By Beth Borrego / Published October 2014
If you’re already in the habit of using to-do lists effectively, you’ll get huge returns in productivity, improved business and personal relationships, and improved wellbeing from adding these items to your not to-do list. By eliminating bad habits from your life, you’ll improve your personal life as well as your business. Every day, make the following commitments to yourself, and I promise you that your day and your life will become more positive and productive.
It’s the reality we all believe we live in; our employees make mistakes, and our vendors don’t deliver on time. Our potential customers don’t purchase from us. We place the blame on them for our own problems. But, as a business owner, perhaps you are also to blame. Maybe you didn’t provide enough training for your employees, or perhaps you didn’t factor in enough lead time for those supplies that you ordered. Instead of complaining, take responsibility when things go wrong instead of blaming others. By looking at your decisions and the impact they’ve had on the situation, you’ll be able to focus on doing things better and smarter next time. Look for opportunities to manage your time better, and plan for project purchases well before you have begun the project itself. Train your employees for a multitude of scenarios and not just how to perform specific tasks. Helping your employees to learn problem-solving techniques reduces stress and increases productivity and job satisfaction. As you grow and become better organized, you’ll work smarter, becoming more efficient and effective. You’ll also become noticeably happier and so will those around you. That’s a win for everyone’s morale.
We have evolved into a society that’s highly dependent upon its ability to remain electronically connected to one another for both personal and business reasons. Electronic devices are extremely beneficial tools and have allowed small businesses to reach levels of productivity not seen 10 or 20 years ago. Yet, at times, we’re perhaps too connected, to the point of being rude and potentially harming our business image. We’ve all done it before; we’ve looked away from the person we were speaking with in the middle of the conversation because our phone just went off. Admit it; you’ve said, “Wait, let me answer this text…” while you were with a client or worse, with a potential client. Maybe you didn’t even say, “Wait.” You just stopped talking, stopped paying attention, and turned your professional attention away from your client.
If you want your clients or potential clients to feel as though their business matters to you when they have your attention, simply make sure they feel like they are your most important clients by paying attention completely. Clients know how busy you are and how in demand your time is, because they too have time demands placed upon them. If you want to communicate to your customers, your employees, and to family members that they’re important, stop checking your phone! Your customers will feel better about you, and you might just feel better about yourself. There is no substitute for one-on-one time spent with someone. You’ll develop and maintain stronger relationships when you embrace this opportunity and actively participate one on one instead of tuning out the person in front of you.
Are you easily distracted because you are trying so hard to multi-task? Just remember that the smartest person in the room is the person who pays the most attention to the room and to those participating. If you’re in a meeting, you ought to pay attention to the meeting. You’ll be amazed by what you learn, both about the topic and about the people in attendance if you stop multi-tasking on your hand-held device and start paying closer attention. You’ll flush out and understand hidden agendas, spot opportunities to network, and find ways to make yourself indispensable to people who matter. Practice active listening skills and take notes.
Do you have a bad habit of interrupting people? When you interrupt someone, what you’re really telling them is, “I’m not really listening to you. I’m mentally arguing with you. I’m thinking about what I’m going to say next.” If you have this habit, it’s one you need to break. Both your personal and business lives will improve as a result. Listen to what the other person is saying and try to remain focused on their questions and viewpoint. Ask questions designed to expand further upon their train of thought in order to make sure you understand what the other person is asking you or expressing to you. Before you answer them, repeat back to them what you believe they were trying to communicate in an effort to make sure you understood them correctly, and just as importantly, to let them know you heard them and paid attention by really listening actively to what they had to say. People are genuinely happy when they discover that the person they have been speaking to has given them their undivided attention and understood their intended message.
It’s important to balance being connected and productive while limiting distractions. You don’t need to know the instant you get an e-mail, text, Facebook message, or tweet. These will no doubt keep. If something is important enough for you as a small business owner to have on your schedule, then it’s important enough for you to do without social media or electronic distractions. Staying focused on what you are currently engaged in doing is a must. Then, on a schedule you’ve set for yourself when higher priority tasks are complete, attend to other tasks that are less pressing. Focusing on what you’re doing at that given time is more important than focusing on things other people might consider superfluous.
