5 Ways to Have a More Productive Day

how to be a more productive entrepreneur
As a small business owner, how you spend your time counts—and it doesn’t matter if you’re a one person shop or in charge of a dozen employees, if you’re not being productive, you’re losing money.

In honor of World Productivity Day tomorrow, we’ve put together five ways to set the stage for getting more done—every day.

  1. Don’t pick up your phone first thing.

    We know – it’s easy to reach for your phone when your morning alarm is attached to it. But opening your email or scrolling through Facebook while you’re still in bed can be a time suck and it can be a bit of a downer. Studies show that browsing through Facebook feed can actually make you feel worse about yourself – and you don’t want to do that to yourself first thing! Shut off your alarm, and then shift your attention to more positive things.

  2. Take care of you with a morning routine.

    Entrepreneurs are often so overworked that they put themselves last – including putting off self-care essentials. Establish a morning routine that not only takes care of those necessary hygiene needs, but also gets your blood flowing. This is especially important if you work from home. Whether you start the day with a shower, or prefer to just wash your face and brush your teeth when you rise, take care of you. You’ll feel more awake and ready to tackle the day. It doesn’t matter if your “business” attire is a hoodie and a pair of jeans, personal hygiene is a must.

  3. Write things down.

    You’re wearing a lot of hats and juggling a ton of to dos when you’re an entrepreneur. Give your poor brain a break! If you try to keep everything that you need to do top of mind, you’re going to tax your memory. Just like your computer can’t handle too much going on at once, neither can your mind. Carry a notebook, planner or calendar with you so you can get things off your mind and into a secure place. Opt for a paper notebook because it helps your brain remember what you are writing. Try it.

  4. Fix your posture.

    If you want to stay focused, your brain needs oxygen – and that can only happen if your lungs are able to expand. By sitting or standing up straight you give yourself more room to breathe. Unfortunately, most people sit or stand hunched over thanks to years of computer use. Train yourself to sit up straight at your desk, and consider getting a sitting/standing desk or a Varidesk so you can shift position throughout the day.

  5. Focus on your energy, not your time.

    Although productivity is often associated with time saving, it’s actually about getting things done when you have time as well as energy. Think about it this way – when are you going to want to spend your creative time? First thing in the morning or at the end of the day after lunch? Match your tasks to your energy level in order to be more productive. Evaluate your own energy peaks and valleys, and then plan your work accordingly.

Productive days are just around the corner! Use these tips to start the day better and keep the motivation going all day long.

About the author:

Tobi North – Creativity rock star and marketing master
I enjoy being innovative and creating communications that customers can relate to. I am always looking for that “light bulb” moment, when I find an interesting topic that I know our customers will love to learn more about. In between creative brainstorming sessions, you can probably find me at a concert or searching for the best BBQ joint in town. .

Follow me on Twitter.

How to Work from Home – And Actually Get Stuff Done

Tips for working from home

Your dreams of working in your pajamas and making millions are being frittered away with far too many distractions. From the pile of dishes in the sink to the ever present temptation of checking in to Facebook, you might be falling victim to procrastination and a steep decline in productivity. But it doesn’t have to be this way! You can work from your home office and be productive. Here’s how.

Declare a “work zone” in your home.

Working from home doesn’t mean you should spend your time on the couch with your laptop. Having a dedicated home office – or at least just a work station – will help define the lines between your work time and your home time. This makes it easier for your brain to shift in between “work” mode and “play” mode, even though you haven’t left the house. When you enter your home office or sit down at your workstation, you can easily shift your mindset and be more productive.

Define clear work hours – with specific tasks for each day.

Don’t try to squeeze in your work wherever it fits. It’s far too easy to get distracted and lower your productivity if you’re doing a few minutes here and a few minutes there. When you sit down at your desk or in your office, you need to have a plan for how long you’ll be there and a plan for what exactly you’ll do. For example, you could make it part of your plan to update your social media accounts at 10 am every day – or read through an industry blog every Friday afternoon. Having set hours and a specific schedule will keep you focused.

