by Eunice Joshua Clarke
(published in LinkedIn Pulse May 11, 2015)
Running a business can be complicated. In 2013 when I first started my company The Executive Advantage Virtual, I was very familiar with starting a business, but not very familiar with the virtual office administrative services industry. At that point in my career, I already had experience in office management and office operations consulting, liked people, and had a desire to help small businesses grow. I asked myself: “Was I confident enough to run a business again, and successfully?” You see, I started two businesses before – one in music publishing and the other in college counseling. I vowed to be successful, no matter what. However, many distractions caused me to lose focus and run my past businesses poorly. Don’t get me wrong; there were a lot of life-challenging events mixed in with those distractions, so some hiccups along the way were understandable and expected. But after a while, I decided to close both businesses.
Distractions can start out simple, then end up out of control. For example:
- Always taking calls and responding to texts the moment they come in;
- Answering as many emails as possible before the sun went down (in one of my positions, I often responded to over 100 emails in one day – yes, responded!);
- Putting off the priorities of your own business to tend to other matters;
- Allowing non-priorities to become priorities by adding them to the same list;
- Putting healthy habits on the back burner, which can potentially affect your business and personal life.
When I let business distractions take over, I found myself weary, worn out, and resentful – resentful that I didn’t accomplish what I needed to. To eliminate many of the distractions you encounter each day, below are five actions you can take right now to help keep you out of the weeds and more engaged in the priorities of your business:
1. Separate Unnecessary Distractions from “Now” Actions. Whether you are a business owner or an executive for a large company, distractions can happen as easily as you saying to yourself: “To get it out of the way, let me make this one call;” OR “I can handle this tech stuff myself since I have experience and can do it faster;” OR EVEN “Sure, you can come to my office right now before I get this priority done.” First of all, stop that! Second, stop that! And third, um…stop that! Allowing distractions to keep you from priorities is a no-no. Of course, priorities may have to be rescheduled for other priorities depending on the urgency of a project or task. But allowing constant interruptions in your day is something that you should minimize as much as possible.
2. Start your Day with A “DONE” Action. Will to do’s motivate you to complete all of what you need accomplished daily? In this case, “motivate” is the operative word. Many experts suggest that business owners can start their next day on the night before by writing down the top three things they want to get done. Let me first say that this is a very good suggestion. At the same time, as business owners, we also want to squeeze in as many things in our day as possible. To that end, at the beginning of each day, why not perform an action that has an immediate, positive, and business-accomplishing effect and is a great motivator? For example, you might need to get bookkeeping done, but the pay-off for completing the task may take hours. Instead, how about first inputting new client information or adding a client payment into your bookkeeping system. Ready, set, done! Your “DONE” Action should take no more than five to ten minutes to complete. In doing so, it will immediately achieve two things: (1) it will give you tangible evidence that your business is growing; and (2) it shows that your hard work is motivating you to do more productive things for your business! Performing quick priority tasks from your Action To-Do List will help with motivation, momentum and growth. The tasks will also keep you focused and in touch with productivity.
3. Delegate the Productive Distractions. Time for an admission: I’m a recovering workaholic. When I worked in corporate America, it was no big deal for me to work 60 to 80 hours a week. Even when I worked as an Administrative Services Manager for a major research university, many of the higher-level officers seemed to work an average of about 40-50 hours per week, depending on the time of year. For me, I worked about 60 or more hours per week. And why? Partly because I enjoy working, and partly because I felt I was obligated to stay at the office until the work was completed. Another admission is that more often than not, I got into a habit of believing in that old adage: “If you want to get it done right, you have to do it yourself!” While this old saying is something that is believed by many, it is NOT a very good notion to live by. Working too much and not asking for help when needed keeps you from family, friends, and your sanity, not to mention productivity and profit. If you live an unbalanced life, there is always a blurred line between doing what needs to be done now and what can be done later. So what I have learned to do better is to delegate. Don’t take delegating lightly. I sometimes thought that delegating is unfairly giving work to another person and I was solely responsible for getting it done. After further investigation and study, however, I found that I was looking at it all wrong. As a verb, Dictionary.com defines “delegate” as “to send or appoint (a person) as a deputy or representative.” It also aptly describes the act of having another person/representative act on your behalf to complete tasks and projects, so don’t be afraid to delegate.
4. Make Your Business A Priority. As a responsible business owner, you want to do your best for clients by making sure they are happy with your services. On the other hand, how can you be there for them when you aren’t making time for your own business? Are you networking in some capacity, assigning your virtual administrator major projects, or creating the best-operating systems for your business? In order to do your best for your clients, you must first do your best for your business. I personally know of businesses that have closed because they weren’t paying attention to their own business operations (including not preparing documents, bookkeeping, returning calls or emails, updating equipment and software when needed, doing social media, not creating policies or a procedural manual, or hiring more people). They were getting tons of clients, but weren’t able to keep up with the volume and had no idea if they were making a profit or incurring losses. It’s great to have clients, but not good if you can’t service them or know where you are with your business. Balancing your own business priorities while servicing clients can often be daunting, but always important to do.
5. Put Your Health First. I am not a doctor nor a health professional. Nevertheless, from my personal experience, it is never, ever good to put your health at the bottom of your to-do list. Granted, as a recovering workaholic, I never got up early to walk on a treadmill, run, or use exercise equipment; primarily because I worked too much! As a matter of fact, I recently told my trainer that I hate working out in a gym…yes, I said it. But I go in the afternoon instead. Once I get there and start, I’m happy I went and feel so much better! I’m proud to say that I have successfully incorporated into my routine strength-training twice a week, get up out of my office chair at least hourly to stretch and am walking and working out more. I am not yet at my optimal best when it comes to exercising, but getting there. The food choices I make are better too. Bottom line: It is best to be as healthy as possible to run your business well. We know it, and we must practice it. Enough said.
Freeing yourself from distractions takes determination, persistence, and focus. It also takes properly separating the priorities from the non-priorities, using quick motivational actions, delegating when needed, making your business a priority, and staying as healthy as possible so you can run your business successfully. In a short time, you can accomplish quite a bit so your business can be around for years to come.