If there’s one chronic condition plaguing small business owners, it’s the need to feel busy all the time. In a society that views busyness as synonymous with success, many people think they need to be working constantly in order to feel worthy of owning a business.
Besides, there’s always something that needs to be done — so shouldn’t you always be doing something?
Anyone who practices mindfulness would suggest otherwise. The “less is more” mentality is becoming more popular in business, influencing every industry from healthcare to retail. So what exactly does it take to be mindful in business, and why does intention matter? Here’s a look at the most common busyness traps small business owners face — and how mindfulness can save the day.
Have you ever sat down to an important task, only to be interrupted by a supposedly urgent meeting request? Unnecessary meetings and aimless conversations are one of the biggest time wasters for businesses of all sizes.
That’s why it’s important to be more mindful about when you have meetings, and why. Bob O’Brien, Technical Project Manager at Disney Streaming Services, explains how to create a culture that prioritizes mindfulness over meetings.
“The most important thing to me is having a purpose and intent behind your actions. If you're going to have a meeting, ensure there is a well-defined purpose and intended outcome ahead of time. If you're going to ask a question, make sure you've looked elsewhere for that information first so that you're not unnecessarily burning your teammates' time,” explains O’Brien.
He adds that by putting thought and intention behind your actions, you can reduce the amount of time you spend on any given task. Living more intentionally can also make it easier to communicate in a more mindful, deliberate way.
Think about the way you start your morning and how that sets a stone for a working a productive day. Let’s say you’re always opening Instagram first thing in the morning — how could you use those minutes in a more mindful way? Starting your day with intention means directing your focus toward something meaningful. Rather than hopping on social media first thing, start your day by noticing how you feel, staying present, and creating a morning routine with healthy habits like meditation, exercise, and journaling.
In addition to being mindful about when and how you communicate, it’s important to define which projects are worthy of your attention, and which aren’t worth the effort. It can be hard for anyone to say no for fear of letting others down, but small business owners tend to be especially afraid that turning down a request will lose them customers or capital.
In contrast, saying yes to everything can overload your plate and make it difficult to execute even your most core business duties. The fix? Create a process for saying no in a way that isn’t personal, suggests Lauren Bartos, Marketing Director at Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture.
“We have go/no-go forms for all internal and external requests — it’s a sheet where you sit down and think about the task and what benefit it brings you,” Bartos explains.
Using an intake form can ask you to address important questions before saying yes to an endeavor. Such questions might include:
Each question is associated with a number (on a 1-5 scale, for example). The total number determines whether or not you pursue the project. This makes it easier to say no to a person or project, because it’s based on a factual process, rather than emotion. Moreover, this approach helps companies better understand timeframes and set milestones while pursuing a range of short and long-term projects.
Decision-making is undoubtedly difficult, but too many teams and business owners let their worry interfere with the process.
“In the design world, what slows us down the most is lack of decision-making, or letting a decision go on too long. There’s a lot of fear around the consequences of a decision, so organizations tend to involve too many people and take too long to decide,” explains Bartos.
To remedy this time-waster, Bartos recommends that business owners designate a group of individuals to make decisions on certain projects. Having employees from multiple departments or backgrounds can ensure that the decision is made fairly. Such a group can welcome comments and feedback from other people in the organization, but ultimately, the group decides on the end decision.
When projects are assigned to a decision-making committee, a timeline should also be defined to place a cap on how long the decision can take. If you’re an entrepreneur without other team members to support such a process, consider enlisting the help of fellow business owners so you can hold each other accountable.
Having a long-term view of your projects and goals is important for meeting milestones and upholding commitments. Still, many teams struggle to accurately predict how long projects will take or which obstacles they might encounter. When you can’t uphold promises to team members, customers, and partners, it damages your ethos as a trustworthy business.
One way to improve timeline estimation and ensure effective project execution is to follow a project management technique. As O’Brien points out, working in a traditional agile approach (where work is completed in two-week sprints) allows his team to be both predictive and flexible. While each team member has a clear sense of what can be finished in a two-week timeframe, they’re also open to the possibility that priorities may change and projects may pivot.
