How to maximize productivity in your one-person business

Laura Stack — №19 with Chris Brogan

If you’re a Dilbert fan—or if you’ve read any number of business textbooks—then you’ve probably heard the “work smarter, not harder” mantra countless times (and might feel like throwing up if you hear it again). This is kind of a silly phrase, because in reality, entrepreneurs succeed in business when they do both. It is especially true if you run your own one-person business. I’ve been in business for 22 years, and yes, I’ve worked hard; however, I’ve also implemented every force multiplier I could find. Success as a “solopreneur” requires efficiency and stamina.

The following critical force multipliers will help you boost your productivity and business performance.

Focus on your most important tasks

As a solopreneur, you’ll want to focus on those tasks or activities that you know translate into profits and that only you are capable of doing. Do your best to screen out distractions while doing them, focusing on one thing at a time. If possible, work on these high-value tasks when you have the most energy and highest brain power, whether that occurs first thing in the morning or the middle of the day, then straighten out your priorities and schedule accordingly.

When deadlines loom, you’ll need to isolate yourself from most social interaction to limit distraction. For many of us, a perfectly quiet room works best; others find ambient sound, the local Starbucks, or quiet music a better option. When you have to focus, lock your office door, let calls roll over to voicemail, and turn off your email alerts. Ignore social media altogether for the duration. I check myself into a hotel for a weekend to write my books a few times a year; the silence and solitude are golden for productivity.

Discipline yourself

If you can’t apply yourself constantly and consistently to your job—whether you want to or not—you won’t be as successful in business. Just because you have the flexibility to work when and as you like doesn’t mean you can play hooky at will.

Without self-discipline, you can’t achieve focus and manage your time effectively. When you learn to avoid acting on impulse and become ruthless at shutting out distractions, maximizing productivity will start to come much more naturally. It may require a great deal of effort for you to fully stop procrastinating, but it’s worth every second. It can help you take full control of your time and your work-life, helping you wring every bit of productivity out of both without destroying your health and sanity in the process.

Routine can be your best friend here. Whenever you allocate time for a task, do your best to set it in stone. Refuse to compromise your routines, because they allow you to maximize your productivity. When you slip, be sure to get back on the horse right away. If nothing else, promise yourself you’ll do a little more work before taking a break. Try to focus for another 15 minutes, and you may find that you’ll have no problem with continuing work once you’ve gotten warmed up. Even if you don’t, you’ll have made a little progress.

Give yourself a little reward — a brief break, or a run to the coffeepot — then come back and start on the next task. In time, it’ll become easier to stay on schedule and fall into productive mode whenever you need to, as long as you manage to keep blocking other potential distractions.

Play to your strengths

While it would be nice to do only what you love for a living, that doesn’t always put butter on your bread. Solo entrepreneurs have it better than most, of course, since they usually already enjoy what they do. If you don’t already love your work, then find a way to love at least your most profitable tasks. You may have to “fake it until you make it,” as the saying goes, but once you get there you’ll find it much easier to keep throwing yourself into the fray every day. Focus becomes easier, which ups your productivity and optimism.

It’s a lot easier to love what you do well, so always to play to your strengths. Once you’ve determined what you do best, find ways to leverage those skills in everything you do, and hone them to expert levels. You can tap into other ways of accomplishing the tasks you’re weak in or dislike.

Outsource the excess

You can’t do everything, so you have no choice but to delegate the excess work. When you’re a solopreneur, you must outsource. With a whole world of people just a click away on the internet, outsourcing has become simpler than ever. You can hire people to do your accounting, graphics, IT services, payment processing, social media, database management, inventory, fulfillment, etc. This will help you control costs and increase efficiency, making it easier to compete with larger companies while you play to your strengths and focus on what matters most.

Outsourcing does have its drawbacks. You have to maintain a high level of accountability and make sure your outsourcers provide what they promised when they promised. Ask for regular reporting and arrange set times when you can contact them, especially if they work on another continent.

The bottom line

Wearing all the hats in your business can be like a circus act, where you juggle a dozen balls while riding a unicycle. But if you dedicate yourself to maximizing efficiency and implement force-multiplying tips like those I’ve outlined here, you can do it. All it takes is running your one-person business like it’s a three-person business, which you can do if you put in some effort. You’ll still have to work hard, but it will get easier over time.

Check out The Productivity Minute video series with Laura Stack.

Laura's video series

Photo: Flickr / pam’s pics- CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Laura stack

Laura Stack

Laura Stack is America’s premier expert in productivity. For over 20 years, her speeches have helped entrepreneurs, leaders, teams, and organizations improve output, lower stress, and save time at work and in life. Her company, The Productivity Pro®, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®.

Laura's The Productivity Pro® Follow @LauraStack on Twitter Get Laura's book - What to do when there is too much to do?