8 Ways to Stay Productive When Starting Your First Business

Andrew Lau
Andrew Lau

An entrepreneur procrastinating with a leisurely drive

For years you slaved away for someone else. It may have been a small business, a medium-sized business or even a large multinational.

You worked ridiculously long and stressful days, without any extra reward for overtime you did at the office. The more hours you spent at your desk or on-site, the more you watched your salary dilute.

You felt like just another cog in the machine, unable to bring your own personality to the services you were giving. Unable to put your own personal stamp on the product and truly call it yours.

Everything you did was to service the greater purpose of the company you worked for. The work you did and the way you did it needed to be in alignment with the company’s. The people who were your employers. Your masters.

Even though you were given plenty of applause and accolades, a full-time job was becoming an unrewarding experience. Disillusionment set in like heavy concrete.

The Big Idea

One day you were sitting at your desk, and a lightbulb went off in your head.

It was a big product idea. Or a business idea for a service only you could provide. Or a service that many in the market are able to provide but you’re confident you can do it better than anyone else.

It’s special. It’s unique. And it’s yours.

You quit your salaried job and put employment behind you.

Your Own Captain

As captain of your own boat, you started chartering your own course. You were ready to show the world who you really are, what you can do and what you can create.

You sat at your desk. You started working. Developing business plans. Costing your services out in spreadsheets. Brainstorming ideas for your products, how you’re going to develop them, who you’re going to sell them to. You’re planning world domination!

Working for someone else was truly behind you.

Cut to the Present

After working a while, you decide it’s time for a cup of coffee. You go out to the local café and have someone make it for you. No-one’s pushing you to do more work. You enjoy your tasty beverage, savoring each sip.

You get home. Hmmm, you wonder. What next?

The computer at your desk beckons. The notes on the walls demand your attention.

Work needs to be done to advance the business, but enquiries are slow. So you have a nice, long, shower. You spend time in the shower thinking about next steps.

You come back to your desk. Answer a couple of emails. Sort out some documents. Fire them off to your prospects.

That’s a job well done. Alright, time for another break.

You jump on Facebook. Laugh at some of your friends’ cat memes. Click through to YouTube, check out some of the latest cat videos.

You jump onto Wikipedia where you read about how cat memes and cat videos started. Then you jump onto Twitter where you start tweeting about cats and your own cat memes.

Before you know it, you’ve transformed into a cat meme expert. And then you remember, you’re meant to be building your business, not mastering the art of creating cat memes!

Does This Sound Like You?

It’s okay if it does. It happens to the best of us.

Everyone goes off track every now and again. As an employee there was a structure. You had to be in the office at a certain hour and you left at a certain hour.

Expectations were placed upon you by your supervisors and you had to fulfill them in order to maintain your job and be paid.

You can’t fault a person who’s played the role of employee for years on end and just wants to enjoy themselves for a little bit.

Before you know it, days, weeks and even months might have passed by. Nasty, unproductive patterns might have formed. Very little work gets done as your business capital dwindles.

When you’re just starting your business and the work is slow, when enquiries are few and when you have little structure to your day, bad habits are super easy to form.

It’s really easy to lose direction during this phase of your life. If you let bad habits take hold, your business and all your big ideas are going to go nowhere, fast.

You might end up in a swirling vortex of self-blame, lose your confidence, faith in your business, and perspective on the value you bring to the world.

Below are 8 ways to keep yourself on track.

1. Set Goals and Targets

A stargazer dreaming up goals

If you’re going to succeed at running your own business, setting goals for the short, medium and long term is an absolute must.

Even setting goals each morning is important so you don’t lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve daily.

In the early phases of your transition, you’ll need to accept you’re small and you may not be able to achieve everything you set out to accomplish — but don’t use this as an excuse not to set targets.

Remember, every little step you take will move you towards ultimate success. Put one foot in front of the other, keep moving forward and relish the little victories.

2. Be Disciplined about Your Time and Boundaries

Managing your time and boundaries is the flip side of being disciplined about goal setting.

No one is controlling your time so it’s easy to lose discipline and end up talking with a prospective client too long on the phone, having long meetings over coffee that end up going nowhere or fluffing around with emails and documentation.

Set a certain amount of time you want to work each day and stick with it.

Once you’ve determined that, set blocks of time to complete tasks within your own time parameters. For meetings and phone calls, block the time, go in with objectives and leave with actionable tasks.

