You know I'm a systems lover.
Well to be fair – I would LOVE to have all my systems in place.
Because when you use systems to improve your business – you're thinking bigger than just that next step you need to take.
One of those pieces was to have a clear system/company/way for me to get my website handled without any fuss. I ran into Alex's post over on LKR and from there fell into the rabbit hole of WPCurve.
I'd nearly forgotten about that long lost few hours when I suddenly experienced the loss of my web developer.
Through a series of perfectly timed emails, posts, rediscoveries, I decided to give WPCurve a try (and I'm glad I did). Of course as is always the case, I dig deeper only to find there's a shared interest in how to run your business well.
So – please welcome Alex – to the blog!
Launching a business is an enormous milestone. Congratulations!
But running your business like a well-oiled machine… phew! That’s a whole new ballgame.
Before jumping into entrepreneurship – I was a wantrepreneur. Sure – I kicked off a few businesses and made a little money on the side, but I couldn’t completely commit to doing what I knew I should. That changed in June 2013, when I moved to the USA and was benched for 3 months from applying for a job. Thank you, US immigration! Without you, I’d probably be slaving away in a day job I hated. If you’re interested in my background, you can read more here.
Back on topic – I am 100% convinced that our businesses would fail if we didn’t have systems.
As a business owner, there are a million (and one) things that you could spend your time. The problem? You might be confused about what you should do next. Should you… schedule a follow up call with a potential client? Submit your late tax return? Create some valuable content for your audience? All of the above. None of the above. Ah!
There’s no silver bullet to solve this problem, but there is a better way. Using simple systems.
In the first post of this two part series, we’ll cover two key areas you can apply these systems to improve your business on a deeper level – your time and your priorities. In part two, we’ll go even deeper into how you can use systems to boost your business and focus on what you love doing.
But before we do… let’s get crystal clear on what a system is.
A system is a set of principles or procedures, an organized scheme or a method that helps you get something done!
1 – Where do you spend your time?
I like to ask people who run their own business “Where did you spend your time?”
A lot of them say… “New business meetings” or “Building my client base”. Unfortunately… they are probably wrong.
It’s not that they are lying, it’s just that they don’t know where their time is going. Peter Drucker outlines this in the classic book, The Effective Executive. He argues:
“The first step to executive effectiveness is… to record actual time use”.
Does that mean I am suggesting you should track every minute of your day? Yes! Really? Yes. How?
Download RescueTime and install it on your computer. After a week, you’ll receive a detailed breakdown of where you’ve spent your time that week.
Now you know exactly where you spend your time and what you're doing. As it turns out, I have no excuse for spending 5 hours on Facebook.
2 – Do you organize your day?
You need to run your day instead of having it run you. The solution to this problem? A schedule.
When I spoke to Ramit Sethi about how he managed to create amazing content with a ridiculous level of consistency, he said he relied on a schedule to lock into his writing at the same time, every working day.
I also asked Elaina Loveland how she wrote two full-length books while working a full time job. The secret to her productivity was her schedule. She would lock into her work for 4 hours at least five times a week.That's 20 hours of uninterrupted, productive working time per week.
The other secret? Pretend you're on an airplane in the 90’s (before in-flight wifi was available).
I turn off my phone and disable notifications on my desktop and iPad. Then I lock in with some headphones, a cup of joe and an empty Google doc.
Even Ben Franklin rocked a daily schedule!
Whether you use Google Calendar, Outlook, iCalendar or a piece of paper – it’s very easy to set up your work day. If you haven’t done this before, here’s a great article to help get you started. I block out chunks of my time using Google Calendar and that allows me to do the things I enjoy, like writing guest posts!
Step 1 – Track your time
Step 2 – Review your weekly time report
Step 3 – Use the report to inform where you will spend your time next week
My only word of caution – don’t be too aggressive with your new targets. For example, don’t try and quit Facebook. I’ve tried and failed miserably. Each week, try and reallocate your time based on what you enjoy working on in your business.
Willpower will fail. A schedule won’t.
3 – Do you run your inbox or does your inbox run you?
I’ll wager that you spend at least some of each business day responding to customer enquiries. Do you ever find yourself writing the same response, with the only difference being the customer’s name?
If you’re a Gmail user, you can use to Google’s canned responses. This handy little extension will save you hours of time and as a bonus, prevent you from feeling email rage when you need to respond to the same question ten times a day.
If you’re a little more technical and a lot more cheeky, you can set up email autoresponders. Make sure they are a good fit for your business, as a generic autoresponder can be abrasive and scare your customers off.
Here are two autoresponder messages that caught my eye, but remember – always tailor them to your customer.
This is Allie LeFevere’s email responder. She’s got a wicked sense of humour, so her autoresponder is a perfect way to communicate that to her customers.
Subject: Thanks for the email love. I'll respond shortly — cross my heart. RE: (Your email subject line)
Awesome hearing from you! Who doesn't like notes in their inbox?
