When I started my first business, I had no idea how much work had to be done with running the business. I thought it was as simple as figuring out what services I offered and then hanging a shingle out.
If only it was so easy.
Running a business brings with it the requirement of learning a new set of skills. You go into business to do something you love and then you discover that you actually have to do a lot more than just offer the services you love.
You have to wear multiple hats. You have to wear the finances hat, the operations hat, the sales hat, the marketing hat, the technology hat, etc.. And wearing all those hats can be overwhelming, because its so much to do. And as a result business owners and eccentric entrepreneurs fall into two traps that cause business burnout.
The goal of this post is to show you how to get out of those by creating and implementing systems in your business that make it easier for you to run it by design. And if you want to take what you learn in this post to the next level in your business, I have a short FREE checklist and worksheet you can get right here.
The Two Traps that create Business Burnout
The two traps are the Quick Sand trap and the DIY Hamster Wheel and both of them cause business burnout, and make the business owner overwhelmed. And sometimes they kill the business.
Let me tell you a little about each trap. You might find that in you're in one or both of these traps.
The Quick Sand trap is the trap where the business owner puts their head in the sand and tries to pretend everything is alright. They know everything isn't alright, but they feel like they have to put a brave face on and pretend everything is alright, when they talk about their business with their friends, family, and people they network with.
The person in the quick sand trap will even lie to themselves. They know deep down inside that the business isn't doing well, but they tell themselves and everyone else it is, because they want it to be. All the while the quicksand keeps sucking them in deeper and deeper, making them feel more and more overwhelmed.
The only way to get out of the quick sand trap is to be completely honest with yourself about where your business is and admit that you need help getting your business to a better place.
The DIY Hamster Wheel trap is even more dangerous for the business owner, because it creates the illusion of progress. The business owner tries to do everything themselves. They feel like they have to wear all the hats and master all the work that comes with those hats. And so they try to do everything, but don't get much done. And they drift away from their zone of genius and the reason why?
People stuck on the DIY hamster wheel feel a lot of pressure to get the business perfect, but also a lot of pressure to not spend money. They feel like if they learn all the skills themselves they'll save money, but what they don't realize is just how much time they are giving away (which unlike money you can't replace), and how much they are emotionally and physically overloading themselves by trying to do everything.
Running a business involves a lot of moving parts and if you don't have a plan for how to handle those moving parts you'll get burned out and squished.
Each of the traps I've described are traps that both new and experienced business owners fall into. And you might wonder why?
Being a business owner can be lonely
The truth is that being a business owner can be lonely, because in a way there's pressure that you're expected to have all the answers. I know this pressure well, because I've felt it myself. The irony is that usually there's only one person putting that pressure on the business owner: The business owner.
I've done it to myself a couple times. I felt like I needed to know how every aspect of the business worked, but there were some parts of the business that were a lot harder to learn than others. Yet I'd keep trying to figure them out, even though it left me feeling exhausted. Eventually, I realized I simply couldn't continue trying to do everything in the business. I needed to find a better way to run my business that left my sanity intact and allowed me to focus on my zone of genius and doing the work that really matters for me and my clients.
But how was I supposed to find this "better way?" I read books on business and signed up for classes and took them and in all of that knowledge there was glimmers of truth that lit up the way toward possible solutions, but I felt pulled in a lot of directions. And that me realize something significant:
If you don't have a well run business, all you have is reaction and chaos
You see I was constantly reacting to whatever came my way. I had no plan and no systems in place that could help me manage my business effectively. And as a result I was trying to go in multiple directions at the same time and getting no where with my efforts.
That realization made me stop, do some meditation, and take a hard look at my business to figure out what I really needed to make it a well a run business. And it turned out that what I needed to do was create systems that would help me automate the way I run my business, and the way I make decisions about my business.
With the right systems in your business you can cut through the overwhelm of running a business and get focused on what will actually help you grow your business. And those same systems can actually enhance your productivity in your zone of genius, while helping you make your business stand out more because of how you’ve freed yourself from either the Quick Sand trap or the DIY Hamster Wheel.
What are the right systems for my business?
