entrepreneurial journey.
What happens once we’ve been given all the information, resources and tools we could possibly need to start creating, growing and monetizing our online business?
That’s right: we have to tip to scale from consumption to creation and DO THE WORK.
Being able to stay focused, work efficiently and be productive are three of the biggest struggles I hear from our audience on a regular basis, and without these three things, you’re going to have a really hard time making any progress with your business growth.
So I thought it would be helpful to close out The Fire Path with some strategies on how you can tackle these three struggles on an ongoing basis.
Tim Ferriss writes in his masterpiece The 4-Hour Work Week:
“Focus on being productive instead of busy.”
I think back to when I was working at the advertising and marketing agency – how easy it was to “get stuff done”. I would go into the office, look at my list, take on one task, complete it, check it off the list, and then move to next.
I would go home at the end of an 11-hour day feeling like I had been really productive.
I’ve come to realize after working on my own that there was one major reason why I was able to go home from my corporate job feeling like I had gotten a lot of stuff done: someone else was telling me what to do. Someone else was giving me my “to-do” list.
It wasn’t this open abyss of me, myself and I being my only accountability partner. It wasn’t me creating goals. It wasn’t me determining what projects were going to be due by this date, and which would be due by that date.
When you’re just starting out with your business there is a lot of knowledge out there, a lot to learn, and a lot of distractions, and it’s hard to determine what to work on – and when to work on it. But as an entrepreneur, these are decisions and deadlines we have to learn to set – and stick to – on our own.
FOCUS: Follow One Course Until Success
When you’re an entrepreneur, it’s on you to figure out what you need to do – and how long you’re going to give yourself to do it – in order to be most productive.
Before you find your sweet spot for productivity – because it definitely takes time – you’ll find yourself feeling very busy, and at the same time, very unproductive.
So what should you do when you fall into that abyss of “busy unproductiveness”?
Learn to FOCUS.
There WILL be days filled with frustration, especially in the beginning. But luckily, there ARE ways we can teach ourselves to focus.
A Strategy for FOCUS
There’s one strategy I want to share here that will help you FOCUS and set yourself up for maximum productivity, and it starts with setting aside just one hour per week.
Sounds pretty reasonable, right? Here’s how…
First: Choose a day
Choose a single day of the week that works best for you to set aside 1 hour to implement this strategy.
Okay, do you have your day and your 1 hour time block scheduled? Seriously, actually write it on your calendar (schedule it to make it real!)
Second: Follow these 5 steps…
1. Write down your goals for the week
This doesn’t have to be an exhaustive list of every single thing you’re going to do at specific times each individual day. It might be that your goals for the week look something like this:
- Read five articles;
- Write one blog post;
- Learn more about one new system or piece of software you’re not currently using, but that has been recommended;
- Meet with two potential clients or industry leaders; and
- Request a guest post on another blog.
Don’t just think about your goals – write them down.
This is a good habit to get into because it’s one way to hold yourself accountable for the goals you want to accomplish.
2. Set a time
After you’ve written down your goals for the week, figure out when the best time to accomplish these things will be for YOU.
To start, pull out a calendar and block off any times when you have appointments, calls, meetings or other commitments.
Then, start by using blocks of time as your “productive periods”. For example, you might have an appointment on Tuesday afternoon at 1pm, so perhaps from 9am – 12pm you can “block” time to start writing your blog post.
Once you have a better idea of how much time you need to complete a task, you can start to become more precise in blocking off productive periods for yourself depending on the task at hand.
The important thing for you to do during these productive periods is to remove any distractions and FOCUS.
Only work on ONE thing at a time.
Don’t get in the habit of being everywhere on your computer – be in one place. That place might be Google Chrome if you’re reading articles, or it might be Microsoft Word if you’re writing, but don’t let it be both.
Challenge yourself to FOCUS.
3. Set Boundaries
Burning out is easy to do if you’re not careful. Don’t expect that because you’re starting a business you have to work 24/7.
Just the same way you block off time to be productive, be sure to also block off a couple of 15 – 30 minutes slots throughout the day to step away from your computer, to go for a walk, to workout, to chat with a friend, or to just laugh!
4. Revisit your goals
It helps me feel productive when I can physically check things off my list – do you feel this way, too?
If so, then make it a point to revisit your list of goals and update them every day. You can either mark them a certain percent of the way done, or check it off your list completely.
This is also a great way to hold yourself accountable and build momentum.
The more you can remind yourself of the goals you’ve set, the more likely you are to stick to them.
