This week, Dan Crask joins me to discuss some very practical things that will help you get the most out of your work day and work space. This is a great one for entrepreneurs and home-based business folks.
Dan is “The Brand Shepherd” among my fellow collaborators for my two-book set, “Entrepreneur Mind Hacks”. He is also a marketing expert and graphic designer as well as just a great guy! His chapter in Entrepreneur Mind Hacks is simply titled “Tips on Staying Productive”, and he strikes gold right from the beginning:
“Staying productive is like navigating a minefield of distractions and meaningless work.”
One aspect of this is the entrepreneurial truth that not everyone is equal. As businesspeople, we need to be able to prioritize the multitudes of problems, individuals, and projects facing us each day. According to Dan, the number one way to do this is to first minimized your distractions.
But, what’s a distraction?
It could be as simple as family distractions, if you’re working from a home office. For Dan, when the door is closed, nobody bothers Dad. Another distraction could be your phone and computer notifications. And, speaking of your phone, minimizing distractions could also mean sending all calls to voicemail instead of answering each call as they come in.
And, when it comes to personal needs, Dan goes so far as making “appointments” for his own self-care needs on his calendar so that the time is intentionally set aside for working out, meals, and even family time.
Dan also wrote:
“Through trial and error (heavy on the error), I have a few mind hacks to help keep you productive.”
It’s hard to imagine a guy like Dan being heavy on errors, but the truth is that up until 2010, Dan found himself incredibly distracted by all the latest things that were happening in social media. It got to such a point that he was extremely enamored by what he was seeing on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It was consuming him to the point that he’d bring social media up at client meetings, he’d be distracted by social media while trying to accomplish his work duties, and what’s worse is that his clients saw it before he did.
At that point, he put social media in the far, far, FAR backseat of life and only uses it as a tool to accomplish his and his clients’ branding goals.
Dan also suggests to implement what he calls a “mandatory door”, no matter where you work. In other words, you need a space where you are able to hunker down and get work done. Not only does this offer you the ability to focus without distractions, but it also provides privacy that could help your clients and partners feel more confident and at ease. The other side to having a “mandatory door” is that when the door is open, anyone can come in and you are not forever isolated from the world, or more specifically your loved ones.
Now, like many entrepreneurs, Dan works from a home office, so the door has become quite a necessity. However, depending on where you stand in your company’s pecking order, you may find yourself working in a cubicle or open space where co-workers are able to interrupt your focus. In this case, effective communication between you, your boss, and your co-workers is critical so that everyone understands when and how you need to work distraction-free.
This also ties into some things I’ve been reading lately regarding the need for leaders to be considerate and compassionate toward the needs of those who they are leading. This principle applies to people working within an organization, or the solo-entrepreneur who is leading his family. Healthy communication is key.
Another tip Dan offers is to make sure your notifications serve you, not the other way around.
Too often, our email, text message, social media, and news alert notifications ping us to death when it comes to focusing on what needs to get done. For Apple users, there is a convenient “Do Not Disturb” mode on iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers, which Dan takes advantage of.
Turning off his notifications did take Dan a bit of “detox time”, as it may any of us, but putting his social media and other non-time critical interactions onto his own terms has been incredibly beneficial.
Almost immediately, Dan was able to put in a full hour of undistracted, undisturbed, and productive time. This may sound basic, but Dan is a creative person in a creative business and creativity can gain momentum. Dan was finding that his repeated notifications were constantly taking him out of his creative rhythm and interrupting his momentum. Without them, he was instantly more productive.
Dan also has found that he is more productive in the early morning hours. Getting to this discovery took a lot of humility, as well as Dan’s ability to identify his own strengths and weaknesses. He had to abandon the stereotypes of what needs to be done in order to be successful and take a hard, honest look in the mirror. Such stereotypes might be: if you’re a farmer, you’re supposed to rise before the sun and get straight to work. If you’re an artist you’re supposed to work all hours of the evening. If you’re a writer, you should be able to tirelessly sit in front of your computer all day long. Before abandoning the stereotypes, Dan really wanted to be a “night person”, but he realized that he simply isn’t one. By the time 8:00 rolls around, he’s done. He’s usually in bed before 9:00 at night. The flip side is that he is awake and refreshed sometime between five and six each morning. Dan finds that the early morning brings on a “newness” that invigorates him.
Now, not all of us are like Dan – possessing the ability to be most creative before lunch – but , the key is to figure out how you are wired and what part of the day you are most naturally productive, and then make the most of that portion of the clock-face.
One thing readers of Entrepreneur Mind Hacks may notice is a quick tip that immediately follows Dan’s submission. It reads:
“Every day, without fail, spend the first 20-30 minutes of your day resetting your thinking about yourself, your goals, and your daily projects. Do not start your day without absolute clarity regarding the most important tasks for your day. Those 20 minutes will determine the tone, course, and productivity of your entire day.”
This works for Dan many mornings, but working at home with three kids under seven has its built-in obstacles some morning. Nevertheless, he does what he can to get an early start to each day. Whether he starts first thing in the morning, or if his start time gets delayed a bit, he has systems, including a big dry erase board, that helps him organize his day and approach his mornings with clarity. Then, at the end of each day, he adjusts the lists, tasks and other information on the board to reflect the priorities of the following day.
All this boils down to Dan’s personal success in providing his clients with brand guidance and design. He works with businesses of all shapes and sizes, listens to their goals and directions, and helps with pretty much anything that is visual regarding the company’s brand, as well as the company’s brand identity or even brand packaging.
This process can turn into analyzing a website’s Google Analytics report and figuring out how to help a company’s website perform better, to coming up with the right design for the packaging, printing and even product design that would help lead to successful profits.