What To Do When You’re Not In The “Write” Mind

It’s not easy to admit, but I confess that I’ve been in a bit of a mental and motivational slump where my blog is concerned. Oh, Pen with question marks implying writer's blockI’ve been writing plenty. Just not here.

 

In the past month, my work for clients included…

 

  • 16 blog posts
  • Copy for an email campaign
  • Content for a print newsletter
  • Project managing and editing a magazine for a local medical society
  • Brainstorming and writing abstracts for 10 posts of a “disruptive” nature
  • Content for two websites
  • Two press releases
  • Two industry editorials
  • A corporate retirement announcement
  • Two case studies
  • And a few other odds and ends to boot.

 

I haven’t been sitting around twiddling my thumbs or spending hours meandering around town playing Pokémon Go. Still, I’ve beat myself up about not following through with tending to my responsibilities here.

 

This post isn’t intended to show you how busy I’ve been, but rather to demonstrate that sometimes something’s gotta give. Occasionally, you might find you’re not in the “write” mind or you have put forth so much effort elsewhere that you have nothing left to give to your blog. Feeling guilty or less of a professional because of it won’t change the situation.

 

The moral of the story: Not having the drive and determination to write for your blog doesn’t make you a slacker.

 

Fortunately, my business hasn’t seemed to suffer as a result of my silence in this space, but if you count on your company blog to draw in traffic and produce leads the same might not be true for you.

 

So, what can you do if you’re overwhelmed with your other business obligations and undermotivated to write for your blog?

 

A few ideas:

 

  • Schedule dedicated time for the task. Just knowing you’ve planned for it and aren’t cutting into the time you should be doing something else might help you put your mind to it.

 

  • Pick a topic you’re pumped up about. When you’re enthused about the subject matter, it’s far more enjoyable to write about it.

 

  • Break up the work. Instead of sitting down for hours to write a post, do it in three shorter sessions: One for research and jotting down rough ideas; a second for organizing those ideas and writing a draft; and a third for editing and fine tuning.

 

  • Hire someone to write for you. If you know you absolutely won’t get to it or if you just plain aren’t “feeling it,” don’t force it. Your time will be better spent on other work that’s critical to your business success and you’ll have the posts you need to keep your marketing efforts on track.

 

The next time you find yourself in the midst of a blog writing slump, find some comfort knowing you’re not alone. It happens to all of us—and you have ways around it.

 

Your turn: What frustrates you most about writing slumps? How do you overcome them?

 

It’s A Leap Year! How Will You Get A Jump On The Possibilities?

You have an extra day coming your way soon: February 29. As you know, leap years only happen about every four years, so Happy jumping childdoesn’t it make sense to make the most of them?  Aren’t we always complaining about how we could use more time?

2016 is giving us what we’ve asked for. Now the responsibility is on us to either make the day matter or squander it.

Eight Ways You Can Make Your Extra Day During Leap Year Matter

  • Strengthen business relationships by scheduling time to meet face to face with a few local clients you haven’t seen in awhile.
  • Review your website and start updating content that’s no longer accurate.
  • If you’ve fallen behind in accepting invitations on LinkedIn, log in and catch up.
  • If you have a collection of business cards from networking events on your desk, send LinkedIn invitations to the professionals you want to stay in contact with. Then dispose of the cards so you’ll have more room to work!
  • Brainstorm topics for your blog.
  • Purge your email and computer files of messages and documents you no longer need.
  • File paperwork that has been piling up in your office.
  • Take some time off! You’ll be 60 days into the new year, which is plenty of time to start feeling overwhelmed and underinspired. The best use of your extra day could very well be some time away from your work!

Of course, what I consider a valuable use of my time may be different from what you’d deem time well spent. How will you spend your February 29?

Image courtesy of chrisroll at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

You Don’t Have Time For That

Your time is precious.Spending-time

 

I know. You’ve heard that before, but do you believe it?

