Protect your most valuable asset – time – with these 5 productivity hacks

Speaking with a number of Inc5000 founders and other successful entrepreneurs, I wanted to create a short list of some of the tools they’re recommending and I’ve been using/testing to see how they work. Here’s the low-down with insights on how to get the most out of them.

1.Create a daily activity diary (“DAD”)

This can be a Google document, a simple text file, the Notes app on your phone.  Keep it simple and accessible so it doesn’t feel like a chore to keep track of what you plan to do – and what you actually do – every day.

Actually, the Google Calendar app works great for this  I’m personally a fan of the more old-school approach of using a physical calendar (one of those that look like a book, like SELF or the Commit30).

The idea is to plan your day the night before by time-blocking your calendar.  That way, you won’t feel lost during the day, wasting time to figure out what to work on next.  Also, by blocking on the left your plan and entering on the right what actually happens during the day, you learn 3 things:

  • where you spend most of your time,
  • what are your biggest distractions, and
  • how long each task actually takes.

If you’re anything like me, you will plan a super-ambitious day where you’ll get 10 things done.  Only to find out that by the end of the day you’ve crossed out only one of your planned to-do items.  Now you can go back and figure out what happened.

2.Track your time to master how you spend it

What’s the saying: you can only control what you can measure.  Enter time-tracking.  I’ve tried a number of apps and settled on the Daily Time App.  There’s no free version but it’s super simplistic and actually works.  You can choose the app to ping you every 30 minutes or so and ask you what you’re working on.

Don’t stop to think what you’ve been working on the past half hour to improve accuracy, just write exactly what you’re doing.  Things will average out over time.  And you can look back on a daily or monthly basis to see where you’ve been investing your time.

It’s fast and not distracting as most other apps that have more features and functionality but frankly it’s overkill.  I found out that I’m actually spending a good chunk of time on Project Management, which incentivized me even more to hire someone to do this for me so I can focus on business development.

I also found out that I’m wasting a lot of time on Admin tasks, so I’ve made a more conscious effort to at least ‘batch’ my time spent on these tasks – so I can focus better and for longer stretches of time on more important things.

3.Apply the Pareto principle 2.0

Everybody know the Pareto principle: 80% of results come from 20% of effort.  So the first step would be to list out all your tasks and focus on the most impactful ones.  Taking this principle one step further, 80% of that 80% will be accomplished with 20% of the 20% effort.  Which means that 4% of effort drives 64% of results.

You can take the list of everything you do on a daily or weekly basis and prioritize it in an A-B-C list in terms of impact.  A-tasks are those that with a little bit of effort drive the majority of your results.  These are tasks like leading your team or developing partnerships.  Then you have the B-tasks that are still important but can be delegated to an extend.

And finally you have your C-tasks that tend to be more administrative and should be outsourced.  They often take the most time without helping you get to the next level with your goals.  You can outsource accounting to a service provider, or you can outsource list-building for your email campaign to an Upwork freelancer.

Your mission should be to figure out how to outsource or systematize your business in order to eliminate C-tasks and manage B-tasks more effectively.  And every month you should move new tasks to the B and C categories so you constantly become more efficient.

4.Exercise your idea muscle

James Altucher is a big proponent of this, to help you become an Idea Machine.  Every day, dedicate 10-15 minutes of your time to sit down with a pen and paper to come up with 10 ideas.  It can be about anything but try to stick to 1 topic per day.  Maybe it’s 10 ideas to grow your business, improve your networking efforts, or 10 ideas on how to help clients.

Some great ideas to come up with 10 ideas for:

  • Answering Quora questions
  • 10 things you knew when you were 5, 10, 20 years younger
  • Blog posts.

The most important thing is not to stray from this habit.  Keep at it, every day.  Some days you will feel stuck, but you will notice that these days will be fewer and farther between.  And most of your ideas will be outright bad.  So don’t stress out about it… That’s ok!  Just get the ideas flowing.  Besides, even 1 good idea per day can change your life!

5.Do a regular brain dump to relax your mind

Coming up with ideas sounds great but it has its pitfalls.  Ideas can clutter your mind, leading to paralysis.  Has this ever happened to you: a great idea hits you like a flash while you’re showering.  And then you’re so afraid of forgetting the idea that you keep repeating it to yourself.  

That wastes so many brain cycles.  Your brain needs to be free to explore and make subconscious connections, to work on problems at its full capacity.  If you try to keep ideas on your mind, you’re handicapping yourself quite seriously!  

A brain dump is to unload all these ideas on a piece of paper so you don’t have to keep them ‘active’.  The notion that these ideas are registered and won’t be forgotten relaxes your brain and lets it roam free.  I’m actually keeping a notepad next to my keyboard and note any idea that comes to me.  Maybe you read a blog that gives you an idea, or you had a great call with a potential partner or client.  

Jot down your ideas and move on!

What are some of your favorite productivity tools or tactics to keep you focused and accomplish more?


Founder of Board Studios Inc, an animation production agency that helps B2B companies simplify and communicate more effectively. Specializing in B2B makes a big difference because we know what information your clients need, what works and what doesn’t. B2B communications can be very different than B2C, so if you get your video explainer from a B2C agency you may not get the results you deserve.

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