Side hustlers know a thing or two about productivity.
After all, building a business is hard work — and doing it with limited hours is even more challenging.
You know it’s not just about getting more stuff done; it’s about getting more of the right stuff done.
Because busy doesn’t always mean effective!
So how can we be more intentional, proactive, and destination-driven with our days, instead of just reacting to everything life throws at us?
Today I want to share 5 ways — 5 key habits — I’ve found that will help you be more effective, excited, satisfied every day.
Now let’s dive into those 5 ways to be more effective every day.
1. Determine and Track your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in Life/Business
Your KPIs are the metrics that have the biggest impact on your overall operation.
In my business, for example, the primary KPIs I track are:
- Email subscribers
- Podcast downloads
- Website traffic
One reader recently asked me, “Well, isn’t profit the only real KPI that matters?”
And while I agree that profit is important—the business can’t survive without it—and it is something I track almost daily, I’ve found it to be a lagging indicator compared to these other metrics.
What I mean by that is if I can get those other numbers to increase, the profit will follow.
Your KPIs are the levers you can pull on to create real change.
What Makes a Good KPI?
The best KPIs have two characteristics in common.
First, they are numbers you have influence over. It might not be easy, but with effort, you can change them.
Second, they make a meaningful impact on your bottom line or quality of life. And this part is important because in big data era, in the quantified self era, you can get data anything and everything, but is it really important? That’s the question.
How to Determine Your KPIs
Let’s look at some examples.
If you’re an Uber driver, the price of gas directly impacts your profitability, but it’s not something you have any control over—so it doesn’t make a great KPI.
Instead, it might make more sense to track the number of hours driven, the number of “surge” rides, or your effective hourly rate. Those are things you do have influence over and relate to how much you make.
If you’re a freelancer, the two things you’re probably paying most attention to are the flow of quality leads coming across your desk, and your ability to deliver results to clients.
In terms of KPIs, you might decide to track discovery calls, proposals sent, or average job value. These are things you have direct control over and will make a meaningful impact to your business.
In my painting business, the flow was:
- Lead generation (usually from door-to-door cold calling)
- In-person estimates
- Booked jobs
- Deliver the work
But the biggest lever to pull was lead gen, so the KPI for that summer was just hours spent knocking on doors.
In e-commerce, you might track your cost to acquire a new customer, the lifetime value of a customer, or your conversion rate.
Changeable and impactful.
Every business is different. The numbers that matter most to you might be:
- New client leads
- Cost per lead
- Words written
- Revenue per pageview
- Profit margin
- Net promoter score
The key is to figure out the metrics that matter most to you, test ways to improve them, and track them over time.
2. Set Short-Term “Sprint” Goals
New Year’s resolutions or 12-month goals often fail because they’re too easy to procrastinate on.
I’ve found I’m most effective when I’m working toward a short-term project goal, like launching a book, or building a course.
On the flip-side, when I’ve failed to name a sprint goal, that’s when I’ve found myself in maintenance mode, not really moving anything forward. I need something to focus on!
Now if you do have longer-term goals, that’s totally OK, but what I suggest is breaking them down into more bite-size milestones so you keep motivation. Then, break down those milestones into the smallest actionable steps.
My best example is when I was working on Buy Buttons, I mapped out a detailed progress timeline of what I needed to get done by when. It was a million times more effective than just looking at my to-do list and seeing “write book”.
And of course bonus points when those goals align with, and positively impact, your KPIs.
3. Name your Top Priorities for Tomorrow Each Night (and Record What you Accomplished Each Day)
For years I’ve had a nightly “I done this” habit, where I’d write down everything I did work-wise during the day.
It’s a simple way to acknowledge you actually did something, and to take a moment to recognize that effort. It also builds satisfaction and measure your progress toward whatever goal you’re working on.
But what I’ve added to the “this is what I got done today” habit in the last few years is the practice of itemizing out my top 3 priorities for the next today the night before.
This helps me focus on my most important work and helps me limit distractions. If I can do just these 3 things, which are aligned with my goal or goals, that day’s a win.
This is super simple and you may already do something similar, but I’ve found it really effective for clarity, focus, and productivity.
4. Establish and Track “Too Small to Fail” Micro Habits
Every month I come up with a handful of micro habits I want to test out. These are usually 1-5 minute activities (that’s the too-small-to-fail part), and usually I have a combination of personal/health stuff and business stuff.
In the past, I’ve tracked micro habits like:
- doing pushups or kettlebell swings or burpees
- keeping the phone out of sight when I’m with my son
- making the bed
- taking a cold shower
- writing 50-100 words
- reading 1 page of a book
Where I believe the magic is, is in the tiny feeling of accomplishment in having done them. It’s like a mental hack; I said this thing was important to me, I said I’d do it, and I did it.
I think that can build momentum to bigger and better things, because you’ve taken that first step in convincing yourself you’re the type of person that takes action, follows through, gets it done.
My friend Michal, who’s featured in The Slight Edge, calls it the identity habit, and it’s probably more powerful than any other individual action. I think setting up these too-small-to-fail micro habits can be a stepping stone to building your own identity habit. That you’re the kind of person that does ____________.
5. Practice Gratitude
The science is clear: a daily gratitude journal habit is proven to improve your happiness. Just the small act of thinking of a few things you’re grateful for today is super simple, but surprisingly effective.
I’ve done this off and on for years, but when I do it consistently, I feel better.
Tying it All Together
So how do I tie all this stuff together?
These are 5 habits that I know make me happier and more effective, but my implementation of them has historically been sporadic. My tracking was spread across multiple platforms — some digital, some analog — and I’d start and stop.
That inconsistency comes with a real cost.
I feel stagnant, like I’m stuck in “maintenance mode.”
Like I’m working, but not on important things.
Like I’m staying busy, but I don’t feel super effective.
Like I’m just not making progress.
And that “progress” word is key. In fact, Tony Robbins says that progress is the one-word secret to happiness.
When I heard that, it just clicked. It’s so true.