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How to maintain peak performance when growing a small business

Lubna Somjee, Ph.D. Clinical and Health Psychologist/Executive Coach and Business Strategy Consultant

Running a business, whether you are a sole proprietor or own a large business, is not for the faint of heart. Given the numerous demands of a business, it is easy for even the savviest of business owners to become run down, and not be able to work at peak performance.

Depending on the size of your business and type of business, many business owners work an average of 50-80 plus hours a week. They make decisions daily that impact an entire organization. They oversee customer or patient satisfaction. They may manage employees - sometimes difficult employees, work on planning and strategy, are involved in purchasing, accounting, marketing, sales, assess efficiency and safety, and ensure they are complying with state or federal laws. They are also constantly dealing with ever changing financial issues. It can very quickly feel like a whirlwind.

Businesses are recognizing the need for engaged employees. Employee engagement is related to meaningful business outcomes including increased quality and productivity of work, and ultimately sustained growth of a business including increased revenue and lower costs.

It is particularly crucial business owners, from sole-proprietors to large businesses owners also remain engaged, in part by maintaining personal peak performance and subsequently help businesses thrive. Many business owners are driven, have a strong work ethic, possess an entrepreneurial spirit, are persistent, bright and hard working. These necessary qualities can sometimes turn into a liability if you are unable to remain engaged and unable to manage the overload associated with owning a business. Managing work overload gives you the edge by allowing you to be responsive to business challenges, versus simply reactive.

What can happen if you do not manage the overload? At work, this can translate to decreased productivity, increased errors, difficulty thinking critically, diminished relationships with employees, and missed days due to mental health or medical problems. We know health related illness costs are 50% higher for executives/leaders over other level employees. If a business owner does not manage their stress, they risk their long-term effectiveness which can result in burnout, difficulty responding to market forces, poor employee morale, and ultimately customer or patient service can be compromised, leading to decreased revenue.

So, how can you remain engaged and maintain peak performance in order to build a sustainable company? There is no one formula or strategy that works for everyone. Strategies will differ based on your temperament, how you respond to stress, and your particular stress triggers. Additionally, the type of business or industry you are in, paired with the history of your business, will also determine your personal toolkit to managing stress. However, there are some basics to maintaining peak performance and - maintaining the longevity of your business.


Do prioritize

In theory, every business owner could be working on their business around the clock! There is much to do in order to run the day to day operations of a business, put out fires, and improve and grow your business. It is crucial to develop a list each morning of priorities for the day, in order of their value and benefit to your company. Be clear about your top three goals for the day and then work down from there.

Ideally you would have two lists: The first is tackling the day to day operations of your business. You may get derailed by putting out fires, but the list can help re-orient you once the fire is put out and help you focus on what needs to be accomplished that day.

The second list should focus on your long-term plans for the business and what steps need to be taken to work to towards your vision. Significant time and energy is taken up by day to day operations and little time is taken for strategizing around how to strengthen and grow your business. This second list might be something you devote less time to during the day, but be sure to carve out that time to focus on long-term planning.

Do work smart

You have to work hard when you are a business owner, but working smart can help save time. Assuming you have no immediate fires to put out, take a few minutes to develop your priority list for the day. Tackle the most important issue when you get to work, then alternate with easier, more mundane, or briefer tasks to help you maintain your momentum. When a non-urgent item pops up, resist the urge to attend to right away and relegate it to later in the day once you have accomplished your important tasks.

Try and limit calls, emails, texts, and social media to certain times of the day. It is easy to get sucked into these particular tasks and find yourself with not enough time to address other aspects of your business. If you have meetings, be clear about what you want to have accomplished by the end of the meeting and what it will take to get there. When you can, delegate or enlist others to help you.

Do schedule

Carry a calendar that holds your meetings, your tasks for the day, including brainstorming, when you plan to do them, as well as thoughts about your business. This schedule would include long-term goals for your business and the small steps and timeline to ensure they happen. You may veer off course as you attend to unexpected situations. However, having a calendar is a nice way to orient yourself back to efficiency.

Additionally, your schedule should include mini-breaks during the day, as well as what your time looks like outside of work. This would include all your personal commitments such as your family, friends, hobbies, exercise or down time. The more you plan for them, the more likely you are to follow through. Making time for your personal life can only help maintain peak performance. Think of yourself as a car that is driven at high speeds and never downshifts - eventually that car is going to wear down and parts will degrade - quickly. Cars need maintenance to maintain performance - and so do you.

Do take breaks

Yes, you are busy. Yes, you have many important tasks to complete each day. And yes, if you push yourself without breaks you will burn out, which will ultimately impact your businesses bottom line. If you are healthy, your business will be healthy. Try and take a lunch away from your desk - even if it’s for 15/20 minutes to eat in peace in another chair, room or even outside your workplace. Try and schedule a brief break in the morning and afternoon. A five minute break relaxing, turning off technology and not thinking about work, will allow you to return to work with a clear mind and more available to tackle the day. Learn some quick and easy tools you can use to relax during this time.

