Top 7 ways for entrepreneurs to stay productive

By ATB Financial 10 June 2020 7 min read

man and woman looking at sticky notes on a board

When you launch a business and manage its many moving parts, it can be overwhelming to prioritize one task over another. You have so much to do in a finite amount of time, and if you could clone yourself, you would probably consider it a wise investment.

Until those Living With Yourself days arrive, you have to recognize the value of boosting your productivity on the ground floor without facing burnout or anxiety. We wanted to share some tips on getting done what needs to get done in a way that fits with your lifestyle as a business owner, so we curated seven helpful pieces of advice from Kate McKenzie, Manager at ATB X.

1. Work on the business, not just in the business

A common pitfall for entrepreneurs, especially for those running a small team, is how long their to-do list stretches and how wildly their email inbox overflows. “It’s important for these owners to take a step back, at least once a week, and take time to examine what’s happening with their business, such as cash flow,” McKenzie says.

When you’re deep in the weeds with marketing plans or onboarding new employees or fine-tuning your product, you might think you’re being impressively productive. But you need to take a macro view of your business and overlook areas like who owes you what, and hey, why are they late?! Spotting discrepancies in invoicing, say, can help your business flow smoothly so you’re not spending hours sorting out a problem in the future.

2. Set specific goals daily

Improvising your way through the nine-to-five likely won’t set you up for success. Having clear and defined goals will always help entrepreneurs remain focused on what’s ahead.

McKenzie suggests breaking up those targets by the morning and afternoon. “Have at least one task you want to get done in the morning and one in the afternoon” she says. Getting so granular will make sure you don’t get bogged down in the morning with too many admin tasks, relegating your goal to a 3 pm appointment, when you really could have gotten so much more done in the morning.

That doesn’t mean you can’t tackle admin work. Being productive as an entrepreneur means ensuring those urgent emails get answered, those contracts get signed. But by scheduling morning and afternoon targets, you have benchmarks to reach that could help anchor your day more effectively.

3. Key performance indicators (KPIs) and backcasting

If everything is a priority, nothing is. Successful businesses set KPIs so they know what their enterprise has to reach in order to set the next KPI and on and on it goes. Are you meeting strategic and operational goals regularly? That’s why laying down KPIs—in writing and as transparent as possible for the C-suite—is critical.

These measures could be for the quarter, the year, whatever fits for your business, McKenzie notes. She adds KPIs should come with a specific time frame that’s divided into key checkpoints for accuracy.

What also works for KPIs is back-casting, McKenzie says. As the opposite of forecasting, back-casting allows business owners to set a KPI and then move backwards to lay out the steps needed to reach that target.

“Translate those goals to each person’s specific jobs, so everyone knows what they are responsible for,” McKenzie says. “That makes everything tangible for each individual.”

4. Go outside…for a fresh look at your business

Some entrepreneurs think they should tackle every responsibility themselves, while others prefer to delegate the roles that don’t suit them. First, know your strengths and weaknesses.

To identify where you excel, she says to ask yourself, “What things give me energy? What are the things I could do all day and not be drained by?” Sure, you could be talented in some functions of your business, but that doesn’t mean you like doing them.

McKenzie cites the example of a production company where the founder may not be a fan of a technical aspect of the developing a film, such as editing. Being an editor doesn’t come intuitively to every filmmaker. It might be wiser to hand that task to a contractor or another employee.

The benefits of hiring out for certain jobs is numerous: you get a fresh outside perspective on projects so close to you that they will see flaws you don’t; giving the task to someone who’s an expert in what has to get done can boost the speed of finishing the task, making the company more efficient; and also, as McKenzie notes, “delegating tasks which are not the founders’ strengths can allow them to focus on what they are best at and what they most enjoy.”

Look at a realistic example of spending, say, three hours a day scheduling meetings and appointments, McKenzie says. “If you are spending three hours each day setting up meetings with clients even at a minimum wage rate of $15 you’re spending $45 to have yourself do this task. Could you earn more than $45 doing something else for three hours? If so, it’s likely time to delegate the task.”

5. Hiring help also equals knowledge transfer

The added benefit of hiring out for certain roles is transferring knowledge to that person. You shouldn’t be the sole gate-keeper of knowing how to efficiently run certain units and channels. When you hire employees to take on something you are skilled at doing, then you’re passing along information that will undoubtedly lead to a more productive team.

The key with knowledge transfer and time saving is to document what you are passing on. Say the person you just educated about that task has to relocate and leaves the firm, if you have documented the process and their role then re-assigning or delegating to an outside contractor can be done with much less time required for training.

6. Don’t overwork

It can be tempting to hear quotable sound bytes from the likes of Elon Musk, who treasure 24/7 commitment to the job. He once tweeted that people need to work for around 80 to over 100 hours per week to “change the world.”

That kind of mentality can lead to burnout, anxiety and poor results, says McKenzie. “We have to shift our thinking that working continuously will have us achieve a high-performance state. It doesn’t.”

Burdening your day with too much to do won’t let you focus on those singular goals you could be finishing by the am and pm, as we advised in tip #2. As you instinctively know, it’s not about the quantity of what you do but the quality at which you do it. Be considerate to your own well-being. Self-care has to play a role in managing your company. If you face stress tackling too many projects you could end up harming more than your KPI deadlines.

7. Have an app-etite for tech tools

Today’s tech-savvy entrepreneurs see the value in bringing apps to their daily work habits. Project management has been a hot area for app developers in recent years, and the one tech that stands out to McKenzie has been Trello.

She says it’s user-friendly and can be a great way to communicate your objectives to your team, such as outlining the specific KPIs ahead.

Before selecting the platform you and your colleagues will bring to the office, McKenzie suggests asking yourself a few questions first:

  • Does it allow for integrations with other software you are using. For example, Trello integrates with Google and allows for easy doc attachment, and also syncs with Dropbox making it simpler to keep track of files.
  • Will it be easy for you to explain to your staff? If the app is overly complicated the tool won’t be used.
  • Does it allow you to organize information in multiple formats? McKenzie is a fan of Trello because “I can assign tasks a due date and either view the tasks in their grouped lists or view them on a calendar based on when they are due.”

  • Does it allow for collaboration? Can you do interesting things like sharing a “board” with other employees? Can you work together on projects and allow them to input their own information and comments?

Being productive ultimately comes down to calculated decision-making. You should choose routes that lead you towards a healthy outlook towards your work, which should involve delegation, setting daily goals and trying useful apps. What you want to avoid is heading down the path of overwhelming responsibilities causing you painful stress and helplessness. We’ve been there before and it’s a ugly place to visit.

If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas on your entrepreneurial journey, contact one of our entrepreneur strategists at or download ATB’s Entrepreneur’s Guide to starting a business.

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