There are few things as exhilarating – and downright unnerving – as college graduation. After living your whole life by someone else’s schedules, rules, and expectations, they slap you with a degree and send you off into the world, free of any obligations to anyone but yourself. You’re on your own, free, untethered. A fresh-faced 20-something with almost two decades of schooling behind you and the world in front of you.
…Where exactly are you supposed to go from here?
Good question. You can always apply for a job and let your experience and knowledge lead you to a secure life. However, if falling back into structure with a traditional job isn’t your cup of tea, you may be considering a more entrepreneurial approach.
Building your own business is a unique thrill. You trade stability and steadiness for the opportunity to pave your own way and set the course of your own ship. It’s the very definition of high-risk, high-reward – and if you’re in your 20s, there’s hardly a better time to go for it.
So how do you do it? It’s not easy. It takes dedication, ambition, and self-discipline. There’s no one to catch you if you fall, but there’s no substitute for the feeling of self-created success.
Thankfully, there are plenty of resources to help you in your entrepreneurial endeavors. Here’s a few tips from the creator of KissIQ (a new productivity app that, hint hint, could make your life a lot easier) that helped him build his own business and become his own boss at a young age.
1. Get as much done as you can in the first hour of your day.
You’ll come to realize that in the startup world, momentum is everything. If you don’t have momentum, the entrepreneurial process will drag unrelentingly. If you do have it, good luck to any force that tries to stop you.
Ultimately, you set your own tempo as an entrepreneur. There’s no taskmaster leaning over your shoulder, cracking the whip to make sure you’re being productive. Remember, you’re your own boss – so don’t go too easy on yourself. Commit to being as productive as you can in the first hour of your work day, because the first hour sets the momentum for every hour that follows.
You need to find your own rhythm and get a feel for how you work best. There’s no end-all, be-all method to making this happen, but here’s one practice that’s a pretty safe bet…
2. Tackle your most proactive tasks first.
This is a pretty safe bet to ensure you start your day right: Do the tasks that will be most proactive first.
What do we mean by proactive? Here’s an example. Say you sit down at your workstation and check your to-do list (which we really hope you’re keeping, by the way). Among the things you need to accomplish: Address your overflowing email inbox, develop a strategy for a campaign, and hammer out some paperwork. In this hypothetical, where do you start?
If you guessed developing a strategy, give yourself a gold star. Unlike the other two, which are relatively more brain-numbing tasks, this is an immersive activity that requires a great deal of creative, thought-intensive effort – and if you’re at your most productive at the start of the day, you should put that energy towards something that will give you momentum, not a headache.
Just think – finalizing that strategy may dictate what else you’re able to do that day, as it’s likely that it will have a greater impact on the rest of your business activities. More technical minutiae – which can drain your energy rather than stimulate it – will probably be less relevant; you could do these while eating lunch or at the end of your day, for example.
3. If you don’t need to do it yourself, hire, hire, hire!
Speaking of minutiae, if you find that your time is being spent disproportionately on minor details and repetitive tasks, don’t be afraid to expand your team. Your time should go towards shaping and expanding the direction of your business – which is impossible if you constantly have to sweat the small stuff.
If you’re beginning to generate some revenue, invest it in a new hire to take some of the workload off yourself. Mutually beneficial relationships are the crux of business, so if you can find a way to focus your attention on the bigger picture while giving someone else income and experience, you’ve got yourself a win-win. Who knows – a temporary hire could become a staple member of your team as your business grows. Just because you’re an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.
4. Your computer is for work, nothing else.
This is where discipline comes into play. Distractions are the death of productivity, and there’s no shortage of them today. Chances are, you’ll be spending a lot of work-time in front of a computer, meaning you’ll constantly be staring into a portal to a universe of distractions.
We’ve all been there. You’re researching your industry one minute and watching videos of cats wearing hats the next. Suddenly an hour has passed and rather than developing innovative ideas for your product, you’ve acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of what former child stars look like today. For shame.
It’s easier said than done, but you need to commit yourself to cutting out distractions and devoting your work-time to work. This doesn’t mean that you need to become a robot while on the clock – in fact, studies have shown that taking an hourly ten-minute break to stretch out or goof around can actually increase productivity – but you do need to set boundaries for your own sake. Self-control is the name of the game.
5. Turn off your cell phone, TV, Skype, etc.
This goes hand-in-hand with the last point, but it’s even more important because unlike your computer, you don’t even need these distractions. While there are some exceptions – maybe you use your cell phone for email or work calls, or Skype with clients and business partners – your workday is not an appropriate time for social or personal matters.
Again, a good practice is to take occasional breaks devoted to addressing your texts and calls. Set your phone to “do not disturb” and answer on your schedule. It may seem minor, but you can’t be productive if you’re constantly glancing at your phone.
It’s a hard habit to break, especially since we’re so dependent on our phone’s now, but just pretend you’re at the movies. Silence your phone and focus on the big picture.
6. Don’t forget to reward yourself!
This guide may sound a little harsh, but it makes sense considering how involved the entrepreneurial process can be. So, here’s perhaps the most important strategy of all: treat yourself.
We’ve talked a lot about the importance of momentum and the dangers of burnout. You’ll see plenty of entrepreneurial advice out there telling you to prepare to sacrifice your personal life and completely immerse yourself in the work process.
This is possibly the worst advice to give anyone trying to make it. You need to work hard, to be sure, but if you lose yourself in your work, you’ll lose track of why you’re working in the first place. You’re building a business to have a successful life, but if you don’t get to reap your own rewards, what’s the point?
Influential psychologist B. F. Skinner has plenty to say on the value of rewards, but when you’re your own boss, it can be easy to forget to recognize yourself for what you’ve done. Striking a balance between your work and play is the key to maintaining a healthy and productive life, in and out of the office. Don’t forget to be a person.
7. Get in the zone.
So far, we’ve discussed a lot of methods of cutting out distractions and managing your time, but haven’t really explained why. All of these tactics are designed with one thing in mind: getting in the zone.
Chances are, you know the feeling. Maybe it was in school or a sport. It might have been a game, or it might have been work. But in all likelihood, you’ve been there. You know when you suddenly switch over from trying to get something done, to doing it well without even trying? That’s your productivity goal.
It’s difficult to explain, and it usually happens without you even knowing, but it’s usually what produces your best work. It’s the sign that you’re doing what you’re supposed to, that you are in the right place, the right time, and the right mindset to do exactly what you set out to accomplish.
If you’re working without ever getting this feeling, you’re doing something wrong. Maybe you need to tweak your productive process, or maybe you need an overhaul entirely. There’s a certain je ne sais quoi to the process of getting in the zone – it requires really getting to know yourself and how you work best – but it should be your ultimate goal as an entrepreneur, because once it clicks, there’s simply no stopping you.