Take regularly scheduled breaks.

It’s theorized that your brain can concentrate on a task for about 25 minutes, and then you’ll need a five minute break. But when you’re working from home the minutes and hours can seem to run together. Schedule regular breaks between tasks, and a longer break for the afternoon so you can stay refreshed.

Get your family and friends on board.

Sometimes other people can be the cause for your distractions. If they are used to you being available for a quick lunch time catch up or a mid-afternoon phone call, they can derail your plans for productivity. Once you’ve established your new work hours, let them know you’ll be unavailable. Don’t respond to non-work related texts, emails or phone calls.

Find time to get outside of the house.

Working from home can be convenient, but it can also lead to isolation. Make it a point to get out and about a few times per month. Find a networking group through MeetUp so you can connect with other local entrepreneurs. Or consider spending a day or two at a local coworking space. Getting away from your home office will give you a fresh perspective, and may even lead to a joint venture opportunity.

What are you going to do to make working from home work?

About the author:

Jenn Boutwell – VP Marketing & Strategic Alliances
I am a Sage One brand ambassador and team building virtuoso. Professionally I am known for building strong teams and organizing complex situations. I am passionate about making small business owners’ lives easier so they can spend more time on what they are passionate about. When I’m not running between meetings, I’m running half-marathons and training for a full marathon.

Drop me a line at jennifer.boutwell@sage.com.

How (and Why) to Take a Real Vacation

why you need a real vacation
With the busy holiday season behind us, now is the time to start planning a “real” vacation. I know you spent time with friends and sipped a little eggnog in December, but did you really unplug over the holidays? Putting your nose to the grindstone may feel like the only way to make your small business a success, but when you work at 110% for too long, you can find yourself burning out really fast.

A real vacation – one away from the office and out of your email app – is essential for your personal health, and for your business. Even if you absolutely love what you do, avoiding leisure time can increase your negative emotions, decrease your health level and reduce your overall life satisfaction.

But how do you make this happen? It all comes to down to prioritizing, planning and disconnecting.

Prioritize your “must do’s.”
In the weeks leading up to your vacation time, you might be tempted to overwork in order to justify taking time off. Instead of overloading yourself and spending your vacation recovering from burn out, take time to prioritize your “must do’s.” Sending your client a project on time needs to stay on your list, but you might want to put off updating your website or reading the latest industry white paper until you’re fresh from vacation.

Plan what needs to happen while you’re gone.
If you understand the power of delegation, you’ve probably got a team member or two that you work with closely in order to get more done. Use a collaborative tool like Sage One to plan out what needs to happen when you’re gone. You can attach notes, resources and instructions to each to do item so you won’t constantly be worried, or following up with your team via email when you’re supposed to be relaxing. Set clear expectations with your team for communication (ie: you’ll be checking email each morning) so they know when they should and can contact you.

Disconnect from your role as an entrepreneur.
Being a successful entrepreneur requires a lot of focus – so it’s easy to let personal relationships, self-care and just plain fun fall to the wayside. During your vacation time you need to make a mental shift and think about yourself as a whole person instead of a business owner. If you see yourself as a busy entrepreneur who is guiltily stepping away from the office, you aren’t going to enjoy yourself as much.

Do yourself a favor and take a real vacation – even for just a weekend. You’ll avoid overwhelm, get new ideas and become a more well-rounded person.

What’s your plan for taking a break this year?

About the author:

Lawton Ursrey – Sage One awareness guru and fellow entrepreneur
I have a healthy disrespect for the impossible and a passion for the little details. While I run my own small business, I am also passionate about helping other small business owners. If I’m not running my business, or helping you run yours, then I’m probably playing guitar.

Follow me on Twitter.

Why You Need to Ditch Your Small Business Goals

why you don't need small business goals
At the time of this writing there are 1.2 million results in Google for “small business goals.” That means that a lot of people are searching for – and writing about – goal setting. But what if everyone is wrong? What if in order to achieve small business success you need to throw ideas out the window and focus on process?

