How To Be More Productive In Your Biz (And Happier, Too!)
Do you ever feel like you’re getting very little done for your business during the day? Does trying to grow your brand feel overwhelming and exhausting? Do you read those Use This System To Be More Productive! blog posts and feel like crying because your creative brain can’t manage to follow a “system” successfully for more than 1.73 days?
If so, hello. We should be friends.
For the first 2 years of my business, I lived in the world you find yourself in now. I know you’re tired. I know you’re frustrated. I know that you compare yourself to the insanely productive biz owners around you and think, “What the heck is WRONG with ME?!”
And I also know just how very unhappy it has started to make you.
I grew unhappy, too.
But through some trial, error, random good fortune, new choices, and — okay, I’ll say it — wisdom that comes with age, I gradually found my way to a better approach. One that has helped me improve not just the running of my business, but also the living of my life. That’s what I’m going to share with you today, in hopes that my experiences (messy failures included) will help you find YOUR way, too.
Before you go much further, note this: what you’ll read below isn’t a system, or a method, or any sort of strict, defined way to structure every minute of your day in order to be more productive, successful, and satisfied.
Those things are epic for those who think best that way, but I don’t — and thus I won’t, and can’t, preach something I don’t practice.
What IS below can more accurately be described as a “Realistic Productivity Guide for Right-Brained (aka Intuitive + Creative) Business Owners.”
It’s for those of us who go weak in the knees over new calendars, fancy day planners, and the pretty pens + highlighters to accompany them, but have stopped using them all by mid-January.
It’s for those of us who can’t fathom planning out a year’s worth of blog posts ahead of time because even if we tried, we’d decide to make a whole different schedule just three posts in.
And, it’s for all of us who hear “Pomodoro” and think, “Yeah, riiiiight.”
Nodding your head and wondering whether to high-five me or weep? You’ve finally landed at a post that’s ideal for you.
Please read on.
HOW TO BE MORE PRODUCTIVE AS A BUSINESS OWNER — AND HAPPIER, TOO
1 | Opt out of mobile app notifications
I put this at #1 on the list because there is no quicker way to kill productivity than being interrupted by a buzzing or beeping phone. (Tell me I’m not right! Yes?! Yes.)
Even if you’re a Self-Discipline Master — in which case, teach my your ways 😉 — and can resist looking over at the notifications while you work, the mere sound interruption + knowledge that something is happening that you’re “missing out on” is a significant mental distraction. And studies have indicated that this alone increases our anxiety levels.
To help yourself be the most productive that you can be, you really want to turn off your mobile push notifications — and then check in with the apps when it’s the best time for YOU.
(Because we should be in control of those things, right? Technology is at our service, not the other way around!)
Here are guides on how to manage your notification settings on the major social networking apps:
- How to turn notifications off on Instagram
- How to turn notifications off on Twitter
- How to turn notifications off on Facebook
- How to turn notifications off on Pinterest
So you don’t feel nervous about your engagement on social media, try checking in with your social media first thing in the morning, on set break times, over lunch, and/or as the last thing you do before you shut down your work for the day.
This approach has been a great help to me — and I can assure you that I’ve found that, despite my initial fears, I don’t miss out on anything urgent.
2 | Check your email occasionally, not constantly
Just like app notifications, the distraction of email is a big one…and often a much harder habit to break.
(Because emails CAN be urgent, as you and I both know. And responding promptly to client or customer issues is key in order to keep their happiness high.)
But constantly switching tasks from work to email to work to email to work in fact doesn’t help your business OR your service quality. It harms both.
You see, not only does task switching hurt your work productivity (by as much as 40% I discovered!), but it also makes you more prone to error, reduces your creativity, and slows you down — all impediments to providing the great customer service you’re hoping to offer when you’re jumping in your inbox at a moment’s notice.
The better option?
Turn off any email notifications that pop up on your computer and attend to your emails only a few times per day.
A balance that often works well — and that I try to stick by — is to check in with email once every 1-2 hours, responding as necessary to time-sensitive or important correspondence and saving all other replies for a certain hour/day.
I’ve yet to find any email so important that it can’t wait an hour or two, and giving yourself that breathing room will keep your head clear + your attention focused.