 

Think about it this way:

 

After you’ve spent your time, you can never get it back. When you spend time on something, you’ve forfeited the opportunity to spend it on something else.

 

That’s why it’s smart to carefully consider importance and impact before you decide whether or not to spend time on something—or someone.

 

With limited hours and minutes every day, you need to choose what and who WON’T get your attention.

 

Here’s a short list of what I say “no” to in the course of running my solopreneur business:

 

  • Face-to-face meetings with “tire kicker” prospects (those who have no idea what they’re looking for or are looking for a writer based on price alone).
  • Producing complete, official proposals before I get email confirmation from a prospect that they want to go forward with the scope of work, pricing, and payment terms we’ve discussed.
  • Answering every phone call and text immediately. It interrupts the work I’m doing for clients so I’ll often set my phone aside in another room so I don’t hear it while in my office. I always aim to respond as soon as possible, but rarely is there a “writing emergency” that can’t wait a few hours.
  • Constant complainers. We all know them, don’t we? People who only talk about how they’ve been done wrong and how they can’t catch a break. People who spend too much time wallowing in despair and not enough taking action to change their situation.
  • Taking on projects that aren’t the right fit. What I mean by that:
    • They fall outside of my skillset, and I don’t believe I can do a stellar job for the client.
    • They will demand too tight a turn-around.
    • I don’t feel the right chemistry between the client and me.
    • I think they’ll suck the life out of me.
  • Requests to “pick my brain” by people who have “picked my brain” before and only connect with me when they have a need to “pick my brain.”

 

By saying “no” to the above, I’m free to say “yes” to things that will matter and make a difference.

What do you say “no” to?

Take Action Against Distraction in Your Small Business in 2014

“Bounce rate.” If you’ve got a website, you know less is best when talking about that particular metric. But the bounce Multi-tasking womanrate of your site isn’t the only bounce-related thing that can spell trouble for your business.

As soloprenrenurs and small biz owners, we take on every aspect of our businesses, so it’s easy to become unfocused and “bounce” from one uncompleted task to another, then back to the first one, and then move on to something else before bouncing back to the original task. That zaps productivity. And problems with productivity can quickly manifest themselves as an inability to fit in enough billable hours. And not enough billable hours means less revenue than you may have been banking on. Ouch! Bouncing can be painful!

But you already know that and saying it out loud doesn’t change the fact that you’re faced with needing to tend to not only the work you do for clients, but also to the day-to-day administrative responsibilities that come with the territory. So we multi-task, trying to get more done in less time. Unfortunately, while trying to take care of as many things as possible in a single bound sounds great in theory, in reality we’re only human and therefore incapable of doing it well.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article by Jonha Revesencio about multi-tasking and how digital stress affects the human brain.  According to the infographic within her post, some neuroscientists believe online multi-tasking (particularly email) can put our brains into overload and trigger a “fight or flight” reaction that causes us to lose focus and always aim for tackling what we perceive as immediate opportunities and threats.

And this post by Rachel Blom about interruptions from social media shares that parallel tasks (tasks done simultaneously) take us 30% more time to complete than if we’d do them independently (one after the other).

Multi-tasking might also do some damage to your gray matter, according to this article and infographic on Ragan’s Healthcare Communication News. A mere two percent of people can multi-task successfully, while the other 98 percent of us could lower our IQs by letting email, phone calls, and social media interrupt our work. Another astounding stat from that article: on average, people who use computers for work are interrupted every 10.5 minutes throughout the day.

Yikes!

So how can you get it together, get things done, and resist the urge to do everything at once. Take action to resist distractions!

Here are a few defense maneuvers to help you resist multi-tasking your days away…

  • Schedule time on your calendar daily for all tasks and responsibilities.

    By dedicating specific windows of time for email, social media, client work, accounting, etc., you won’t feel as impelled to bounce aimlessly from one to another.

  • Close your email and social media tabs on your computer when you’re supposed to be working on something else.