The Harvard Business School working paper “Goals Gone Wild” highlighted some of the problems with goal setting. In this landmark work, the authors reviewed multiple research studies on goal setting and concluded that, at the very best, the benefits of goal setting are exaggerated. In some cases, they posited, goal setting can actually cause systematic harm to organizations and individuals.

When businesses of any size hold a narrow focus on measurable goals, it can lead to a rise in “unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

It’s not that having goals are bad exactly, but that there are systematic problems that pop up when crossing the finish line of a goal is the only thing that you and your team care about.

For example, if you have a goal to obtain 2 new clients per month for the entire year, you could find yourself taking on less than ideal clients in order to meet your number – or offering significant discounts that cut into your profit margins and hurt your cash flow in order to court new clients. You become more results oriented than process oriented, and that could pose problems in the long run.

Instead of focusing on meeting a specific goal, look at the underlying reasons why you want to achieve those goals – and which strategies will help you get there.

The underlying reason for having a goal of two new clients per month is growing overall revenue and creating more stability in the business. This can be achieved through a number of different channels and shouldn’t be measured by the new number of clients signed on a monthly basis.

Rather than have a concrete monthly goal for new clients, try focusing on the process of attracting and signing those clients. What do you need to do on a monthly basis to lay the foundation for new client? Is it advertising? Networking? Hiring a virtual assistant to free up your time for prospect calls?

Asking these questions and establishing a strategy to get new clients is more important than the concrete end goal. It encourages you and your team to think long term, instead of being so focused on a number.

As we begin this new year, consider throwing out your goals list and shifting to a process-oriented approach. You might find that your desired results come without you even focusing on them.

About the author:

Jenn Boutwell – VP Marketing & Strategic Alliances
I am a Sage One brand ambassador and team building virtuoso. Professionally I am known for building strong teams and organizing complex situations. I am passionate about making small business owners’ lives easier so they can spend more time on what they are passionate about. When I’m not running between meetings, I’m running half-marathons and training for a full marathon.

Drop me a line at jennifer.boutwell@sage.com.

5 Questions to Ask Your Accountant Today About Tax Time

Get ready for tax season
We’re nearing the end of the calendar year – and while that might mean celebration and merriment for most folks, for small business owners it means that tax time is looming. Your spending and income during the 12 months of 2014 are going to have a big impact on how much you pay in April. Why does that matter right this minute, with pages still left on this calendar year? Now is the perfect time to do a check-in with your accountant so you can be prepared – and avoid penalties.

According to Entrepreneur.com, poor record keeping, misclassifying workers and making late payments are the three biggest mistakes that small business owners make when it comes to tax time. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other pitfalls.

Book some quality time with your accountant – or find a new one – and ask these important questions:

  1. How does the legal structure of my business affect my taxes?

    Your accountant isn’t a business structure expert – but they do know the difference between an LLC and solo business when it comes to filing taxes. If you are currently a sole proprietor, now is a good time to discuss options with both your accountant and a small business lawyer. You could have your incorporation paperwork filed before this year’s taxes are due and potentially save.

  2. How much of my personal expenses related to my small business are deductible?

    If you work from home, your business and personal life have a lot of crossover. Your home office, your car, household bills and equipment may all be deducted to a certain degree. Ask your accountant to review a list of potential personal expenses that are deductible. Your computer, printer, fax machine and Internet access could all help trim down how much you owe.

  3. Can I do anything to increase my savings for the coming year?

    Certain items – such as energy efficient appliances – can garner you bigger tax credits. If you’re planning on making major purchases for the business before the end of the calendar year, check with your accountant about these qualifications. By choosing a different model for business equipment you could be saving big.

