Most small business owners have one thing in common: not enough time to do everything that needs to be done. This is regardless of the many industries that our clients and readers are in. Why does it feel like there isn’t enough hours in the day? Most of the time it’s a time management issue. Everyone has the same amount of hours in the day, yet some are far more productive than others. Other times, it’s more so an issue with mustering up motivation. How do you keep productivity high and stay motivated? Well, it all boils down to the routines you create.
Why are Routines Important?
Motivation wavers. No matter who you are. If you were always on attack-the-day mode, your adrenal glands would probably explode. Don’t take our word for that though, we’re virtual receptionists, not doctors.
It doesn’t matter why you can’t constantly motivate yourself to be productive. You can still create the output that you desire by implementing routines. Routines keep you on track, because you’re not giving yourself the false idea that you’re doing something because you want to. Instead, you’re doing something because you always do it. As a writer, I’ve heard the same advice from many other writers: begin writing first thing in the morning, before you have the chance to talk yourself out of it. That’s the same thing athletes say about training, too. Whether you want to grow your small business to a large corporation, you want your startup to get more funding, or you need to get your email productivity under control, tailored routines will help you achieve your goals.
Unrelated Routines Help, Too
The thing is, routines don’t need to be related to your goals to have an impact. Really! The act of completing a task every day helps create momentum that follows you throughout the day. This concept was popularized when Admiral William McRaven gave a commencement speech at University of Texas at Austin in 2014, which later became the following viral video and subsequent book with simple advice that your mother may have told you: make your bed.
It doesn’t have to be making your bed. It is a great start though.
What should your Routines be?
Choose your Values
Choose your Identity
James Clear, author and entrepreneur, said on a podcast interview that when you’re looking to achieve great change to work toward a goal, you should change your identity to do so.
Wait, don’t go! This sounds like wildly unconventional advice, but you don’t need to join a witness protection program or anything. In sum, think about your goal and the type of person that would have achieved that goal. What does that person do? If your goal is to have a better work-life balance, what would be the actions of someone that already has that figured out? Do they schedule everything? Do they block out time for each of their family members? Or do they have a regularly updated spreadsheet of the last date they reached out to each of the people most important in their lives?
Figure out the type of person does that has this figured out and what it would look like to be that person. And then do small-scale versions of what that person would do every day, like read for ten minutes about the subject of your choice.
Why does that help?
As outlined in the podcast, internalizing something as a part of who you are makes it more likely that you’ll continue doing it. Why? Because you’re less wrapped up in results and how unfortunately long it feels before you see them. Instead of focusing on physical indicators of your success, your action of showing up a little bit every day is in itself a success. That’s far more encouraging than focusing on how much further you need to go before you’ve gotten where you want to be.
Check out Clear’s free E-book for more about identity in relation to goal achievement.
A Little on ADHD and Entrepreneurship
You might be thinking that you just can’t get yourself roped into a routine. You might have a hard time sticking with anything. Heck, you could even have a diagnosed disorder that you use as a reason why you can’t do these things. Like adult ADD or ADHD.
Did you know that some studies show that those who have ADHD make better entrepreneurs? It’s true! It’s well known that people with ADHD have a hard time staying focused on what they don’t find interesting. But what isn’t as well known is how those who have ADHD have the ability to hyperfocus on things that do interest them. And they stay hyperfocused for extended amounts of time. If what someone with ADHD is interested in is building a business, they’re more likely to be able to delve into it and give it all they’ve got with intense focus. But as a small business owner, you know that not all aspects of business ownership are created equal. Sometimes you’ve got to do payroll or things that seem less interesting. That can be really difficult to focus on.
Will Power, Decision Fatigue, and Self Control
Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a disorder or you’ve just recently begun to have issues with paying attention in this 140 (make that 280) character world we live in, it’s not always easy to stay on task. What makes it so hard to stay focused? How do you strengthen willpower to land your business goals?
It turns out that willpower isn’t what people once thought.
Willpower was a concept that was thought to be confirmed after a series of experiments in the 19th century. It was based on an experiment involving temptation. Their findings then showed that willpower was a muscle that could be strengthened over time.
But what the experiments didn’t take into consideration was the mental effort that it takes for routine decision making.
Through the mental expenditure required to make decisions throughout the day, you’re more likely to give in to pressures of temptation. This is known as decision fatigue. The tired brain is impulsive and it procrastinates. It looks for shortcuts and it promises that later is a better time.
So I guess you can say self control is a muscle, in that it gets tired after being used up too much and it needs a rest.
How do you avoid decision fatigue?
By setting up your life so that you have less daily decisions to make. Steve Jobs famously did this by wearing the same thing every day. Others swear by eating the same breakfast and lunch every day.
Another way is to schedule everything. Entrepreneurs and small business owners have free reign of how they’ll run their business. In many ways, this is a blessing. But when it comes to decision fatigue, it’s a curse.
