How to Increase Small Business Productivity, Creativity, and Sanity with Batch Processing

Batch Processing for Business Productivity

Are you familiar with shiny object syndrome?

You know, when you’re diligently working on the task at hand, then something else, something usually way less important – look, a butterfly! – catches your attention, and off you go, tripping into a more interesting field of daisies, from where you may not return for several hours. 

It was happening to me, way more than is good.

So in order to wrestle that little problem to the ground so I can get the work done, while still allowing for random dreaminess, funny cat videos, and other flights of fancy, I recommitted to a productivity technique that I used to use back in my PR days. 

Recently this technique has helped me get a killer amount of writing, marketing and other business-building work done on my business, all while still putting in 40 hours per week on client projects in my business, and still leaving me time to do the fun stuff.  (See above, re: cat videos.)

That productivity technique is called batch processing.

 

What is batch processing?

Batch processing is simply a form of time management where you dedicate blocks of time to similar tasks.

For example, you sit down and write your next 4 blog posts all at once, or your email newsletters for the next 6 weeks, etc. Or maybe you create all your social media updates for the next month one sitting.

Almost any kind of repeatable tasks in your business can be batched. 

Batching is great because it decreases distraction and increases productivity. Your creativity expands, your mental sharpness increases, and stress and procrastination are reduced.

When I batch process my business tasks, I get far more done than when I spend an hour here or an hour there over the course of a week trying to knock out my to-do list. Batching makes me feel calm, happy, relaxed and unstoppable.  How good does that sound?

For example, my email updates/newsletters go out each Tuesday. I got tired of writing each one on Monday afternoon, when Mondays are actually one of my busiest days for client work, creating a lot of stress for me.  Not good.

 The simple solution?  Batching. Now I write 4 newsletters at once and load them into my email delivery software right afterwards; they then go out automatically each week for the next 4 weeks.  So that’s 4 weeks of newsletters, scheduling included, knocked out in one sitting – aahhh, much better.  Now I don’t have to write another newsletter for 4 weeks, yet my list is still receiving one every Tuesday, like clockwork.

Other tasks I batch process:

Writing blog posts:  I generally spend two-three days per month writing blog posts, days I set aside exclusively for writing.  I get up early, I make the coffee, then write, write, write.  At the end of the day I have 3-4 complete blog posts, and about that many more started, outlined, and keyword-researched. (You may be a much faster writer than I am and get twice as many blog posts written in the same amount of time.  As for me, belaboring every comma, semi-colon and em dash takes a lot of time.)

Creating social media status updates:  Yes, I batch process this niggling old task too. I set aside an hour or so a couple times a week to go to my favorite blogs and websites and read through a bunch of content.  I grab the links to the best articles, write teaser copy for each one, then save the content into a Notepad doc for scheduling into Hootsuite later.  (Right now my Notepad doc has enough high-value content to post out 5 updates a day, for the next 5 days.  That’s 25 articles, with links and teaser copy, all ready to go for next week, so I don’t have to come up with content on the fly. What a relief.)

Commenting on blogs and in forums. I comment on blogs throughout the week as new posts on my favorite sites go live, and set aside an hour or so near the end of the week to check out anything I’ve missed that I think I can add a high-quality, valuable comment to.  With forums, I generally visit my favorites once or twice a week, spending an hour, or even two, answering any questions I can genuinely help someone with.

As I’m writing this, it’s Saturday at 4:59 pm, and I’ve been sitting in front of my computer since 7:00 am this morning, knocking out content creation and other business-building tasks left and right.  Now I can knock off for the day to go meet my friends for dinner and adult beverages with a clear conscience.

 Then throughout the week I’ll happily go about getting my client work done daily, while still getting my business-building and marketing tasks taken care of in an hour or two per day. too This way everything gets done in a schedule I can manage, I’m happier and less stressed, and I have time to focus on larger projects that will move my business forward in bigger leaps.

 

To be clear, you don’t have to devote an entire day to batch processing – you can actually get a lot done in short one-two hours boosts of activity too – but devoting one day per month to the process will put you way ahead of the game. The key is to give all your attention and focus to the task you’re working on for the one or two or four hours you set aside for it, not letting the pretty butterflies or funny cat videos lead you down the garden path.