Tip: if you run a business where a client or customer could conceivably have a very serious emergency and need to get in touch with you immediately, you may want to direct them to use a text or phone call.
3 | Take advantage of (customizable) pre-written scripts
In another life, I was going to be a political geek.
Meaning, of course, that I really just wanted to be C.J. Cregg on The West Wing.
As I explored this career option during my stint as an intern for a U.S. Senator, I found myself in charge of writing replies to all of the constituent letters that trickled — or flooded — into the office each day.
Faced with the horror of slogging through the compilation of entirely original replies to what were invariably the same 10 questions + opinions phrased in only slightly different terms, a staff member taught me my very first piece of Business Productivity Advice:
Use a script database.
When you need to convey the same (or similar) information to clients/customers on a fairly consistent basis (if you’ve been running your business for more than 6 months, you likely have a good idea of what this might be), having a loose script on hand that you can insert + customize is a tremendous time-saver.
Side note: I say “loose script” because you don’t want to be so rigid and formulaic that you end up sounding like a regurgitating robot in your writing. 😉 Give yourself room to personalize your responses while still inserting pre-written information! This post has some examples of customizable scripts regarding obtaining payment from clients — feel welcome to add them to your own database if it would be helpful.
For further guidance, people tell me that they love this e-guide and collection of 87+ scripts that I released last year: Pre-Scripted: The Small Biz Owner’s Mini-Guide To Building a Customer Service Script Database.
4 | Market yourself less, chat with people more
One of the laments I hear most from business owners is how much time they spend wrapped up in marketing activities, from pre-scheduling tweets to setting up automatic pinning on Pinterest to writing email newsletters to [insert the bane of your own biz existence here].
It’s not that you shouldn’t ever do these things, but when you’re overwhelmed or need to accomplish more tasks IN your business? It’s okay — and helpful — to let them go.
Instead, go back to basics and connect one-on-one with people.
When I officially started Olyvia in June 2014, scheduling pins was not a thing. My email list had 0 subscribers. My blog had 1 published post. And I had no products to sell.
So, what did I spend my “marketing” time doing?
Just this: talking to people.
For instance, I’d get on Twitter in the evenings and interact with people’s tweets or participate in a Twitter chat.
A few times during the week I’d visit some peer and influencer blogs to offer my thoughts on their latest post.
And when I could I’d leave comments on others’ Facebook posts (FB Groups weren’t all the rage at that point, but if they had been, I’d have jumped in to converse with people there, too).
This seemingly simple activity is what grew my business faster than anything else, and overall it required very little time on my end.
As a result I was able to be SO much more productive with my client work (at that point I was doing a lot of graphic + web design — entirely from relationships I had formed…I didn’t advertise this at all) and build in time to do the things that would add real value to my brand (such as crafting high quality blog posts).
5 | Give yourself permission NOT to do the same things as everyone else
If you haven’t yet noticed, there’s quite a lot of sameness out there when it comes to online business.
The Periscope broadcasts, the joint sales webinars, the Google Hangout interviews, the e-courses, the perfectly styled Instagram photos, the podcasts, the numerous content upgrades, the Facebook ads, the Facebook groups, …
It’s easy to assume that “success” = you needing to do #allthethings also — but that’s just not true.
Success comes to us in a multitude of (often surprising) forms, and believe me when I say that you will be get more done for your business and be more in love with it if you focus on the things you A) like, B) are good at, and C) are actually capable of doing!
If you don’t have time to create e-courses, don’t make them part of your business model.
If you can’t get into Instagram, don’t force yourself to post there.
If you’re not good at doing live video, pass it up.
Your business needs your quirky + unique combination of talents, interests, and ideas in order to stand out from the masses, my friends. By narrowing your focus down to what YOU do best, you won’t just be more productive — you’ll actually be creating a stronger, more competitive brand.
6 | Stop attending “free” webinars
I can’t tell you how many “FREE!” marketing webinars I watched as I was launching my business, but I can tell you this:
Not one of them was worth the hours I wasted and the work I shirked in order to listen to them.
Looking back, I cringe at my own naivete…but I cringe more at the manipulative tactics used to persuade me that I was going to get specific, useful help in certain areas of biz building. (A considerable exaggeration, it turns out.)
Whereas I could have — and should have — been actively DOING something to advance my brand, instead I was reeled into “reserving my seat” at what amounted to glorified sales pitch presentations.
