Photo by tuelekza,
Photo by tuelekza,

When I co-founded NutraBella, I was a workhorse. Fueled by passion and optimism, I moved quickly and ferociously to get a lot done each day. I was playing offense and was in charge of my day. Over time, things started to shift. Our customers, retailers and suppliers started to make immediate requests and soon started calling the shots. I spent all day reacting to emails and phone calls and no longer felt control over what I worked on. By the end of most days, I was wiped out and felt like nothing had been accomplished.

In hindsight, here are a few things I could have changed to regain control and increase my productivity:

Small business owners are amazing at multitasking. That’s one of our big gifts, right? Not if we want to be productive. Have you ever been on a call, and then been distracted by an email, and five minutes later, you realize you haven’t digested a word on the call? Multitasking simply does not work, and science agrees. According to Dr. John Medina in Brain Rules, “People who are interrupted take 50 percent longer to complete a task and make 50 percent more errors.” With limited resources, small business owners need to be more productive, not less.

A simple step: put a Post-it on your desk that says “SINGLE TASK.” I have one on my desk right now and it continues to make a world of difference. When I’m on a call, I focus and actively listen and participate in the discussion. When I am writing an article, I close my office door so that I’m not interrupted. When I start a project, I finish it and then move on to the next thing. At the end of the day, I have accomplished more things than I would have by multitasking.

Set a goal
I know it sounds basic to suggest you to set a goal, but when I was in reaction mode, I was back on my heels all day long. I could go weeks without really thinking about what I was trying to accomplish. I didn’t have time – I was too busy reacting and surviving! My goal was to just get to the end of the day in one piece. I know many small business owners who feel the same and they are frustrated by their predicament. So, if you feel this way, stop what you are doing. Take out a piece of paper and write down one goal. Make it something you’ll be proud to have met. Then, schedule a block of time in your calendar to singularly focus on that goal and to write your plan to achieve it. Start small so that you accomplish it. Work on it daily, first thing, until you get there.

Reward yourself
Once you have set a goal and met it, go and celebrate! As small business owners, we don’t take enough time to truly celebrate the milestones. It’s a rather thankless job and often we’re not even patting ourselves on the back. We’re often our own worst critic. I had that little voice in my head that told me to just do one more thing before I could celebrate. Stop and celebrate now. There are so many things to celebrate — your first year in business, your third, hitting a revenue milestone, launching your product or service, delighting a customer, or hiring your first employee. Take yourself and your team out to celebrate. Do something fun together. Those high-fives are important and will keep morale going through difficult cycles.

Take a break
Bill Gates is famous for having taken “Think Weeks” while he was at Microsoft. This is a week away from everyone, everything and every connection. Often, these were the times he developed his most creative and ambitious goals. We all joke that our best ideas happen in the shower, but maybe it’s not actually a joke. Some psychologists believe this is the best time to think because our mind goes into a semi-meditative state, enabling the mind to wander. Who’s mind can wander when you’re in constant reactive mode as a small business owner? Take a break. If a week sounds like an eternity, try a few days. For me, it takes a day or two for my body (and mind) to calm down enough to relax. I have to detox from the smartphone and email before I really feel like I’m taking a break. Start with whatever you can do. Go to your happy place where you can re-energize and clear your mind. You will be surprised what can happen.

Keep tidy
I’m reading an amazing book called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Kondo says, “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.” She tells stories of clients who with simple tidying of their space have also transformed how they think and what they achieve. Why wouldn’t we want this for our business too? Is your physical space stalling you? Does it bring you down? Or does it lift you up and propel you forward? Look around. Should your first goal be to dig yourself out? Spring cleaning just might spring your business forward.

Being busy is not the same as being productive. Sometimes doing less can actually enable you to achieve more. Maximize yourself and your time with these tips so that you maximize your impact. I’m cheering for you!