    Make them out of sight, out of mind. You’ll find they won’t lure you away nearly as easily from the task at hand if you don’t have them front and center.

  • Put your smart phone out of reach.

    Even a 1-minute phone call can throw you off course when it unexpectedly interrupts your work on a project. Plus, you might be tempted to check your incoming emails, texts, and social media interactions if you hear the notifications ding and your phone is within arm’s length. Better to put it across the room – or in another room – until you’re free to attend to it

  • Schedule some “wiggle room” into your day.

    While you might not always find it possible, try to block out a half hour once or twice each day for the unexpected. That way you won’t get completely behind on your work if you need to field an impromptu call from a prospect or discover a task is taking you a little more time than you anticipated. You can find more on my “wiggle room” suggestion in one of my earlier Insatiable Solopreneur posts this year.

When I stick to the plan above, I find I feel less stressed, feel more in control, and think more clearly. Most importantly, I get more done and have far less apprehension about what’s on my “to do” list, because I know I’ve got a plan in place to accomplish my outstanding projects and tasks. If you’ve found bouncing is sabotaging your productivity and not leaving you the time you need for focusing on billable work, it’s time to break the multi-tasking cycle. Take action against distraction and discover the difference it will make for your business in 2014.

 

Your turn! What tips and tricks do you use to avoid bouncing through your day?

 

By Dawn Mentzer

 

 

Image courtesy of Pong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Top Solopreneur “Time Wasters” That Might Be Putting the Stops on Your Productivity

If there’s anything that can make or break a solopreneur’s ability to accomplish everything that goes along withTime is money running a solo business, it’s self-discipline.

If you’re focused on what you need to do and militant about keeping on top of tasks, following up, and staying organized, you’ll get a lot done.

If you’re easily distracted and let your time and attention meander to things that won’t move you closer to your deliverables and goals, you’re probably spinning your wheels most of the time.

According to Kevin Doel, who reached out to me on behalf of OfficeTime, there’s no shortage of time wasting activities that stand between freelancers (and other solopreneurs) and an otherwise productive workday.

This year, OfficeTime surveyed business owners, freelancers and other working professionals to find out what self-initiated time killers thwart their productivity.

Nearly 400 freelancers/solopreneurs participated. When asked which time-wasting activities they partake in for more than 1 hour each day…

  • 53% said email.
  • 47% said surfing the internet.
  • 42% said watching TV.
  • 33% said procrastination (technically, a “non-activity” activity).
  • 24% said non-business related conversations.

I’m assuming, but not sure, that the respondents were considering non-work-related email and net surfing as the time wasters. I know I – as do many freelancers – need to do a fair share of professionally necessary emailing and internet searching.

The watching TV percentage floored me – again, assuming that the respondents meant TV watching during their workday.

Some other interesting statistics from the OfficeTime survey:

  • 63% of solopreneurs believe they don’t waste more time now than they did when they worked for someone else.
  • 77% say they waste time because of feeling stressed. Nearly the same amount reported “feeling inspired” by wasting time and that “other activities are more fun than real work.”
  • 82% track time because it enables them to invoice more accurately.
  • 43% find Tuesday to be their most productive day.
  • 47% say Friday is their least productive day.

Interesting! So how can all this help you as a solopreneur?

Because we’re solely responsible for the success of our businesses, we need to make our days as productive as possible. That means thinking about how we spend our time and making changes if we find patterns that are sabotaging our efforts to succeed.

We ALL waste time sometimes. Doing it a little bit is OK, but doing it a lot is solopreneurial suicide.

Are time wasters coming between you and your professional potential?

My thanks to Kevin Doel and OfficeTime for allowing me to share their survey results. If you want to get a better understanding of where your time is spent each day, you might consider a time tracking tool like OfficeTime.

