Keep Tabs of Your Mental State
– Focus on Your Daily & Long Term Goals
Among the sea of productivity books, self-help gurus and scheduler/planner options (from Steven Covey to Tony Robbins – both of whom I am tremendous fans of, incidentally), I’ve found that when you’re your own boss, running your own show, often on your own little island, the ability to stay both productive and focused is as much a battle as it is to manage your brokers or your co-packers (only partially sarcastic). I am a productivity junkie, or at least think I am, but it’s a process that is never perfect, more a journey than a destination.
Staying focused and productive in the world of CPGs requires a mix of bruit force and a connection to and belief in your longer-term goals and ambitions – especially when your particular brand is in a dark spot or simply grinding sideways (I recall, earlier in my career, the days of waiting for the fax machine to light up with purchase orders – challenging times, my friends). The ability to rise above the short term hurdles, be they operational or financial (or anything in between), provided the business is trending in the appropriate direction, is a skill that keeps you and your colleagues following a similar trend. Undoubtedly, it can be hard but there are best practices that help.
As I’m launching my new brand, an experience that has me juggling as many (if not more) plates as ever, I am consciously utilizing several of the below tools to maximize my own productivity. Please note: there is no shortage of tools available to help maximize your day and in my opinion, there is no one size fits all solution. Nonetheless, the tools I have relied upon are broad enough that they could likely be of assistance with you as well. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Be mindful of my conscious state: brand management, especially with a small team, requires a mix of grit, creativity, outside of the box thinking, etc. If you’re in a mental funk where the creative juices aren’t flowing (despite having planned to work on a project that requires creativity) don’t force it: switch to another task that, while less sexy or fun, allows you to step back at the end of the day and still recognize that you moved the ball forward.
- Be both planful and realistic for your day: I have a daily ritual, which I share with my younger brother (an awesome lawyer in Denver – obviously the wiser soul to stay out of entrepreneurialism), where we outline the three tasks that regardless of how our days go, we will accomplish with pride and execute with zeal that day. The three goals are “SMART” in format (specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timely – a good tool for your marketing plan as well) and are public, in as much as they are socialized with somebody else. Your days in this industry are hectic and can be chaotic: narrowing your focus to three items rather than a laundry list of 12 will help keep your business (and its value) moving forward.
- Change your routine and environments: I work on this blog and the broader FSE-Hub activities in a totally different environment than the start-up. This tactic allows me to have a very different mental state for each and keeps both projects, consciously and subconsciously, separate, therefore allowing for greater focus and daily output.
- Good physical and mental habits are priceless: this journey is the proverbial marathon and keeping in great shape on all fronts, whenever possible, is key. In my younger years, and I can’t believe I just typed that, I was a bit more “free spirited” (for lack of a better term) and dealt with the pressure and stresses of bill-backs and customer deductions via spirits and late nights – it was fun and I have no regrets, but as I’ve “matured”, these habits won’t cut it. I recently read a piece in Fast Company where Andy Dunn, founder of Bonobos and fellow Northwestern alum, monitors and maximizes his sleep. I’m totally in this camp. Moreover, I block time for nearly daily physical fitness (more below). Finally, I’ve increasingly found myself watching documentaries at night. Why documentaries?: i) I’m too tired to read; ii) for me, I love learning and they help me in the creative process.
- I get outside, a lot, to both work and exercise: I’m a big walker – I haven’t always been but due to a bad knee and desire to create more balance in my life, it’s something that I have increasingly done. Tim Ferris talks about returning phone calls during long walks – I love this recommendation (ask my colleagues and a few co-packers; sorry for the wind tunnel, guys). I am intentional during my walks in what I want to accomplish (i.e., listen to podcasts, return phone calls, turn everything off) so the time allows me to remain productive. Short of one of those treadmill desks that I don’t think I’ll ever buy (it would be a disaster), this recommendation is one of my favorites.
- A bonus tip: if the walk long enough and my mind relaxed and focused, I usually have a “list of things to do” or exciting ideas I want to immediately pounce upon (this post is an example). To capture these, I use the voice memo feature on my iPhone, dictating notes to myself that I transcribe and implement later. This works great, and if I’m fired up enough, I’ll try to capture the passion in my voice so I can mentally take myself back when I’m listening later on.
- Keep focused and in the working zone: because of the walks and eight hour sleep requirement, both of which are priorities, I need to stay as focused during “office time” as possible. I accomplish this through a shared work environment (which, in reality, keeps me from reading the NYTimes.com and broader web surfing), good music, and a disciplined calendar.
- Two other “gimmies” for better productivity:
- “Chunking” (or clustering) of similar activities: combinatin and execution of similar tasks whenever possible.
- Work in parallel activities: walking while placing work calls is an obvious example – I get outside, get my heart going (120/70, baby) and work.
- Celebrate everything: with our start-up, we close each week with a communal beer (we each drink our own – not one beer that we pass around), an activity we refer to as our #weeklyhash (I don’t know why) where we review our goals, celebrate our accomplishments, outline the week ahead, take an inventory of our longer term projects, and generally work through anything that’s on our minds. As a team we are sprinting hard, which gets us lost in the weeds pretty regularly. Through this simple ritual, we always close the week on a strong note, helping measure our progress, stay true to our goals, and celebrate the close of the week.
“Keep it Real”
Hopefully all of the above will help implement my last tactic: “keep it real” and see things as they are, not better or worse than they are. Walking definitely helps in this regard, but at the end of the day, keeping your head about you and putting things in the proper perspective (i.e., it’s just a box or a bag of product) is my ultimate goal. Celebrate the wins, learn from the setbacks, and try to keep everything real in between.
What Do You Think?
As I note above, there are no shortage of productivity tools, books on the topic or thought leaders who are much more accomplished or appropriate to opine on this subject matter – nonetheless, it’s not rocket science. I firmly believe that no one size fits all, but there are broad strategies from which anybody can benefit. I’d love to hear some of yours.