What a massive productivity-suck.
You are not missing out on anything if you don’t attend a webinar, team. Here and there you’ll get some basic nuggets of wisdom, but here’s what I’ve found to be true:
The things you can learn + accomplish for your business via other avenues are far more impactful + rewarding.
Here’s what I recommend instead:
1. Look for free or reasonably priced workshops that teach actual methods or skills and will give you some sort of measurable achievement at its conclusion. Here is one awesome example of an online blogging workshop from one of the teachers I respect the most, Regina Anaejionu. You may also be able to find some great workshops held at your local library, university, or a co-working space!
2. Search for tutorials or talks on YouTube. This is especially useful for anything from graphic design to social media marketing, and you’ll find the same level of information here as you would in any webinar.
3. Buy a business book or e-book. You can learn a tremendous amount from reading in your spare time, and it doesn’t need to cost you more than $5 – $30.
4. Tune into a few (pertinent!) episodes of a quality podcast. << I recommend those listed in this post. They are great to listen to when you’re driving or getting dressed in the morning (so you waste less time just sitting — rather than accomplishing).
5. Join a Facebook Group relevant to your niche and get advice from peers that have successfully navigated the areas you need help in. If you put up a post for help in a FB Group, make sure you ask a brief question that is clear and highly specific (limited to just 1 topic). That will get you the best response.
6. Study the tactics of other successful people. For instance: if you want to learn what a great Pinterest account looks like, poke around a bit and observe those who are doing it well — and that really appeal to you. (What’s the visual consistency like? What information they include in their profile? Do they belong to any group boards? What kind of content do they pin?) The same approach works well for things like opt-in freebies, blog posts, product descriptions, sales pages, profile photos, web design, and so on.
This doesn’t mean you should go out and blatantly copy people (please don’t go there!) or even that those people do EVERYTHING right, but it will give you valuable insight into what can work.
7 | Instead of over-consuming, learn something small each week
How many times have you completely paralyzed yourself and your business because of content overwhelm?
This is something I’ve struggled with since the first day I even began to think about starting a business — consuming too much content is actually what stalled my launch for at least 3 months — and I find that I still must continually + consciously fight it if I want to remain productive.
I want to be clear: learning is an essential part of success. I strongly advocate for ongoing self-development and skill-building.
However, spending hours clicking on blog post after blog post after blog post on Pinterest, attending those free webinars I spoke of above, reading all 28 newsletters that land in your inbox, and the like?
While they hold the illusion of moving us forward, the real result is that we’re held back.
That’s because instead of stepping out to try and create for ourselves (experimentation is, after all, where the rubber meets the road…and one of the very best ways to learn!), we get so caught up in the gobs of material out there that we invariably start to feel inadequate.
And anyone who feels inadequate doesn’t have the freedom to produce to the best of their ability. << Tweet this!
To get more done while also achieving your learning needs + goals, I’ve found that pacing yourself is the best option. How do you do this? Here’s a few things I do:
1. Use Unroll.me and only let the 2-7 MOST helpful newsletters come directly into your inbox.
2. Don’t mindlessly scroll through Pinterest, opening up those 19 tabs as you find posts that look as if you “need” to read them. Search for 1 specific topic that you need, then close it down.
3. Read no more than 1 chapter of 1 information/training book, per day.
4. Sign up for 1 course at a time. Work through it at a rate of 1 lesson a day, every few days, or even every week.
8 | Go to bed earlier
In my first 1.5 years in business, I was frequently staying up to work on blog posts, emails, or designs until 12 or 1 a.m. — leaving me with only 5 or 6 hours of sleep each night. I felt like I was in a fog all day; I couldn’t clearly plan out my biz responsibilities for the week (much less in the months ahead), I felt exhausted after only an hour or two of working on client projects, and I was grumpy.
Like, really grumpy.
That’s NO way to run a business and serve clients + customers well. It’s also no way to treat ourselves. (I won’t bother to lecture you about how destructive lack of sleep is to our mental and physical health. I know you’ve read the articles!)
If you want to get more done and empower yourself to be a happier, kinder, more effective business owner, getting more sleep is one super smart answer.
