Most small business owners started their businesses because they have a skill that consumers will pay for—like creating beautiful images—but they don’t necessarily want to do all the things that go into building a business. But even though there are business functions you may not want to do, there are things that have to get done if you’re going to achieve your goals.
Productivity expert and best-selling author of “The RFP Success Book” Lisa Rehurek says you can give yourself a boost in the right direction, starting with a couple of mind shifts that will put you in a good place to implement positive changes.
Know what you want. The first and most important thing is desire, says Rehurek. That means resolving to get in the right mindset and dedicating yourself to doing what needs to be done. Rehurek recommends starting with the big picture, the dream. “Think about what you’d want for your life in a perfect world,” she suggests. “Then break it down and reverse engineer it.
Consider how you can move closer to your goal incrementally over the course of a year. What do you need to do each month to move closer to your goal? Then break it down further, by week, by day, and set up tasks that move you toward your end goal. For each task, ask yourself, Is this activity moving me closer to my goal? If not, scrap it. “We get stuck in so many of the other things that don’t really advance our goals,” says Rehurek. “You have to have a deep, visceral understanding of what your goals are and how to move toward them.
Be a positive influence. As a small business owner, you should be a positive influence on those around you and also on yourself. “The way to be a positive influence is to really stand in our strength of what we want to be doing,” says Rehurek. “And the only way to move forward is to focus on what moves us forward and not get caught up in all the junk that’s holding us back.
Once you understand your goals and have put yourself in a positive mindset, you’re ready to break down your daily tasks into what’s important and what’s dragging down your productivity. Rehurek recommends using a framework she calls “Do, ditch, delegate.”
When something comes across your desk, ask yourself if this is something you love doing and if it will make you money. If the answer to those questions is yes, then do it. If not, then look to either ditch that activity or delegate it to someone else.
It seems simple, but getting to a place where you can make fast, efficient decisions about doing, ditching, or delegating takes time and practice. “People often overlook the fact that productivity is a skill,” says Rehurek. “It’s not something you wake up and know how to do. Just like photography, it’s a skill that takes practice.
Once you’ve resolved to get better at being productive, Rehurek suggests employing several techniques to help you to continue improving.
Write it down. Consider what’s really difficult in your business. Where is the bottleneck? Where are you getting mired in the details? Then write down those things and examine how you could approach them differently. “Try to gain a better understanding of what’s holding you back,” says Rehurek. “Often, when I do this, it shows me that I’m overprocessing. I’m taking extra steps that aren’t necessary.
Organize your to-do list. A to-do list is for tasks, not projects. An example of a project is building a website. That’s too big of an undertaking to just put on a to-do list and so there’s a tendency to push it off. Instead, break projects into manageable tasks that are 30 minutes or less: Organize pages for your website, review color schemes for the website design, choose images for the home page, and so on.
How many tasks should you realistically try to tackle? Rehurek recommends limiting your to-do list to three tasks a day. Once you’ve completed those tasks, allow yourself the good feeling of checking them off your list and moving forward.
Every time you’re interrupted, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to get back to full productivity.
Keep an excuse journal. When we procrastinate, we give ourselves excuses, explains Rehurek. So be honest with yourself. Start writing down your excuses and go through the exercise of rebutting them. Imagine you are a friend listening to your excuses. What would your friend say?
Book yourself a power hour. Every time you’re interrupted, it takes 10 to 15 minutes to get back to full productivity. Rehurek suggests booking a 60-minute power hour in the morning and again in the afternoon. Turn off all distractions—no phone, no email—and tell family and co-workers you need uninterrupted time. Then just power through the work.
Know yourself. Know what time of day you’re running at peak performance. Be aware when you get overwhelmed and are just spinning. Know the rabbit holes you tend to go down, and get distracted by for stretches of time. If you’re aware of your productivity pitfalls, you can more easily avoid them.
Allow your brain to relax. “People say things like, I get in the shower and ideas just come to me,” Rehurek points out. “You know why? Because you’ve turned off your brain. You’ve shifted into this moment of self-care and let everything else go. All of a sudden, your brain has this time and space to just be.
How can you recreate this kind of brain relaxation when you need it without taking several showers a day? Meditation is one option. “You don’t have to make meditation this elaborate thing,” says Rehurek. “It can just be a few moments of a break, just sitting quietly and deep breathing. There are lots of apps that help you do it. The process helps you get your head out of the minutiae of the business and refocus on bigger picture items.
Get up and move. If meditation isn’t your thing, getting up and moving can help you reset and refocus. Stats show that we should get up and move at least once every 50 minutes. Our bodies weren’t meant to sit for extended periods of time, and when we do, our brains settle in and stop working at their peak. So stand up, take a walk, do some jumping jacks, whatever it takes to put yourself in a different environment and allow your brain to reset.
How do you know if your productivity overhaul is working?
Fill a success jar. Every time you accomplish something, write it on a slip of paper and put it in a “success jar.” Once a quarter, go read those slips. You’ll start to see your growth. At the end of the year, you’ll see a big difference.
Monitor changes in business. Productivity is about working more effectively to make positive changes in your business. Take a look at your business after one year. Have you accomplished what you set out to do when you reverse-engineered your dream at the beginning of this process?
Find an accountability partner. An accountability partner is someone you don’t work with but who wants to go through the same process. Schedule a power hour with your partner once a quarter to review your progress and work on things together.
Rehurek stresses that boosting your productivity will happen incrementally. You can’t change everything about your working style overnight. Instead, figure out your biggest barrier to improved productivity or your greatest time suck and start by working on that one thing. Then move on to the next one. And then each one. Keep focusing on each step toward your goal.
Remind yourself that you’re the leader of your business,” says Rehurek. “You are here to make your dreams come true. Believe that, and understand that productivity will support you in reaching that dream.
Jeff Kent is editor-at-large.