Boost Productivity (and Give Your Brain a Break) with Mini Escapes

As a business owner, you often have little down time. But even if you can’t take a vacation, it’s important to relax and recharge. Even taking a short intermission can boost productivity by giving your brain a break.

While it might sound counter intuitive, taking time to relax can actually make you more efficient. The science behind taking small breaks says being calmer and happier releases dopamine which can be important for increasing your creativity according to Alice Flaherty, an associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Here are a few ways to take a mini escape while managing a business.

Got a minute?

Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Researchers have found this method helps quickly relax the body’s central nervous system by having a longer exhale than inhale.

  1. Start by making an audible exhale of all the air in your lungs.
  2. Close your mouth and slowly inhale your breath, through your nose for a count of four seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for a count of seven seconds.
  4. Open your mouth and audibly exhale for a count of eight.
  5. Repeat the cycle several times.

Got 2 minutes?

Do calisthenics for beginners with a 2-minute workout. These simple body weight-bearing exercises are known for building lean muscles and help feel energized by clearing your bloodstream to reduce stress.

Here’s what Cari Shoemate, co-creator of Bombshell Bootcamp in Houston, recommended to the Daily Burn to get your heart rate going and rejuvenate your sluggish body if you’ve been staring at a computer for too long.

Do: 25 jumping jacks, 25 wall or desk push-ups, 25 alternating lunges, 25 squats

Here’s other tips from Karl Erickson, a retired green beret who spent nearly 20 years in Army Special Forces.

Got 5 minutes?

To mediate, start by finding a relaxed seated position on a chair or on the floor. Keep your back upright, but not too tense, with your hands resting in a comfortable position, says Diana Winston of

Listen to this 5-minute meditation by Winston to help guide you through an experience.

Got 10 minutes?

Take a walk in some green space. Being in nature can reap big rewards. It can improve your attention span and rejuvenate your body. Gazing at nature can make you more productive.

That’s according to a 2015 study by British Journal of Sports Medicine which found people can reduce brain fatigue by walking a half-mile through a park.

Got 15 minutes?

Try doing progressive muscle relaxation. Also called PMR, this deep-relaxation technique helps people with chronic pain, but it can also help with relaxing your body by reducing stress and anxiety.

The idea is to tense and relax your muscles, one muscle group at a time.

  • Start by taking some deep breaths in and out to notice how your muscles feel when they’re relaxed.
  • Then go muscle group by muscle group through the body. There are a variety of ways to do this.
  • Some people start with tightening the muscles in their forehand, scrunching their eyebrows up as high as they can, holding for 5-15 seconds, then taking longer to release between 15-30 seconds.
  • Other people like to start seated in a chair. With their right arm at a 90 degree angle, make a tight fist and hold. Focus on what that tension feels like for 10-15 seconds. Exhale and slowly release the tension in your fist for 20-30 seconds to let your arm fully relax.

The key is to take longer to relax your body than the time you spending in a tense position.

Got 30 minutes?

Consider de-cluttering your work space or have a meeting outside of your usual workspace during a 30-minute period. Maybe it’s catching up with a colleague or friend over coffee.

The Harvard Business Review says having a 30-minute meeting makes everyone more attentive and focused which can yield better results thanks to its compressed time frame.

As Peter Bregman writes, people are less likely to skip a 30 minute meeting and having such a short meeting, “Hones the skill of getting to the point quickly, focusing on the most essential elements of a situation, and taking action.”

Bregman says he uses this technique for working out, for meetings or tackling other tasks with an intensity that then lets him stretch out the unstructured time he spends with his family, meals with his friends, for writing and for sleep which makes him more productive both personally and professionally.

Got 60 minutes?

Go to the gym, run an errand, read a book (which can lower your heart rate) or enjoy a long lunch break. Just do something away from the computer screen to clear your mind and bring something to write down ideas.

As productivity coach Deb Lee told Stephanie Vozza of Fast Company, “Use the time to do a ‘brain dump,’ which can help get things off of your mind and on paper where they can be looked at more objectively. If you have a big project coming up, organize your thoughts in writing.”



6 online publications that will make you a smarter business owner

We live in an age of information.   And yet – with more and more content out there it has become increasingly difficult for business owners to determine which online publications are worth their time and energy.

While no two businesses are exactly alike, there are some publications that you may be helpful on a regular basis. Here are the top online publications that will make you a smarter small business owner and entrepreneur:

1. Noobpreneur

Author: Ivan Widjaya

This blog is perhaps the ultimate online resource for new small business owners, as it offers simple advice, sourced from numerous locations, and it is all so very practical. For example, if you’re looking to start a fashion company, you can read tips on that industryspecifically, but it you’re looking to make money from investing in real estate, there is also advice to help you with this field. Noobpreneur is as varied as Wikipedia, yet provides so much practical information that can serve you well as you look for new ideas. And if you need advice as generic as productivity tips, this is the place to find them!

