People often ask me how I manage to find the time to work a full time job and run a business. My short answer is usually something like “well, I just don’t sleep”, but to be honest that really isn’t the truth. I’m able to do it by being as efficient as I can possibly be. I think the fact that I am a trained engineer helps a lot, but really most of the things I do to be efficient are things anyone can do. Here are a few examples of the productivity tools and rules I employ.
As with any project, the best way to ensure success is to sit down and make a plan. A lot of my plans revolve around the making of a wedding cake, but I also make a plan whenever I’m going to do something big like overhaul my website or put together a promotional event.
A lot of it comes down to visualizing every potential step that you will take to get from start to finish. So if I use the creation of a wedding cake as an example, the steps of my plan may look something like this:
- Determine size of recipe(s) I need to make
- Order/shop for ingredients
- Bake cakes
- Make cake filling
- Make frosting
- Make decorations
- Fill and frost each cake
- Stack cake
- Decorate cake
- Deliver cake
The order of the steps will sometimes vary depending on things like: Can I make the decorations in advance? If so, how far in advance? That’s when I start to put things on a calendar. I block off the evenings and weekends that I will be doing each of the steps. Once I have my plan in place I can then schedule the rest of my life around it. Things like when to go grocery shopping or making dinners in advance so I don’t have to cook on the same night I’m baking.
I also like to leave myself wiggle room in my plan for those “uh oh” moments. If I have to deliver a wedding cake on Saturday afternoon, I want it to be done by Thursday evening. That way if I do run into problems or delays I have time to spare and won’t feel too stressed.
We often times become paralyzed by a task because of the enormity of it. By making a plan you are taking that huge task and breaking it down into more manageable chunks. You might think making a wedding cake seems like an impossible task, but when you break it down into tiny, more approachable steps you see it isn’t so bad after all.
2) Set deadlines for yourself
When you have a task that comes with a specific deadline, like making a wedding cake, you have to complete it. But there are many tasks I’m often faced with that don’t really have concrete deadlines. Those are usually the tasks that I procrastinate on or just never get to. Things like re-editing photos on my website, or finally publishing my next eBook I keep talking about.
For projects like those you really need to set a deadline for yourself. And it can’t be just a deadline in your head. You have to commit to it somehow. For example, let’s say you really want to update the look of your website, but you just keep putting it off. Well, make an announcement on social media or to your newsletter that you are working on a website redesign and that it will go live by a certain date. You have now committed to it and have a deadline, so the motivation to complete the task is there. Just be sure you first Make a Plan for the project so that you know you can actually accomplish it by the date you set.
That’s exactly what I did when I decided to finally start working on my first eBook. I made an announcement that it was in the works on Social Media, my website and to my newsletter, so I knew I now had to deliver. It’s just human nature, we work better under pressure (not too much, just the right amount).
3) Embrace social media technology
I will admit I was a little late to jump on the social media bandwagon, but over the last 5 years of running my business it has proven to be a much more successful marketing tool than more traditional routes, and a lot cheaper too! Managing your twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts can be challenging, especially when you have personal ones as well. That’s why I like to not only install apps for all of them on my phone to keep up to date with things, but I also use Hootsuite.
Hootsuite is a social media management tool that is free for up to 3 profiles. It allows you to set up and schedule posts to go out at certain times. This is comes in very handy when you find yourself writing a blog post at midnight on a Sunday. If you publish it and post to twitter and Facebook then, no one will see it. If you use Hootsuite you can publish your post on your blog, but then schedule a twitter/Facebook post to go out the next day at peak viewing time.
You can also take it one step further and link your accounts. I have my twitter and Facebook accounts linked so that when I post something on twitter, it also gets posted to Facebook. My Instagram is setup to post to twitter so everything has a waterfall effect. Being able to schedule posts to one social media site and letting the system do the rest of the work has been a huge time saver.
4) Stop Multitasking
Over the years I have gotten very good at multitasking. But most research shows that multitasking is actually very unproductive. You are much better off focusing all of your attention on one thing at a time. So as much as I love using technology to help run my business, I have to turn it off when I’m working. Otherwise I find myself checking Facebook or my email every few minutes, completely derailing my train of thought.
If I’m working on a wedding cake, I will shut off my phone completely so I’m not tempted to answer or check it in the middle of mixing up some cake batter. That is a sure fire way to make a critical mistake. You have to tune the world out. Silence your phone (even the home phone if you must), close the door, maybe put on some music (I always find it helps) and get to work. If you are afraid of getting too caught up in something, set a timer for yourself to take breaks and check your voice mail or email.
5) Know when to ask for help
I’m very proud of the fact that I built my entire business from the ground up pretty much by myself. From designing my logo and website to doing my own taxes, I’m a one woman operation. But you always have to know your limits and know when it’s time to ask for help (for me it was figuring out the taxes part).
In this day and age there are a ton of resources available to us as small business owners, but sometimes finding the right ones can be difficult. For example, when I was first starting up and needed a small business loan I didn’t know where to go. I started writing a business plan using some software I purchased but I quickly felt lost. Luckily I was able to get a loan through my employer at the time, but not everyone is able to do that. So what do you do?
Well, I recently discovered a company called Kabbage that helps business owners get the money they need fast. They are an online provider of revolving credit for small businesses and a great resource to help boost productivity, or in my case hopefully one day expand!