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Posts tagged small business systems
Staying Productive When You're Your Own Boss

I've had the privilege of being "my own boss" for nearly seven years now, working with clients in a variety of industries but working as an independent consultant or, today, small consultancy. I often hear, "You're so lucky you take any day off you want," from people, and that's sort of true. I feel really fortunate that in the end, I have control of my schedule. But in actuality, I have clients to answer to (as any business has the end user to answer to!) and there's not a big system in place to replace me if I'm out for a day or week.

In the end, whether you're working from home, your office or a shop, if you're a small business owner you are, on some level, working off your own drive and self-motivation. Yes, you can have flexible hours, but that work has to get done at some point, so you need to figure out when. Sure, you can decide on Tuesday that you'd rather Netflix and Chill but whatever you were planning to do then will still be undone on Wednesday. 

And ever since becoming a mom four years ago, I have become extremely focused about squeezing out every hour of productivity from my workdays possible, largely so I can spend more quality time with my children and be present for them during that time. To that end, I've come up with some strategies for business owners (or anyone really) who is looking for ways to amp up productivity that I truly believe allow me to get more work done in a single day than I once could do in two. Here's how I do it.

Take the Overwhelm Out of It

I've worked with dozens of small business owners, nonprofits and startups over the years. In most cases, these are people who are wearing a lot of hats and no matter how cool, calm and confident they are, there's a sense of overwhelm at times. My first productivity tip: being overwhelmed is a waste of your energy.

Whenever I'm feeling like there's way too much going on and I'm getting scattered, whether it's work, kids' schedules or trying to pull together a holiday dinner, I create a plan of action. That's my strategy for taking back the power of the situation. If that's what works for you, do it. Other ways to become less overwhelmed are: take a long look at your tasks and see what deadlines or timelines can be moved around; outsource something (cleaning, babysitting, virtual assistant work, anything); remove the things that aren't essential (there's always something); or go for a run (sometimes a mindset shift is all you need to tackle what otherwise seemed overwhelming).

Make Lists

I am the Queen of Lists, and I take plenty of ribbing for it, but it works for me. Ever since my first "real" post-college job, I've made it a habit of making a list each day as I finish work of what needs to be tackled the next day. This serves me well in three ways.

First, it enables me to take a quick run through what my tasks are for the day and upcoming days to ensure that nothing fell through the cracks so I don't walk in the next day to a missed deadline (nightmare!). 

Secondly, it allows me to walk away from the office and not think too much about work for the evening or my time off. I know that I've squared everything away and I have a plan of attack when I return.

Thirdly, it lets me walk into work the following morning ready to go. I don't need to spend a lot of time floundering around figuring out what I need to start with; I can jump right in.

I also make lists for personal stuff, chores, errands, stuff the kids need to have done. I usually work off a paper list for the day's tasks and electronic lists (via Asana for work and Google Calendar for calls and kids' appointments) for a full list of everything today and in the future. 

Block Schedule

I don't do this every day, but on days where the list is huge or certain projects are going to need to take up huge amounts of time, I create blocks in my day and assign projects or tasks to each one. This not only allows me to ensure that everything actually has time and space to get done, but it also gets me really focused to the task at hand. If I know I have allotted an hour or two hours to do something, I focus on hitting that deadline and am less likely to check Facebook or get otherwise distracted.

Focus on the Task at Hand

Like everyone else, I'm better at being present and focused on what's going on in the moment some days more than others. But overall, I really try to do the thing I'm supposed to be doing at the time I'm supposed to be doing it. At Sky Zone with my kids? I won't take a work call (though I do admittedly keep a general eye on emails.) Deep in a workday and heading to the kitchen for coffee? I'll rinse my mug but ignore that sink full of dishes that can be done while I'm cleaning up after dinner later on.

This sounds simple but a lot of people really struggle with it (I hear it all the time around working from home and avoiding housework!). And it does truly benefit not only your work productivity but also your ability to enjoy your downtime.

Group Like Tasks

There's nothing I love more than getting into the zone or on a roll. While we have clients across a variety of industries, we do many of the same tasks for each of them - ex., pitching the media, copywriting, social media management and the like. When it comes to work, I'll batch like tasks - either focusing on one client for a block or one function (e.g., updating everyone's social profiles or Facebook ads, or pitching the media for a number of clients) for an extended period of time. This allows me to get into the zone and not waste time switching my brain on and off the task at hand.

While I love my system, I am always on the hunt for new tips. Leave your best productivity tactic in the comments!

QUICKIE DESIGN HACKS FOR NON-DESIGNERS

We're the first to admit that good design work cannot be rushed. Hiring a great designer for your logo, branding, website or other brand elements not only provides you with a more professional image, it can save you a lot of time and frustration. But in a time when we are pumping out tons of content on a daily basis, much of which has visual elements, we can't rely on a designer for everything we need. Every day, we find ourselves designing things like:

  • Social media graphics (Instagram, Facebook and more)
  • Email graphics or headers
  • Infographics
  • Coupons and flyers
  • Business cards

This type of design is so prevalent for small business owners, social media managers and marketing managers that we thought it was the perfect time to share some of our favorite tips, tricks and resources for getting good design done quickly and easily.

Canva
his "design for dummies" tool is by far our most frequently used designing resource. With both free and paid versions, Canva provides templates that take all the guesswork out of sizing your finished products for particular platforms or uses and allows you to export both web-ready and high-quality print ready end products. While lots of elements are free, we love the built-in affordable stock photography ($1 a pop) and upgraded templates that allow you to get nice-looking typography and image matches without a lot of design knowledge. (We used a ready-made template for the graphic at the top of this post, for example.) Also love that with an upgraded (yet still affordable) version, you can save images into different folders for quick access.

PicMonkey
While less robust than Canva, we like PicMonkey for the specific task of simply stitching photos together. We use this all the time when we need a collage-type image for an email, Facebook header or the like. PicMonkey also has editing capabilities that are a bit more basic than Canva but still fun and easy to use.

RGB to HEX
Working with clients, we work with a whole bunch of different brand guidelines, and these include the specific brand colors. Colors are often delivered to us in RGB or CMYK configurations, where we need to often enter HEX (#XXXX) for colors in different web photo editing systems. We've found RGB to HEX to be the easiest way to get the conversion done quickly and easily.

Quick Brand Reference Sheets in Dropbox
Being organized is just as important with design and photo editing as it is for any other element of your business. There's nothing worse than constantly searching for your color values or just the right logo. That's why we like having a quick reference sheet for each brand. Organize everything into one online folder (shared on Dropbox if you're working with a team.) Include a quick reference sheet with color values and any notes about logo use, clearly labeled logos and any stock photos you use frequently.

Kozzi
Stock photos can get pricey and we all know that proper licensing is essential for image usage. We use Kozzi for stock photos to grab pics for around $1 each. Their library is well-stocked enough and easily searchable to make it an affordable alternative to expensive stock photo sites, especially for day-to-day design work.

So, don't let the day-to-day design work get you down - there's no reason to put out bad design with so many great, low-cost and free resources available. If you use others, we'd love to hear from you!

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