Do transition time

Take a few minutes at the end of your work day to assess what you were able to accomplish, what tasks still needs to be done, and what you need to focus on tomorrow - keeping in mind the short-term and long-term needs of your business. This can help you the next day in deciding how you want to prioritize your tasks. At the end of your work day, decompress when transitioning to your personal life - perhaps by engaging in a ritual: taking a shower, changing your clothes, having a cup of tea, reading, or working out. This can help clear your mind - and will allow you to enjoy your down time and return to work with a clear and focused mind the next day.


Do not ignore professional development

Networking with others in a similar field or industry can be invaluable. Isolating yourself professionally can lead to stagnation and adds to stress. Join professional organizations in your industry, your local Chamber of Commerce or your small business association. Go to networking events, or attend business seminars/webinars in areas you might need help with. Get a coach or consultant depending on the needs of your business. In addition, look for mentors - formal or informal. Mentors can go a long way towards helping you stay focused, clear, help buffer against the overload of a business, and ultimately help you professionally.

Do not forget time off

It is difficult to take breaks from work, including vacations, especially if you run a smaller business. However, taking time away is key to health, so plan some time away in advance. This could include a vacation away from home, or it could be taking an afternoon or day off and staying home to recharge. We all need breaks.

Think about holding up a glass of water. Many of us do this daily without much thought. What if we held the glass up for five minutes, thirty minutes, one hour, or a day. We don’t think much about holding a glass of water for a few minutes, but over time it becomes burdensome. Our muscles begin to get tired, then ache and after a while we are in pain. When we are overloaded, it wears us down and at some point we need to put down our burden and take a break.

Do not forget to set limits

If you work at home or take work home, set a time limit on how long you will work, what you will work on, and a specific area in the house you will work in. Otherwise, it is easy to find your work spilling over throughout the entire day and evening. It is important to disconnect from work completely and be present in the rest of your life. Not only does this contribute to good health, but it also allows you to return to work refreshed and positions you to tackle things efficiently and effectively.

Think about students studying for an exam. Studying for 5 hours straight may seem more efficient than taking 15 minute breaks each hour. However, at the end of the five hours straight, your brain is unable to process information efficiently, you are losing focus and overwhelmed by the information. Stepping away from the material gives you time to clear your mind and come back better able to focus.

Do not ignore thoughts

Your thoughts about yourself and your workplace play a huge role in the performance of your organization. Your thoughts ultimately impact your behavior, or how you act. Your thoughts can also be quite contagious and impact the overall culture or morale of your workplace. Be aware, or mindful, of your day to day thinking as this can be an asset when it comes to your business.

We all engage in faulty thinking - know what your triggers are and what the pattern is to your faulty thinking. For example, how do you view yourself as a business owner? Do you have thoughts about yourself that are healthy, do you tend to denigrate yourself, or perhaps over-inflate your business acumen? How do you view your employees? Do you tend to blame them for everything or minimize their mistakes? How do you view day to day events - do you tend to discount the positives or do you assume that how you feel is reality without digging to see if it’s accurate? Do you tend to over generalize when things go wrong and feel as if everything is going wrong? Do you tend to catastrophize?

When you engage in faulty thinking, you will ultimately act on your thoughts as if they are true, and this can lead to problems with your business. If you never trust your employees, this may lead to micromanaging and losing talent within your organization. If you doubt yourself, you may never take calculated risks to grow your business.

Do not ignore basics

Remember to sleep at a consistent time, eat healthfully, and find time to exercise, spend time with people you enjoy, and do things that are replenishing (not television and social media). The basics, when done consistently, are a step towards not only stress management but according to research, disease management as well.

Develop a personalized health plan and list all the steps it will take to get there. Schedule in when you will take the steps, how, what may get in the way, and how to manage roadblocks. If you are healthy mentally and medically, you can avoid burnout, and more importantly, maintain peak performance - your business will reflect this.

Jumping cartoon

As a leader and business owner there are many skill sets to acquire, one of which is learning how to maintain peak performance. It is pivotal to do this in part by managing overload so you can function at optimal levels. Improving your performance for the long-term is ultimately dependent on the specifics of who you are as well as your business. These basic strategies are helpful as a first step. Obtaining a more personalized blueprint to developing peak performance can be done with a coach or consultant, depending on your needs.

It may take some time and effort to implement these strategies, but the return on investment is significant to your health, and the health of your company. Remember: your health and well-being will ultimately be reflected in your company. Pick one to start - which one will you pick?

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Lubna Somjee, Ph.D.Clinical and Health Psychologist/Executive Coach and Business Strategy Consultant

Dr. Somjee is a licensed psychologist with extensive training and experience in evidence based clinical and health psychology services. She provides treatment for adults and adolescents with a wide variety of emotional and medical concerns. ...

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