Another helpful way to help hold yourself accountable is to join a small mastermind group or online community (we talked about this in our post on how to building relationships and network).
A mastermind might be made up of just you and one other person, or it might be you and 3 or 4 others who you’ve met through an online community you’re a part of.
If you have someone you can check in with daily, weekly or even bi-weekly, that accountability is HUGE when it comes to meeting your goals.
Don’t forget this step! It’s important to understand that this strategy is not a one-time thing, rather something you get in the habit of doing every single week.
If you get to a point where you feel like you’ve mastered this stuff, awesome! Then I challenge you to start doing it daily.
Test it out
Once you’ve gotten the hang of this strategy you can start testing out some different scenarios. Everyone works differently, so you should definitely tweak and test this based on what works best for you.
For example, maybe you’re better at concentrating in the morning, and so setting aside a block of time before noon is more effective.
Or perhaps you find that you get more done in the evening. Great! Schedule that block of time at night.
You might also try blocking off entire days for projects, or even “theming” your days, which is one of my favorite things to do (more on that further down in this post).
But for now, let’s continue this productivity train and I’ll share with you two ways I’ve found to work most efficiently on an ongoing basis.
Working efficiently: Theming + Scrum
A few months ago I implemented a simple technique that has helped me become more efficient, get more done and make more money in my business.
It’s called theming your days
Whether you love planning and execution or hate it, theming your days can help you do both without having to hold actual planning sessions and meetings with yourself every day.
So let’s talk about how you might implement this concept of theming your days in your business.
Establish your themes
First part is simple: what themes are required in your business in order to make it run? Or, in other words, what do you do on a regular basis that actually creates your business?
Some examples might be:
- Creating podcast episodes
- Writing blog posts
- Emailing a weekly newsletter to my list
- Hosting Webinars
- Moderating a community Forum
- Social Media
- Creating videos
…you get the idea.
Now pick 4 to 5 themes that are recurring for you and that, together, create your business.
Once you have your themes, create a schedule around them, giving each day of your “work week” a theme.
Here’s what theming your days might look like:
You’ll notice that the greater part of each of my days has a theme:
Monday’s theme: Writing
Monday’s are my writing days, so whether it’s a blog post, an email newsletter, or a book that I’m working on, Monday is when I’m going to be focusing in on that single theme and getting everything I need for that week (or the next) completed.
Tuesday’s theme: Podcasting
Tuesday’s are my podcast days, so that means whatever I work on throughout that day, it’s going to be directly related to my podcast: recording, editing, social media promotion, and so on.
Do the work
Two major reasons why theming your days works – why you’re able to be more efficient, get more done, and make more money in your business – are:
1. You no longer wake up asking yourself, “What should I work on today?”
2. You don’t have to re-adjust and re-focus 3 to 4 times throughout the day as you jump from one unrelated task to the next.
But theming your days is only going to help you be more efficient, get more done, and make more money in your business if you actually do the work.
Theming isn’t a way for you to be able to just say you’re going to do something.
Theming isn’t meant to be used in order to draw up a bunch of plans and then not take the first step towards implementing them.
Theming isn’t about sitting and thinking about how you don’t really feel like doing it…
Just Do The Work.
Get yourself in your theme zone, because guess what?… You don’t have to get out of that zone when you’re working within a theme for an entire day!
What about daily or unexpected tasks?
Of course there are always going to be those daily tasks or “unexpected” things that come up – tasks that need to be taken care of right away that you didn’t necessarily plan for.
Some of your daily tasks might include:
- Customer service
- Community engagement (social media)
- And some unexpected tasks might include:
- Creating an invoice
- Putting up a LeadPage for an opt in giveaway you’ve just created
- Updating an email campaign with new links
The daily tasks will remain daily, but with theming you have to become very disciplined as to not crush the time you’ve promised to your daily theme. This might mean using an online timer to remind you that 1.5 hours in Facebook isn’t necessary going to ensure great community engagement :)
As for the unexpected tasks, once you’re in a solid rhythm with your themes, you’ll start to find that those come up less and less frequently.
Because when you actually stick to your schedule and do what you’ve planned, you won’t find yourself up against the wall to publish that next podcast episode, blog post, or email newsletter like you used to.
Here’s an example
Every single week, on Sunday, I used to find myself writing our email newsletter that was supposed to go out on Monday. Sometimes I’d start it on Wednesday or Thursday, but without fail, it was always on Sunday that I found myself finishing it.
Now that I have an entire writing day, I don’t have to break it up like that anymore.
