When you work for yourself, being productive as a small business owner is as important as it is challenging. There’s no one else around to keep you on track or pick up the slack if you fall behind. It’s up to you to get everything done–and it’s not just about getting the work completed. It’s about doing it well.
There are common stumbling blocks–distractions, inefficiencies–that can keep you from doing your best work. Here are five such productivity traps that can affect your sole proprietorship, as well as the best ways to escape them.
1. Getting distracted online
You can’t run a business without being online. The downside to that is something we probably don’t need to tell you: the internet can be distracting. One minute you’re working, the next you realise you’ve been on Twitter or YouTube for the last hour. That Wi-Fi connection may allow you to communicate with clients through Skype, promote yourself with email messages to customers and send payments through PayPal, but it also gives you access to a time-sucking, concentration-draining trap that represents one of the biggest threats to your productivity.
How to solve it: If you don’t need the internet to complete a few tasks, unplug your Ethernet cable, switch off Wi-Fi, or use programs like Freedom to block your internet connection. If you do need the internet to work, try programs like Cold Turkey or Anti-Social to block the specific websites or social media platforms that tempt you.
2. Creating overly ambitious to-do lists
Daily to-do lists can be a sole proprietor’s best friend for getting work done. They can also be their worst enemy. What we think we can get done and what we realistically can get done are rarely compatible. That’s why lists can quickly become full of tasks that can’t possibly be finished in one day. If your list is long, there’s a good chance that you won’t complete it. The result will be even worse: you’ll become demoralised, overworked, or convinced to-do lists don’t work.
How to solve it: Key ways to improve your to-do lists do not include asking yourself “What do I want to do today?” but “What has to get done today?” To-do lists can become overloaded when people put ASAP tasks next to the ones that could be finished in two days.
When you make your list, don’t just be honest with yourself about what tasks you can get done, but about what tasks are a priority. In doing so you might decide that a project is just not worth your time, or is not going to help you achieve your business goals. Remember: putting less on your list doesn’t make you a slacker. It helps you work more efficiently and more productively. What’s more, ending the day with the most important things done on your list will do wonders for your sense of accomplishment.
3. Sticking with a difficult project too long
Sometimes you just hit a wall on a project. The temptation can be to stick with it until it’s done–even if it means blankly staring at a computer screen for hours. Sometimes you may have to do that. But, often our brains stall on a task for a reason. Sticking with something that isn’t going anywhere can be a waste of valuable time you don’t have, especially when it can put you behind on other things you have to get done.
How to solve it: You aren’t lacking things to work on. If you’ve given a project a healthy effort, but are just completely stuck, tackle another project. Now, this only applies if the task isn’t something you have to do ASAP to move your business forward. If it is, then you must get it done.
But if it’s a lower priority project you’re stuck on, move on to something else–ideally a small task or project that won’t take a lot of time. It’ll give your brain a break. What’s more, taking on (and finishing) a small project lets you return to that difficult project with a sense of accomplishment, enthusiasm, and a renewed perspective.
4. Following ineffective work routines
Routines can be a great way to help streamline productivity. But they can also be bad, locking you into a process that doesn’t work. As a sole proprietor, it can be easy to pick up routines that work in the moment–especially at the start when you’re “winging it”–but aren’t ideal for the long run.
What if you’ve realised that the afternoon is your most creative period for generating new business ideas? Great, except for the last year you’ve gotten used to ending your day by following-up or checking-in with clients about ongoing projects. That routine will hold you back from making the most effective use of your time. And the longer an inefficient routine like that lasts, the harder it is to break. You can find yourself working as hard on re-wiring and re-adapting yourself to a better way to work, as you would on something you need to do to make your business succeed.
How to solve it: Take some time–maybe every few months–to audit how you’re working. Look at what your routines are.
- Are you happy with them?
- Are they working for you?
- Are they the best way to accomplish tasks?
If the answer is “no,” don’t worry. You still have time to change them before they lock in and get more difficult to break. Have you discovered that preparing your company’s promotional tweets in the morning makes you grumpy because it’s a boring way to start the day? Stop doing it.
Determine what time of the day your brain gets more sluggish and could do something menial, and set-up your tweets then. Have you discovered that your plan to send out the week’s invoices on Monday afternoon gets sabotaged because you get really busy then? Try sending an invoice the moment any work is completed instead. It’s all about experimenting, finessing, and checking in with yourself so you’ll always ensure that you’re working at your best.
5. Forgetting to take breaks
For a sole proprietor, there always seems to be more to do. That’s why it can be incredibly easy to work for long hours without a break. How can you spare even five minutes when your daily to-do list is only half done? Here’s the thing: if you don’t take breaks you risk getting less done, not more. A study by The New York Times showed breaks actually increase your productivity. They also help you avoid becoming burned out and stressed. Skip breaks, and you will make your workday that much harder.
How to solve it: Easy: Take breaks. What you do with them is up to you. Some advise naps. Some suggest gym trips. Fast Company advises a 17-minute break for every 52 minutes you work. See what works best for you. It may require some trial and error. Once you know what’s most effective for you, don’t forget the next step: enforce the break.
It’s easy to plan to take one, but there will be times when you’ll feel like you can’t because you’re so busy. You can. Believe me. You–and your brain–will never regret taking a moment away from work to refresh.