If you’ve never tried batch processing, I highly recommend it; it’s worked wonders for me.

Do you have tips on how to increase productivity?  Please share them in the comments! 

 [Hey there, gorgeous. Want more actionable tips, techniques, and how-to’s for marketing your small business online, delivered straight to your email inbox each Tuesday? You betcha! Sign up for my FREE weekly newsletter by entering your name and email address at the top right hand side of the blog now, and let’s get you glowing online.]

 

Do More in Less Time With These Three Productivity Tools

Productivity Tools

When you’re a small business owner, you have to get darn good at prioritizing tasks, especially if, like me, you’re a solopreneur.

Because those blog posts and newsletters and social media status updates aren’t going to write and post themselves. And the 78 other things on your to-do list aren’t going to take care of themselves either.

I’ve written about how to prioritize your small business to-do list before, but it also helps to have a few go-to online tools to help with planning, organizing, and project management.

Today I want to share three online productivity tools that can help you leverage your time to get more done. All three are free (or offer a free version).

1. Toodledo

Toodledo is a sortable online to-do list. Features include a “hotlist,” which is a list that automatically figures out what’s important to you right now; alarms, which remind you about tasks that are due soon and can be delivered via via email, sms, twitter or iPhone; and even a scheduler, which analyzes the details of your tasks to determine the best use of your time.

Check out Toodledo here.

2. Workflowy

WorkFlowy is an organizational tool that allows you to manage all the information in your life in one place. You can use it for brainstorming, note taking, keeping a journal, organizing big projects, and even planning a wedding or other big event. Visit the link below and scroll down to see what other people say about the power of using Workflowy, and watch the 45 second demo video while you’re there for a great overview of what Workflowy can do.

Check out Workflowy here.

3. Wrike

Wrike is an online platform for managing projects and teams. Team members can collaborate and get things done efficiently all in one place, with features that let you schedule, discuss and track progress in real time.

When you go to the link below you’ll see details about the paid versions of Wrike; there is a free version, you just have to dig for it.

To do that, go to the website and click on the “pricing and signup” tab at the top. Then under the 4 pricing options you’ll see “Don’t need premium features right away? Continue with our FREE version: Key features for up to 5 users and unlimited collaborators. Switch to the premium plan any time later.”

Check out Wrike here.

And there you have it. Check out at least one of these three tools today and see if you can put one of them to work to organize your tasks and increase your business productivity.

[Hey there, gorgeous. Did you know you can get my FREE weekly newsletter, with actionable tips, techniques, and how-to’s for marketing your business online, delivered straight to your email inbox each Tuesday? You betcha! Go ahead and enter your name and email address at the top right hand side of the blog now, and let’s get you glowing online.]

How to Take Charge of Your Out-of-Control Small Business To-Do List

Small Business To Do List

If you’re a very small business or solopreneur, especially if you’re either A., just starting out, or B. struggling in your business, it can be challenging to know what to focus on first.

There are a million things you could be doing, but what is the #1 thing you should be doing — right now, today, to move your business forward and keep the lights on?

I know the struggle well, because as a solopreneur with an outsized to-do list, I often ask myself that very question, as in, “what’s the best thing I can do today to move my business forward?”

Despite using that question on a regular basis to refocus my energy, I still don’t have the problem completely licked. But I’m getting there.

What is the problem, exactly?

There are so many things to do in a small business, especially if you’re on your own, and the list of things you want to get done is really, and I mean really, long, and you’re not sure where to start or what to do next.

Sure, all the advice out there tells you to prioritize, but prioritizing seems impossible when everything feels like a high priority.

Just for fun, I’ll give you the short list of what I have on my “Priority Action Items” list right now:

Write next newsletter, write next blog post, put social media buttons on blog (at long last), update Twitter bio, update LinkedIn profile, client work for client A, client work for client B, do research and surveys for MVP (Minimum Viable Product), research for more guest blogging opportunities and contact blog owners, follow up with business owners/potential clients met at last networking event, create custom home page for blog, create Content 101 page, finish revising all newsletters with updated copy and new social media links, start drafting next offer, write mini-proposal for referred client lead, attend networking event on Wednesday, send writing samples to potential web copy client. . . and on and on it goes.

