As the owner of your own business, the boundaries between personal and private life can and do bleed into one another. Small business owners often become so consumed with the fear of falling behind or overwhelmed by the variety of tasks such a role demands that they give up before their business has a chance to thrive. I’m here to tell you that anyone can be a successful business owner with the right approach–but it takes discipline, in combination with good habits and organizational skills, to keep both halves of your life successful and in balance.
My own business, sorted.by Melissa, focuses on helping and coaching others to become better organized using the skills and knowledge I’ve developed over many years of organizing for myself and, informally, for others. So when I officially launched my business at the start of 2016, I certainly never expected to spend so much time focusing on efficiently organizing myself in preparation. But as a newly minted entrepreneur I found there was an enormous learning curve in understanding how to manage the new demands on my time and workflow as opposed to during my years of “traditional” employment.
In addition to the time you will spend providing or creating your service or product, your business will need time devoted to marketing, financial administration and networking if it is going to be successful. While everyone has the same number of hours in the day, the difference lies in how you maximize your productivity in order to drive your business forward and achieve success–and keep yourself from burning out.
The workspace we inhabit both physically and virtually needs to be inspiring, yet functional and practical; free of distractions that take us away from our business.
- Carve Out a Dedicated Workspace for Yourself: Co-working spaces are great, but most of my work happens on-site with my clients. The running of my business, however, is done from my home office, or rather a small corner desk in my living room. This is my space, my desk, my office. I don’t need much but what it brings me is efficiency, joy and dedication to my purpose. When I sit down I’m focused on work, because this is my place of work. I’m not wasting time and energy pulling out my laptop to get setup and running for the work day or looking for notes. I urge you to get off the kitchen table and find a dedicated workspace for yourself within your home.
- Clean, Organize and Purge your Space: Nothing is worse than frantically searching for a document or receipt on a disorganized desk or in an over-full workbag. Whether it be daily or weekly I reserve some time for the regular stack of business cards, flyers, mail, conference, network and presentation materials that require my energy to process and file (i.e. action & discard). Most paper items can head straight for the recycle bin, especially anything not related to your business, and the rest should be actioned or set as future task items. I scan and digitize as much as possible, and those few inspirational items I may want to later reference I file in a special accordion file folder.
- Organize Your Digital Life: While most of us work in the cloud, not enough of us take advantage of digital apps like OneNote and Evernote. I have always been a collector of information like useful websites or news articles. My brain unfortunately doesn’t have the capacity to hold onto all this information, nor do I enjoy the clutter of physical paper and notebooks. Years ago I went digital with Evernote and never looked back. Using the Evernote App on my smartphone I snap a photo of a business card and can recycle or pass on the paper version. When I’m at a client meeting or conference, I can capture notes along with saving photos, agendas or shared digital presentations and PDFs. When I come across a website I want to remember, whether it be a digital tool I could use, tax advice I need for later reference or a list of business books I want to read, I can bookmark the website or create lists to refer to at a later date.
Studies have found that it takes 26 minutes to recover from unexpected interruptions, which makes it even more essential to remove the distractions that prevent you from being laser focused and productive. Luckily as an entrepreneur we can eliminate distracting colleague conversations, but without an action plan we can easily fall into aimlessly surfing the net or tackling non-urgent tasks just because it is the first thing we see. Deciding what to do and when to action it has become even more important than before.
- Plan Your Days the Evening Before: It is well known that to save time in the morning you should select your outfit the night before. But what about your work deliverables? Setting aside 5-10 minutes every evening (or at the end of the work day) to review your agenda, and to create your actionable to-do list is essential for improving your productivity. When I plan out my day before I start my day I’m on productivity fire, managing my time-sensitive deliverables without stress.
- Eat the Frog: I’m no stranger to procrastination and just the mere idea floating around in my head that I need to do something I don’t want to do can reduce my focus and productivity. Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.” The frog is that one thing you have on your to-do list that you dread and that you’re most likely to procrastinate on. Don’t think about it too much, just action it, and you will find your day just got a little lighter.
- Turn Off Alerts and Notifications: Every application on your computer and phone produces reminders that call out “look at me”. Within minutes of checking a message or email we can find ourselves down the notification rabbit hole. Turn off notification settings from all media and utilize the Do Not Disturb setting when you need to focus on a task. Keep your smartphone out of reach by storing it further away (in another room or in a box) so you need to consciously walk over to where it is in order to use it. Ah, silence, the sound of productivity.
Switching between unexpected and unimportant tasks or the urge to check that latest email costs us valuable billable time. After all we are in the business of making money not wasting time.
- Batch your repetitive tasks: Every business is different but there are the routine tasks we all need to do for the health of our business. We have follow-up calls with clients, receipts, travel, and time to register, or marketing content to create and post. If you jump around between all these tasks all day long you’ll lose a lot of quality productive time. Instead, batch together tasks that require similar resources in order to streamline their completion, and schedule a time in your agenda to action them. As a result, you will increase your productivity, creativity, and mental sharpness, while decreasing fatigue, procrastination, and stress.
- Create an email-checking schedule: A behavior trap many still fall into is using email as a TO-DO list, checking it frequently or aimlessly when deciding what to do next. This method means your email inbox will start managing your time instead of you. A better habit, which will keep you focused on the task at hand, is scheduling set times of the day where you check and process email. How often you check is dependent on your business needs, but I find responding within 24 hours rather than the usual 6 seconds hasn’t been a detriment to my business and in fact ensures that my responses are more thoughtful, accurate, and helpful to the client.
- Delegate to a Virtual Assistant: As a (small) business owner, you need to be a jack-of-all-trades, but not every trade is our strongest. Outsourcing parts of your business to someone else who can dedicate the time, and most likely improve your efficiency, will allow you to focus all your available hours on clients or growing your business. Virtual Assistants have a range of services from secretarial and bookkeeping, to client management and marketing. It is a lower cost way to grow your business and buy yourself back some much needed time.
Using the techniques and tools I’ve described here may feel odd at first, and that’s okay. It will take time to grow into your new role as a business owner and entrepreneur. By giving yourself the space and time you need to nurture your business and yourself as business-owner you will be able to achieve the focus that will bring you success.
Melissa Curran Kalker is a professional organizer who runs her own business sorted.by Melissa. Her mission is to help busy people and families find more space, focus and time to do the things they love. She shares her organizing & minimalism journey on her Blog and Facebook page.