Healers, Energy Workers and Creatives of all types who’ve decided to make their calling a business are also small business owners. Getting grounded in the particulars can do a world of good for the energy flow of your business.
[Editor’s Note: Today’s post represents a shift in the focus of the Joy Report toward articles that speak to the needs of people in business for themselves in the healing and creative professions. We hope you enjoy it.]
As small business owners, we carry stuff around in our heads in a seemingly never-ending tangle of tasks to be attended to. Having this constant sense of needing to do things to keep our business on track, to grow it, or to just keep up with our skills can leave us feeling drained and in constant fear of failure at the very thing we love the most. (Besides our cats, our coffee and our partners, of course!)
At some point, most of us at least get to putting the tangle down on paper in list form. Which is a nice start, but where to go from there? One key to prioritizing, contrary to how most of us tackle the list, is to understand the different types of activities represented by our long list of to-dos.
Stephen Covey, in his classic “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” created a values-based system, a grid that is useful in understanding why prioritizing can be so challenging: Some items just shout louder, while others silently take up mental and energetic space and never get done. Meanwhile, we find ourselves doing the not important, not urgent things because they help us feel accomplished (or help us zone out to deal with the stress of our list!)
But what if we can’t identify what’s important, because it all feels about the same amount of urgent and necessary?
I’d like to propose a different approach, one that I use, that helps me understand what’s going on with the beast I call my to-do list. In other words, what role do these items actually play in my business? Answering the question ”Why are they there?” helps me to know what to do with them. Once I understand the different kinds of tasks that are all mish-mashed together in my head, I can begin to schedule and plan out my approach for getting them done.
Scheduling and planning your tasks is a much more effective, efficient and calming way to approach your endless list of sole proprietor to-dos. More about that in a second. First let’s look at the four types of tasks, so we can begin to clear the fog in a big way.
Okay, get out your to-do list. As we go along, categorize each task on your list. Some, of course, will fall into more than category. That’s okay!
The 4 Basic Types of To-Do Tasks for Solo Biz Owners
Task Type #1: Business Maintenance
These are the tasks we need to do to keep what’s happening happening. Attending to licensure, insurance, paying the monthly bills, cleaning our office, posting to social media and to our blog (which might also fall into Business Building, below), communicating with clients, scheduling, getting in needed supplies, maintaining equipment, processing payments, billing and bookkeeping.
Task Type #2: Business Building
These are the tasks that relate to getting customers and increasing our business income: advertising, crafting offers, bonuses and incentives, publicity, giving talks, and generally strategizing about how to bring in more clients, how to reach the right clients, and how to communicate about what you do in the right places.
Task Type #3: Business Development
Let’s face it, some of us are tweaking our products and services almost all the time. Related to our business identity, these tasks are about branding, telling our story, establishing a presence in our community, even discovering what, where and who our community is. In this category would fall those tasks that pertain to defining, refining and expanding the scope of your business: researching what others in similar fields are doing, developing or creating a class or workshop to see if there’s interest, experimenting with a new product, learning about whether a new service or skill set would fit into what you’re doing, working on your professional bio, researching local organizations that might be a nice complement to what you do, or might help you with your business, creating a name for your business or a title for what you do, or pricing out an addition to your office space to see if it’s feasible.
Task Type #4: Skill-building
These are the activities that develop and hone the skills you need to perform your business or service or offer your product. Those skills are either directly related to your service (learning a new technique), your product (learning how to make or package something), or are directly related to daily business activities, such as operating your computer, camera or video equipment, learning how to keep financial records, etc.
Scheduling and Planning: Take Control of Your Time
Remember earlier I said scheduling and planning tasks is efficient, effective and calming? Here’s where you can Ninja your task list. Look at your typical week and actually write into your schedule regular times for business maintenance, business building, business development and skill-building. The trick is to schedule these times frequently so that you don’t get backlogged with tasks in any one sitting.
How you create your schedule will depend on many factors, such as other commitments, whether you’re doing your business full time or part time, and when the best time of day is to conduct business for your particular business, as well as when you are at your best. Also, you may be fairly lean with maintenance tasks during a lull in business, and this would be an ideal time to schedule more heavily toward one of the other three types of tasks.
An Example: An Everyday Task
One item that shows up on my list often is something like “Email so-and-so about such-and-such.” I might be tempted to lump this into a general category of Emails To Be Sent. Oh joy. I think I’ll get to that right after I pull out my toenails or go bungee jumping. Such is my love for composing and sending 10 emails at a time.