Sound familiar?

I keep a running list on a legal pad, and every time I think of something else I want to/need to do, I add it to the list. Just looking at it makes me want to break out in hives.

By now you’re probably thinking, get to your point already, what’s the cure for all this small business overwhelm?

I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a clarifying notion called “closest to cash,” which I learned from Naomi Dunford of ittybiz, and it works really well for me when I’m smart enough to apply it.

Here’s the deal. When you have 27 things on your plate and you don’t know what to do next, what you do, as Naomi says, is —

“Work on the thing that’s closest to cash.”

Now, if your business is established, you’re doing fine, and the greenbacks are rolling in like nobody’s business, good. Actually, great.

Or, if you’re still at your day job and doing something on the side for extra dough until you build your side biz into the juggernaut that makes it possible to leave your day job, and you don’t need to rely on the income from your side gig to survive, fine.

There are circumstances under which you don’t necessarily have to  start each business day with “closest to cash” as your guiding principle.

But.

If you have to make your business work – now – because that’s what pays the bills and you don’t have next month’s mortgage payment, or if you just took the leap from a day job to doing your own thing and you need to get some income rolling in pronto or you won’t be eating dinner next week, then you can’t be thinking about getting the world’s greatest website designed, or how to get more Twitter followers, or the killer product or program you want to launch in the next 6 months, or even what to write about on your blog next week. (Unless these things have the potential to get dollars in your pocket sooner rather than later. Sooner, as in, not three months or six months or a year from now.)

This doesn’t mean you stop focusing on the business-building activities with long-term payoff, it just means that each day begins with your closest to cash opportunities, in order of what is the very closest, then working your way out from there to things that could get you cash in the next few weeks and so on. You don’t do the longer-term payoff things until the closest to cash things are taken care of.

I’m telling you, once I learned this technique (thanks, Naomi), everything got far easier and much less stressful.

For example, when I take a look at that long list of things to do from above, I see a whole lot of “want to do but won’t get me paid soon,” and a couple of “things to do right now that will.”

My top 5 closest to cash action items from the list above then, in order of priority are:

1. Client work for Client A (obviously, because I can bill for this within the next few days)
2. Client work for Client B (ditto)
3. Write up mini-proposal for referred client lead
4. Send writing samples to potential web copy client
5. Follow up with business owners/potential clients met at recent networking event

Aaah, sweet clarity. Seeing the list in order of priority gives me energy and focus, and stops the overwhelm.

I recently did this exercise again, mainly so I could stop myself carrying on like the world’s coming to an end because I can’t get everything on the to-do list done today.

And “closest to cash” is how I made that happen. Now I get up each day knowing exactly what to do, and in which order, and I feel calm, happy, relaxed and productive.

And that’s what I got for ya today.

So how about you? What’s your productivity tip or trick for knowing what to do next when there’s a mountain of things to do? Please share your ideas in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.  : )

[Hey there, gorgeous. Did you know you can get my FREE weekly newsletter, with actionable tips, techniques, and how-to’s for marketing your business online, delivered straight to your email inbox each Tuesday? You betcha! Go ahead and enter your name and email address at the top right hand side of the blog now, and let’s get you glowing online.]

What Would You Like to Stop Doing?


You might want to ask yourself that.

I am, as prompted by The Burning Question this week over on Danielle LaPorte’s blog.

Every week Danielle posts a “Burning Question” on her site, which people then answer on their blogs, and that’s what I’m doing here today.

(If you don’t know who Danielle is, I highly recommend you get over to her site pronto and check her out.  You know, after you finish reading this post.  ; )  I think she’s amazeballs, and I’m not alone.)