Before I share what I believe is the foundation of setting up the right systems for your business, I want to take a moment define what I mean by the words systems and automation.
In a business, a system is a defined process or procedure that automates the activity in the business and explains what behavior ought to be done in order to achieve a desired outcome that helps you get a specific result. Pay close attention to the word behavior, because when we set up systems to automate our business, what we're really automating is behavior.
A lot of people think of automation as technology and technology can help us automate what we do, but automation isn't solely technology. For your automation to work you have to define your desired outcome (and the result it gets you) and then define the actions that lead up to the outcome (as well as who/what is performing those actions). When you do that, you've created a system that describes how part of your business ought to run.
If you look at your business from a behavior perspective, what you’ll recognize is that your business has critical interactions in it that are governed by behavior and when you want to make that behavior work for you, instead of against you, having the right systems in place can make a HUGE difference, because those systems can help you automate the way you run your business and serve your clients, while allowing you to focus on doing the productive and creative work that brings money in the door.
I’m going to share with you 10 simple systems that you can implement with a small investment of time and effort. These are systems I’ve helped my clients use and when they are used regularly they can help you grow your business consistently because they take a lot of guess work out of the equation and help you focus on doing productive work instead of busy work.
System 1. Create Accountability in your business by tracking your projects. I track my projects using white boards. I actually have 3 whiteboards and they help me soooo much. The reason why is because I can use them for a variety of purposes such as creating a list of high priority work items for my business or visually mapping out a marketing and sales funnel that I want to use.
Some people prefer not to use white boards, and you don't actually have to get one. What you do need to get is some type of tool that allows you to perform one of two tasks. The first task is tracking what you are working on. The second task is being able to take your thought process and map them out visually or with words, so it has an objective reality.
Each of my white boards has a specific purpose. On one white board is my 90 day plan for my business, showing what I need to work on over the next 90 days. One the second white board is my weekly plan for my business, which I pick 7 activities I need to work on during the week in order to grow my business. The third white board is used visually map out something I'm learning, so I can refer to it quickly, instead of having to look through notes.
Regardless of what you use to create accountability in your business, it needs to be something that you use and work off of regularly. This is why I choose to use white boards for my business. They are easy to erase, but they are hard to lose track of.
You can use other tools that help you track your projects such as Trello. You can put individual tasks into Trello, to help you track your progress, while keeping the overall project on the white board to remind you to work on it, in case you don’t check your Trello (or similar tech).
Action item: Choose a tool you can use consistently that will help you be accountable with your projects. On that tool write down the high priority projects you are working on and what your next step is with each project.
System 2. Learn how to automate your technology. A lot of the technology we use can be automated, and when we learn how to do it, it makes it much easier for us to automate other aspects of our business, because the technology takes over and does the work for you.
I know that technology can seem intimidating, but the beauty of automating your technology is that it makes it possible for you to spend less time working on it and more time working on your business. The trade off is that initially you might need to invest some time learning how to automate your technology.
The approach I take with technology is to spend some time learning how it works and then figure out how you can automate it, so that it serves its purpose, while taking up less of your time. Of course you don’t want to spend a ton of time just learning any technology, so you need to consider what the behavioral purpose and end result of the technology is. For example, are you using the technology for the following:
- To schedule appointments on your calendar?
- To bring prospects onboard your marketing/sales funnel or pull them further along?
- To connect with new audiences?
- To limit how long an offer is available?
These are just a few purposes for why you might use technology. As an exercise, use the business systems worksheet and write down what the behavioral results are for using a given technology, as well as what actions will be performed. This will help you figure out if you should learn the technology, or let it go as a flashy distraction that's not worth your time.
For instance, with email marketing, you can create automation sequences where emails are automatically sent when people sign up for your newsletter. The benefit is that you are able to start bringing them onboard your marketing/sales funnel and help them get to know you in the process. The ultimate end result is that they will become customers. In this case it make sense to invest some time and financial resources into learning how to use email marketing, especially when you can automate a lot of the work.
By figuring out what technology can do for you, you can then make the technology into part of your systems that you use to run your business. Remember the technology must actually serve a purpose that grows your business, instead of just being a distraction!
