Small Business Owner Stress: How to Train Your Brain to Reduce Your Worries

When you run a small business, you’ve got a lot of responsibility. Sometimes that results in small business owner stress that can hurt your company. A study conducted by OnePoll on behalf of found that the average small-business owner in America loses 44 minutes of productive work time every day due to worries about their business, representing an annual cost of about $10,000.

Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to combat it. Our brains have four natural chemicals that help us feel happier. It’s possible to naturally trigger the chemicals to tap into their power and better handle the stress of being a business owner.

1. Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s naturally produced in the brain. It contributes to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of the reward system, according to Psychology Today. When we achieve a goal, our brain releases dopamine. This chemical is also linked to focus, which can be derailed when you’re stressed.

If you’re overwhelmed by a big project, you can get a natural dose of dopamine by setting small achievable goals. For example, break down a large task into tiny steps. When you hit each milestone, you’ll get a release of dopamine that can help you overcome your stress. Be sure to mark each completion in a way that fuels your brain. For example, simply making a list and checking off tasks when you’re done can be all you need.

2. Endorphins

Called “feel good” chemicals, endorphins are the body’s natural way of stress reduction. They boost happiness and act as a pain reliever, according to Medical News Today.

One of the easiest ways to get a natural release of endorphins is through exercise. This can be as simple as a brisk walk, or you can choose another activity that you enjoy. Another way to increase your endorphins is to do something nice for someone else. Volunteering is one idea, or even just giving someone a compliment can work. You can also release endorphins with food. Studies have found that dark chocolate can help. And another way to release endorphins is to laugh. Take a break at work and watch a funny video—anything that gets you to laugh will relieve stress.

3. Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a chemical that is linked to trust and loyalty. It’s known as the “cuddle hormone,” according to Psychology Today. While you probably don’t want to cuddle with your employees, this hormone is also triggered by social bonding. When you release oxytocin, you enhance the sense of camaraderie.

You can naturally release oxytocin by keeping a gratitude journal. Write down three things you’re thankful for at the end of each day. You can also express gratitude to others. Make a point of thanking employees or recognizing them for jobs well done. And make time for bonding experiences with your employees. Work retreats can help release oxytocin, allowing you to get rid of stress and come back strong and refreshed.

4. Serotonin

Finally, serotonin is a chemical that regulates mood and helps with sleep. This is also known as the “confidence molecule,” according to Psychology Today. Higher levels of serotonin are linked to self-esteem and accomplishment. This can be helpful when you own a business and you need to be willing to take risks.

You can naturally release serotonin by simply reliving a moment when you accomplished a goal or tackled and completed a difficult task. It can help to write down your successes in a journal so they’re handy. Sunlight or bright light can also trigger serotonin. Put your desk next to a window or make sure your office is well lit. Using daylight light bulbs can help. Exercise can also increase serotonin. Make time to take a walk outside, especially on a sunny day, and you’ll get yourself a double dose.


Small business owner stress can cost you productivity and money, and sometimes a simple solution is the best one. When you’re feeling stressed at work, take a break and do an activity that will release some of your happy chemicals. You’ll recharge your outlook and feel ready to tackle whatever comes next.

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Best Books for Small Business Owners: Blitzscaling

“Lifelong learning is fundamental to long-term success,” says Justin Kulla, member of Forbes Coaches Council and founder of BusinessBlocks. Today, the world moves much faster than it did even five to 10 years ago. And there’s more competition than ever.”

One way to keep evolving as the leader of your business is to read books for small business owners. But, as a business owner, you have a lot on your plate. It’s often difficult to make time for continued learning and professional development, but making time to focus on your own growth is crucial. Not only does it set a good example for your employees, but it also keeps you up to speed on current innovation and workforce trends. In today’s world, change is accelerating on several fronts, and as a business owner, you need to stay nimble.

With this new series, we aim to save you time by covering well-known and new business books and their key take-aways, so you can determine within a minute if a book is relevant to your business and your situation—really, whether it’s worth your valuable time.

