Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the devil was trying to drag me down with this curse they call inefficiency and being unproductive. As promised, I’m sharing three tricks I have used to get myself back on track.
1.To-do lists are wishlists if you don’t have deadlines
We all love to-do lists and know how important they are for keeping us on track. Most importantly, you get to buy a cute notebook to put them in. However, there’s a catch – for a to-do list to actually be effective, each task needs a deadline.
Deadlines are key. They help you prioritise. Tasks that have an earlier deadline should obviously be completed first. Writing that deadline in ink forces you to acknowledge this. This strategy is particularly effective in making sure you get through all those boring tasks that you don’t want to do and end up putting off for weeks.
Deadlines create a sense of urgency which is exactly what you need when you move from a corporate setting to running your startup. Anyone who has made this transition knows that the first thing you’ll notice is all the freedom you have. Mmm…doesn’t that air smell sweet?
Unfortunately, freedom is a double-edged sword. The freedom to do whatever you want includes the freedom to wake up late, stay in your pajamas all day and generally chill a little too hard. Having firm and clear deadlines will help you avoid getting too relaxed and comfortable.
2. Delegation is the wurrrd
Being productive requires energy. Having energy requires a fresh mind. There’s a little something known as Decision Fatigue. This is one of those psychological terms that you NEED to know about. In simple terms, decision fatigue refers to the idea that people make poor decisions after they’ve made a long series of decisions. Your ability to make good decisions is a lot like your willpower to say no to a tray of freshly baked cookies or fried puff-puff – it’s not an infinite resource. This is why leaders like Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg wear the same thing every day. They don’t want to waste precious decision making juice on something as non-essential as their daily outfit.
What does this mean for you and your productivity? It means that to stay productive and get stuff done, you need to minimise the amount of decisions you make. This is where delegation comes in. If there’s something that someone else on your team can do – hand it over, step away and let Jesus take the wheel. (Okay, that’s a bit of a joke. You still need to provide oversight – abi the Big Man only helps those who help themselves).
Delegation allows you to free up all your juice for the stuff that really matters and focus on getting that done vs. doing a bunch of busy work, and then making yourself too tired to do the important stuff.
3. Find an accountability overlord
The problem with working for yourself is that you are only accountable to yourself. We’re human beings so it is natural to be a little too nice to yourself. Missed that deadline – girl you had bad cramps, it’s aiight! Rescheduled that business development call – you’d already had two calls that day, you don tire sef! Missed your targets – um, if you don’t acknowledge it, it never happened, duh!
You need to find someone who is going to keep you accountable and unfortunately your co-founder or partner is not good enough, sorry. Afua and I tried this out but found that it didn’t work. An accountability overlord requires an element of shame. We know each other too well to be embarrassed if either of us dulls.
Our accountability overlord is called Jan. He’s an Africa-focused investor and used to be my older sister’s friend until I stole him. We have check in calls with him once every 3 weeks. On those calls we have a brief chat about what we’ve done over the last 3 weeks and compare it to what we said we would do in our last call. He also pushes us to make sure that all of the activities we’re doing are actually necessary and not just “busy work.”
Because Afua and I have a modicum of shame, neither of us likes to look like dullards on those calls so we make sure we get our work done. The 3 week cycle is long enough to actually run the business but not too long as to allow us to hide from our responsibilities. For those of you who have investors or a board, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem – you’ve got enough hawks watching your back.
So there you have it. Three simple tricks to force yourself into becoming a productivity beast.