As online entrepreneurs, we sit down every day to work in front of what I not-so-affectionately call a “Distraction Box.”
When else in human history have we been expected to do productive work by using the exact same device that also provides entertainment, connection with loved ones, and irresistible distractions at every turn?
Give yourself a break: it’s not easy! For any of us — me included.
But I’m here to report that:
Productive days and weeks are possible — even when your productive work happens on a “Distraction Box.”
With just a handful of simple new habits, you can stop procrastination in its tracks without needing to sign up for a new course or read a new book.
(That’s what “learning” often is — a noble pursuit that is procrastination in disguise. More on this later.)
The result from adopting these new productive habits?
You’ll find yourself hitting those elusive goals.
Each success will boost your confidence and your “distraction resistance” muscle will grow stronger.
Overwhelm seems to be a common side effect of building your brand and growing your business.
But you can’t live in a prolonged state of overflowing to-do lists. When there are too many things on your plate for too long, things start to fall off. The finish line for your goals floats farther and farther away.
That’s no bueno.
Don’t fret. There is something you can implement that will add some calm to your chaos, and give you more time to work on the priority tasks on your list.
You just have to be diligent about adding it to your business’ toolkit.
The simple tools that can transform your business
I recently chatted with Kate Erickson of Entrepreneur on Fire, a multi-million dollar business built around the hit podcast of the same name.
Kate and her partner, John Lee Dumas run a very lean business. Here’s Kate explaining the linchpin that’s helped fuel their rapid business growth.
Systems and processes are indispensable when it comes to growing your business.
Before we go any further, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page with what these two essential elements are:
A system is a set of connected parts which form a complex whole. Think content creation systems, sales systems, or accounting systems.
A process is a series of actions or steps taken to achieve a particular end. A process is a component of a system. For your business, you could have a process for writing proposals, hiring new team members, or even writing blog posts.
Two coveted benefits of these essential tools
Most people know that utilizing systems and processes could improve the way their business works. But they aren’t always able to see the full benefits.
So let’s look at two important perks that will come from adding these elements to your business.
Increased effectiveness: You’re human. You make mistakes. And when you’re moving at lightning speed to get everything done, it’s easy to miss a step here and there when it comes to finishing your projects.
Using a process helps minimize the mistakes. In one study, hospitals in Michigan used a simple checklist to cut its intensive care unit infection (ICU) rate to zero — results that outperformed more than ninety percent of ICUs across the country.
Within eighteen months, the use of checklists saved Michigan hospitals more than $175 million, and more than fifteen hundred lives.
Now if the stakes in your business aren’t quite as high as they are in hospitals, don’t worry. Following processes can still have a big impact on your performance.
Here’s Kate again, talking about how they’ve impacted the way she works:
Processes help you perform better. They improve your results.
Increased efficiency: Wouldn’t you like to get better outcomes with less effort? That’s what processes do.
They keep you from having to recreate the wheel every time you do something. They cut out unnecessary steps for completing a task.
For my podcast, I got much more efficient with scheduling interviews by automating the process.
So instead of having to send all the back-and-forth emails to find a time that works well, I simply send the guest a link to my automated scheduler. It has all my available time slots, because it is synced with my calendar.
Then the guest finds a time that works for her, and boom — we’re done. What used to take several emails, and a little bit of frustration is now made simple for all involved.
Processes save you time. And you can use that time to focus on other important activities to grow your business.
How to start getting out of overwhelm
Adding processes to your workflow doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. You simply need to follow a few steps to start seeing the benefits. Here are three quick ones I picked up from Kate:
1. Track your every move
For one week, write down everything you do for your business, and for how long.
At the end of the week, you’ll be able to see categories of where your time is spent.
Here’s a list of how I divided my time:
Wasting time (I’m still a work in progress!)
2. Identify high impact areas
For me, I publish a new podcast episode every Monday. Getting an episode ready to go live takes a big chunk of time.
Because there are a number of moving parts to producing my show, I need to create processes around the activities associated with getting an episode published.
Here’s a list of my primary podcasting tasks in the order I complete them:
Find a potential guest
Invite potential guest to be on the show
Schedule the interview
Record the interview
Edit the interview
Create show notes page
Create show artwork
3. Cut the fat
When it comes to figuring out how to improve the way you accomplish a task, there are three options to help you do that.
Delegate: Find someone else to do the work for you. This could be a contractor, intern, or someone else on your team. This is great for important steps that don’t require your level of expertise to accomplish.
This could also be for projects that you don’t have the proficiency to do at the quality level you’d like.
Automate: Find an electronic system to work for you behind the scenes to complete components of your process. By programming the tool to get the results you want in advance, you can set it and forget it.
This step is cool for low-risk activities such as social media and appointment scheduling, or certain accounting functions.
Batch: Rarely does anyone just bake one cookie. They bake a bunch at one time, because it’s much more efficient. You should do the same with recurring work that you must do yourself.
Batching is beneficial because it minimizes task switching. Diverting your attention from one activity to another has been shown to add between 25% and 100% more time to completing a task, depending on the level of complexity.
You could batch your time creating content, doing design work, or even answering email.
In doing this exercise for my podcast process, I was able to figure out where I could find efficiencies in each one of the needed tasks:
Finding guests – delegate
Inviting guests – delegate
Scheduling the interview – automate
Record the interview – batch
Edit the interview – delegate
Create show notes page – delegate
Create show artwork – delegate
Publish episode – delegate
It takes me about 4.5-5 hours over the course of several days to get a podcast episode published. Over time, as I delegate more of the activities I don’t personally need to do, I’ll be able to save myself an additional 3.5-4 hours per week. That’s up to sixteen hours a month!
And then I can spend the time I’ve freed up on other high-value activities that grow my business, such as coaching, writing new blog posts, or creating new courses.
You don’t have to live in overwhelm
You can get control of your overgrown to-do list. And you can get more done with less time and effort than you ever thought possible.
By establishing and implementing systems and processes, you can add structure to recurring tasks, save time, and improve your results.
Don’t feel like you have to get everything done at one time. Once you’ve got your systems and processes mapped out, you can work on a path forward to make improvements methodically.
They will transform the way you work, so take the first step toward ditching overwhelm.
And start enjoying the freedom these tools will give you.
“… in my brain I had five years to get a staff together and be able to take some time off and be able to kind of enjoy things.” – Andy King, co-owner of A&J King Artisan Bakers
What is it that you really want from your business?
Where is it that you’d like to be?
Are you on the path to getting to that point?
What is it that you need to do to move forward with your business and attain a certain lifestyle?
I’ve had the privilege of speaking with many successful small business owners over the last few months as host of a new podcast, Small Biz Stories. These are small businesses that have made it past that five year mark when more than 50 percent fail. Some have been around more than 30 years.