Starting and maintaining a small business takes an exceptional amount of work, and time is a precious commodity. That’s why most successful entrepreneurs have developed a few tricks along the way to increase their productivity and effectiveness.We asked entrepreneurs across industries to share their favorite productivity hacks, from useful organization apps to clever tricks for cutting down meeting times.These simple habits have proven to enhance their focus, organization, and happiness, all of which fuel their success.
Beth Doane, founder of Raintees, lets all calls go to voicemail.
In 2008, Doane created Raintees, an apparel line that plants a tree in an endangered rainforest for every shirt sold and donates school supplies to a child in need for every tote bag sold.
Leading a growing company requires her full focus. Doane lets all of her non-scheduled calls go to voicemail, or else she would never get anything done, she says.
“I tend to return calls at the end of the day, and if someone really needs to reach me I have my assistant’s info on my voicemail and let her decide if it’s really an ‘important’ call.”
Eric Casaburi, founder and CEO of Retro Fitness, multitasks by combining a “brainless” activity with a “brain-required” activity.
Casaburi founded the first Retro Fitness in 2004 as an affordable gym for fitness buffs of all intensity levels. His franchise now has locations across the country and continues to grow.
He thinks multi-tasking is key for productivity, but only if it combines a mindless task with one that requires focus.
“For example, you could exercise on a treadmill, while taking a conference call (something that I do frequently),” he says. “Yes you will be winded, but I assure you it won’t affect your thinking and communication skills. In fact, there are studies that show the brain neurons fire off at a higher rate while active!”
Jamie Wong, founder and CEO of Vayable, schedules three non-work-related activities a week that nothing can interfere with.
Vayable is a San Francisco-based travel firm that connects travelers with locals who serve as tour guides. Its network includes over 600 destinations around the world.
Wong says that she’s found schedules and daily plans regularly get broken, so she started keeping three things in her life that she sticks to no matter what. She commits to one activity in each of the categories “Create,” “Love,” and “Grow.” Right now, for example, she’s learning how to play songs on her guitar (Create), keeping Thursday and Saturday nights reserved for friends (Love), and taking boxing lessons (Grow).
“I’ve discovered that few things are more powerful in personal growth than sports,” she says. “I block off Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings now for boxing training. Not only is it an amazing workout, but the mental and physical discipline it requires is a great exercise and metaphor for achieving anything outside of my comfort zone… I find that boxing, like many sports, is always a powerful metaphor for life and business, and I am able to draw on its power throughout the week.”
Doug Quint, co-founder of Big Gay Ice Cream, books his flights based on the availability of WiFi.
Quint and Bryan Petroff started selling gourmet ice cream from a rented truck in the summer of 2009 as a fun side project.Big Gay Ice Cream quickly gained a devoted following throughout New York, and the pair opened up a proper shop in the city in 2011, followed by another the next year. The brand’s fanbase continues to expand, and the Daily Beast and USA Today ranked it the best ice cream parlor business in the U.S. last year.
To make the most of his time spent traveling, Quint always makes sure he will have access to a WiFi network.
“There’s usually no guarantee at the time of booking that I’ll need Internet access — but if I can’t sleep and there’s work to be done that hinges on connectivity, it seems like a week’s worth of work can be done during those hours at 24,000 feet,” he says.
Kate McKeon, founder of Prepwise and Prepwise Games, utilizes Fancy Hands’ assistants-for-hire.
McKeon was a longtime consultant who turned to the education world when she became an instructor at Manhattan GMAT in 2008. In 2012, she founded her own test prep company, Prepwise, for students taking the SAT and GMAT.
As the leader of two small startup teams, McKeon has to take care of a constant stream of tasks. She turned to Fancy Hands‘ assistant services a year ago and has said it’s significantly boosted her productivity.
“In some cases, I have them do preliminary research on market segments so I can make a high-level decision very quickly,” she says. “In other cases, I break up a very complicated project into small enough pieces that can be done with a series of tasks. I had them sort through a 15,000 word glossary for wrong words, and it only took two days.”