Here’s where it matters whom I’m emailing and why. It might be a client I’m following up with (business maintenance), or someone who’s inquired about my services (business building), or someone who holds a monthly meeting I’d like to attend for networking (business building, business development).
Whichever type of task it is, that’s where the follow-up to the client goes in my schedule. It might be the only email I send during my business maintenance time. Whew. Or, I might actually have 10 emails to send for business maintenance. If I have time bulked out for that every single day, do I have to do them all in one day? Probably not.
Another example: A High Value Task
The more categories a particular task fits into, the more doing that task can potentially do for your business. So, even though it may be labor-intensive, your business stands to gain in multiple ways from doing it. That’s a different kind of efficiency, not to be found in assembly-line types of businesses, but one a small, creatively-based business owner can readily appreciate.
Creating a website is a good example. It’s been on your to-do list forever, right? You’re not sure if you need one, and you definitely don’t know how to create one. If we can break it down into some component parts and analyze what type of tasks they are, we can approach this with a little more clarity and ease. One thing that stops a lot of people from getting a website is they’re not sure it’s going to be worth the trouble and the steep learning curve to actually have the website. What will it do for my business, they ask.
First, there’s the tech (Skill Building) aspect of checking out the many free sites to use for your website and choosing one and learning how to use it. (Hint: You can create an account, mess around with their templates and then decide not to use that site.) If you take 30 minutes for this, you haven’t invested that much time, and it’s enough to know whether you can deal with continuing pursuing the website idea right now. Thirty minutes to save hours is a good investment. If you decide to pursue it, you now have a better idea of how much time to schedule in for this task. (About twice as much as you think you’ll need.)
Then there’s the marketing (Business Building) task of writing the actual content of your site so it accurately represents your business. Working on this also includes deciding which services and products to advertise or focus on and which ones may not be as important to publicize (Business Development). For this website, you’ll need pictures, contact information, and you’ll need to decide whether to publish fees, and perhaps gather some testimonials. (Business Maintenance). By the way, all the content you create for your site can be used again and again on business cards, posters and flyers when you’re advertising specific programs or services at other times and places.
You may find out that you already have all that content scattered around in different places. Collecting it and transferring it to your website gets it all in one place (Business Maintenance).
Another great example of a high value task is getting an office space in which to practice your craft or offer your service. Think about how many decisions you have to make about this, how they relate to your business, and the value to your business of thinking these things through, defining them for yourself, and then actually having the office space.
One Last Thing
Now that you have your to-do list divided into these four categories, or labeled appropriately, you can apply the 7 Habits Grid, or simply prioritize according to whatever makes the most sense for your business.
If, for example, I have a list of maintenance tasks, some of which involve deadlines (such as paying bills), I would obviously to those first.
Tailored To Your Business’ Needs
You now have blocks of time for each of these types of tasks scheduled into your week and a prioritized list within each category. Now you can dedicate 30 minutes one day to investigating free web hosting sites, for example. Once you’ve done that, you’ve accomplished part of your very complex task of creating a website. The trick is, when the time’s up, the time’s up. That’s all you can do today. Also, don’t allow yourself to be distracted by other things. Turn off the phone, shut down your email, and close the door.
You decide how often you need to schedule in business maintenance, development, skill building and business building. Ideally, you should have skill building at least weekly. Maintenance is easier if done daily. Business building and development generally take longer and are a little more complex, so schedule in chunks of time devoted just to them.
You can experiment with dedicating certain days for certain activities: Wednesday is business development day. Or create a target, such as, each day do one business building task. This helps build momentum, especially if these tasks are your least favorite. Saturdays could be skills day, where you get to play, create, explore and expand your craft. Be sure and schedule in time for the things about your business that you love. Also, think about what skills you’ll need when your business reaches the next level and start to plan for how you will develop them.
Most Neglected To-Do: Scheduled Time Off
One last point about to-dos and scheduling: Schedule in days or times off from work. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have times when you’re off the hook for accomplishing things. For example, I have an outside job in my original profession that I do two mornings a week. Those afternoons I have off from business tasks. I may end up doing business-related things, but it’s not a requirement. This has reduced my stress 100% on days when I already have to get up at the crack of dawn to go do something unrelated to my business.
Making time to read, take a walk, throw a frisbee, or take in some local culture can do more for your business than the leanest list of tasks ever.
Did I miss anything? Want to pitch a question to our esteemed panel of experts? (That’s you and me.) Comment below and let us know your favorite way of turning to-dos into ta-das or the snarliest snarls in your creative solo biz!
Notes: The idea for this post came from a mentor of mine, Brendon Burchard, creator of Experts Academy and other wonderful tools for entrepreneurs.