So here’s what I’m going to stop doing:

Thinking small, dreaming small and playing small when it comes to my business.  Undercharging for my services. Worrying that everything has to be “perfect.”  Being afraid to tell that client I want to get paid – now.  Changing up my informal, approachable writing & clienting style to a more corporate, play-by-the-rules, inside-the-box experience so I can be “taken seriously” by corporate types. ( I have nothing in common with those types and don’t want them as clients, so why do I care?) Hmm, what else? Participating in idle office gossip.  Reading and/or watching the (bad) news.  Feeling guilty about loving The Real Housewives of Orange County.  And watching it.  Regularly.  (So there. )  ; )

And here’s what I’m going to start doing:

Celebrating my creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness.  Holding myself accountable.  Talking to my girlfriends more often. Taking big crazy chances on opportunities that light me up and stretch me.  Blazing into tomorrow and next week and next month on fire with faith, belief and knowing.  Giving compliments to strangers.  Believing,  even more than I do now, that helping other people shine a light on their awesome talents and gifts is significant and necessary work, and matters in the world.

That’s my (short) list.

What’s yours?

[Hey there, gorgeous. Did you know you can get my FREE weekly newsletter, with actionable tips, techniques, and how-to’s for marketing your business online, delivered straight to your email inbox each Tuesday? You betcha! Go ahead and enter your name and email address at the top right hand side of the blog, and let’s get you glowing online.]

How to Tap Into Your Inner Genius in 10 Minutes a Day

Today I want to share a very effective problem solving technique I recently discovered.  This technique will help you generate ideas, come up with solutions to business and life challenges, and generally gain  insight into anything you’re currently trying to work through.

The technique is called “Sentence Stems,” which I was introduced to through Rich Schefren’s  “One Step Ahead” newsletter.  It’s easy and even fun to do, and takes just 10 minutes per day, though you can spend as much time as you like on it.

Here’s how it works:

Start with a sentence stem that’s based on a challenge you’re trying to work through, a goal you want to achieve, a problem you want to solve or anything else you want to gain insight into.  The sentence stem itself will contain the solution to the problem you want to solve or outcome you want to achieve.

For example:

“I could start earning more money each month right now if I . . . .”

“It would be easier to get referrals for my business if I . . .”

“I could get 2 new clients in the next 30 days if I . . .”

• Then every day for a week (or for maximum results, two weeks), write out 6-10 endings to the sentence stem.

• Each day (ideally first thing in the morning, when you’re fresh and full of energy!), write out your sentence endings without looking at the previous day’s answers — you don’t want your previous day’s answers to guide your new answers.

• Write your endings as quickly as possible without second guessing yourself, worrying about perfect grammar or spelling, or stopping to “decide” if this idea will work or not. Just write.  The idea here is to bypass your conscious mind and tap into the powerful awareness of your subconscious mind.

• Try not to use the same ending more than once.

• Now, at the end of your 7 days or 14 days or however long you decided to do this, review everything you’ve written, strike out any repetitions, and consolidate what’s left.  Some of the ideas you wrote down will give you new ideas; write these down as well.

• Then review your list again, decide which ideas are best, and prioritize the ones that are immediately actionable, and begin taking action on them.

Now, your sentence stems don’t have to be business related of course.  Your stems will be about whatever particular challenge you’re currently facing.

Maybe you want to get healthier, so your sentence stems could look like this:

“It would be easier to exercise 3-4 days per week if I . . .”

“It would be easier to eat a healthy diet daily if I . . . “

And so on. You get the idea.

Let me tell you, this technique works.  I used the sentence stem “I could increase my monthly income immediately if I . . .” and after just 4 days of doing the exercise, I have 28 ideas, and the week’s not over yet.  What’s more, I’ve already taken action on one of these ideas, which is going to net me an extra $1100 in income next month.   And I still have 27 more ideas to explore – wheeeee!  ; )

The idea I took action on is something that wouldn’t necessarily have crossed my mind had I not done this exercise.  Although it isn’t an ideal solution to a consistent increase in my monthly income year round, it doesn’t matter, because what I was after was a solution to more income right now, within the next 30 days, and that’s what I got.

I even wrote down my next half dozen sentence stems to work on when I’m finished with the current one.

One of the other benefits of doing this exercise is it will get you thinking of solutions and answers even when you’re not actively completing your sentence stems each morning.  I’ve come up with ideas lying in bed, while in the shower, while in (boring) meetings, driving around, and in the market.

Now YOU try it, you genius you!  ; )

And next blog post, I’m going to take you through some ideas I generated when I applied this exercise to a friend’s dilemma of getting more customers into her bakery/cupcake shop.  Stay tuned!