Many people start a business because it’s a dream ‘job’ – they believe it will give them greater freedom, greater wealth, and the capacity to live life on their own terms.
However, for many people setting up a business, their dream evaporates quickly, as pressure and stress kicks in, and the harsh reality of business ownership makes itself known. But do not give up! I have some ways to help you be more productive, with less stress.
Yes, there’s a stage in your business development when the freedom you dreamed of seems more elusive than ever. You may invest large amounts of time and money, sacrificing holidays, weekends and evenings to set up the business and secure an income. The stresses can seem all-consuming: pressures that are financial, emotional, personal, mental, relational. You can feel as if you’re on the treadmill you’d hoped to escape from. Perhaps even worse. How do you get through this? Some tips for alleviating stress by being more productive:
Nothing to-do. Schedule instead.
Are you busy? – Yes? But – how productive are you? There is a major difference. One takes up time. The other gets results.
Some people advocate keeping to-do lists. I’m here to tell you – no. The longer your to-do list, the less you get done – and the more stressed you are. Lists make you feel that you have to take responsibility for, and take charge of, tasks that will drain your time and energy, and stifle your motivation and creativity. Itemising trivia and petty tasks mean that your attention is scattered, and your focus dimmed. Have laser-like clarity, space to think, and instead, concentrate on important actions that get you the best return on your investment in time and energy. To-do lists don’t allocate your time or account for it, either. Lists aren’t time-specific and don’t commit you to act on a deadline for a length of time. Instead, prioritise important tasks and schedule them into your online calendar or diary. Set reminders – and do the task at the specific time, for a specific duration.
Have focus days
We’ve all heard the phrases ‘spinning plates’ or having several ‘balls to juggle’. There’s a temptation to multi-task and ‘keep on top of things’ by switching tasks between different areas of work during the day. But constantly shifting focus means constant interruption of thought, and you never seem to make much progress. If you are handling different areas of work every hour, you need to constantly refamiliarise yourself with the topic and where you left off, every time. Instead, set aside entire days to concentrate on specific subjects or areas of work. E.g. dedicate every Monday to meetings; Tuesdays to generating new business, growth and development, etc. Concentrate wholly on one theme and you will be more focused, make more progress and be more productive. Even with interruptions, you’ll find it easier to get back into the flow again.
Cost out your Time
Are you wasting your time and money doing things you can pay other people to do, more cheaply? Are you paying yourself – at great cost – to read trivial emails, make coffee, or do your own filing? If you haven’t already done so, calculate your own hourly rate and consider the fact that you are charging the business for everything you do. Your time is money. This simple cost-benefit analysis will help you to decide where you should devote your time, and which tasks you should really dispense with – or delegate to someone else. Think how much more cost-effective it would be for you to concentrate on business development or generating income. Appreciate your value to the business and its value, in hard cash. Knowing your worth gives you a perspective on what it’s best for you to focus on.
If things seem overwhelming, how do you eat an elephant? Answer: bite by bite. But it’s all too easy to get distracted by the detail, and drawn into small things or trivia, when you’re running a business. Instead, as a business leader, make sure you see the big picture. Work on your business vision and goals without getting mired into the day-to-day operational things. For example, if you find that you’re dealing directly with customers too often, that means you’re unable to take the business forward or achieve your greater vision or business goals. Take a step back – or even better, an aerial view, so you can see the whole landscape. You might find that instead of getting drawn into customer contact, you can automate some processes, set up better quality control, disperse certain tasks across your team or make new roles or appointments to attend to those tasks.
Keep your vision and values in mind.
Where you want to be in five years’ time?
What do you have to do, year by year, to achieve that?
Leave the detail to your staff, while you steer the ship through calmer seas.