2. SmallBizLady

Author: Melinda Emerson

From recommending podcasts, to how to build an ecommerce funnel, Melinda Emerson’s SmallBizLady offers a plethora of useful information for her readers. Written in a matter-of-fact way, Melinda also conducts weekly interviews that make this blog accessible.  It is especially helpful for small business owners who are early in their journeys. For example, she writes about the “5 Ps of Marketing – Product, place, promotion, price, and profit.”

3. Duct Tape Marketing Blog

Author: John Jantsch

The strength of this blog is that it helps you identify specific problems with your business as well as specific solutions. For example, the blog clearly advocates the advantages of putting video in specific sections of your business’s web site, including your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), personalized team bios, and what your business stands for.

Duct Tape Marketing then does an excellent job of offering solutions that are practical, affordable, and doable, so you can implement these changes quickly.

“There are three basic ways to go about creating video content:

  • On your iPhone.When you use an external microphone and either a simple lighting setup or natural light, you can get great results on your phone’s camera.
  • In a studio.There are lots places that allow you to rent studio space, with access to professional lighting and video equipment, so that you can film all of your video over the course of one day for a low cost.
  • With a videographer. You can hire a videographer to come to your office and do a day of filming with you and your staff.”

4. Evergreen Small Business

Author: Stephen L. Nelson, CPA and Elizabeth C. Nelson, CPA

If you’re planning to open a business or already run one, then you should also be well aware of the numerous complex tax payments the United States requires. Written with business owners in mind, in language palatable for the average person, Evergreen Small Business focuses on ways for you to save money (e.g. tax deductions) while also reminding you what your business’s legal obligations are for paying taxes.

5. The Harvard Business Review (HBR)

Author: Multiple

Founded in 1922, the Harvard Business Review has been around for nearly a century. Yet it remains classic magazine, and now online publication, for researchers to publish their work, oftentimes showing counterintuitive findings to help you manage complex business situations. For example, recent publications include articles as varied as “Research: When People See More Women at the Top, They’re Less Concerned About Gender Inequality Elsewhere” and “The Best Ways to Use Social Media to Expand Your Network.” Though you are limited to three free articles per month on this site, the paid version may be worth your investment.

6. Psychology Today

Author: Multiple

Psychology plays a major role in every purchase decision — or indecision — that takes place. As a business owner or aspiring business owner, you must be well aware of your customers’ psychology. Psychology Today provides easy reads for people who want to improve their lives using ideas that are proven to work. For example, articles like “Silencing Your Inner Critic” may help you make bold decisions required of modern business leaders.

With so much content out there, distilling the good from the bad, the relevant from the irrelevant, has become challenging. Using these publications as a starting point may certainly make your work life easier and your work more productive.

How to Simplify Your Digital Life as a Small Business Owner

Business owners know how often work-life balance can feel completely unbalanced. The lines between what is work and what is “down-time” often get blurred.  This is especially the case when there are deadlines to meet, after-hours problems to solve, or when you’re the only one who can address an issue. That’s why simplifying your digital life — de-cluttering and streamlining your online usage — can be important for small business owners.

Cal Newport, author of “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World,” recommends cleaning your digital house to get less distracted. His philosophy is simple: Be more intentional about the technology in your life. If you can focus more intensely on fewer things, then you may find more success with fewer distractions.

“Intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life,” says Newport, an associate professor of computer science at Georgetown University.

Even if you can’t completely unplug — which most small business owners find impossible — consider streamlining your digital life.

Here’s how:

1. Get a Back-Up

Before you start cleaning house, start by backing up everything. If you’re a digital hoarder, that can be a lot. This is a good policy regardless of how much purging you plan on doing since your hard drive could fail or ransomware could hold it hostage. This can be done using an external hard drive or a Cloud service.

Keep in mind, cloud storage is different than doing an actual cloud backup where a software-based solution will automatically back everything up for you by being housed in the background of your computer.

For external hard drives, a solid state drive is considered more reliable and typically has larger storage capacity. Regardless of what you use for a back-up, make sure you make multiple back-ups because files can be written over and drives may fail. Have a back-up to your back-up.

2. Uninstall every app on your phone

Like tidying up expert Marie Kondo’s recommendation of throwing your entire closet of clothes on your bed to see how many you have, Newport recommends deleting every app on your phone and then reinstalling the ones that make sense.

“Wipe the slate clean,” Newport says, “so that you can get rid of those that were haphazardly downloaded and then rebuild it from scratch intentionally.” Then re-add the tools you use in your digital life that directly serve the things you care about.