Action item: Choose one technology you use consistently. What can you do to automate that technology so you can spend less time on it, and more time on your business?
System 3. Put time aside to work on your business. I know this systems seems hard to implement, because I often hear business owners say they don’t have time to work on their business. Maybe it’s because they’re flush with clients, or maybe it’s because they’re doing lots of busy work because they want to hide their heads in the sand!
Regardless of what the reason is, if you can’t make time to work on your business, eventually you’ll start losing track of the important details that keep your business relevant.
So how do you make time to work on your business? Build it into your schedule. Maybe you can’t work on your business every week, but make it a point to build in one day out of the month where you purposely put time aside to work on the business and make that day sacred. It’s your time to visit your business temple and make sure the powers that be are looking out for you. It will also help you get in touch with your eccentric muse, who will also keep you on track with your business by providing you sacred ideas that excite your imagination.
When you make sacred time for your business, then you actually are doing work to make your business support you. And that’s what must happen in your business. If you are always supporting your business then you are getting a lot of busy work done that may or may not bring money in the door. But when you set your business up to support you, to make the work easier, then you provide yourself the opportunity to do the work that makes you shine!
In my particular case, I work on my business each Sunday. I set up the agenda for the coming week and decide what high priority works need to be done that week. As a result, this helps me stay focused and clear on what will move my business forward and keeps me accountable to getting that work done.
Action item: Schedule some time in your calendar to work on your business. Pick a time/day where you'll make sacred time to work on your business, with no distractions!
System 4. Delegate to save time and money. You can’t wear all the hats and grow your business. At some point you need to delegate and that can be hard to do, especially if you have limited resources. However the right delegation can make your business grow.
For example, unless you’re a book keeper, you aren’t in your business to do the books. At some point delegating that out to someone who does it full time can help you save time and create accountability around where your money is going. When you’re first starting your business, it might only take you a half hour a week to do your books, but as you grow your business, it may take more time and there may be certain details that you would miss out on or not recognize as important. So knowing when to delegate is essential because it’s not just a matter of saving you time, but also minding the details you might otherwise miss out on.
So how do you figure out when to delegate?
First ask yourself how much time you’re giving away to doing the work and what you would make monetarily if you were working with a client. By figuring this out, you’ll be able to assess whether or not you’re putting too much time toward something that could be handed off to someone else. Depending on what your answer is, it may be time to delegate work to someone else, either an employee or contractor.
Another way to look at it is that you also want to evaluate whether the time you're putting toward a task could be better served if you were working from your zone of genius. Just because you can do bookkeeping doesn't mean its your zone of genius and you may find that doing that activity takes away not just time, but also your valuable creative fire.
What you also want to think about with your system of delegation is what criteria needs to be considered for who you’ll hire. Do they need to be a good communicator? Do you need a confidentiality agreement? Setting this criteria up can help you find the right qualified people to do the work you need them to do.
When you delegate and automate, you are preserving your creative juices and emotional happiness for what really matters: doing the work that actually gets you excited to get up in the morning.
Action item: Pick one activity you've typically done, but could hand off to someone else. Find a qualified person to take the task on. How does delegating that work help you with your business?
System 5. When you feel blocked, occupy your conscious mind, so your unconscious mind can solve your problems. No matter what business you are in, when you feel blocked, it stops you from working, or at least makes it harder. Some people try to force their way through that block, but it’s like beating your head against a brick wall. It hurts more than it helps.
The key to getting around your creative block is to simply stop working. Occupy your conscious mind with some other activity that liberates it from the stress of dealing with that block. When you occupy your conscious mind, you free your unconscious mind to begin problem solving, and your unconscious mind is much more powerful because it recognizes the environment and opportunities that your conscious mind filters out.
So what do you to occupy your conscious mind? Do something fun! Read a book you’ve been putting off for a while. Play some video games or binge watch a show. Go for a walk or swim or just do whatever makes you happy.
For instance sometimes I paint when I’m feeling creatively blocked. Sometimes I binge watch a show or read a series. And sometimes I just play video games.
