As a small business owner, you want to be productive, but you just have so much to do it’s hard to plan for when to do what. Front loading your day with the most important activities on your to-do list can have a huge impact on your small business and your effectiveness as a leader. Here are six activities you can do at the start of your day to improve your life as a small business owner:
1. Scan your email quickly–but don’t get sucked in.
Some productivity experts urge you to avoid checking your email first thing in the morning.
But, for many small business owners, that advice isn’t realistic. So, how do you avoid getting sucked into your inbox for the best two or three hours of your day?
Julian Barkat, principal and co-founder of Egg to Apples, a marketing and e-commerce agency near Philadelphia, recommends using filters and folders so lower priority emails don’t go to your main inbox. Each morning, take two minutes to scan your inbox for important emails that require immediate attention, then schedule a block of time later in the day to respond to less urgent messages.
For example, Barkat responds immediately to client emails, then waits to answer sales inquiries from vendors. “There’s a lot of stuff I want to give attention to, but it’s not going to impact our business mission,” he says.
If you skip checking your email until later in the day, you might be less able to focus because you’re wondering what’s in your inbox, writes management consultant Dorie Clark, who contends that when business people ignore emails, “it often gnaws at their consciousness.”
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2. Get your blood pumping.
If you exercise in the morning, you’re more likely to fit physical activity into your day. In fact, one study found that the tasks you do during the workday can zap your willpower, making you less motivated to get to the gym later in the day.
But the good news is that you don’t need to squeeze in a long, strenuous exercise session before work. Just 20 minutes of jogging on a treadmill or a 45-minute brisk walk can reduce your anxiety and boost your “executive functions” like decision-making, problem-solving and planning, according to Josh Davis, director of research and lead professor for the NeuroLeadership Institute.
Even better news: these exercise benefits kick in pretty much instantly.
A short burst of exercise in the morning is key for Barkat, who rides his bike just a little over a mile to work each day. During the five- or six-minute ride, he pedals hard to up his heart rate, he says. The ride gives him time to decompress and also increases his energy levels. “Biking to work has had a big impact on how I tackle the day,” he says.
3. Fuel up your body.
Your mom always told you not to skip breakfast, and she was right. It turns out what you eat actually affects your productivity.
That’s because food gives your brain the energy you need to stay on task. Stick with foods that allow for a slow, steady stream of glucose to enter your body.
In the morning, Barkat drinks kombucha and water and eats a big bowl of berries with coconut milk on top for healthy fat, he says. Eating whole, unprocessed foods helps keep him focused at work. “My energy levels stay steady all day long,” he says.
4. Follow Mark Twain’s advice.
Every small business owner should heed Mark Twain’s famous advice to eat a live frog first thing in the morning.
Checking a dreaded item off your to-do list gives you a lift and a feeling of accomplishment that carries you through the rest of the day. And, it prevents a dreaded to-do from taking up mental space, stressing you out all day and even keeping you up at night later.
The eat-a-frog technique helped Michael McDevitt, founder and CEO of Tandem Legal Group, become much more productive in running his business and law advisory firm. Before he discovered the technique, some onerous task always kept getting moved “from one day’s to-do-list to the next.”
To make sure you actually accomplish the distasteful task each day, he recommends using the IRS (Identify-Rank-Schedule) method.
To do this, simply read your to-do list aloud, rank the item that makes you feel worst as No. 1, then block off time in your daily schedule to focus only on that task. McDevitt’s advice: “You have to eat the frog or the frog will eat your whole life.”
5. Take some morning “me” time.
Many successful small business owners swear by morning rituals. For example, Christie Summervill, owner of BalancedComp, a consulting firm with nine employees that serves credit unions and banks, says she listens to a spiritual audio book during her morning commute.
“I need to fill my cup each morning, because I know as soon as I get into the office, I’m going to start giving to others,” she explains.
Her listening material helps to calm her, put life in perspective and give her confidence to face the challenges of the day, she says. “I know as soon as I get into office I’m going to get hit with product development decisions, marketing decisions and meetings.”
“I’m much more in the saddle if I make sure I get my personal needs met first.”
And Barkat also counts on a quick morning ritual to set the tone for his day. When Barkat gets to the office, he puts some peppermint, eucalyptus and tea tree oils into an aromatherapy diffuser. That “creates a Zen-like atmosphere” in his office, he says. And Tim Ferris, author of “The 4-Hour Work Week,” starts the day by making the bed, drinking tea and journaling.
His theory: a morning ritual helps you “win the day.”
6. If you must meet, don’t sit.
Meetings can be a drag and a big time suck, but you need to touch base with your employees. So, consider quick stand-up meetings or walking meetings.
Walking is not only a healthy way to take a break from sitting, but it can make you and your employees more creative. In fact, walking can increase your creative output by 60 percent, according to research from Stanford University.
When Summervill gets to the office each morning, she makes the rounds, quickly stopping at each employee’s desk. “I check in with everyone, and not because I’m a social butterfly,” she says. In each two- or three-minute meeting, she asks the employee if they are facing any obstacles, need advice on anything or if are waiting for information needed to make progress on a task. These mini meetings help get her employees off to a good start, and they prevent interruptions from employees knocking on her office door with questions. “I can sit down and move on with my day quickly,” she says.
Following these tips should get your day off to a bright start. To get more innovative tips and business advice delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for the Small Biz Ahead weekly newsletter.