Improve productivity by taking time off

December is the month where being an entrepreneur really hits home for me.

As a child this was the greatest time of year. I mentally checked out of school early in the month, and for the most part my teachers accounted for that and let the class coast into the holidays.

As an employee it wasn’t much different. When I was pumping gas or selling computers, the workload was more intense around the holidays, but only physically. It was easy to spend the 8 hours daydreaming at most of those early jobs. Even if the work was hard, it wasn’t my business. As soon as my feet left the building my mind stopped thinking about work. Sure, I’d replay some of the highs and lows of the day, but I wasn’t up late thinking about my next shift.

As a business owner, things are different...much different. The end of the year is when I think about my business the most. My body desperately wants to close the doors on the 15th and leave them closed until the Christmas trees are long gone. My mind, however, has a different plan. It wants to review the past 12 months, look for ways to increase revenue, decrease costs, test out new apps, redesign the website, and otherwise drive my body further into the grave.

Of course, this is on top of keeping up with the regular day to day work, buying gifts, scheduling visits with family, and adjusting to kids “in my office” 24/7.

The plan.

My plan of attack is simple, and has served me well over the past few years. If you struggle with this time of year, regardless of what holidays you do or don’t celebrate, I hope these tips will serve you well.

1. Close up shop

If at all possible, close up your business for the last week of the year. If you are reading this and you run a Best Buy...sorry, this advice is completely useless. I have a feeling, though, that many of you run service-based businesses. Whether you write code, balance books, or blog full time...you run a business that isn’t directly tied to the holiday retail rush.

If that’s you, many of your clients won’t be around during that last week either. Take advantage of this by getting as much of your client work wrapped up in the first 3 weeks. Be sure to let them know you’ll be away, and stick to the plan.

2. Shut down

Take at least 2 of those days and don’t do ANYTHING related to work. Many of you beginner workaholics will find this to be blasphemy, but us seasoned vets know it’s during this downtime that the real magic happens. If you usually work 6-7 days a week your mind never gets the chance to wander. I find it’s during these times that I get my best ideas. More importantly, I have the time and attention to write them down and give them proper attention.

Get your favourite drink, sit in your favourite chair, and zone out for as long as your life will permit. Play a video game, listen to music, read a book, watch a movie, or just hang out with friends and family.

I’m a big music junkie, but throughout the week I limit my listening to instrumental tracks so I can focus on work. This is the time I break out some albums I haven’t heard yet. The loud, obnoxious stuff that is terrible as a backdrop to bank reconciliations.

Obviously your mileage may vary. I bet there’s a game you’ve been dying to play, or the 3.5 hour extended cut of a movie you could never find the time to watch.

I mean, I’d rather you took these breaks on a regular basis, but I know that’s a lot to ask of some of you.

3. Think big picture

You rested as much as you could. Maybe some of you really needed to take the full week and completely detox. Great! Others got bored and forced themselves to stick it out for the full day.

With the time you’ve got left before you flip the sign back to open...spend it working ON the business. That means you are going to focus on the business itself, not the work you do IN the business on a normal day. (for more on this concept, please read the essential business book The E-Myth Revisited)

If you have a task management system, I bet you’ve got a lot of “someday/maybe” items on there. Better yet, I bet there are a lot of tasks that are more like questions.

* Should I switch my CRM software?  
* What should I write about next month?  
* How can I improve my process for bringing on a new client?

Sounds familiar? I know for me, I can find time to pick up a new stapler or fill out a form, but it’s hard to pull focus for long enough to think some of these tasks through. This is usually because the phone is ringing and a client deadline is looming.

Call it what you will. Brainstorming, planning, mind mapping...it doesn’t matter. The goal here is to step back and take a look at the big picture. For those of us running things solo, we spend so much time working the systems, but very little time improving the systems. If you can just take a day or two to go over the way you do your work it can improve your efficiency. Here are a few things to look at.

* Is all of your software up to date?
* Is it time to change any of your software?  
* Do a full sweep of your task lists to make sure they’re current.  
* Review your advertising and social media strategy.
* Review your pricing - should you increase your rates?  
* Are their clients you need to drop, or ones you’d like to focus more time on next year?

This is just a small set of examples, but I think you get the idea.

Once the doors open up again, there won’t be enough time to think about these things.

If you can take a little time off, give your brain a chance to reset, and work on the big picture, you’ll be able to start 2015 with more focus, and a much better chance at a successful year.

Good luck!

Eric Matthews

I'm a bookkeeper, husband, dad, music junkie, and general tech geek. When I'm a bookkeeper, I focus on cloud bookkeeping. I write at ThatBookkeeper.com, which helps bookkeepers and business owners move their books online. I work with apps like FreshBooks, Xero, Kashoo, Wave, and QuickBooks Online.

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