Oh and do it for as long as you need to do it. If you need to spend two days playing video games in order to liberate your mind and rediscover your productivity, then do it without guilt, because you know, as do I, that you won’t get the work done while you feel blocked…and the more we tell ourselves what we ought to do, the more we keep ourselves in a place of static, rigid stressful block, unable to take action, unable to truly release the creative genius within and become the eccentric entrepreneurs we know ourselves to be.
The unconscious mind works best when the conscious monkey mind is occupied. It solves the problems that keep us locked in otherwise, and suddenly the conscious mind inspired afresh with new thoughts and ideas and actions…and when that happens get back to work and do what you need to do and remember that when you feel blocked again, occupy the conscious mind and release the unconscious mind.
Action item: Find an activity you can do to take your mind off your business when you are feeling overwhelmed.
System 6. Daily Meditation and Exercise create productive routines of self-empowerment. Your business can’t be empowered, unless you are empowered! A daily routine of exercise and meditation can make a huge difference in your productivity, yet a lot of business owners will claim they don’t have time. Yet what they fail to realize is that exercise and meditation buy you more time in the long run.
When you take care of yourself, you take care of your business. Physical exercise allows you to move both your body and mind. When you exercise, then you liberate your mind from the concerns of the body…the body is set free to exercise and exert, while the mind races and considers and plots…I often do my best thinking about a problem when I'm exercising because the physical exertion frees my mind up to just focus on the problem at hand, instead of all the other distractions that might be present in your environment.
Meditation cleans your mind of the cobwebs of dusty thoughts, and shows you how to access the deep memories and energies of not just yourself, but whatever creative genius you are connected to. And sometimes it allows us to work through the attachments and negative beliefs that hold us back in a narrative of disempowerment. When we embrace what holds us back and uncover the true message, then we can address it. And doing that allows us to become more productive because we’re no longer listening to the voices in our head that tell us you can’t succeed.
Action Item: Taking time for yourself each day in sacred routines of self-care will help you be much more productive in your business. And if you feel you can’t put a lot of time to such self, take 30 seconds and exercise and take a minute and meditate…and see how you feel afterwards.
System 7. Take small actions consistently to make progress on your projects. What overwhelms so many eccentric entrepreneurs and small business owners is the size and scales of projects they take on. While it’s important to look at the whole picture, if all you do is use that picture to measure what work you’ll do, you’ll get overwhelmed, because you’ll see all the things you aren’t doing.
Break your projects down to small actions. And focus on one small action at a time. When we take small actions, we move around the Amygdala (the fear and stress part of our brains) and we see progress happen. And the truth is that big projects aren’t completed by big actions, but by a collection of small actions. So if you finish one action, then you take another step forward and slowly but surely you make progress.
The secret to my own prolific creativity is found by taking small actions. By focusing on one small action at a time, I’m able to get work done and feel accomplished with my productivity. Instead of beating myself up over what I haven’t done, I celebrate what I have done and use to propel me toward genuine momentum that brings a sense of joy in the work I’m doing, instead of a feeling over the work I haven’t done.
Break your big projects down to small actions…and only put the current small action on your whiteboard (or whatever tool you're using to track your work)…and when it’s done wipe it away with a flourish and write out the next small action. You work shall proceed in jumps and bounds, because you’re taking small actions and creating big results.
"But Taylor", you ask, "How can I even figure out what actions to take?"
Here's what you'll do. Take a piece of paper and create three columns. Write the following at the top of each column.
- Action I can take
- Level of Priority
Action I can take - Under this section you'll list actions you can take to help you with your business. Don't make these big actions. They need to be small and easy to accomplish. For example, maybe your small action is that you'll take 5 minutes and outline a blog post you'll write. Instead of simply saying you'll write the blog, you chunk it down to outlining what you'll write. Completing that small action builds momentum toward doing the follow-up actions.
Level of Priority - In this section you determine what the level of priority is. Is this action a high, medium, or low priority? Not all your actions need to be high priority, but getting clear on what the priority is can also help you determine when the action needs to be completed.
Result - Simply picking an action isn't enough. You also need to define the result. When you know what the action will accomplish, this helps you see how the action helps your business (and evaluate the priority of the action.
