Productivity tips for small business owners: These 7 calendaring tips add productivity (and sanity) to your week
Is every week crazy-busy?
How can you add productivity – and sanity – to your week?
There’s an old saying that goes (roughly): “Sometimes you get the bear; sometimes the bear gets you.” When you’re crazy-busy, it can feel like you’re being chased by a bear – and it’s gonna get you! Often, feeling crazy-busy goes hand-in-hand with feeling stressed.
After a 25-year corporate marketing career and 10+ years owning a business, I’ve discovered that being organized goes a long way toward reducing stress and being productive. Today, as a marketing/branding consultant and copywriter for websites, blog posts, speaker one-sheets and more, I have a lot of plates spinning.
Taking time for “calendaring” helps to ensure my week is sane, organized, and productive. Calendaring helps to ensure you never miss a meeting and always complete projects on time. That’s why calendaring is one of my favorite productivity tips for small business owners.
If you spend time wading through emails and stacks of paper searching for details, are late for meetings, and stress over deadlines, then I encourage you to give these calendaring tips a try. Wouldn’t it be great to get on top of details and deadlines? Wouldn’t it be great to get the bear?
Let’s follow the “Who/What/When/Where” approach to discuss this productivity topic.
WHO: Every busy person including solopreneurs and small business owners who could add a bit of productivity (and sanity) to their lives. In fact, calendaring is one of my favorite productivity tips for small business owners, because it make a big difference in your quality of life.
WHAT: Take time for calendering every week. To me, it means carving out time to sit down, take a breath, and create a complete to-do list for the upcoming week. This starts with organizing all events in your calendar (whether it’s paper or electronic). Mark down all appointments, note all project deadlines, list priority action items, and so forth.
WHEN: I reserve time every Monday morning to organize my week. It can take a couple of hours! Do your Mondays start with “ready, set, go”? If so, consider taking time for calendaring on Friday afternoon for the upcoming week. If necessary, do this over the weekend.
WHERE: This activity requires focus – and having information and office tools at hand. I encourage you to do your calendaring at your desk in your office. That way, you have all tools handy: your phone, computer, email, electronic or paper calendar, pens, highlighters, etc.
HOW: When it comes to calendaring, here are my favorite productivity tips for small business owners:
- Create ONE list for the whole week; identify daily action items and milestones – Take time to create a complete to-do list for the upcoming week (either on paper or electronically). This includes identifying tasks and projects you MUST complete as well as those you HOPE to complete. Calendaring takes this a step beyond jotting down a simple to-do list. Whether your calendar is electronic or paper, take time to identify action items to tackle on specific days. Believe me, when you create a thorough, day-by-day action list that’s integrated with your calendar, all sorts of details will pop into your brain … important details that may otherwise get overlooked. Plus, there’s a good chance you’ll step up your productivity.
- Schedule “meetings” with yourself – Do you have a long-term project on your plate? Often, business development activities and long-term goals that are important do not have concrete or looming deadlines. Set aside time to get it done! Put this appointment in your calendar, and don’t skip it. A good example is dedicating a portion of every Monday to be “Marketing Monday” to promote and grow your business.
- At the end of every day, take time to wrangle loose ends – Write down all appointments, tasks, notes, reminders, and deadlines for the next day. Capture all details. Otherwise, these “gremlins” may wake you up at 2:00 in the morning.
- Include personal tasks on your master list – Let’s say your anniversary is next week, and you need to call in reservations at your favorite restaurant. Better make a note. Or perhaps you’re hosting a friend’s birthday party at your house. Don’t forget to order the cake. When calendaring, include important action items related to personal projects.
- This is a good opportunity to clear off your desk – While calendaring, take time to file papers, address sticky notes, and check unread emails for surprise action items.
- Send a reminder/confirmation email to meeting participants – For meetings that have been set up for the week (either in-person meetings or conference calls), send a reminder email to the participants. This helps to ensure the meeting happens as planned, and the project moves forward.
- Set alarms in your smartphone – You can set up alarms to alert you to certain high-priority activities such as meetings and doctor’s appointments. (Don’t go overboard.)
WHY: Carving out time to get organized actually buys you more time! Taking time for calendaring helps to clear your mind, reduce stress, and tackle priority projects. Without question, it makes you more productive. And you’ll be on top of details and deadlines!
Imagine no more searching for lost files, being late for important meetings, or missing project deadlines. Investing just a bit of calendaring time every week can truly add productivity – and sanity – to your work week.