August Monthly Must-Reads: Best Books for Small Business Owners

Business Book:

Blitzscaling, by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh


Exploring business tactics that spark and manage periods of high growth

Main Idea:

“When a market is up for grabs, the risk isn’t inefficiency—the risk is playing it too safe. If you win, efficiency isn’t that important; if you lose, efficiency is completely irrelevant.” – Blitzscaling

Great for Small Business Owners Who:

Have identified a new opportunity and want to quickly capitalize on it and grow, especially if theirs is a low-margin business and/or related to digital technology


Written by co-authors who have scaled start-ups into billion-dollar businesses, including PayPal, Blitzscaling opens with a foreword by Bill Gates and then introduces the concept of blitzscaling, which “prioritizes speed over efficiency in an environment of uncertainty, and allows a company to go from ‘startup’ to ‘scaleup’ at a furious pace that captures the market.”

The authors explore the ideal market conditions and business models for this strategy—including when not to move forward with blizscaling. The contents:

  • Describe situations when blitzscaling is imperative.
  • Explain how to recognize when to stop blitzscaling.
  • Cover critical management changes to make as companies grow.
  • Include case studies of notable fastest-growing companies, like Uber, AirBnB and Amazon. It also includes case studies outside of the technology sector.
Key Take-Aways:
  • Blitzscaling is a strong strategy only when speed-to-market is the main and crucial factor to success.
  • Companies should only engage in blitzscaling if their product and/or market, their business model, and the market conditions are the right fit for it.

As the business world evolves, new opportunities will continually arise. Be ready to capitalize on them with the lessons from this Blitzscaling in mind.

Reviewers Say:

“I take away a better understanding of why some companies engage in blitzscaling hyper growth as their #1 priority, and why this is such a powerful technique to overwhelm the competition. This book reveals some really interesting techniques to grow the customer base, organizational strategies depending on the size of the company, and management styles.”

“I highly recommend this book to learn the benefits of blitzscaling. It’s very interesting to read, it’s sometimes hard to put the book down because there’s something useful on every page. Just don’t expect much depth about companies that attempted blitzscaling and failed while trying, this book is more about success business cases.”

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Taking A Vacation from your Small Business: How To Get Away This Year

Business owners are known to work a lot of hours, and most find it difficult to take time off. According to a study by the small-business accounting firm Xero, 85 percent of business owners work while they’re on vacation.

Getting out of the office and taking a vacation can help you avoid burnout that can happen when you work long hours for a continued amount of time. A change of scenery can get your creative juices flowing. And entrusting your staff builds and deepens your relationships.

So, get out your calendar and block out some time to take off. Here’s what you need to do before and during your vacation so you can get away and return refreshed and ready for work.

Train Your “Replacement”

While it sounds cold, everyone in your business should be replaceable, including you. If not, an unexpected absence could wreak havoc on your business. To find your own replacement, choose the person in your business you trust and consider to be capable and reliable. It can help if they are already a manager or have management experience.

Train the person to handle your daily tasks. It can help to have them shadow you for a few days or weeks before your vacation. While the employee probably won’t be taking care of big-picture actions, like long-term strategies, they may need to solve problems in your absence. He or she should be comfortable making decisions. Leave detailed instructions on the tasks you do. And create a list of trusted vendors and service providers they can call in case of an emergency, such as a crashed website or building problem.

Prepare Your Staff

In addition to finding someone to assume your duties, prepare your staff for your absence. Let them know who is in charge as well as the level of their authority. Make sure you’ve left your staff with everything they need to do their jobs. Also, let employees know when you do want to be contacted. Do you want a daily update via email? What types of things warrant a phone call? Should they text if they have a question or make a phone call? Be very clear about what warrants communication. It could be a call from certain clients, or only in case of a fire.

Inform Your Customers

Let your clients know you’ll be away on vacation, especially notifying those you consider most valued. Sometimes clients prefer to work with an owner rather than the employees. You don’t want your best customer finding out you’re away from an out-of-office (OOO) autoresponder email. It could send a signal that their business isn’t important. Be proactive, letting them know ahead of time, so they can plan accordingly by getting what they need from you before you leave or as soon as you return. Also, let them know who will be in charge in your absence if they need something before you’re back.

Create an OOO Autoresponder

Even if you’ve notified your VIP customers, it’s a good idea to use an OOO email or voicemail message while you’re away. Some of them might forget about your trip, or you may receive a message from a potential new client. Be sure to provide the name and email of someone at your business who is handling work in your absence. Don’t give into the temptation of responding; that negates the purpose of an OOO. Trust that your team can handle situations that arise or that your client will wait until your return.