 

Image courtesy of CoolDesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Three Sure-fire Ways to Pick Up the Slack When You Fall Behind

It can happen. And it does happen. Solopreneurs – by nature of being a one person band – sometimes fall behindID-10087370 schedule on their projects and tasks. Though it’s natural to occasionally veer off the productivity track, it’s important to find your way back to the straight and narrow as quickly as possible so you can meet commitments and fulfill responsibilities. Your reputation as a business professional depends on it!

Picking up the slack isn’t always easy, but it’s possible with some assessment, short range planning and willingness to take action.

  • Look at your to do list and prioritize – Carefully review everything that you need to do and decide which tasks should get your immediate attention. Among the things that should receive top honors:
    • Work that’s revenue producing
    • Something that you’ve promised and is overdue or almost overdue
    • Anything related to compliance with rules and regulations
    • Responding to clients’ and prospective clients’ messages that are nearing 24-hours old

 Organize and number your list from most important to least important starting with the high priority items and ending with the less urgent stuff.

  • Look at your calendar to see where you can shift and shuffle – With your list in front of you, take a good hard look at your calendar and schedule time for each and every task and responsibility. Move lower-priority items to later dates and schedule the “must do now” tasks as soon as possible. If you’ve got appointments or projects scheduled that can wait – make them wait. Move them out on your schedule so you can make room for the things that need your attention ASAP. Above all, get all of your “on deck” work on your calendar! If you have your projects and tasks planned, you’ll be better able to offer realistic timelines to clients and be less likely to miss deadlines.
  • Do administrative tasks on your off hours – Rather than take up your valuable work day with administrative stuff that requires less brain power than the work you do for clients, do it on your off hours instead. Yeah, it does suck to work evenings and weekends. But when you need to get caught up on your work, it’s often the best option. Things like adding new Twitter followers to lists or G+ connections to your circles, deleting electronic files that you no longer need, organizing your email, etc. All are things you can do via a laptop or tablet while sitting in the living room with your family. No, it won’t be quality time with your loved ones, but at least you’ll be there and can interact.

And please, when you do fall behind, don’t be too hard on yourself. It happens to ALL of us! But do realize that the more attention you give to staying organized, the less often you’ll find yourself going into emergency pick up the slack mode.

How do you keep organized and manage things when you’re falling behind schedule? Share your secrets here!

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Managing an Upswing in Business Without Dropping the Ball

Ask any freelancing solopreneur, times of “feast” and times of “famine” go with the territory. The famines bring on ID-10057422frustration and fear. And while the feasts bring on hope and a sense of renewed worth, they also present challenges. Indeed, a sudden surge in prospects and projects is glorious, but it can also be unnerving if you’re not well-prepared to handle it.

Think ahead!

If you’re a new solopreneur, you probably don’t have the number of clients you’re ultimately aspiring to work with. Now’s the time to research and test the vast array of productivity tools that could be life savers down the road. Check out collaboration and file sharing tools like Dropbox and Google Drive, note taking and organizing software like Evernote and Ubernote, and social media management tools like Hootsuite and Buffer.  Better to get acquainted with them now than when your business takes off and you won’t have time to learn how to use them – that’s when you’ll need them most!

Put a system in place.

When your work load goes from lack luster to “luck of the Irish,” your best management tool is setting up and sticking to a system of working that promotes productivity. The luxury of going with the flow when you’re short on clients and assignments will exit the building when the project pace quickens. Planning your days and weeks in advance will help you stay on target and get a firm grasp on your capacity to take on new work.

Tip: Dedicate time slots for specific projects and tasks on your calendar. For example, every morning, I reserve 6:30 – 8 a.m. for social media and the rest of my days are scheduled in time chunks for working on clients’ projects or meetings and conference calls. Use your proposals to determine the time you’ll need to reserve on your calendar – and be cognizant of the deadlines you need to meet.

Go “old school.”

A good old-fashioned white board could be your best friend! Even with your schedule plotted on your calendar, a white board can serve as an effective in your face tool for reinforcing precisely what you want to accomplish on a given day and anything else you need to keep top of mind. I have 2. One small one by my desk that lists my tasks for the day and a large one on which I keep track of projects in progress, upcoming assignments, outstanding client invoices and prospects. I really don’t know how I’d keep my head on straight without them!