This is why calendaring has become one of my favorite productivity tips for small business owners.
When Mike and I head out for a roadtrip, we usually point the car southwest. This time, we drove due west to an extremely remote section of Utah called Nine Mile Canyon. In reality, this canyon is 46 miles long. It has been dubbed “the world’s longest art museum,” thanks to many panels of historic and prehistoric rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs). Click to see a map.
Here is the gem of Nine Mile Canyon: A petroglyph panel known as “The Great Hunt”
According to signage at the site: “Scholars believe this extraordinary panel may represent an actual hunting event. … Historians believe this panel depicts a scene in late November or early December when herds of bighorn sheep meet for the fall mating season. This is the only time of the year that rams, ewes, and lambs are all together in the same place. The large trapezoidal horned figure at the top of the [petroglyph] panel is an example of a classic Fremont [culture] rock art style … circa AD 950-1200.”
Utah’s squirrely weather didn’t put a damper on our fun…
Although the weather in Colorado can be unpredictable, it seems like Utah takes the cake.
- At the entrance of Nine Mile Canyon, we encounter several inches of hail on the road. (It looks like snow in the picture, but it is hail.)
- Then the sun comes out – hallelujah! We can take time to explore, climb on the cliffs, and take tons of pix.
- Soon dark clouds roll in.
- Then the sky pelts us with rain, sleet, and snow. In just a matter of minutes, we’re walking in a winter wonderland.
- Mother Nature has one more BIG thing to throw our way: A huge boulder rolls into the middle of the road. (It was not there when we entered the canyon!)
Here’s a sampling of what you can discover in Nine Mile Canyon
Note the variety of rock art styles and images including a horse and rider (wearing a headdress), which dates to historic times. Keep in mind that the Spanish brought horses to America, so this type of image helps to date certain petroglyph panels. Other images are undoubtably prehistoric.
All photos by Patrice Rhoades-Baum, except the shot of me exploring the cliff (on the hunt for more rock art), taken by Michael Baum.
They procrastinate, get stressed out, get writer’s block, and suffer through the first draft. Their editing process is more “critical” than “critique.” The words do not flow, and they are NOT having a good time.
For me, thanks to 3 decades of marketing and copywriting experience, writing marketing content comes fairly easily. It’s still a hefty project, mind you. But (thankfully) there’s not a lot of pain and suffering involved.
Right now, I’m immersed in writing several sales landing pages. The copy is flowing (thankfully). I just realized the reason why it’s flowing: Over the years, I’ve internalized these 3 secrets to writing marketing content.
Here are my 3 secrets to writing marketing content:
Secret #1. Follow the “itch-and-scratch” approach.
This is an extremely useful tool to have in your writing toolkit. Here’s how it works:
THE ITCH: Write the first few sentences of copy to directly address your prospects’ needs, challenges, or struggles.
THE SCRATCH: Write copy that directly speaks to the results – the relief they get – with the products or services you deliver.
Here’s an example:
THE ITCH: Are you embarrassed by your outdated website and mismatched marketing tools?
THE SCRATCH: Team with our skilled designers to create polished, professional marketing collateral, including a strategic website. You’ll enjoy this exciting, stress-free process. And you’ll love the results!
Secret #2. Use the word YOU.
Writing sentences that start with the word “YOU” helps to clearly present benefit messages. This is a must when writing ALL types of marketing content including website copy. (Note that you are “speaking” to an individual person, not a group of people magically reading your content in unison.)
Here’s an example:
In this interactive workshop, your sales reps will learn a proven process to hit their sales goals, month after month.
“YOU” is a hardworking little word. It practically guarantees that your marketing content clearly presents “what you get” – the benefits and results your prospects will receive when they team with you.
Secret #3. Tap into the reader’s emotions.
As I thought about one of the sales landing pages I was about to write, I realized that prospects who need this product are feeling confused, stuck, and overwhelmed. As I wrote the copy, I addressed these feelings from beginning to end. Essentially, I kept my finger on the pulse.
When writing marketing content, take a minute to think deeply about your potential buyers. How are they feeling? What are the emotions they struggle with – the emotions that might drive them to purchase the particular service or product you are selling?
Here’s a helpful list of emotions, as a start:
Frustrated, overwhelmed, confused, unclear/foggy, feeling stuck, feeling pressured to make the right choice, scared, feelings of inadequacy, flustered, floundering, fear of wasting time, fear of wasting money, fear of failure, fear of making the wrong choice
Follow these 3 secrets to writing marketing content for your next project. Hopefully, there will be no pain and suffering – and a lot more flow!
