I was recently talking to a business owner who has really been struggling to get ahead. They have been working 80-plus hours a week and burning the candle at both ends. They weren’t sleeping, they barely saw their family, and, as time progressed, they appeared to make even less progress each week than they did the week before. In fact, when we spoke, they were really considering throwing in the towel and giving up.
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As much as I would love to say that this is an isolated case, it’s one that I hear almost every day with business owners. The more you work, the more scattered your thoughts become and you become prone to making poor business decisions. Those decisions lead to underperformance, which then pushes you to work even harder, which leads to even more scattered thinking–and the negative reinforcement loop continues over and over again. So, today I want to share my tips on how to stop the negative reinforcement loop once and for all and start making real, measurable progress on your business.
There is only so much that you can physically do. Working extra hours when you are already exhausted isn’t going to help. So my first piece of advice is to take a break. In an ideal situation, you should be taking time off every quarter to rest and recoup, but if you don’t think your business is ready for such an extended vacation, start off small. Take a Friday off and head to the beach. Take a long lunch to catch up with a friend or family member. Go home at 5, even if you still have things on your to-do list. They will still be there in the morning, but you will be refreshed and have more energy and brain power to tackle the things that need to get done.
One of the biggest reasons that business owners experience negative reinforcement loops is that they don’t have a clear idea of what they should be spending their time on. They are overwhelmed by the constant demands set in front of them. Emails, messages, and social media bombard their daily lives. They are asked to spend their days putting out fires, and it becomes rewarding to do the small insignificant tasks on their to-do list, because they get a dopamine rush from being able to finally mark something as complete. But at the end of the day, the real work, the things that propel your business forward, aren’t getting done. So you are stuck in a loop of unproductive busy work. Getting clear on what you need to do each day will help break the cycle and help you focus on the things that will improve your business.
Once you are clear on what needs to be done, and what can be delegated or skipped altogether, you need to take it one step further and prioritize. Let’s say you have five things on your list today that demand your time and attention. Take it even further and pick the one thing that would have the biggest impact on your business and your bottom line and do that one thing as soon as you get to the office. Now, regardless of the rest of your day, you have done the most important thing you could do for your business. And knowing that you were successful will fuel you to do a second or even third thing on your to-do list.
Thus effectively breaking the negative reinforcement loop.
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