I now go to bed between 8:30 and 9:30 every night and get a solid 9 hours of rest; it has made a world of difference in what I’m able to accomplish during my workday.
9 | Give yourself a weekend
It doesn’t matter so much whether you take a weekend on Saturday + Sunday or whether it’s on a Tuesday + Wednesday, but it does matter that you take one.
As counter-intuitive as it sounds, we humans require rest and leisure in order to be “high achievers.” Working all the time is a massive drain on mind and body; the more we consume ourselves with our business, the less effective and more unhappy we become.
“There is a lot of research that says we have a limited pool of cognitive resources,” says Allison Gabriel, an assistant professor of management at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies job demands and employee motivation. “When you are constantly draining your resources, you are not being as productive as you can be. If you get depleted, we see performance decline. You’re able to persist less and have trouble solving tasks.” (Source)
I confess that for a long time in my business, all I did was work. My weekends, weekdays, and evenings were entirely dominated by my biz — partially because I genuinely loved what I did, but more because I was driven by fear. Fear that if I didn’t work hard and long enough, nothing would get done, I’d make no money, and I would be a spectacular, incredible failure.
This line of thinking finally ended in my taking a mini business sabbatical last summer. I was too stressed, too tired, and disturbed to find that I was growing deeply unhappy with my brand. Once I stepped back for several months (and realized that, oh, I actually could do less work and still survive!), I found the courage to make a decision:
If I was going to go back to my biz, my days were going to need to look much different than they had before.
I now get more accomplished today between 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. than I ever did when I worked 16 hour days — and I very rarely work on a weekend. By committing myself to a (general) balance of work and play (it’s not perfect, but it works), I’ve found I’m more energized about my brand and able to be more creative in my work.
And while all of that ↑ is exciting, of course, I want to be honest with you: how much I’m able to accomplish now drastically pales in comparison to just how much happier I am. Getting sh*t done is one thing, but if you want to enjoy your entire LIFE, guard your time off and do so unapologetically.
10 | Nurture a hobby 100% unrelated to business
For many of us, our small businesses originated from our hobbies. Maybe we began designing websites for fun, and eventually we started our own web design business. Or, we loved to create jewelry for ourselves and our family, and so that grew into a jewelry design business.
This is one of the things I treasure most about small biz (that is, the ability to make a living from doing the things we love), but the reality is that it also creates problems for us as owners. This is because all too often we keep treating our business as our hobby…and thus it consumes ALL of our free time and creative energy.
No matter how passionate we are about our work, to remain whole, happy people, we must have other interests outside of it. Far from reducing our ability to be more productive, pursuing other hobbies is incredible for engaging different areas of our brain — this results in better thinking and problem solving, and, therefore, better work in our business.
For a long while I ignored all my previous hobbies for the sake of work. I didn’t mind at all for a while, but as time went by, my creativity decreased. It got harder and harder to engage in what I was doing. I’d sometimes stare at my computer screen for several
hours days in a desperate struggle just to come up with new product ideas or those “perfect words” for an email!
I didn’t know the solution back then, but I stumbled upon it when, during my business sabbatical (see “Give Yourself A Weekend” above), I revisited my old hobbies.
As I returned to reading (for fun!), cooking new recipes, and hiking through the local mountains foraging for prized mushrooms, new and fun business ideas started cropping up out of nowhere. It became easier and easier to write — and write with personality. …In essence, it’s as if hobbies helped my brain find the ‘on’ switch again.
So! What activities did you like to do before you immersed yourself in all things business?
Whatever they are, I implore you to work them back into your days again — or, go out there and try your hand at something that’s entirely new.
It’s worth it, yo. So, so worth it.
11 | Feed yourself well
For years I ate low fat everything (when I wasn’t grabbing greasy, low-nutrition fast food) and usually skipped breakfast and/or lunch. My meals felt unsatisfying and I would swing wildly from starving to over-stuffed.
When the stress of launching a full-fledged business as a new single mom settled on my shoulders, my eating habits only got worse. In the first 9 months of running Olyvia I gained 23 lbs. This in turn led to a massive loss of energy and I got sick for 4 months straight with the flu and various infections.
Being so ill made me unproductive, anxious, and unhappy.