A colleague asked for feedback on a web page she wrote for a business in the healthcare industry. It was well written, and her main point was clear. However, the content focused on the business, not the reader. In 6 paragraphs, the words we and our appeared 18 times. The words you and your were few and far between.
Why was this an issue? Because the content stressed “Here’s what we do.” The benefit messages – “Here’s what you get” – simply were not clear.
The reader would need to puzzle out: “This business says it offers X. Now I must determine if that will provide the benefits or results I’m looking for.” This may not seem too difficult, but guess what? Most likely, the reader will not take time to connect the dots.
In website content and other marketing copy, you must clearly spell out the benefits and results the reader (your prospect) will receive from your products or services.
I encouraged my colleague to shift her content from “WE-focused” to “YOU-focused.” For example:
- WE-focused: As a Level II trauma center, we provide specialized care, and we can handle any emergency.
- Rewritten to be YOU-focused: In an emergency, you can rely on the specialized care of our Level II trauma center. (Notice that the content speaks directly to the reader.)
Here’s another example, commonly found on the “About Us” page on a business website:
- WE-focused: We have provided reliable, award-winning products and services since 1999. Plus, we offer 24×7 customer service.
- Rewritten to be YOU-focused: Since 1999, customers like you have turned to us for reliable, award-winning products and services. Plus, if you need assistance, our 24×7 customer service team is always here for you. (Again, the content speaks directly to the individual reader.)
TIP: Using the word “YOU” helps to clearly present benefit messages – a must when writing website content and other marketing copy.
When you put the focus on your reader, he or she will instantly grasp your benefit messages without needing to puzzle out “How does this relate to me? Can this business meet my needs? Should I contact this business, or should I look elsewhere?”
QUICK QUIZ: Is your writing WE-focused or YOU-focused? Take this simple test to find out!
- Print a page from your website.
- Grab a red pen. Circle the words we and our in red. Now count them, and write down the number.
- Grab a blue pen. Circle the words you and your in blue. Now count them, and write down the number.
How did you do?
Ideally, you’ll have at least twice the number of the words you and your versus we and our. If not, rework sentences to incorporate the word “YOU.”
Remember, using the word “YOU” puts the focus on your reader (your prospect) – not on your business.
“YOU” is a hardworking little word. It practically guarantees that your website content and other marketing copy will clearly present “what you get” – the benefits and results your prospects will receive when they team with you.
Archaeological field trip at Fort Carson’s Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site
Our local chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society got a rare treat: A guided tour of prehistoric sites in the normally inaccessible Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado. We were encouraged to poke around to discover rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs), dwellings, food-storage granaries, and scattered stone and ceramic artifacts. Many are approximately 1,000 years old.
Unfortunately, no actual live rattlers were sighted. I say “unfortunately” because I insist that a rattlesnake sighting proves you’re having an adventure. ;>
Here’s a primer on prehistoric southeastern Colorado:
- Throughout prehistoric times, multiple cultures (groups of people) competed for resources (water, plants, and animals) in southeastern Colorado.
- Approximately 1,000 years ago, during what is now called the Diversification Period, agriculture was just getting a foothold in southeastern Colorado. Some cultures were sedentary farmers who stayed year-round. They constructed permanent dwellings in hut-like structures and rock shelters (“caves”) in the rugged outcroppings and ridges. An example is the Apishapa Culture, named after the Apishapa River in southeastern Colorado.
- Other cultures – hunter-gatherers and cross-country traders – moved through the area and often raided the farming communities. They did not construct permanent dwellings, and they made camp in the wide-open valleys. An example is the Barnes Culture, named after an archaeologist who surveyed and excavated these sites.
- Most of the rock art (petroglyphs and pictographs), dwellings, and artifacts we found dated to the Diversification Period, which was about 500 to 900 years ago (approximately 1100 to 1500 AD).
Do you know…
- What is the difference between a petroglyph and a pictograph? Petroglyphs are pecked into the stone (as the rattlesnake rock art image above). Pictographs are painted on stone with long-lasting pigments.
- What do you do when you find a historic or prehistoric artifact? You can carefully pick it up, look at it, and take a picture – then you must put it back down. You never, ever keep it. This is ethical and responsible. And it’s the law.
- Why did I need to receive permission from Fort Carson to publish the following images? Because we must be careful not to divulge the location of ancient sites and artifacts. In fact, I was asked not to share the image of a certain pictograph, because it is considered sacred to several American Indian tribes.