Eliminate decision fatigue by knowing already what your routine will look like throughout the day. Because deciding when and where you take lunch shouldn’t make you so tired that you can’t decide on which way you should invest in your business.
Your Productivity Makeover
The first step to creating a productive routine is to learn where your time is going. Many people start off a diet the same way, by writing down everything they eat. It helps! Through a combination of being more mindful of what your body is doing and the guilt you don’t want to feel through admitting slip ups, many people have found success this way. So, take several days or a week to write down how it is that you’re spending your time. Take notes of what time you you’re working and what time you’re blowing off by scrolling Reddit or going to the bathroom or chatting with Cathy in your office.
Time passes constantly, so it’s easy to spend it mindlessly. You have to know for sure where the time goes so that you can make adjustments. Oftentimes what people think is a problem isn’t even a problem. What they haven’t even noticed is a bigger problem than they think. You may be surprised to learn that you spend
Wake up Earlier
You know that feeling you get when you’re running late? You’re panicking, trying to figure out what to say, and the guilt that you’re feeling over someone waiting for your arrival is mounting. It’s so stressful. Why should you ever feel that way?
Waking up early means you have a quiet space, time to set your intention for the day, and make space for productivity. Not everyone is up before the sun rises, so before you get early-morning emails, you can decide what your priorities are.
Discipline is different than willpower. It is a muscle that grows the more you use it, and being disciplined enough to see the sun rise every morning will help you be disciplined in other aspects of your life.
Not only that, but starting your day early feels like an accomplishment in itself. You’ll start your day winning, on top of all of the other benefits of waking up early.
Don’t Hit Snooze
This is hard! But the trick to waking earlier is to go to bed earlier first and foremost. Then, wake up earlier slowly over time. Wake up five to fifteen minutes earlier than your usual for several days, then repeat the process. Do this until you wake at the desired time. But, whatever you do, don’t hit snooze!
The snooze button is the biggest sham in the sleep industry. After you’ve hit the snooze button, any amount of sleep you receive afterward will be low quality, not the REM sleep your body craves. To top that off, you end up feeling more tired afterward! Just avoid the snooze button all together if you want to increase productivity.
Avoid Brain Junk Food
While we’re talking about what to avoid when you start your day, lets discuss brain junk food. What’s that? That’s distracting apps, social media feeds, and internet surfing. Don’t start your day with things that take away from your quality of thought.
Which way to start your day would benefit you more: journaling, meditating, reading books, and working out? Or Facebooking, thinking about whatever comes on your feed, reading a click-bait article and working on emails?
The answer is pretty simple, but it’s harder in practice. Think of the latter as junk food for the brain. If you had a pack of cigarettes, double donuts, and a swig of whisky at breakfast, your body would feel pretty crummy throughout the day. So you just won’t do it, right? Treat your brain the same way, don’t give it junk food.
Avoid Decision Fatigue
Another thing to avoid: decision fatigue. We discussed what it means to get decision fatigue earlier on in this article and a couple of ways to pare it down, like decreasing your options of what to wear and what to eat.
You can also save trivial tasks for the evening, decide ahead of time what books and shows you’ll consume next, and a plethora of other decision fatigue busters.
Go Ahead and Make your Bed
After watching the video mentioned above…aren’t you convinced? It’ll take a short amount of time and bring a sense of accomplishment to your day. Go ahead, Mom would be proud.
Make Small Actions Toward your Goal
Start small and focus on routines rather than results. Build up the good habits needed to achieve your goal. Focus on the quantity of what you do–the productivity, and let the quality work itself out in the long run.
Track Your Success
Just because your focus isn’t on your results doesn’t mean you should ignore them entirely. In Marshall Goldsmith’s Triggers, he talks about using a specific, scaled checklist that allows you to check in with yourself and the effort you’ve put in each day.
Of course, that’s not the only way. Journaling is a great way to be able to look back on how far you’ve come, too. There are plenty of sandboxes you can play in as you learn what works best for you.
Reach for Bigger Actionable Routines
Once you’ve mastered the smaller stuff, you’re sure to gain the confidence to take on bigger routines. Create change incrementally and you’re more apt to take on something bigger. Go for it.
Apply This to your Small Business
It’s hard to keep motivation and productivity high when you’re a small business owner, but the best way to keep productivity up is through the use of goal-based and simple routines. From making the bed, to having the same breakfast and limiting clothing options, reducing decision fatigue can help with overall productivity as well.
Now try this…
Remember these steps for your productivity makeover:
- Track your time
- Wake up early
- Don’t hit snooze
- Avoid brain junk food
- Avoid decision fatigue
- Make your bed
- Create small daily routines around your goal
- Track your success
- Create bigger daily routines around your goal
And, hey. If you’re getting decision fatigue over all the calls you have to answer, don’t worry about trying to pick the right answering service. We’ve got you covered.