Wouldn’t it be great to spring out of bed and get to work every day feeling fresh, exuding energy and smiling with confidence because your business is succeeding and you love your job?
Well let’s face it. Life doesn’t always work like that.
No matter how much time you spend keeping your spirits high, and no matter how well your business runs, life is going to throw obstacles in your way. Whether it’s a difficult customer, a child with chicken pox or the sad demise of a much-loved family pet, now and then there’ll always be stressful times when you’d rather stay in bed.
Times like these can seriously reduce your productivity and when you’re a soloist, they can really hurt your bottom line.
The first thing to do is to accept that that’s just the way life is.
Next, put together a plan for how you’re going to handle it next time something like this happens to you. Ideally, this should be done at a time when you’re feeling buoyant and everything is going swimmingly. Think of it as a crisis management plan or a form of insurance against unforeseen stress.
One of the most damaging aspects of these low energy periods is the loss of focus. You might find yourself drifting from job to job, or being distracted by emails and phone calls, working re-actively rather than pro-actively.
An action plan to stay productive spoon-feeds you your daily schedule, removing the need to make decisions about what to work on, and reducing the chance that you’ll get stuck drifting from distraction to distraction.
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When I’m distracted from my business by stressful times in the rest of my life, I use three types of action plans to ensure I keep putting one foot in front of the other and making progress towards my goals, even if it’s at a slower pace than normal:
- A strategic plan for the bigger picture, which mainly includes marketing and administration
- A standard template for each of our projects, which lists tasks that are common for each job
- A set of regular admin jobs that need to be performed daily or weekly
None of these plans is overly detailed, because the last thing I need to do during stressful times is spend too much time distracting myself further by creating To do lists.
Examples of tasks on my action plans include:
- Follow up all active quotes
- Review and re-write templates
- Complete one task from my marketing to-do list
I don’t think lists should define your working life, and for me, trying to structure my day too precisely is counter productive, but these action plans do provide a gentle guide, and in times of distraction provide a very useful reference point to get me back on track.
My little lists give me small achievable tasks to do that I know fit into my larger plan. When I’m staring at my monitor with a blank mind and feeling a complete lack of inspiration, I pull out my back-up list.
I don’t need to make any decisions, I just need to find the next item on the list and focus on getting a tick in the check box next to it. On a really bad day, sometimes that one little tick next to an important task can feel like an enormous achievement – the difference between staying productive and making progress and wasting a day.
How do you ride out life’s stressful times? Do you have a plan that helps you cope or do you go into free fall and sort out the mess when it’s all over?