All photos by Patrice Rhoades-Baum except the image of Patrice (on the lookout for more rock art!), taken by Michael Baum.
Mike and I celebrated his birthday by spending a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park – a gem in the National Park System. We should not have been surprised by the crowds (but we were) – after all, it was the middle of July on the 100th anniversary of the National Park System!
After negotiating parking and shuttle logistics to access trailheads, we marched up to the Alpine Life Zone at an elevation of about 11,500 feet. Here, at timberline, wildflowers bob in the cool breeze, streams of icy water glitter in the bright sun, and clouds scuttle across the deep-blue sky, casting shadows on rugged mountain peaks.
No crowds up here – just a few other adventurers from around the world, treasuring every facet of this sparkling gem.
Here are a few of my favorite photos. Enjoy!
(All photos by Patrice Rhoades-Baum, unless otherwise noted.)
Write marketing and website content that is visual (something the reader can picture) to ensure your message is clear and memorable.
Early in my career, an experienced writer advised me to write copy that enables readers to visualize a picture. I’ve boiled it down to this phrase:
“If they can’t SEE it, they won’t get it.”
In other words, if your readers cannot form a picture in their mind:
- They might gloss over your words.
- They might not fully comprehend the meaning.
- They might not remember your message.
How do you write marketing and website content that is visual and memorable?
Seek to use as much visual language in your writing as possible, particularly in examples, similes, and metaphors – and by using powerful verbs. Try to make your content tangible, almost “touchable.” If you close your eyes, can you see a picture?
Even if you’re writing about a topic that is fairly abstract, conceptual, or technological, you can still strive to make a point with visual words and ideas.
This copy is for an imaginary speaker who leads workshops to improve team communication and productivity.
“Poor communication in a team contributes to rework, missed deadlines, and conflict. Enhanced communication among team members directly results in enhanced productivity.”
Notice how you gloss over the message?
“Poor communication in a team is like tossing a wrench into the works, which leads to mishaps and general mayhem! The results are reworked projects, missed deadlines, and conflict. On the other hand, clear and consistent communication leads to a highly productive team that runs like a well-oiled machine.”
If you close your eyes, can you see a picture?
“Many personality tests given to teams offer confusing results and advice. This workshop presents a new personality test that identifies key strengths to show how each person is an asset to the team.”
“Many personality tests given to teams offer murky results with nebulous advice. This workshop presents a new personality test that shines a spotlight on key strengths, illuminating how each person is an asset to the team.”
It’s YOUR turn. Take 2 minutes to complete this quick exercise. Rewrite the first sentence to make it more visual. Post your sentence on this blog – I’d love to read your idea!
“Personality conflicts in the workplace are damaging and counterproductive – and distract from strategic projects. In this workshop, your team will learn 5 steps to resolve personality conflicts.”
(See the bottom of this blog post for my solution.)
Some final advice …
When you write marketing and website content, don’t use similes and metaphors ad nauseam. Also, avoid mixed metaphors. Here’s an example: “On our cruise, we went overboard on the buffet. To work off the extra calories, we joined every exercise class and sweated like horses.”
Here’s my solution for the EXERCISE:
“Personality conflicts in the workplace can crush team spirit, sabotage productivity, and overthrow strategic projects. In this workshop, your team will learn 5 steps to resolve personality conflicts.”
Coming up next: How to edit marketing and website copy for visual appeal and to make it more readable
Look what happens when you pull together a group of talented people with a vision…
Add inspiration. Toss in a hefty serving of dedication. Then stir it up for about 30 years!
You get NSA/Colorado – one of the most robust chapters in the National Speakers Association. (Actually, we think we’re the BEST chapter!)
More than 30 years ago, Joe and Judy Sabah formed the Colorado Chapter of the National Speakers Association. (Click HERE to learn more about the chapter’s history.)
During the May 6 end-of-year celebration, I was honored to receive the “Sabah Award” for serving NSA/Colorado – a vibrant group of can-do entrepreneurs.
Here’s a big “thank you” to my fellow members serving on the Board of Directors, everyone who steps forward as a volunteer, and to all our members.
Let’s stir things up for another 30 years! :>
Deep in the rugged canyons of southeastern Colorado, hidden between giant boulders and a jagged ledge, is “Zookeeper.”
About 1,000 years ago, a primitive artist (or artists) pecked a stunning mural into a golden sandstone wall. Known as the Zookeeper Site, this rock art panel consists of one mysterious human figure surrounded by 47 wild animals. Is the mystery man a shaman? Or a hunter? Does this petroglyph panel celebrate a successful hunt? Or express hope for future successful hunts?