3. Clean out your email inbox

Like most small business owners, you may have thousands of unread emails. Although it’s great to aim for “net zero” where there aren’t any unread emails, for most owners that’s nearly impossible.

Start by seeing what unnecessary emails are tied to subscriptions and unsubscribe from as many as you can.

If you’re using Gmail, consider moving from their Inbox to Gmail platform. The bundles feature lets you customize your inbox tabs in Gmail. That can help. Then organize your emails into tabs and folders that make sense.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, snooze emails until later or set follow-up nudges, a tool that can be found under the settings button, where Gmail will move old emails to the top of your inbox with a prompt to reply.

Another option is to take the “inbox zero” approach created by productivity expert Merlin Mann. His suggestion is to reduce your time spent on email, by checking it only at certain times of the day or maybe every two hours. Then with a set aside block of time, review your emails, by doing one of the following five actions:

  • Delete
  • Delegate
  • Respond
  • Defer
  • Do

Once you are done with this, you close your email and do other work you need to accomplish.

4. Review social media accounts

Review what social media platforms are working for your business and what isn’t. If you’re an image-centric business do you really need to be on Twitter if you’re on Instagram and Pinterest? Maybe. Or maybe not. Carefully curate useful tools and then set time limits.

If you are managing your accounts manually, consider scheduling tools like Hootsuite and Sprout Social to help you manage all your social media accounts on one platform.

If you use social media for industry information or news, consider creating a free and simple Google Alert.  With google alerts you can track key terms including your name, your company’s name or industry buzzwords.

5. Clean up your internet browsing

Many business owners constantly search and research online until their browser crashes with too many tabs open in their internet browser.

Most browsers have bookmarking options which you can sync across devices so you can call them up later without keeping additional windows or tabs open.

If you haven’t already, create folders within your browser to organize your links.  Consider alphabetizing primary folders with subfolders, or classifying primary folders by themed topics such as work, tech, read later, favorites, etc.

Regardless of how you choose to simply your digital life, a philosophy of ‘less is more’ may help you spend more time focusing on work and less time wading through a digital mess.



Top 5 Customer Service Books for Business Owners

In running a business, it can be important to think like your customers think; if you don’t, you may quickly fall out of favor with them as they move to competitors who understand their needs better. Yet projects such as creating a stellar customer experience, doing the appropriate research to understand customer needs and enhancing customer support and service interactions frequently take a backseat to more immediate issues.

Even if you can’t begin the aforementioned projects just yet, it doesn’t mean you can’t make some steps to getting to know your customer better and and make some day to day improvements in your interactions with them. The following five business books will help you get started. If you’re a business owner who wants to make sure they are in tune with their customers’ evolving needs, you need to read these books!

1. “The Service Culture Handbook: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Your Employees Obsessed with Customer Service” by Jeff Toister

Purchase here.

Using a step-by-step workflow, Toister’s sage advice will help you build your customer-centric business efficiently and pragmatically.

Written in a conversational tone that is free of jargon, Toister is known throughout the internet (from his training videos on LinkedIn Learning) for his straight-forward attitude toward customer service principles. In this work, he uses real world examples of both excellent customer service and not-so-stellar customer service experiences. He then explains how each experience will impact an organization’s reputation.

2. “The Million Dollar Greeting” by Dan Sachs and Janet Scott

Purchase here.

While The Million Dollar Greeting focuses on the hospitality industry, it offers many secrets to creating and developing a workforce who are both inspired and committed to your business — a secret recipe for success within the hospitality industry.

Sachs, a Harvard graduate, serves as president of Meerkat Restaurant Advisory, a restaurant advisory group. He is also a professor of business and entrepreneurship at DePaul University. For 16 years, he owned Bin36 restaurant group, which developed and operated multiple wine-focused restaurants. What makes this book unique is that the authors have intentionally spoken to people who work in both large and small companies across a wide range of businesses. This has allowed them to focus on something rare within the hospitality industry: the businesses that grow for decades, rather than the businesses that are hot for a couple of years and then quickly fall out of vogue.

3. “Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business” by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine

Outside In, designed for customer service enthusiasts, focuses on how your business can achieve long-term, sustainable success.

Purchase here.

Manning and Bodine have fourteen years of research behind them as the customer experience leaders at Forrester Research. This book offers a comprehensive roadmap that explains how businesses can achieve advantages with their customers. The book starts off by explaining the concept of the “Customer Experience Ecosystem proof”. The concept explains how “the roots of customer experience problems lie not just with customer-facing employees like your sales staff, but with behind-the-scenes employees like accountants, lawyers, and programmers, as well as the policies, processes, and technologies that all your employees use every day.”

The book then goes on to explain how first identifying and then solving these problems can and will dramatically increase your firm’s sales. At the same time you will also be decreasing your costs.

