When you first started your own business, you probably dreamed of pursuing your passions full-time and using your expertise in fulfilling ways. You probably also expectedThe problem with freedom is that it requires discipline, and for so many of us, the problem with “discipline” isn’t being disciplined enough to get our work done. It’s a lack of discipline in knowing where to stop. With no set end time telling us when to leave the office, there’s frequently the temptation to just take care of one more piece of client work, make one more post for social media, send one more email… and the “just one more’s” keep piling up.
There are usually two culprits that tempt us to work longer days:
- You think you “should” work long days, and not knowing how to stop (or wanting to, if you’re anything like me).
- You aren’t sufficiently productive in your set work hours (which vary from person to person), and end up having to work extra at the end of the day to meet your deadlines.
Both of these fall under the umbrella of “productivity: one of them is a matter of overproductivity, and one of them is a matter of underproductivity or inefficiency. Running a successful business isn’t about how much you can get done in any given day, working yourself to the point of exhaustion snacking on chocolate-covered coffee beans at 2 am (guilty). It’s about streamlining your business operations, optimizing your workflow, and setting healthy boundaries with yourself that lead to better quality of life.
Productivity Hacks for Business Owners
01 Start Every Week With A To-Do Dump
I like to start my week getting all my tasks sorted. I personally use an adaption of the Bullet Journal system and migrate to my digital task managers, but you can use any system that you’d like. The key for me is to be exhaustive: I write down anything and everything that I need to do: client work, marketing collateral, meetings, appointments, etc. Long-term deliverables make it on this list too, because even though they aren’t due this week, I need to make progress in them to meet the upcoming deadline.
02 Block Your Time
As much of an analog lover as I am, nothing beats my Google Calendar. I’ve color-coded my tasks based on whether they’re professional or personal, and I insert them into big blocks of time. I’m definitely a bit of a dragonfly when I work– always flitting from task to task– and while I don’t necessarily ascribe to beliefs that this decreases my productivity (long live multitasking!) I do like to work on tasks in the same “zone”.
I’ll set deep-dive blocks for client work, moving between research, drafting, and editing (no cross-pollinating clients!), or designate blocks for writing blogs, self-education, and systems maintenance. By utilizing the “to-do dump” at the beginning of my week, I can effectively bucket my time without the tasks creeping in scope.
03 Protect Your Time
Blocking your time is only as productive as your ability to protect your time. There’s a difference between staying agile with fluctuating priorities and becoming frazzled, flustered, and ultimately, unproductivity.
Protect your time by setting Do Not Disturb on your phone and computer, working in a quiet area free of distractions, and saying “no” to elective commitments that, if you’re being honest, you can’t accommodate without throwing off your schedule. (If you’re looking for a great read on focusing effectively and managing distractions, I highly recommend Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s becoming a classic for a reason!)
04 Streamline Your Systems
If you spend five minutes talking with me about work, you’ll probably hear me wax poetic about the absolute necessity of having good systems. I am the biggest believer in optimizing your operations, even if you’re a business-of-one, and streamlining your systems and processes.
This might take a lot of work on the front end, but when you select powerful tools and set them up to work for you, you’ll save yourself a world of time and hassle down the line. I’ve streamlined my systems by using a variety of tools, but you can create an ecosystem that works for you. (A bonus of streamlining your workflow and systems is that you’ll display more professionalism to both prospective and paying clientele, establishing your expertise in your industry.)
05 Master the Art of Saying “No”
In order to enjoy the freedom of business ownership and self-employment, we need to be disciplined. Many of us chose to be business owners or solopreneurs due to the flexibility it enables, whether it’s for ourselves or for our loved ones. But a common issue that can crop up is a lack of clarity around how much flexibility we can introduce into our schedules before our productivity begins to erode.
Learn how to say “no” where appropriate when people start to encroach on your working hours. Whether it’s requests for errands that you don’t actually have time to run, PTA commitments that fall smack-dab in the middle of your client work, or the urge to get up and deal with household tasks, you need to protect your time. Just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean you should, and choosing what to take on requires self-awareness and realistic boundaries.