Strategic task delegation frees up more time for business owners, improves predictive planning and keeps team members accountable for their work.
Do you find yourself answering the same customer questions over and over? Do you waste time asking the same questions from the same people? Repetitive tasks are a major time waster for small business owners, especially when it comes to communication.
Fortunately, automating certain tasks can save you time and energy on a daily basis.
“One example would be having a pre-filled ticket format when writing out tasks/bugs to reduce time wasted on following a formula that is the same every time,” says O’Brien.
In addition to saving time on internal messages, pre-written responses can save you time when communicating with customers. Bartos suggests creating canned email responses that can be sent out to answer common questions or respond to certain events (such as when a customer clicks “request information” on your website.) This way, you can focus on communication that actually requires your time.
Acquiring new customers is one of the most stressful and time-consuming tasks today’s businesses face. The good news? There are a host of tools and technologies designed to make marketing and advertising easier than ever before.
One is Geofence Marketing is a location-based technology where a business creates a location boundary in a targeted location. It scans for device location data to determine when someone has crossed the threshold, then sends them hyper-local messages or ads.
“This might be a push notification, SMS message, alert, display targeted advertising, tracking on a fleet vehicle, enable or disable certain equipped technologies, or create and collect location-based marketing data,” says Seth Winterer at Digital Logic.
Geofencing can be used by nearly any industry and is one of the quickest, easiest ways to send targeted, relevant messages to potential customers in an instant.
Another way to bring customers to you is to ensure that you’re easy to find. While Google Business and Facebook Business pages are a must, consider whether there are also industry-specific directories your business could be listed on.
For example, healthcare marketing agency Phase 5 Analytics points out that Healthgrades is a directory specifically designed to help patients locate healthcare providers. Having a high rating on such a site can boost your ethos as a business and make it easier to garner customers — all with little to no work on your end.
If you’re throwing up posts on social media or your blog, it’s time to slow down. Rushing to share content simply for the sake of it can lead to a scattered online presence that doesn’t represent your business accurately. According to Eileen Bell, Owner and Founder at swimwear company Bare Society, this was once a constant struggle. “I always felt like I was really scrambled and rushing to get posts done. Instead of it flowing like I wanted it to, it would just be rushed and I’d be putting out content that I could have used at a later date or used in a more strategic way.”
When Bell started using a social media scheduling tool, she was able to create a more intentional, streamlined brand presence. In addition to helping you schedule weeks worth of content in one sitting, such tools empower you with hashtag research and engagement data so you can better plan campaigns that resonate with your audience.
Taking time to look at your own analytics to see when your audience is most engaged can also help you optimize posts for engagement, too. While everyone’s audience is different and engagement depends on demographics, data shows when global social media audiences are most engaged. Instagram users are most active on Fridays between 9:30 and 11:30am, with Wednesdays at 11am being the second most popular time. On Facebook, Wednesday is the best day to post for optimal engagement.
If you spend hours each day refreshing your email and checking for new messages, you’re not the only one — but you’re also not doing yourself any favors. Checking your email ten times a day adds up over the week, and soon you’ve lost hours of precious time.
Setting aside specific blocks of time for menial tasks, like checking email or responding to customers on social media, can ensure these work tasks aren’t all-consuming. For example, you might decide that you only read emails from 9 to 10am and 3 to 4pm each day. Or, you might designate a certain day of the week where you follow up with potential partners and customers.When creating a time block of this nature, it’s important to be communicative about it, Bartos suggests.
She explains that alerting your team of this time block helps them respect it and not interrupt it. You might even create a block of time during which employees can come to you to ask questions to ensure they’re not bombarding you with requests all day long.
Giving up the idea of busyness can be difficult for small business owners, especially when you’re used to associating busy with successful. However, automating tasks, streamlining processes, and communicating intentionally can help you take a more mindful approach to your work — a practice that will undoubtedly trickle down into everyday life.
Michelle Polizzi is a freelance writer and editor with over 5 years of experience. When she isn't busy writing or researching, you can find her doing yoga, enjoying the outdoors, or exploring a new corner of the world.