Don’t Make Any Big Changes Before You Go

You want your business to be “business as usual,” so don’t make any big changes that might become emergencies. For example, don’t launch or redesign your website, don’t schedule a big sale and don’t create a new marketing campaign. You don’t want to have to deal with questions or concerns while you’re away that will be hard to resolve from afar.

Time the Trip

It can help to be strategic and time your vacation during your slow season. You’ll leave your staff with less to handle, and you’ll have more peace of mind that they aren’t overwhelmed. Or consider taking a shorter trip instead of an extended vacation. If your office is normally closed over the weekend, for example, tack on two days for a four-day getaway. You can still get lots of R&R with a shorter vacation.

Do a Trial Run

Before you leave, test the waters and see how your staff does. You could work from home for a few days or just go away for a day. Seeing how well your team handles your absence can give you the confidence you need to go away on vacation.

Set Rules for Yourself

When you’re gone, set some rules for what you will and won’t do. Even if you prepare before you leave, it’s easy to get drawn back to your business. You might think a quick call won’t hurt, but it’s important to set limits and rules for yourself. For example, limit checking business email to certain times of the day. Or make a rule to not check it at all. If you do check into the workplace, do it at a time when you are on your own, so you don’t disrupt the vacation of those you’re traveling with. Unplugging completely may not always be realistic, but you need to set rules.

Have Fun

Once you’ve prepared your team and your business for your vacation, it’s time to enjoy the time away. Owning a business gives you a level of freedom, and it’s time to enjoy it. When you take a vacation–really take a vacation–you will benefit from the time away and return feeling refreshed and ready to take your business to the next level.

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How Better Listening Makes You a Better Leader

Talking, rather than listening, seems to be a common trait among leaders in business, culture, politics, and elsewhere. The presumption is that anyone who attains the status of “leader” must have important things to say, and don’t have to bother hearing what anyone else wants to tell them.

In fact, the opposite is true.

The most effective business leaders get more accomplished because they know how to listen. While, of course, it’s important to weigh in on business strategy and organizational design, there’s a great deal to be gained by listening to what others have to say. The alternative–not paying attention to others and often not understanding what they are trying to tell you–is a good recipe for business failure, and should therefore be avoided at all costs.

If you want to improve your ability to hear those around you, keep the following tips in mind:

Stop thinking about what you’ll say next.

When in conversation, we’re all guilty of thinking more about what we plan to say next, rather than making the effort to truly hear what’s being said.

But as The New York Times points out, it’s more important to be “comfortable not knowing what you’re going to say next.” Rely on your ability to “think of something in the moment based on what the other person just said,” because this “sends a powerful signal to the other person that you’re truly listening to them.”

Tune out distractions.

It’s become a challenge for all of us to clear our heads in order to listen to what someone else is saying. But it’s imperative to make the effort. In a conversation with a customer, employee, vendor, or other stakeholder, do the following to listen better:

  • Shut off mobile devices.
  • Look away from your computer screen.
  • Close your office door to screen out external noise.
  • Avoid interrupting the other person.

Also, refrain from jumping in when there’s a pause in the conversation. “Never rush a speaker by completing his or her sentence,” notes Right Management. Being patient “will go a long way to building trust and rapport.”

Observe non-verbal cues.

People communicate through non-verbal cues and body language almost as much as they do through words. Effective listeners closely watch the speaker’s gestures, facial expressions, and their tone of voice. From these “clues,” they often deduce the real meaning behind what the other person is trying to articulate.

Expert listeners use their own body language to communicate, as well. While listening, they nod at appropriate moments, engage in friendly and welcoming eye contact, and display “open” body language (that is, not standing or sitting at a distance, with arms crossed). These non-verbal cues let the other person know they really are the focus of your attention.

Ask the right questions.

A good listener demonstrates his or her focus by following up on what the other person has said with a pertinent question. (This is also a good way to ensure you grasp the point of the conversation.)