Really, the very best way to prepare for success as a solopreneur is to anticipate success in advance. Not only will planning for increased demand put you in a good position to handle an upswing without dropping the ball, but it’s also indicative of an optimistic and confident mindset that can propel your business to reach its potential.

Ever experience an upswing in business that you weren’t prepared for? How do you manage your multiple projects and responsibilities without dropping the ball?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cool Tool Alert: Emailing to Evernote Made Easier

Besides the opportunity to work with a variety of interesting and talented people, there’s another thing that really rocks InQloud web pageabout freelancing. From time to time, I get to try out new stuff so I better understand the products and services I’m writing about in press releases, articles and web content.

For about a month, I’ve been participating as a beta user for a client’s new service, InQloud. With it coming out of beta status, I thought it appropriate to make a “Cool Tool Alert,” so you can check it out, too. If you’re an Evernote user, you’ll want to make a note of this one!

What InQloud does…
As simply stated on its website, “InQloud does one thing – and does it perfectly. It lets you send your emails directly to Evernote notebooks in one simple step.”

Although you can send emails to Evernote without the help of InQloud, it’s not exactly a quick or easy process; you have to remember your Evernote email address and specific notebook names, and then add them manually into your contacts to do it.

The beauty of InQloud is that it automatically creates email addresses for each of your Evernote notebooks and adds them to your Google Contacts. Then whenever you want to forward an email to one of your Evernote notebooks, just select the contact for the appropriate notebook, and send the message on its way.

Why use it?
I primarily use it to keep important emails from slipping through the cracks. When I have emails that require action, I forward them to the specific “To Do” lists that I have set up as Evernote notebooks where they become “notes”.

Others have found a lot of value in streamlining their email review process by setting up Gmail filters that automatically send emails from specific sources directly to their Evernote notebooks. I haven’t done that yet, but I can see how that would considerably lighten the load when sifting through my inbox.

InQloud is coming out of beta now, and is available on a 30-day free trial basis. After that, you have the option of either subscribing for $1.99 monthly or for a full year at $19.99. It’s quite cost effective. Note that the number of emails you can forward daily from your email to Evernote follows the limits set by your Evernote account. Users on the Free version of Evernote can send up to 50 emails per day, and those on the Premium version can send up to 250 per day.

If you’re an avid Evernote user, I recommend that you give InQloud a whirl. And if you decide to give it a try, please keep me posted on your experience with it!

Painless Ways for Finding Content to Share on Social Media

In talking with other solopreneurs and small business owners in my community about social media, I’ve found that their biggest challenges are:

A. Finding the time

B. Finding content that interests their audience

It’s rather nice that by addressing B, you can also alleviate some of the stress of A!

Having a pool of relevant content sources available to post and tweet from each day cuts down on the foraging work you need to do – and that saves precious time.

Some ideas for having a constant supply of content at your fingertips:

Keep Your RSS Reader Well Stocked

Subscribe via RSS to quality blogs that post quality articles – and that do it consistently. Follow at least 10 that are focused on your industry and provide info on the types of topics your audience can really sink their teeth into.

Get on Twitter

If you’ve already got an account, great! If you don’t (even if you have no intention of actively tweeting), sign up and start following Twitter users who primarily tweet about the topics you and your target market care about (To find them, search by topic or hashtag). Twitter provides a virtually endless stream of links to content. Sort through your Home Feed to find what strikes a chord and share on other social media networks.

Be Smart – Be Briefed

As a rule, I try to keep my in-box clear of e-newsletters, but SmartBriefs are an exception. Sign up for a SmartBrief specific to your industry or niche (they cover nearly every business discipline) and get a daily digest of featured blog articles, news and videos specific to your interests – delivered directly to you via a single email. Peruse the latest and greatest, pick and choose, and share the best links with your social media fans and followers.

