You know those mornings when you get into work and you have a to-do list as long as your arm? And you aren’t really sure how you're going to get it all done?
Fear not – you're not alone... we've all been there!
So we chatted to Helen Burness from Saltmarsh Marketing (one of the most productive and organised people we know!) for some of her top tips on being more productive and staying focused when running a business...
Could you first tell us a little bit about your wonderful business Saltmarsh Marketing?
I am a marketing consultant and run my own business – Saltmarsh Marketing. I specialise in B2B marketing and love clients who are looking to break the mould and do things differently.
Farillio is one of my favourite legal brands for this reason! I work with all sorts of companies but particularly enjoy working with startups and small businesses where you can really see the impact of great marketing on business growth.
How to be more productive
How productive on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest) do you feel you are?
It depends on the day. Some days I will knock it out of the park at 10 and others can be harder and I linger around a 7.
I think this is natural.
Productivity can be dictated by many internal and external factors. If I do have a day where I feel I have not been as productive as I would have hoped, I will try and make this up, as I really want to ensure I am giving 100%, preferably more, to clients.
I thrive on really busy and productive days, as then I feel like I have truly earned my downtime in the evening and can completely zone out.
What are your top tips/what tool do you use to keep productive?
In terms of tools and apps, I use Trello for project management. This is a visual tool and works well for me.
I use Wunderlist for daily to-dos. I time record on Toggl, so I can ensure I see how much time I am spending on each task, for each client. Nothing like being on the clock to focus you and ensure productivity! But I am not a slave to it and tend not to use when working strategic projects which require more thinking/pondering time.
And top tips for keeping productive?
There are some basic things.
Sleep is fundamental, which is a problem if you have sleep thieves in the house (I do in the form of my five year old). So early nights are key.
I still, to this day, work to a daily to-do list. As a passionate completer finisher, this always motivates me through the day.
I am very aware of when I am ‘slumping” and output is suffering and I will take a break to recharge when I sense this is happening. Much better to have a quick break and do something different then come back to a task re-energised than trying to power through it.
How to stay focused
How easy do you find it to focus at work/while working?
I find it pretty easy. I like what I do – dare I say, often I love it! – and I often find the pattern of work very therapeutic (apart from those days when clearly it is not.) I have always enjoyed having my head down and working hard – and balancing that with having fun! Work is such a huge part of our lives, we need to remember to make it enjoyable.
How do you keep focused?
I think this goes back to top tips. I use some good tech. I ensure my lifestyle supports productivity. I ensure I have a good balance of ‘me’ time where I get the peace and quiet to really focus on tasks, with essential ‘we’ time where I get the chance to bounce off other people.
A big key of staying focused is keeping track of various projects, tasks, etc.... how do you prefer to make notes?
I have an iPad and often make notes on there. But I am also a bit retro and generally have a notebook on the go.
Avoiding distractions at work
Do you find certain parts of work easier to focus on? If so, what do you find the easiest and the hardest?
Nothing makes me happier than writing and reviewing and editing content. I find it easy to focus my mind on this. I enjoy social media and could get lost down that rabbit hole for hours (see next question). The hardest thing to focus on must be my own company admin and things like expenses, which I will leave until they mount up and then it all becomes terribly arduous.
What do you find most distracting while you're trying to work?
Social media. This is a huge part of my life both personally and professionally. As a freelancer, social media, especially Twitter, is where I go to for my ‘watercooler moments.’ As I am often working remotely and on my own, it is where I go to have conversational breaks, as well as to share and engage in relevant thought. It can be distracting but is also really motivating and I learn so much from the content I read on Twitter and LinkedIn, which can then benefit the clients I work with.
And how do you try to avoid those distractions?
Social media is intrinsically linked to a lot of my client work, so this remains a challenge, as I say. I am not sure I have yet worked out my strategy for avoiding it, but I do try and manage it in a way that does not impact on my work and output.
Our office environment, including its equipment and furniture, can have an impact on our productivity. Do you prefer to have a standing desk or to just sit at your desk?
I have yet to explore the brave new world of the standing desk! But it is something I am thinking about…
Where do you find the easiest to work?
I have a study at home and set myself up in there. I can focus really intensely when I am working from home. Often I will have to drag myself away from my computer to remember to have lunch.
On other days, if I feel a bit stale, I might take myself to the café on the common and sit on one of the quiet tables which overlook the trees.
Sometimes I will go into client offices but prefer this to be interactive time to bounce ideas around and talk rather than focus on output.
Wow! To be honest, just reading that has made us all feel 100 times more productive!
Thank you so much to Helen for taking the time out of her busy day to let us interview her! It's been so wonderful getting your insight and we're going to put all of these tips into practice as soon as possible :)
And be sure to share this blog with anyone that you think needs to be more productive!