Your words have power over you and over others who come into contact with you. Whining about personal and business issues makes you feel worse and can certainly have a negative effect on others whom you come into contact with. Complaining simply puts negative energy around you. It hangs like a cloud and affects the mood of others, bringing otherwise happy people down. Focus your efforts into making the situation and overall environment better. Instead of complaining loudly about what’s wrong, have a thoughtful and productive discussion about the opportunity you have to make things right. Look for a solution and create a positive outcome from a negative experience. If the situation is applicable, you might also use a problem scenario as a team-building exercise allowing others to assist in the experience of group problem solving.
Mistakes always contain valuable lessons not learned in school, but un-fortunately, they’re too often ignored in life. Try in earnest to identify the learning opportunity and work through it to a positive resolution. Once you have accomplished this, let it go. Too difficult, you say? That’s really a matter of perspective. Keep an open mind and be as positive as you can be. Work-ing through issues with a positive outlook is far less stressful than fighting your way through them with a negative attitude. When something goes wrong, pay attention to yourself and how you handle the situation. If you find yourself becoming negative, take a step back and look for the positive and collect your thoughts. When something goes wrong for someone else, turn it into an opportunity to be gracious, forgiving, understanding, and even helpful. While it may be true that the past will define you, it’s also true that during each moment you’re in control of yourself and how you act, meaning that ultimately, you’re in control of creating your future past. Think about that, and work to make it a positive one.
No one is ever 100 percent certain that they’ll succeed in life. The best any of us can do is to promise ourselves that we’ll give our personal and business endeavors 100 percent of our best efforts. Many business ventures and projects have a high rate of failure, and have to be attempted multiple times before a successful outcome is achieved. If you find yourself losing focus, take a break to clear your mind and reflect on your goals, then get back to the tasks ahead of you. No matter how frustrating it gets, no matter how many times you have to try, it’s important to remain focused and determined because when you finally do achieve your goals, the feelings of success will be wonderful and will make it all worthwhile.
Don’t be a rumormonger or mudslinger. Spreading this particular kind of negativity among business peers, employees, or clients is simply bad business and can harm your reputation. Likewise, bringing it home to family can be toxic to your personal life. Remember that most people will look at the individual spreading the vile comments, rather than the person being commented about. If you have an issue with someone specifically and need to reach a resolution, remain professional and take it up directly with that person and keep it out of the view of the general public, where it’s both harmful and distracting. Both your business and your personal life will be more positive if you remove yourself from those who are constantly creating or demanding drama. The most productive days you’ll ever have are drama free.
Unfortunately, sometimes we have to say no and deny requests made by employees, clients, family, and friends. No one likes to say no, and typically it’s the build up to saying no that we dread the most. But most people understand, and the feelings pass soon enough. Make certain that you have adequately researched and considered the request before announcing your decision. Once you make your decision, stand by it, and people will respect you for it. If there are possible alternatives you can provide to the requestor, by all means suggest them. The fact that you took the time to consider and suggest alternatives softens the ‘no’, showing that your decision was indeed a thoughtful one. You’re creating positive, alternative solutions, and they’ll be appreciated.
One of the biggest challenges we all face is the one named procrastination. There are tasks we all dread, and times we really don’t want to tackle anything on our to-do lists. But allowing yourself to procrastinate or worse to skip a task entirely can have a detrimental impact on your business. Procrastinating on making decisions for example is in fact deciding not to act at all, which is not necessarily a productive decision that’s best for your business. Reprimanding or terminating employees, for example, is never enjoyable, but putting it off can impact not only your bottom line but may affect the morale among other workers as well. Small business owners who procrastinate are not fully committing themselves to their business. When you catch yourself procrastinating, simply stop and get back to working on the tasks that will bring you closer to achieving your goals.
As you build your business and follow your dreams, remember to keep your fears in check. Follow the plan you’ve created that’s going to lead you to fulfilling your dreams as a small business owner. Every time you accomplish a goal or reach a milestone remember to tell yourself how far you have come and what you have built so far. Each to-do list you check off, each goal you reach, each tough decision you make, and each time you remain positive about the journey ahead, you are one step closer to success. Keep moving forward.