When the moment is right, ask questions that drill down beneath the surface of the discussion. Avoid questions the other person can only answer with a “yes” or a “no.” Instead, ask open-ended questions that invite deeper commentary or invite the speaker to offer examples of what they’re talking about. These exchanges have the potential to yield far more effective insights that benefit everyone involved.

Listen to your team.

The strongest business leaders have abandoned the need to dominate a conversation. They understand that empathy grows out of genuinely hearing what others have to tell them and that they can make better decisions because of what they’ve learned.

This is often particularly true with people who make up your workforce. Leaders who “fail to truly listen to their employees run the risk of losing them,” notes Medium, adding that employees “who don’t feel listened to are more likely to feel resentment at their job and seek other opportunities.”

Business leaders who listen have a competitive edge over people who never stop talking and who neglect the growth that comes from listening to others.

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How to Maintain a Healthy Work Life Balance as a Business Owner

As a business owner, it can often feel like you are in a constant struggle between feeling like your personal life is interfering with your work and feeling like your work is taking over your personal life. When the balance between your work life and personal life is out of sync, frustration, resentment, and burnout abound.

To avoid these issues and keep the best of both worlds in check, use these tips for maintaining a healthy work life balance as a business owner.

Create a designated office space in your home

Each space in your home has a purpose.  And each space is specially designed to allow you to function efficiently in that space. You wouldn’t try to cook meals in your bedroom.  You wouldn’t do laundry in your living room. So why would you try and do important work in a space that wasn’t designed for it?

A spare room could easily be converted to a designated office.  However, this  isn’t the only option for creating your space. Even a partial room can be your designated work space if it’s utilized correctly. In your space, be sure to have plenty of storage for office supplies, files, and other tools or stock needed for your daily operations. Hang visual elements on the walls that help you get into “work mode” and can be used for easy reference if needed. This might include a whiteboard, project timelines, blueprints, calendars, inspirational photos, or other industry-specific materials. If you don’t have a door to close off your space, try using a curtain or portable room divider. This will create mental separation for your space and help eliminate distractions from other areas of the house

Keep separate work and personal calendars

Calendars help us stay organized, but documenting every aspect of your life in a single place can sometimes feel overwhelming. Keeping separate work and personal calendars encourages a healthy separation between your work and personal life.   It can also help you quickly identify if your work life balance as a business owner is getting off track.

If you use a digital scheduling option, such as Google Calendar or Outlook, you can create separate personal and work calendars.  Then you can toggle them on and off as needed. If you prefer a paper calendar, try using a smaller pocket calendar to track your personal appointments that you can easily store inside your larger calendar. Whichever method you choose, view your personal calendar regularly to make sure you are designating time each week for activities away from work.

Avoid household chores during “work hours”

When you work from home, it’s easy to look around and see a multitude of personal tasks that need attention. While it may be tempting to do some dishes between conference calls or throw in a load of laundry in between work tasks, this could hurt your productivity – both personal and professional. When your mind is constantly distracted by personal chores, you aren’t giving your best focus to your work projects. Similarly, completing chores in fragmented bits and pieces throughout the day can cause you to lose momentum. This could end up creating more work for you in the long run. For example, forgetting about the laundry in the dryer when a conference call runs over can result in you having to unexpectedly iron an entire load of clothes.

If you worked in an office, you wouldn’t run home on your lunch break to do the dishes. So, give your home-based work hours the same respect. Set designated times for work and personal activities and compartmentalize your tasks. This will help you feel more focused and productive.

Listen to the “Back to Work” podcast

If you’ve jumped on the podcasting bandwagon, you likely have an extensive playlist of entertaining, inspirational, and personal development podcasts. “Back to Work” is a great addition to any play list, especially for entrepreneurs and work-from-home business owners. Hosted by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin, the podcast covers an entertaining mix of productivity tips, communication skills, suggested business tools, advice for overcoming work barriers, and more. Mann and Benjamin often discuss their own struggles with finding a healthy work life balance as a business owner. They also provide relatable stories and actionable advice for overcoming those struggles.

To live your best SBO (small business owner) life, it’s important to bring your best self each day. To do that, you’ll need to proactively take steps to balance your commitments and obligations throughout the week and develop a healthy relationship between your work life and personal life.

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Boost Productivity with Mini Escapes

Give Your Brain a Break!

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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