Eventually I got to the point where something had to give, and this last summer I said “no more” to my bad habits. By eating delicious, (mostly!) nutritious food and being sure to eat at least three times a day, I have already lost 13 lbs, barely been sick, and seen a significant improvement in my mood.
(This also means I’ve been more productive, and have been able to develop biz challenges + my first course — something I was just wayyy too overwhelmed to do before!)
Food is the only way to fuel yourself; by feeding yourself well you are doing what I think is THE most necessary thing to be strong, alert, happy, and able to get your work done. Here are some easy tips that really helped me:
1. Stop being afraid of (good) fats. Use the 2% milk. Snack on the olives. Add the avocado.
2. Avoid “added sugar” anything. Swap out white sugar with stevia, agave, or honey.
3. Make friends with protein and plants. 😉 Creamy greek yogurt. Juicy roast chicken. Crunchy cauliflower. Peppery arugula.
And here are two nourishing, flavorful meals you might like to try!
12 | Move more
Studies show that even small amounts of exercise boosts brainpower, gives us energy, and makes us more productive throughout the day. But when we’re working in our business, particularly one that requires a lot of computer or other desk work, we tend to do nothing but sit. there. all. the. day. long.
(And by “we,” what I really mean is “I.” #totallyguilty)
I have an aversion against most continuous workouts that push 30 minutes (what about you?), but I’ve found that moving in bursts throughout the day is so very doable for me. A 5 -15 minute HIIT workout here or a 20 minute brisk walk there makes my brain + body feel awake, and my productivity soars afterward!
If you could stand to move more, too, you might try a short at-home workout by Melissa Bender. She’s fierce but keeps it real.
If an online personal training program is more your thing, working with Camille San Souci of Inside Out Training is one of the most empowering things I’ve done for myself.
13 | Revise your expectations
On a parting note, my personal observation is that the symptoms of being stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, and unhappy as business owners almost always has its source with one insidious culprit:
Before you take any of the above tips and run off to “hustle” yourself to attaining some wildly romantic biz goal that you see others (supposedly) achieving, please: take into account your life.
Yes, some people are able to regularly launch great new products every couple of months.
Some others are able to publish a blog post every day.
And still there are others that seem to be able to handle dozens of clients simultaneously.
That doesn’t mean YOU can — or that you should even try.
There are so many variables that influence whether it’s a realistic idea to aim for X, Y, or Z in our businesses, and it’s NOT a weakness to recognize and respect them.
As an example, I simply cannot do what a single, childless, energetic 20-something can do. I’m a 35 year old single mom of three young children and in addition to work, I have the responsibility to devote a great deal of hours to the neverending requirements of parenthood!
It took me awhile to accept it, but it’s not realistic for me to put out a lot of “stuff” or to work one-on-one with a lot of people; my life at this stage simply is not suited to that kind of business model.
The same goes for you. Are you working a FT or PT job — or going to school — in addition to working in your business? Do you suffer from a chronic condition (depression, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis…)? Do you lack emotional, physical, and/or financial support from a partner/spouse? Are you pregnant or do you have kids? Do you lack access to — or have the inability to pay for — safe childcare? Do you homeschool? Are you taking care of a disabled family member or aging parent? Do you have religious, moral, or cultural practices that you prioritize?
All of these things — and many others — create certain conditions for your business productivity. Your success lies in acceptance…and finding all the other #WaysToBeAwesome according to the reality in which you find yourself.
Not doing so will only lead you to more overwhelm, anxiety, and, ultimately, total business burnout. I don’t want that for you, and I definitely know YOU don’t want that for you.
+ A FEW TOOLS TO HELP YOUR PRODUCTIVITY
Text Expander – https://textexpander.com
“Imagine never typing the same email address, chunk of code, brand message, directions or data more than once. Store them in a snippet—a keyboard shortcut you create. Use them for yourself, share them with your team, update across all your devices.”
Workflowy – https://workflowy.com
“WorkFlowy is a notebook for lists. Use it to be more creative and productive.”
Moment (iOs) – https://inthemoment.io/
“If you’re using your phone too much, you can set daily limits on yourself and be notified when you go over. You can even force yourself off your device when you’re over your limit.”
Do you have a favorite productivity-helping app? Are you a creative who has figured out your personal secret to being more productive? Please feel welcome to share your tips + tricks below to help your fellow biz owners!