Running a small business requires juggling dozens of competing priorities every day while still keeping an eye on the overall needs and growth of your company. Developing productive habits and systems is key to getting everything done.
No one knows this better than small business owners who are still in the sole proprietor stage. These busy entrepreneurs are responsible for every task that happens in their business, from responding to client concerns to maintaining a website to getting the actual work done.
Business News Daily talked to two sole proprietors to learn the strategies and habits they've cultivated to stay productive, no matter what challenges come their way.
They break up the workday.
Small business owners are known for having irregular workdays. Depending on your business and customers, you may work only evenings and weekends, start your day at 3:00 a.m. or have a traditional 9 to 5 day. No matter when your workday happens, you'll be more productive if you schedule periodic breaks rather than trying to focus for hours at a time.
Amanda Caswell, owner of Ad Buzz PR and a parent, admits that she doesn't have much of a regular routine. Her work days happen while her kids are at school – and in the summer, when they're at home – as well as during evenings and early mornings. But in between tasks, she still makes time for fitness classes or running. "It helps break up the day," explains Caswell. "I really need that time away from the office to free my mind from clutter."
Breaking up your workday forces you to move around and think about something new, and it sharpens your focus when you return. By focusing your energy and attention on a non-work task, you give your subconscious a chance to kick in, which can improve your problem-solving and creative thinking skills when you return back to work.
They recognize their own limitations.
Small business owners wear many hats at work, no matter what stage their business is in. "I do everything from sales to janitorial duties to marketing," says Rockie Zeigler, the owner and advisor behind RP Zeigler Investment Services. "Everything is on my shoulders."
Even though he's currently the only employee in his business, Zeigler admits recognizing that he needed help in one area. "I'm a bad bookkeeper, so I hired that out this year," he explains.
Knowing when you need help is key to maintaining productivity. Sometimes this means hiring an employee or outsourcing tasks that prevent you from working efficiently. "In 2019, I plan on outsourcing some activities in order to take things off my plate," says Zeigler. "Things like answering incoming phone calls, placing outgoing calls for appointment setups. I'm also considering hiring a part-time office assistant."
Recognizing your own limitations includes turning to others for advice when you need the benefit of someone else's more extensive experience.
"Collaborate and brainstorm with … other small business owners," Caswell recommends. "Having people in your network who are in the same boat can help you feel less alone. You can learn from them, and they can learn from you."
They schedule everything – and write it down.
Juggling dozens of tasks during irregular work hours can get overwhelming, and it's easy that some things get overlooked. But a lack of organization can severely hamper your productivity.
To prevent last-minute scrambling and forgotten appointments, use technology not just to schedule your time but to actively remind yourself what is coming up. "Utilize the calendar in your phone. Schedule everything and send follow-up reminders," says Caswell.
You can also use technology to keep track of ideas that occur at odd hours or details that you will need to remember in the future. "Email yourself whenever you think of something. Even in the middle of the night. You'll never remember it otherwise."
But don't just depend on technology. "Write down everything," suggests Caswell. "Not just written in your phone but actual notes."
Research shows that we remember things best when we put pen to paper rather than typing things out. And psychologists have found that activities like freewriting prompt the type of creative thinking that is essential to problem-solving and entrepreneurship. To stay organized, creative and productive, keep a planner or journal at hand and write in it frequently.
They stay flexible.
Running a small business demands your time, attention and effort to an enormous degree. It also demands flexibility for how you use your resources – especially your time. Embracing this flexibility is one of the best things you can do both for your productivity and satisfaction.
"I have a home office and usually work from 6:00 to 7:30 a.m. [I] get the kids up, make lunches and get them to school by 8:30," says Caswell, describing her work day. "Pick the kids up at 3:30, then [it's] back to work until dinner. Put the kids to bed and work until about 10:00 p.m. or a little later."
While this irregular schedule could wear her down, she instead embraces the opportunities it brings with it, such as teaching an online advertising course one evening a week. "Just go with the flow, stay flexible and realize that the stressful days aren't going to happen all the time," she says. "Have fun and always remember why you started working for yourself and running your business in the first place."
Staying flexible, rather than insisting on a rigidly controlled schedule or plan for your business, allows you to take on additional work or dive into new opportunities. It also allows you to prioritize sudden or unexpected tasks while still keeping the long-term needs of your life and business in mind.
Zeigler has found that embracing the "total flexibility" he has over his schedule has allowed him to grow his business, be available when clients need him and offer more services. "Like anything in life, it comes with trade-offs. You can never truly take a day off," he says. "Just because I'm not here doesn't mean that clients stop needing things … Still, I think the trade-off is a positive one. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. It's a pretty cool thing."