Don't over complicate the actions you take. Remember you want these to be small actions. The value of taking a small action is it provides momentum for you in your business and it doesn't overwhelm you.
ACTION ITEM: Create your simple business action tool and pick the small actions you want to accomplish this week.
System 8. Designate specific days for specific activities. This is a system that can help you use your time more productively. What stops a lot of business owners from using their time effectively is that they feel like they need to do everything in that time. But if you instead break your time down and designate it for specific types of activities you can actually get more work done.
You can do this several different ways. You can designate a specific day for a specific activity, such as marketing Monday. Or you can break your day down into specific incremental chunks of time and put some time aside for specific activities. Regardless of how you approach it, the benefit of this system is that it creates specific routines that help you stay focused and productive. When you know what your schedule is, it’s much easier to get work done and to enforce your boundaries getting that work done.
I have one client I work with that makes Monday her administrative day. She then works on client work Tuesday through Thursday and saves Friday through Saturday for her own creative work. Switching to that schedule and sticking to it has made her happier, more productive and more creative.
Look at your own schedule. How might you organize your time to take of your clients and work on your business, while also making time for whatever other activities enrich your life? Create a schedule and for the next week stick to that schedule. At the end of the week, take stock. What did you accomplish? Compare that to the previous week and see if you notice a difference, one way or another. Then change your schedule accordingly.
Action item: Schedule your week and pick specific days for specific business activities.
System 9: Write a letter to yourself every 90 days. The 90 day letter is an excellent system to implement because it gives you a chance to write a letter to yourself describing what you’ll do in 90 days. After you write the letter you seal it and you don’t open it again until 90 days from when you wrote it.
What this system provides is accountability to yourself. When you write the 90 day letter you are telling yourself what you will work on over the next 90 days and committing yourself to doing that work. Even though you aren’t looking at the letter each day you know you’ve written it.
Now I’ll admit I haven’t yet accomplished everything I’ve written about in a 90 day letter, but I’ve always gotten a lot of it done and usually have started working on the rest of it. And when I open up the 90 day letter it gives me a sense of accomplishment because I can look at what I’ve written and compare it to what I’ve actually done.
When you write the 90 day letter, don’t just apply it to your business. You can also apply it to your life. If there are activities you want to do outside of business include them in your 90 day letter and provide yourself accountability for those activities.
This system allows you to check in with yourself and make sure really are following through on your objectives. It holds you accountable and often as business owners what we truly need is accountability to keep us on course and focused on what will really help us grow our businesses. when we create multiple vectors of accountability, then it makes it much easier to get the work done, because we are truly holding ourselves to a higher standard of behavior.
Action item: Write your ninety day letter describing what will be different in your business and life in 90 days.
System 10: Create a plan for your business. A business that doesn’t have a written plan is a business that’s running solely on luck. And luck isn’t how you want to run a business. The plan you create for your business provides focus, but more importantly it provides an overview of the systems you can work with to make your business run better. A business plan helps you cut through the feeling of overwhelm so that the actions you take actually help your business.
The main reason eccentric entrepreneurs don’t create a business plan is because they think it’s a waste of time or think they only need a plan if they want to get a loan, but when you work off a business plan it helps you make significant changes to your organization that enhances your productivity and automates a lot of the busy work that’s keeping you from your eccentric muse.
This last action actually helps you implement all the other actions above it, and makes those actions more effective. Putting a plan together helps you prioritize what actions you need to take to grow your business and provides you a blue print for how you will achieve that growth and sustain it for the long run.
Some eccentric entrepreneurs find the idea of working off a plan to be scary, but a plan isn’t written in stone. What a business plan does provide you is a way to focus on the desired long terms goals and outcomes you want to achieve, and it shows you a path forward to reach those goals and outcomes.
When you have a path forward, then you're no longer trying to do everything at once. Instead you are focused on moving forward, one step at a time, but each step builds momentum and paves the way to achieve business success.
If you need help with implementing these systems download the Business Systems worksheet, which helps you map your systems out. Taking that first step will help you get your potential systems out of your head and start turning them into realities that help you grow your business by design.
Action item: Create a business plan for your business, which describes your short term and long term goals for your businesses.
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