By dedicating blocks of time to your tasks, you can create efficiencies for yourself and get closer to your goals faster.

3. Control Your Communications

The more you’re distracted by communication channels such as phone calls, email and social media, the further away you are from your targets.

The easiest way to maintain control of your phone is to simply switch it off! If the phone is off while you’re committed to a task, it won’t ring, beep or even vibrate.

Same goes for email. Shut your email apps off.

And if you’re a bit of a blog or social media fiend you might want to use apps like SelfControl or ColdTurkey to block access to the sites that steal your time the most.

Commit to your daily goals and the time marked in and block everything else out until you’ve achieved what you need to.

4. Join a Like-Minded Community

Building a sustainable business or a great product is like climbing a massive mountain on your own. You may find yourself feeling really isolated in your own business difficulties and challenges.

Entrepreneurs are a rarer breed so while your closest friends and family will want you to succeed, it’s likely they won’t really understand what you’re going through — especially if they’re employees themselves.

It’s crucial to find a support group with similar interests and goals as yourself. If they’re doing something similar to what you’re doing and you can trust them, even better.

You’ll be able to exchange ideas, get feedback on your work, motivate each other and keep each other accountable.

No one ever succeeded in a vacuum.

5. Look After Your Body

A woman at the gym

It’s very easy to fall into the trap where you’re stuck at the office all the time, whether it be a home office or a rented one.

If you’ve developed some bad habits and you’re not working to set goals and managing your time correctly, it’s also very easy to fall into the trap of not taking care of yourself physically.

If you’re at the opposite end and you’re a workaholic, you need to remember the race you’re running isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. The business is going to take some time to build, so slow down.

Just as you need to be disciplined in managing your boundaries and setting blocks of time for tasks, you need to properly rest, properly exercise and eat to feed your body and mind. It’s really easy to forget these basics.

Management of your body is crucial to mental performance so go for a walk. Or a run. Join your local gym and pump a little iron. Or a lot. Ride your bicycle around the block. Do it.

6. Don’t Forget Your Family and Friends

You need a social life.

Not the one you have with your Facebook community. Not the relationships you have with your thousands of Twitter followers. A social life with flesh and blood people.

As a new businessperson or entrepreneur, you can get pretty damned stuck in your own mind or work. Even if you have one or two employees or partners, you’re all still stuck in that tiny little world.

It’s healthy to catch up with people who love you and want you to succeed but also have nothing to do with what you’re doing. Conversations may start with “how’s business going” or “how’s your project going” but will soon deviate to other subjects.

This will give you the distance you need from your work. It may help you get perspective on your challenges and help you find solutions while reminding you that you’re a human being.

It will give you a feeling of community and aid in giving you a bigger perspective on life, which all goes back to enhancing your work and you.

7. Manage the Naysayers Out

Even before you quit your job, you may have had people in your life telling you you’re an idiot and your ideas sucked. Life is full of naysayers, so this isn’t going to change even when you succeed.

The trolls of life are everywhere.

As you may already have experienced, the negativity of the naysayer can be truly toxic especially if you let it get in your head. It can aid in the loss of your focus, distract you from your work, hurt your confidence and just ruin everything.

If the naysayers are family, avoid them for a while until they really see and understand what you’re doing. Same goes for friends. They may be negative about what you’re doing because they’re scared and worried for you. Maybe even jealous. If the naysayers are working partners, find others to partner with.

Avoiding the naysayers will help you maintain your focus, confidence and help you produce better results. Keep your outlook positive.

Work Out What Works for You

For some, setting a single goal and only committing a few hours of effort each day will work. Others may have more goals. Some may work six hours. Ten hours. Twelve or even sixteen.

For some, social media, emails and phone calls won’t be a distraction. Others may lose weeks on YouTube and posting cat videos to Facebook.

Some will work better in complete isolation, some won’t. Some people need to exercise everyday, some people exercise once a month or even less.

Everyone is different. Everyone is creating a different product, offering a different service. For each entrepreneur or businessperson, results will be achieved through methods unique to them.

The road to success has no hard and fast rules. There’s no magical silver bullet. You’re going to have to fumble and bumble for a little while to work out what works best for you.

Just remember, make sure you create a method that works for you.

Going forward, your work is your responsibility and so is your success.

Onwards and upwards!