Joe Silverman, founder of New York Computer Help, has a rewards system for achieving his goals throughout the day.
Silverman founded New York Computer Help in 2000, and now his team of 25 repairs computers, smartphones, and tablets. He places an emphasis on customer service and personally follows up with as many customers as he can.
When Silverman became his own boss, he wanted to find a way to motivate himself. The answer was a simple reward system — with an emphasis on snacks.
“Complete the blog and get a mini-chocolate,” he says as an example. “Call up all customers who would like additional IT services and buy coffee from Dunkin Donuts. Reach my daily sales goal and eat a protein bar. The key for me is to stick to these incentives. If I don’t accomplish a goal, well, I don’t get the reward.”
Roger J. Hamilton, founder of the XL Group, categorizes every task as a “project” or a “process” and then strictly manages them.
Roger J. Hamilton
Hamilton was born in Hong Kong and is now based in Singapore. He conducts motivational “Fast Forward Your Business” tours around the world each year and owns businesses in publishing, property, financing, event and resort management, and business coaching. He founded the XL Group entrepreneur network in 2002, which has included members like Air Asia founder Tony Fernandez and Nobel Prize winner Muhammed Yunus.
Hamilton wants to spend most of his time growing his business rather than maintaining it. That’s why he and his team members categorize every task as either a project or a process, and he then automates or outsources as many processes as possible so that he can focus on growing his brand. Answering emails, for example, is a constant process and one that can easily be handed off to an assistant so that he has more time to take care of high-level decisions.
Mona Bijoor, founder of Joor, skips the gym and incorporates exercise into her daily routine.
In 2010, Bijoor started Joor as an online global marketplace for wholesale buying for fashion retailers. It is based in New York City and now has offices in Los Angeles and Milan, Italy.
Bijoor works fitness into her busy days, which start at 6:30 a.m. when her young daughters wake her up.
“I make my girls breakfast and while they are eating I generally do 100 sit ups or 100 push ups,” she says. Then she takes the train into the city with her husband. “I get off two subway stops earlier than my normal stop and walk 20 blocks to work so I can log some steps on my Fitbit. This is all the exercise I get during the day, so I take full advantage of NYC being such a great walking city.”
Bobby Harris, founder and president of BlueGrace Logistics, keeps meetings as short as possible.
BlueGrace Logistics offers transportation, technology, freight, and logistics services to companies. In 2011, it launched a program to sell franchises in all 50 states, and in 2012, Inc. magazine named it the No. 1 logistics and transportation company in the country.
Harris hates meetings because he thinks they waste time, but he knows that sometimes they’re necessary. He’s found a way to make the most of them.
“Never accept a meeting without a clear agenda and then ask how long they need,” he said. “Whatever amount of time is requested cut it in half! For instance, if someone asks for 30 minutes, give them 15. Start and stop your meeting on time, every time.”
Priscila Barros, founder of Babiekins Magazine, makes sure her desk is always clean.
When Barros was a 22-year-old mom, she decided to start an online fashion magazine for kids. Babiekins took off when Vogue Kids Brasil covered it, and now it’s advertised as the leading children’s fashion magazine in the U.S.
Barros thinks entrepreneurs should not underestimate the benefits of a clean desk.
“I have made it a habit to put things away and keep folders for different tasks,” she says. “And once a task is done, I check it off. It helps my mind keep focused on that ‘one thing’ to do instead of looking at the long list of must-dos.”
Carlo Ruggiero, co-founder of Kono Pizza, gets back to work once his family is asleep.
Ruggiero founded Kono Pizza USA as the American branch of the company Italian chef Rossano Boscolo started in 2002. Boscolo has expanded the cone-shaped pizza franchise to 19 countries, and Ruggiero is in charge of locations in New Jersey, North Carolina, and Florida.
Ruggiero goes back to work at night as a way to focus and get extra work done.
“At night when my family is asleep, I work uninterrupted for at least two to three hours,” he says. “These few extra hours have been extra productive because I sleep better knowing I’ve done all I can that day, but more importantly, it decreases my ‘to do’ list for the next morning.”