4. “The Customer Manifesto” by Pamela Hermann

Purchase here.

The Customer Manifesto is an excellent reminder that despite all of the technology developed, businesses must continue to be “people first” to achieve success.

Practically, this book explains how to get your customers to go from one-time customers to repeat customers. When you achieve customer loyalty, you will watch as your business grows and thrives, because your existing customers will bring new customers to you. This book provides many solid recipes for success that can easily be followed by business owners and operators. It also shows that by focusing on customer success for your clients, you bring success to your business.

5. “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth

While this isn’t a customer service-specific book like the others, Grit is a fabulous explainer to help you achieve your business goals.

Purchase here.

A 2013 MacArthur Fellow and professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania Angela Duckworth is the Founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development in children. But beyond your childhood years, Duckworth proves scientifically of how perseverance in both the workplace and in life will get you farther than you could have ever dreamed. Some practical advice from this book:

1.     Define what success looks like. (e.g. Running a successful pizza restaurant chain.)

2.    Clearly state your short, medium and long term goals, while also giving yourself stretch goals. (e.g. Sell 5,000 pizzas in the first quarter and 25,000 by the end of next year.)

3.    Put your goals into practice by stepping outside your comfort zone and testing your innovations or products through deliberate practice.

4.    Reflect and learn from the obstacles, challenges, failures you face.

5.    Never become complacent or satisfied — as there is always room for improvement. This requires you to become almost obsessed with your task at hand.

Want more to read?

Of course, there are tons of additional great books on customer service (and running a successful company) to consider including:

It’s important to remember that while books are a great place to learn new strategies and ideas, it is also important to put these strategies and ideas into practice.  So start testing and iterating to determine which strategies works best for your business.

5 Ways to Increase Productivity at Your Business

Do These 5 Easy Things Today to Be More Productive Tomorrow

As a small business owner, do your goals include becoming more productive? If so, these five tips and techniques may make a difference.

Schedule Sleep and Exercise First

Prioritizing non-business activities such as sleep, exercise, spiritual practice, and time with family and friends may improve your physical and emotional well being.  And, being both physically and emotionally healthy can lead to a more productive day. For example, one MIT study found that exercise helps us better process information. A University of Arizona study found sleep-related symptoms negatively impacts daily productivity.

Schedule non-business activities in your digital or paper day planner before anything else. Then when business calls, you’ll be in the best physical and mental state to work efficiently and increase workplace productivity.

Track Your Daily Energy Levels and Distractions

Your energy levels rise and fall throughout the day, although energy level patterns may vary from person to person. At the same time, the level of distractions around you also varies.  This combination can significantly enhance or impede your productivity.

Recently, 75% of respondents to a study by online course provider Udemy said they get more done and are more productive when workplace distractions are reduced. And yes, this includes social media.

Record your energy level as high, medium, or low every couple of hours during the day.  While doing so, make sure to note when distractions to your workday are highest. Then simply rearrange your workday so you’re performing tasks requiring high concentration when you’re feeling energetic and distractions are low.

Batch Your Tasks

Although being more productive means getting more done in a day, performing several tasks at once (multi-tasking) could actually hinder your memory and reduce your productivity. According to recent findings from the Stanford Memory Laboratory, you may boost your productivity by scheduling your time to avoid multi-tasking and incorporate batching, performing similar tasks together in one time block.

Consider your typical weekly or monthly tasks and how they could be batched.

Template, Replicate and Automate

To maximize the impact of batching on productivity, create a template to cut the time required to perform each batching activity. For example, filling in a report template may save time versus creating one from scratch. You may be able to replicate the time savings by using the outline template as a base for other similar activities, such as writing case studies or white papers.

Today’s business world is full of repetitive tasks. Automating those tasks can boost productivity, helping you get more done in a shorter time. According to a 2017 study, 69 percent of surveyed workers say that automation’s biggest benefit is in reducing time spent on repetitive tasks. Study your own repetitive tasks, such as data entry, creating reports, and even paying bills. Look for opportunities to use technology to automate those tasks, such as setting up recurring bill payments through online banking. The more you’re able to automate, the less chance you have of wasting time.

Delegate or Dump

What are you doing that someone else could do instead? And what are you doing that could be scrapped entirely?

When you delegate important tasks to other team members, you free up time to tackle other tasks, increasing your personal productivity and earnings. In a Harvard study of law firms which practice delegating routine work to associate lawyers, partners earned between 20-to-50 percent more than they would have without delegating the work. These partners can take on more clients and produce higher quality work on difficult cases without the distraction of the more routine cases.

Review your most recent “To-Do” lists and identify at least three activities that can be delegated or dumped. Then allocate the time saved for growing your business, pursuing new clients, or developing new product lines.

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