I promise I, or my assistant Mo, will respond soon, BUT in an effort to save sanity and remain efficient, emails are only checked at 7am, 10am + 4pm.
If your hair is on fire, call 9-11, but if reaching me is super important than call my cell: ###.###.####
In the meantime, go on and do something worth Instagramming.
This is the autoresponder from Tim Ferriss’ assistant – Donna. Tim is the master of batch processing and he is also great at giving people a gentle let down. This auto-responder is more advanced, but you can borrow a few tips from it. For example, if there are questions you are frequently asked but your prospects just can’t seem to locate where the answers are, let them know in your autoresponder.
Subject: Fwd: Thanks for your email — Please Note (Your email subject line)
Hi and thanks for writing in!
We really appreciate you taking the time to reach out to Tim and myself.
We receive hundreds of e-mail per day and — while we try to read everything — it's not possible for us to respond to each message. Please don't take offense if you don't hear from us; we just have to focus on the correspondence most related to our current projects.
Also, if this is a question related to the Slow-Carb Diet, you may find some appropriate answers here: [link to Tim’s blog]
Thank you for your patience and understanding!
Finally, if you’re running a bigger business – you can always look at Mailchimp, Infusionsoft or Aweber to manage your communication.
Luckily for you, Anne’s already put together an awesome post to help you find an email solution that works for you.
Then, once you schedule blocks of time to check your email, you're on the way to inbox domination!
4 – Do you filter out the noise?
If you're like me and have a limited attention span – congratulations for reading this far!
Here are a five ways that can help you stay focused.
Clean up your email subscriptions – Yes, I do want a pizza for $7.99… No, I shouldn't be reading your distracting email while I should be creating content!
Limit your options – If you're a crazy multi-tabber, try this on for size. You'll get a lot more done with 5 tabs instead of 50.
Timebox your distractions – You can set time limits on sites that have high entertainment value, but distract you from the task at hand – BuzzFeed and Pinterest, anyone?
Try out Pomodoros – Set a 25-minute limit to get through tasks helps to break up your day and as a bonus, reward yourself with regular breaks!
Google to find a “link saver” – Save those useful articles that you want to read without filling up your bookmarks. With this nifty free tool, you can save the link and come back later.
Try experimenting with a few of these tools to see what suits your working style.
5 – What’s your #1 priority, today?
Tim Ferriss recently wrote a warts and all article about productivity and prioritization. It’s a very honest and useful post that you can check out here.
On the systems side, Trello will change the way you manage your tasks. This app makes it easy to manage your workload and see what’s coming up next. If a task is too big, you can break it down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
There are multiple uses for Trello, from keeping a book reading list…
through to managing a team.
It works perfectly for WP Curve and we have five team members, including three full-time developers in different timezones.
A few other benefits of Trello:
– the iPhone and iPad apps are brilliant
– it’s free
– it’s free! That point is worth repeating!
Try it out, you won’t be disappointed.
I hope that these examples will help you increase your productivity, improve your business and how you manage your day.
I’ll be back in no time to share five more simple systems that we use at WP Curve and Content Club to help manage our 24/7 businesses.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section.
My name is Alex McClafferty and I am the co-founder of WP Curve and Content Club. WP Curve provides business owners 24/7 WordPress support for small fixes and maintenance from $69 p/m. Content Club is a private community that helps business owners get more traction on their content and build their business.
Alex McClafferty says
Hey Anne! Thanks for having me on – I hope your audience finds this useful and actionable 🙂
I’m looking forward to part 2/2 in 2014!
Anne Samoilov says
Excited to share these super simple systems with people!
Thanks for sharing Alex. 🙂
Some really great tips. I am the master of time-wastage with millions of tabs open, jumping from task to task. I really love Elaina’s idea of blocking 4 hour time blocks 5 times a week. Brilliant.
Thanks for all the other great apps and suggestions.
Diyana Alcheva says
Great article with lots of great ideas, Alex! I have been meaning to start using Trello, just haven’t gotten to it yet. I wanted to set up an editorial calendar with it. Also, just installed delicious on my chrome bar again. I haven’t used it in years, but honestly I am one of those people with 50 tabs open at all times and it’s not only slowing down my system but my productivity is suffering too. Great job on the article, looking forward to part 2.
Alex McClafferty says
Hey Marianne – glad you liked it! The trick is to make changes slowly and measure what works.
Dan and I are producing 365 pieces of content this year, so that means I am using my breakfast cooking time to record blog post content using Siri. Actually… maybe I can feature that in part 2 of this post.
Alex McClafferty says
Thanks Diyana! Delicious and Trello are both brilliant tools. Maybe you could try a tab limiter? Thanks for the follow on Twitter, too 🙂
Nice. Now that is dedicated!
Janet Kafadar says
Great post Alex, thanks so much for sharing these tips. I’ve been in learning & content consumption mode for the past 6 months as I am in the process of taking my biz in a new direction this year. The one thing I’m going to take away from this is post is to ‘stop the noise’ and clear up my inbox.