  4. Do I have contractors or employees?

    You may have started out working with a virtual assistant a few hours a month, but their slow transition to full time employee could put you at risk for penalties. Present your accountant with an estimate of the time your contract workers have put in for your company. Be sure you’re within legal limits for keeping them as a contract worker rather than an employee.

  5. What tax bracket am I expected to be in for the coming year?

    Getting an estimate for your upcoming tax bill is an essential! You’ve likely been making quarterly payments throughout the year, but it’s always a good idea to figure out how much you’ll owe in April. Give your accountant your most current earnings numbers and get advice on how to deal with your expected tax bracket.

Fortunately, handing over your financial records is easy when you use a simple accounting tool like Sage One. You’ll be able to keep your accountant in the loop with easy-to-create reports – and be fully prepared for April 2015.

About the author:

Mike Savory – Customer advocate and automation engineer
I operate at the intersection between technology and ease of use. I strive to make our customers’ lives easier through elegantly automating manual processes. Much of my time is spent listening to small business owners, making sure to bring their voice to the table in everything I do. My free time is spent with my kids, which includes being a Cub Scout leader for an energetic group of 10-year-olds where I’m lobbying for a Software Product Management badge.

Drop me a line at michael.savory@sage.com. Follow me on Twitter.

Just Go For It! Overcoming Entrepreneurial Fear

Fear of failure

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” –Nelson Mandela

Thinking about starting your own business? The decision to quit a comfortable job to pursue the road less traveled is one that many people will never make. Why? Perhaps it’s that nagging voice inside each of us saying we can’t do it—that we will fail.

Don’t give up before you even get started! If fear is holding you back from starting a business, punch fear in the face! Here are five common entrepreneurial fears and how to conquer them.

Fear #1: “I’m not ready”

For all you “Type-A-perfectionist” types out there—get ready to have your mind blown. You will never be completely prepared before starting a business. All you need is the confidence to jump in headfirst, and believe that you will find a way to modify and build as you go.

Conquer It: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on completing tasks rather than perfecting them. Pick a date and do what is necessary to launch your business within that timeline.

Fear #2: “I’m going to fail”

Yes, you will. Failure is a part of life—so why not pursue something that brings you passion? Mistakes are inevitable, but great entrepreneurs understand how to use the lessons to help their business grow.

Conquer It: Understanding what fear is and how it works can ultimately help you overcome it. Break up your major business goals into smaller action items that you can accomplish quickly and see a track record of success.

Fear #3: “I’ll have no job security”

News flash – no one on the planet has job security. Your 9-5 counterparts bear the same risk of failure as you. Luckily for entrepreneurs, your potential success lies in your hands rather than someone else’s.

Conquer It: Settling is just as crippling as doing something that is a little scary.

Remember that nothing in life is certain. You’ve made it this far – so have confidence in your ability to stay afloat as you make this new transition. .

Fear #4: “I’m not cut out for this”

The truth is, some people may not be cut out for the lifestyle of an entrepreneur. You have to be comfortable with kissing stability and control goodbye.

Conquer It: Not sure if your cut out to be an entrepreneur? Read up on some common traits and how to develop them. Or take this quiz to see if you’re cut out for the lifestyle. Remember that you are in control of your own destiny, and can grow into the person you want to be.

Fear #5: “I’m afraid of the unknown”           

Fear of the unknown results from two common places – a lack of organization and non-existent planning. Focus on what you can control, and forget the rest. Uncertainty is the only certainty in life.

Conquer It: Get organized! Don’t leave your small business dreams to chance. Make a plan and get actively involved in your success. And if your business plan includes multiple backup plans, you’ll ease your fears even more.

Have you successfully conquered your entrepreneurial fears? Have any advice for those trying to do the same? We’d love to hear from you.

About the author:

Lawton Ursrey – Sage One awareness guru and fellow entrepreneur
I have a healthy disrespect for the impossible and a passion for the little details. While I run my own small business, I am also passionate about helping other small business owners. If I’m not running my business, or helping you run yours, then I’m probably playing guitar.

Follow me on Twitter.