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Tips to help you avoid distractons and achieve greatness

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Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero. It is possible!

Recently I wrote a post titled, Distractions are the Enemy of Greatness. Although I did not coin the phrase, it has really been sticking with me lately, and my smart phone lock screen displays this quote, which is a great reminder to be great when I’m tempted to waste time on Facebook or Instagram.

What the post lacked was some practical tips to help you stay on task and avoid distraction. So, here are nine tips to help you rise to the top and stay on the path to greatness.

1. Get to Inbox Zero and stay there! I used to think Inbox Zero was only for anal retentive type A personalities; but now I realize it’s much more, it’s a way to keep your inbox organized and stay on top of important tasks, and to never let emails that need follow up fall through the cracks.

2. Only check your email twice a day. On average there are two times during the day I’m going through emails, categorizing them and responding to them. The rest of the time I keep my email closed unless I absolutely have to send an email.

3. Limit time on social media. This one is a no brainer; social media is a HUGE time waste. There are tons of apps out there that will help you limit your time spent on these websites. I also make social media harder to access on my iPhone. All social media apps are buried three screens over, and as mentioned above my lock screen displays the quote, “Distractions are the Enemy of Greatness.” I can’t tell you how many times that has actually forced me to put down my phone and get back to work.

4. Organize your paper. I have four paper trays on my desk. Each one serves a specific purpose: Inbox, for things that need to be processed, Outbox for mail or memos that need to go out, In Progress for projects I’m currently working on, and Waiting On, for items that I have put on hold or are awaiting information from others to move forward. This system drastically helps reduce clutter on my desk.

LeanKit KanBan

LeanKit KanBan helps you visualize your workflow.

5. Use a visual task management system. I highly recommend KanBan. This system for visual task management has drastically changed my life. It essential puts your to-do list into several categories. For me it’s: To-Do, Today, In Progress, and Waiting On. The system can be as complex or as simple as you would like.

6. Activity batching. For example, I used to record payments and make bank deposits 2-3 times a week. Entering payments in Quick Books is a repetitive task that is better done once a week at the same time every week. Rather than spending time doing this task multiple times during the week you only do it once, and end up saving time as a result. I also try to block off large chunks of times for meetings if I know I’m going to have a lot in one week. I would rather get multiple meetings done in one day, than have them spread out over the course of the week. This eliminates the start and stop of other projects throughout the course of the week.

7. Guard your time. Learn to say no, delegate low priority tasks, avoid meetings, and learn to spot a salesman a mile a way (they will waste a lot of your time). It’s easy to fill our schedules, but learning to say no, batching meetings, and delegating are valuable skills to learn to help guard your time.

8. Listen to motivational Podcasts. I start nearly every morning with some sort of motivational Podcast. A few of my favorites are: Entrepreneur on Fire, 48 Days to the Work You Love, Entreleadership, and Startup. Startup School is an old one by Seth Godin that is a great listen that I often go back to over and over.

9. Store frequently accessed information. Keep an Evernote or Google Document of information you frequently need access to, such as trade references for credit apps, and key information about your business such as Tax ID Number and login information for websites you access on a regular basis.

Ultimately avoiding distractions comes down to being organized and having systems in place to help you be productive. I think it is safe to say that disorganization is the king of distraction, and anything that causes you to spend more time than necessary on a given task just wastes your time and keeps you from high value tasks that lead to greatness!

Time is a commodity

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ClockA commodity as defined by Wikipedia is a marketable item produced to satisfy wants or needs. Commodities are also usually found or grown in abundance, i.e. coffee beans, corn, tea leaves, almonds, cashews, salt, etc.

These items do however see shortages from time to time, or experience ridiculous spikes in demand for various reasons. When that happens the price of that item goes through the roof and becomes difficult to find. For example, in the past year Dr. Oz boasted about the amazing nutritional benefits of chia seeds. His endorsing of this super food resulted in a spike in demand; at the same time farmers were experiencing a shortage of crop due to flooding. At the time my company Bearded Brothers had been paying about $6 per pound of chia, but because of the fiasco partially caused by Dr. Oz we started paying $10 per pound of chia, and that is when we could find a supplier that could provide it. Sadly many times we were left going to retail stores paying as much as $16 per pound, just so we could produce our product that contained chia.

YOUR time is also a commodity. You actually have a lot of it. With sleep out of the equation you have about 16 hours a day. Some of us actually have more. Just like marketable commodities we can see a surge of demand for our time, which seems to result in a shortage, leaving us saying, “if only I had an extra hour in the day.”

And just like commodities you need to place a higher value one your time when you have less of it. Lets say you have a busy week ahead of you that is full of meetings. Any additional time you give away now comes at a higher cost, so it should be guarded carefully. When the schedule starts to fill, be cautious about adding more meetings or events to your calendar, otherwise you aren’t going to be left with any time to work on other important projects; resulting in you feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.

I often have people ask me to meet with them to share about my experience with starting Bearded Brothers. A lot of the time I’m more than willing to meet with that person or take a phone call, but only when my schedule isn’t already full. The reason for this is people met with me when we were starting and I want to help others as well. Sometimes my desire to help can get me in trouble, and this is why it’s important to view time is a commodity. Though there is a lot of it, there is a limited supply.

I would encourage you to start viewing your time as a commodity. Chances are you already do, but may not take it seriously. Don’t freely give out your time when you are already up against a wall with a big deadline. And probably more importantly make sure you are taking time for yourself. Get outside, exercise, read a book, do things to help yourself recharge! If you don’t it’s not going to matter how much time you have because you will likely run yourself into the ground and/or get sick.

