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Perhaps you are one of those people—the ones who write up a to-do list every afternoon before they leave their desk and complete everything on it the following day. The ones who keep their desks neat, their files up-to-date, and their calendars easy to read. The ones who find doing taxes rather satisfying.
If you are one of those people, more power to you. Move along; there’s nothing to see here.
On the other hand, some people find that their to-do lists are always longer at the end of the day than they were at the start, and they feel like they are too busy dealing with today to focus on planning for tomorrow.
If that’s you, let’s talk.
For an Entrepreneur, Productivity = Profits
There are some jobs where you can get away with being less than on top of things. But when you work for yourself, if you’re not productive you’re not making money. No one will pay you to chat about your weekend or play Words with Friends all day long.
And as an eBay seller, you’re totally in control—of your day, your products, and yourself. For most entrepreneurs, we’re all we’ve got.
It’s wonderful in terms of freedom, but it can be a bear when it comes to productivity.
If you’ve been living the entrepreneurial life for a while, you know at least some of this, but there’s good news coming here: you can make this much better than whatever you’re struggling with now.
Productivity is an Investment with Immediate Returns
You can be a lot more productive and happier by making some basic changes in how you approach your work and your life. Here’s the challenge: improving your productivity won’t happen just by taking a class or seminar, reading a book, or working with a coach or counselor.
You have to invest the time and energy to explore the assumptions and mindsets that are holding you back and build the tools or systems that will make your work flow. It’s hard work, but it’s a real investment in your future.
Anyone, but particularly an entrepreneur, has to work effectively within specific limitations to be productive. Those limitations include time and space, including your most important space: the one between your ears. If you don’t understand your capabilities—what you’re good and bad at, what you resist doing, when you shut down, and what gets you jazzed and excited—you’re never going to be as productive as you can be.
Let’s take a look at me for a convenient example. I am highly motivated by compliments. Say something nice about my work and you will get my best efforts every time. On the other hand, if you don’t give me a deadline, that’s my personal license to procrastinate. You will never get your project back. So, to review: if you want me to be productive, tell me I’m wonderful and you want it by Friday.
Productivity Starts with Changing Old Mindsets
I spoke with Dr. Ashley Hampton, a psychologist and business coach for professional women entrepreneurs looking to grow their business without sacrificing a healthy work/life balance. Dr. Ashley also sells collectible toys, books, and records on eBay, so she has a special understanding of the challenges and pleasures of being an eBay seller.
She explained that transitioning to being a productive entrepreneur from a productive employee involves more than setting up an office area at home. It means an entire shift in thinking and a willingness to break out of the assumptions and mindsets you developed when working for someone else.
Dr. Ashley explained, “The biggest assumption for me and for others that causes people to experience a kind of ‘bump in the road,’ is moving from being told what to do and what you’re schedule’s going to look like, to being the person who decides.”
According to Dr. Ashley, “Suddenly you don’t have to do anything between 8am and 5pm anymore. You can do your shipping confirmations through PayPal while sitting in your bed watching late-night TV if you want to. So you alter your schedule and then essentially alter your life. Instead of working from 8 to 5 and then going home and having your personal life, you can, if you’re not careful, essentially work from the time you wake up until the time you go to sleep. That’s what a lot of people do in the beginning because they don’t really have a structure yet and they don’t realize that they need to set that structure for themselves. I would say that’s the first mindset shift that needs to happen: setting your schedule and setting your boundaries of when your work will happen versus when your life will happen.”
Batching Tasks Leads to More Efficiency
Dr. Ashley discovered batching, another mind-shift, as an eBay seller in graduate school, and it continues to save her time and energy in her consulting and psychology work today.
When we move from one type of task to another, even simple tasks, our brains have to make an adjustment. This is called context switching, and it takes a minute or so to switch. On the other hand, if we batch our efforts—do all like tasks at the same time—we are more time and mental-energy efficient.
If we constantly change the type of work we’re doing, according to Dr. Hampton, “We’re basically tiring out our brains. But if we batch, we do all of the same types of tasks at the same time, and then switch to the next task. For example, for my eBay stuff, I’ll get out all of my products for this week, get them all ready to take pictures, and take all of my pictures at one time. Then I go to the computer, upload the pictures, and make whatever adjustments I need to make all of them ready to post. Then I pull up the website and I do my posting all at one time. If I handled each product individually through the process it just takes a lot longer and uses a lot more brain power.”
Productivity Today Means Shifting from Time to Attention Management
It’s tempting to think that if we can just find the right calendar, the perfect app, add more files, or buy more bookshelves, we can be more productive. But 20th century approaches such as time management are too limited given the expectations and demands of today’s businessperson.
Instead, our productivity should be a richer, more empowering journey, according to Maura Nevel Thomas. Maura is an award-winning international speaker, trainer, and author on individual and corporate productivity and work-life balance, and the most widely-cited authority on attention management. She is the author of two books: Personal Productivity Secrets and Work Without Walls.
Maura’s approach challenges some classic time management assumptions such as the value of multitasking, but it also helps redefine old concepts for today’s world. Instead, she states that our ability to be productive depends on our skill at attention management.
According to Maura, attention management is, “the ability to control your distractions, be present in your moment, engage your flow, maximize your focus, and unleash your genius. When we are always distracted, it chips away at our attention span. We very rarely think of only one thing at a time, which means that we are splitting our attention, which means that we are not really bringing our full brain power to the task at hand. If we’re holding multiple things superficially in our heads, we’re really not focusing on any of them. That means it’s not going to be our best work.”
“But,” says Maura, “when we are fully focused, fully immersed in our task, we get into what’s known as a ‘flow state,’ which is a documented psychological state. Our brain waves actually fire differently. Time passes quickly, we perform optimally, and we get a real feeling of joy and satisfaction from it. But we don’t often achieve that flow state because in order to be in flow, there have to be no distractions. And we rarely create a place where there are no distractions. If we can’t do all those things then we can’t bring our full brain power to the task at hand.”
The goal of attention management is to single task—do one thing at a time and apply your full brain power so that you can get it done faster and better, with fewer mistakes. It’s a matter of practice and it will get easier over time, but it starts with three steps:
Actions You Can Take Today to Improve Your Productivity
If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are looking to find ways to accomplish more with your day. Well, this writer and both of these experts have faced the same issues. And this blog offers the beginnings of some solutions.
The next move is yours. Do you have the willingness and the courage to put some of these ideas into play in your own eBay business? If you do, here are some steps we recommend to get started. Don’t feel obliged to go for all of them at once. Pick one and get comfortable before moving on, but I strongly recommend including number four no matter what. It’s my favorite!
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