Note: A previous version of this slide named Ruggiero the founder of Kono Pizza rather than its American branch, Kono Pizza USA.
Mark Slater, CEO of Pingup, leaves the office for a half hour each day to get some fresh air.
Slater is a Boston-based serial entrepreneur who started his latest project, Pingup, in 2012. It develops mobile booking apps like BookNow for making reservations and TaxiNow for hailing cabs.
He thinks that “too many people (especially in the cold Northeast) don’t take time away from work during the day, which actually increases productivity.”
Slater spends a half hour each day out of the office to clear his mind and get some exercise. He also often uses this time to pick up his daughter from school, which is an added bonus.
Samira Far, founder of Bellacures, uses Evernote to organize her life into lists.
Far opened her first Bellacures nail salon in 2006, and now the company has seven locations across California. It has developed a dedicated customer base, which includes celebrities like Jessica Biel.
Far is obsessed with lists, which she organizes with the app Evernote.
“I make a list of what I want to accomplish, then tie action items to them quarterly, monthly, and then daily,” she says. “I keep my daily list fresh by re-determining the best use of my time the night before. Every now and again I glance at my monthly and quarterly lists to see if I need to make any adjustments in order to accomplish my goals.”
James Borow, co-founder and CEO of SHIFT, sets aside all emails that aren’t related to his to-do list.
SHIFT is a Los Angeles-based marketing platform that works with brands to maximize their influence on social networks. Since 2010, it has raised over $14 million in funding, works with 10 of the world’s top 20 brands, and has opened additional offices in Palo Alto, Chicago, New York, and London.
Borow uses the Mailbox app to isolate emails that are relevant to tasks he must accomplish.
“The key is to snooze all of the emails that are not part of weekly goals,” he says. “If you do this, you can start to treat your email as a to-do list as opposed to just reacting all of the time. This has completely changed my ability to get bigger tasks done.”
Tracy DiNunzio, founder and CEO of Tradesy, works from home one day each week.
DiNunzio operates the online clothes re-seller Tradesy. It absorbed her previous venture, Recycled Bride, the largest online wedding re-sale marketplace.
She considers multitasking a myth and focuses on one task until it’s complete. To cut down on distractions, she tries to regularly work from home.
“I try to work from home at least one day a week, and carve out time blocks throughout the day in the office to focus on whatever is at the top of my to-do list without interruption,” she says. “It’s better to do three things well than try and do 10 things when your attention is divided.”
Rob Israel, co-founder of Doc Popcorn, starts each morning with a two-word mantra.
Israel and his wife Renee started their naturally flavored popcorn business in 2003 and moved from New York to Boulder, Colo., to turn Doc Popcorn into a franchise. TheDenver Business Journal reported that the company achieved revenue growth of 600% between 2010 to 2013.
Israel starts the day off right by having five minutes of quiet time each morning before he gets to work.
“In the last minute,” he says, “I breathe in and out two great words for the day. It could be ‘peace and play’ or ‘calm and strength’… it simply depends on what comes and is needed in the moment. This is an awesome and important start of my day’s productivity and creates immediate sanity.”
Lucas Donat, founder and CEO of Tiny Rebellion, gets his hardest work done before most people wake up.
Donat founded Tiny Rebellion as a small ad agency dedicated to working exceptionally closely with its clients. It has had significant success growing the brand awareness of eHarmony, LegalZoom, and Hotwire, to name a few.
Donat’s now-favorite productivity trick fell into place after his infant daughter began waking him up at 4 a.m. Now she’s grown, but he still uses the “magical time” from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. to get his hardest work done.
“That uninterrupted, quiet time allows me to start my business day with a sense of accomplishment,” he says. “I have already done the hard work of writing and thinking before breakfast. As a CEO, I am increasingly finding that my highest contribution is to be there for others in a way that adds harmony and clarity. Having that quiet time in the morning for reflection and creativity is what keeps me firing on all cylinders during the chaos of my day.”