06 Say “Yes” Where It Serves You
Depending on which side of the gradient you fall, you might find yourself saying “yes” to things you don’t have time for and “no” to things that would benefit you.
For me, it’s been a journey of learning how to say “yes” to the right things. This looks like saying “yes” to blocking out time in my schedule for continued education that helps me better serve my clients, looks like saying “yes” to vacations my schedule can accommodate, and “yes” to adapting my working hours to enjoy the best of a beautiful day outside.
Saying “yes” to the right things helps me reset and revitalize, so I can show up more effectively in my work life.
07 Truly Rest
A funny thing about productivity is that so much of the energy that feeds into it comes from when we’re doing nothing. Or, rather, it comes from when we are mindfully resting. I’m not the type of person who is very good at rest. Even in my off time, you’ll find me on my laptop, fiddling with Canva graphics, conducting competitor research, taking courses, or listening to webinars– all while watching a TV show with my family or having a meal by myself.
Unfortunately, this turns my “rest” into “work” and leaves me vulnerable to burnout. I regularly need to remind myself that I work to live, I don’t live to work– even if my work is my passion.
08 Tag Team With the Right People
I like to think of business ownership as a kind of relay race. Although we are running our own stretch of the race (our own business), a successful race is determined by whether or not we can hand off the baton to gifted collaborators.
By delegating tasks, you can preserve your time and energy for the areas where you excel: the ones integral to your product or service. Successfully delegating tasks can look different depending on your specific needs, but here are a few:
Web Design: Sure, DIYing your website might get the job done, but will it represent your business with the excellence and professionalism it deserves? Rather than sinking hours upon hours struggling with the learning curve + lackluster iterations, invest in a web design from a professional web designer. This is an investment that will pay dividends.
Graphic Design and Brand Design: Although there are an array of thoughtfully crafted templates to support your in-house marketing efforts, nothing beats a professional designer. If you haven’t already, consider hiring a brand designer to develop key assets like your logos and brand photos. If you feel that you’re sufficiently design-savvy, you can then customize some templates, or ask your designer to create custom templates that will last your business for years.
Photography: Rather than setting up your phone on a self-timer or enlisting a loved one with the task of photographing you in front of a white wall in your house (we’ve all been there), take some of the pressure off by hiring a photographer. Whether you need product photography, professional headshots, or brand photography, a brand photographer will leverage their experience, artistic eye, and top-notch equipment to capture the photos you need to represent your brand well. (No more toggling images in your iPhone’s native app or staring blankly at Lightroom’s array of features.)
Copywriting: We all know the struggle of sitting down and struggling to articulate the essentials of your business, event, or product launch. The right copywriter will come alongside you, get into the exact headspace of your brand, and craft the right words to sell your products or services.
Blogging: I’m a firm believer that every business should blog (yes, I said every), but actually having the time to generate ideas for blogs, conduct keyword research, outline, write, edit, and publish can be an impossible task. Luckily, there are plenty of gifted content writers out there who can take the reins and execute a powerful ongoing blogging strategy for you, drawing traffic to your site and helping develop visitors into loyal customers.
Social Media: If you’re anything like me, a rock-solid social media strategy is something that evades you. I personally am qualified to run my social media (hello, tenure in fin-tech + tech marketing!), but being qualified is very, very different from actually having the bandwidth, even if you have a gorgeous set of Canva templates collecting dust. Consider this your excuse to go out and find a social media manager who can help you create posts and manage your engagement, so you can attract new leads and establish your industry expertise.
These 8 productivity hacks transformed the way I saw my own work and daily business management. Although I’m far from perfect and still find myself working evenings and weekends, my business has profoundly benefitted from improved time management, boundaries, systems, and more. If your next step to developing a better work-life balance and streamlining your productivity is to delegate to a writer, I’d love to talk about your ideas with you. Click here to find out more about my services or here to inquire about a custom package.