Given an entire day to write, I’m able to account for anything I need to get done that week: blog posts, email newsletter, our Paradise Digest… Whereas before, I’d maybe write the blog on Tuesday, the email newsletter on Thursday and Sunday, and the Digest on Friday.
Now that I have a writing day, all of these tasks are accomplished on Monday’s – for the entire week – which prevents any type of writing “popping up” on my schedule throughout the week.
As for the unexpected tasks that will inevitably come up: set aside a break in your day, or perhaps as you’re wrapping up your day, to tend to any loose ends you’ve encountered throughout the day.
Remember: the power of theming is that you’re not skipping from one task to a totally unrelated one – don’t let unexpected tasks break your theme focus. You’ll get it done, it just might not be for another couple of hours :)
What about SCRUM?
Ahhhhh – yes!
When I started checking out the process and idea behind the SCRUM concept, it reminded me very much of theming my days.
SCRUM takes theming your days to a whole new level: it’s more like theming your week – or month – which is referred to as a “sprint”: a period of time when you’re fully focused on a single project in order to get it to completion.
The whole idea with SCRUM is that you fully focus on a single project (one task at a time) in order to go from whatever step you’re at right now to step done.
No distractions, no pauses, no excuses.
Here’s what the SCRUM process looks like:
Looks like a pretty amazing process, doesn’t it?
That’s because it is.
How to implement SCRUM in your business
Let’s first talk about how you might implement this concept in your business.
The Scrum process starts with you creating a plan. If you have a team you’ll be working with on the project you select, then they should be involved in this entire process.
What projects do you have in line to complete?
Which of those projects is most critical? (Choose the one you’ll work on during your first sprint & invite your team – if applicable – to your planning meeting.)
Once you have a project, establish how long your sprint will be in order to complete that project. (Set a deadline! Scrum says to choose a sprint anywhere from 7 – 30 days in length)
Assign individual tasks to that project. (What is required to get that project from where it is right now to completion, and who will handle each of those tasks?)
Given your deadline, how much time will you assign to each of those tasks take? (Be specific and as accurate as possible given your deadline.)
Once you have your plan in place, you’re ready to start your sprint! Logically, your planning meeting would be based on your sprint start date; let’s say you have your planning meeting on Friday, then you would start your sprint on Saturday (or Monday).
Then, every day of your sprint should end with a team (or individual if you’re working alone) check-in meeting (Scrum calls this a daily Scrum meeting). During this meeting, you’ll spend 15 minutes max reviewing deliverables:
- What did you accomplish yesterday;
- What did you accomplish today;
- What (if anything) stands in your way of reaching your goal?
During your sprint, you’ll focus completely on the task at hand: remember, no distractions, no pauses, no excuses.
At the end of your sprint, you should hold two separate meetings (either with yourself or with your team).
The first meeting is a sprint review
This is your opportunity to actually “submit” (or publish or launch) what you created. This is also the time to call out any tasks you said you would finish, but that you didn’t.
The second meeting is a sprint retrospective
This is your opportunity to improve. In our 2014 Review, John and I covered in detail the importance of taking a look back at what has worked for you in the past, and of equal importance, what hasn’t worked for you. In doing so, you’re allowing yourself to double down on what did work, and NOT do what didn’t work for you in the future.
I’m not just writing about stuff that “might work” here.
An example of how we’ve used SCRUM at EOFire
John and I implementing the Scrum process into our workflow here at EOFire has helped us become more efficient, get more done, and make more money in our business.
We used Scrum to create and launch Podcasters’ Paradise, a community now filled with over 2,600 podcasters who are looking to create, grow and monetize their own podcast!
You can also check out this recent case study I published here on the blog about how we continue to use SCRUM in a powerful way to grow our business.
So whether you love planning and processes or not, I think we can agree in closing that you do love building and growing your business.
In closing: The Fire Path
Thank you SO much for joining me on The Fire Path!
I’m grateful you’ve decided to come on this journey with me.
And Congratulations! – you’ve just taken a huge step in growing your business: you’ve invested the time to learn about the steps and strategies you can take TODAY to help move your business forward.
The key to remember now that we’re at the end of The Fire Path is that none of this content will matter unless YOU put it into action.
>> What’s ONE thing you’re going to do TODAY to help move your business forward? <<
>> What’s ONE thing you’re going to do TODAY to help you get one step closer to your goals? <<
Here’s cheers to your business growth!
The Fire Path Book
The last 15 blog posts all wrapped up into 1 nice package so you can reference it ANY TIME you want! Grab The beginner’s guide to growing your online business, The Fire Path book, on Amazon today!