Here’s what my friend Lawrence L. Loendorf says about the “Zookeeper” figure in his book Thunder and Herds: Rock Art of the High Plains:
“Shown in full-frontal view, the figure has an elongated, ovoid body to which an inverted set of U-shaped legs is attached. Its straight arms project away from the body, and each ends in four disproportionately large, splayed fingers. Attached to the anthropomorphic figure’s right hand is a set of grid-like crossed lines that are larger than the figure itself. The object’s frayed ends suggest it might be a net or snare – or some sort of object of power.”
Here are details of The Zookeeper petroglyph panel. (Unless otherwise noted, all photos by Patrice Rhoades-Baum)
Proofreading can be trickier than you think – and more important than you realize.
Here are my favorite, real-world proofreading tips:
8 proven ways to proof your writing – and polish your content.
Using my smartphone, I typed a friend’s name in a Facebook post. AutoCorrect changed her last name – Rappisi – to Rapist. OMG!
Thankfully, I caught and corrected this before posting the message. But it’s an ongoing battle.
In a text message to a potential art buyer, AutoCorrect changed the title of my husband’s painting from “Twilight at the Butte” to “Twilight at the Butt.” Yikes!
Thanks to AutoCorrect, more typos than ever slip by. And that’s not ok.
As business owners, we want clients and colleagues to view us as professionals and experts. And rightly so – we’ve earned our stripes.
But typo-filled texts, emails, and marketing tools tarnish that image.
That’s why it’s vital to proofread ALL your correspondence: every text message, email, and Facebook post.
Also, as a 3-decade copywriter and marketing professional, you can guess that I strongly encourage solopreneurs to carefully proof their marketing tools: website, speaker one-sheet, social media profiles, articles, blog posts, email newsletters, and so forth.
Here are my favorite proofreading tips – tried and true:
- Take time to proof & make it a habit – Always re-read what you’ve written before you hit “post” or “send.” Just a few seconds can save you from embarrassing miscommunication.
- Change the type style – This is a simple trick that really works! If you’re drafting content using Calibri or Arial, change the font to Times New Roman. By switching to a type style that is quite different (sans-serif versus serif), you can proofread with a fresh eye.
- Print it out – After you’ve drafted your article, blog post or email newsletter, print it and read the paper copy. You’ll be surprised how much difference this makes! Somehow this offers a level of objectivity you simply can’t get when viewing the monitor.
(While proofing this page, I noticed my habit of using my index finger as a pointer, focusing my eye on one word at a time. Sometimes I overlay a blank sheet of paper to focus attention on one line of text at a time.)
- Read it aloud – Read your writing out loud, slowly and carefully (either on paper or on the screen). Minimize distractions and stay focused. This proofreading tip seems to force your brain to slow down and really look at every word.
- Walk away for a day – Write your content, then leave it for a day or two. When you come back, you’ll read your copy with a fresh eye. Use this proofreading tip to ensure your proposals and contracts are 100% accurate.
- Take full advantage of spellcheck – Turn on spell checkers and grammar checkers in your email program, Microsoft Word, your blogging program, and other writing programs you use. You can specify options! I recently adjusted advanced AutoCorrect and spellcheck options in Outlook. (In my version of Outlook, this is under File/Options/Mail/Editor Options.)
- Read 3 times, wearing 3 different “hats” – To ensure your writing delivers an on-target message that hits the mark, first read the copy as if you’re a prospect or client. The next hat you wear is proofreader: Read to check spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Finally, you’re the editor: Red pen in hand, seek ways to clarify the message and reduce word count.
- Pair up – Every so often, my husband Mike and I will pair up to proofread something that absolutely must be accurate (e.g., a list of passwords). One person reads the on-screen content out loud, while the other person proofs the printed page.
- BONUS: You won’t believe this proofreading tip! – Read your content backward, word for word. I’ve met writers who use this tactic. While I’ve never done this, I can see how you would catch typos (although you could miss homophones such as their/there and it’s/its).
- FINAL THOUGHTS, BASED ON 3 DECADES AS A PROFESSIONAL WRITER – It’s a fact of life: typos will slip in. Do your best to avoid them. When you spy a typo, fix it and move on. Don’t beat yourself up. Just remind yourself to take time to proof your content and make it a habit.
Try my proofreading tips – they work! Take it from a professional copywriter who has earned her stripes. (Ask me about “a pole was taken.”) :>