Time is our means of fulfilling wants or needs; it’s precious! So, you want some more ideas on how to protect and guard your time see my recent post on time management techniques.

8 Time management techniques that will help you be more productive

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Evernote, productivity app!

Evernote, productivity app!

Time is precious, and you want all of it you can get. You’ve probably said to yourself, “If only there were two more hours in the day.” I know I have! Well over the past few years of running my own business I have learned a few things when it comes to making the best use of your time.

Forget Push Notifications

Do you really need your phone buzzing and dinging every time an email comes in? Chances are you don’t. Early on when I first started my business I used push notifications. I was excited about every email that came in. I couldn’t wait to see if it was a new customer ready to start an account, but eventually it became a huge distraction.

I also used to have pop-up notifications turned on in Sparrow (my mail client). I often found myself distracted by emails that were really not that important. The truth is, most emails don’t need an immediate response, and if they do chances are you are aware that email is coming in, and you can check your email as needed.

Now, I’m not the type that only checks my email twice a day, but for some people limiting your time with the Inbox open may be just the thing you need to stay a highly productive person.

Take Notes

For me this used to be done in a Moleskin, but eventually my task list grew beyond pen and paper. How people kept task lists before apps like Evernote and Remember the Milk I will never know. Pen and paper simply can’t contain all that I have to do.

I’m a huge fan of Evernote, it allows me to create multiple notes, under multiple categories. I have several “notebooks” within Evernote. To name a few; Personal, Business, Blog Ideas/Web Stuff, Milleage. Within my business notebook I have a note called Task List where I create checklists of my to-do’s. My to-do list is perhaps what keeps me the most organized. (For more on Evernote, check out this blog post by Lifehacker)

Prioritize the To-Do List

Within Evernote my to-do checklist is broken down into three categories:

Urgent and Important
– These are tasks that must be done that day, or on a certain date within that week. Examples include; running payroll, paying rent, and filing quarterly taxes. They are the essential things you must do to keep your staff happy and business running

Important but Not Urgent
These things are important to the growth of your business and at times have a deadline attached to them, but that deadline may be a ways off. But if you end up approaching that deadline it has the potential to move into the Urgent and Important category.

It’s hard to list specific examples for this since it will vary so much from business to business, but a few from my personal list right now are; file Non-GMO paperwork, find back-up suppliers for ingredients, order t-shirts, create sales post card. None of the tasks I listed have a hard-fast deadline attached to them, but all are important to the growth and health of our business.

Not Important and Not Urgent
It’s slightly more difficult to determine what goes here, because most entrepreneurs will consider everything important. But tasks that fall into this category are things that are not critical to the growth of your business. Note, that I said, “critical.” For us finding alternate suppliers for our ingredients is critical, because if one supplier runs out of something we have to have a back up supply. Updating our Facebook masthead however is not urgent (unless it ties in with a Holiday sale).

Having your task list broken up like this will help you focus on what’s truly important. It also helps you not have a mental breakdown by looking at one HUGE list.

Daily Planning

Take time at the start of every day to review your task list and check emails. Review your task-list and make necessary adjustments. If something has been on your urgent and important list for three days, you either need to tackle that first, or move it to another list. I also use this time to cull through my Inbox and make sure there aren’t any emails I haven’t responded to yet.


This is something I struggled with early on in my business. I wanted to do everything myself. But it wasn’t because I truly wanted to do that, it was mostly because I didn’t think anybody could do it as good as I could. I read in ReWork that if you can find somebody to do that job at least 70% as good as you can its time to pass the torch (paraphrased).

I have found delegation is necessary for a healthy organization. It not only frees yourself up to focus on the growth of the business but it empowers your team members and gives them buy in. I can’t even imagine how many hours I would be putting in a week if I didn’t start delegating duties to other team members.

Set Reminders

This is perhaps one of my biggest life savers. Early in my business when I was doing pretty much EVERYTHING. I would often forget things. I would stroll into the kitchen early in the morning, ready to make Ginger Peach energy bars only to discover I hadn’t ordered the ginger, so I would have to go to the grocery store to purchase ginger. Being forgetful disrupts your day, and the larger your organization becomes the more disruptive forgetfulness has on your organization. For example, forgetting an order of ginger now means we have to move that production day somewhere else on the calendar, which means the team might have to work a weekend to get the job done.

So, use your smart phones reminder feature. Also make sure you utilize the reminders for events in your calendar. I usually set two; one for the day before to remind me the event is coming, and one 15 minutes before (earlier if I have to drive to the appointment). Reminders are especially useful if there are weekly tasks you have to perform. It can be easy to even forget daily duties when things get crazy busy.


Don’t forget to take some time to relax! Get outside, exercise! Do something other than work. It’s definitely easier said than done, but I have found when I take the time to exercise, and actually end my workday, I am far less stressed. For me the exercise is crucial. I might be having the worse day ever, but if I take the time to go on a run, the stress usually winds down and I can think clearly again. Don’t underestimate the importance of exercise and relaxation.

Work in a productive environment

Find a place where you can get work done. Our current production facility is not conducive to this. I have a large and very noisy condenser unit for a walk in cooler directly above my desk, which makes it difficult to host meetings and impossible to make phone calls.

So find a place where you can focus and get stuff done. For some people it may be a coffee shop, for others it may be working from home. If your office doesn’t allow for this check to see if there are other options. In my last 9-5 job I would go shut myself in an empty conference room if I needed to get a lot of work done.

It might also help to have mandatory quiet hours in your office. I remember walking into the office of a popular tech startup one day expecting to see more of a party environment than an office, but that wasn’t the case. Quietly working at their desk were about 15-20 employees, many wearing headphones. I can only assume they had a mandatory quiet hour rule in place.