Consistently sharing content that matters to your connections starts with having a well-planned and sufficiently substantial inventory of sources at your fingertips. You’ll need to devote some up-front time and energy to the cause, but it will pay off in the long run as save you significant amounts of both!

Your turn! Where do you find quality, relevant content to share with your fans, followers and connections on social media? Please share your tips and tricks!

 

Making Summer Work for the Home-based Solopreneur: 4 tips for balancing business and kids

In just two weeks, I’ll have my third go as the “school’s out for summer insatiable solopreneur.” As all of you home-based entrepreneurs well know, working from home can be challenging. And it becomes an even more delicate balancing act when school lets out for the summer. You no longer have a school district-prescribed window of working opportunity set into every Monday through Friday. You can no longer count on uninterrupted periods of solitude for making important calls to clients, focusing on projects and keeping up on your blog posts.

I admit it – I get a little uneasy as this time of year rolls around. I love the idea of having my daughter home with me for 9 weeks, but the contradictory aspirations of growing my business and making summer an enjoyable experience for her add an extra serving of stress to the solopreneurial plate.

This year, I’m finding it a little easier though – in part, because I know what to expect, and in part, because I’m doing a better job of planning ahead. Maybe you’ve already got a summer system in place, but if you don’t, here are a few ideas for juggling it all without letting balls drop:

  • Decide what your summer work week is going to look like.
    Take inventory of meetings that you need to attend regularly, and also decide on the weekdays and times that you’ll reserve for holding ad hoc meetings with clients and vendors. Then, if your children aren’t quite old enough to be home alone during those times, you can line up – in advance – a grandparent, friend or childcare provider who will be available  to keep your kiddo safe and entertained while you’re out on business.Also take stock of how many hours you’ll need to devote to your business each day and how you’ll work that in while your children are home.  As a freelance writer, I’m fortunate in that I’m not tied to an 8 – 5 work day. I suspect many of you have a good bit of flexibility as well. Will you need to wake up an extra 2 hours early to focus on clients’ projects without interruption? Will you need to stay up 3 hours later to stay on top of your responsibilities? After you get your kids settled in with breakfast, can you crank out an hour of work while they watch The Disney Channel or play a game on the Wii? Although your routine will routinely stray off course (and you know that WILL happen) occasionally, having a master plan will give you and your family some sense of structure during what could otherwise be complete pandemonium.
  •  Add enrichment.
    Look and you will surely find a wide array of summer programs that can give your children the opportunity to try new activities or immerse themselves in the ones they love most. The bonus is that they can give you several hours to a full day’s worth of guilt-free time to devote to your business. We enroll our daughter in an all-day local theater camp – that’s 4 weeks of the 9-week summer when I know she’s having a blast, and I can settle into business as usual.
  • Find Friends.
    It depends on your child’s and her friends’ ages, but there’s a point in time when having an additional child at the house requires less attention than if your child is there by herself. “Play dates” (Note that my kiddo would cringe if she heard me calling them that!) are often productive time for me because my daughter and her friends don’t want me hanging with them while they play with their Monster High dolls. While they’re doing their thing, I take up residence in the home office, crank out some work and attend to them when they need me.
  •  Vacation in summer.
     Taking a week’s vacation during the no-school summer months leaves you with one less week of worrying about the kids/work balancing act. Pledge to do minimal – if any at all – work while you’re gone so you can dedicate your time away to your family. If getting away isn’t in the budget, plan a week’s “stay-cation” at home when you unplug from work and focus solely on having a great time with your loved ones.
Finding the right combination of activities that translates to a successful modified work schedule may take more than one summer season to master. As you figure it out, have patience! And remember, this time-sensitive dilemma is well worth the temporary inconvenience given the year-round flexibility we enjoy as solopreneurs.

What tips and tricks do you have for keeping your business running smoothly and your kids happy during no-school months?