Journaling for Success: The Ultimate Guide for Small Business Owners

Journaling for Success: The Ultimate Guide for Small Business Owners

Productivity experts, business gurus, mindset teachers…it seems like everyone says journaling can change your life. You want to learn how to journal for success, but aren’t sure where to start.

You’ve tried to journal, but usually the blank page stares you into submission. After one or two entries, you quit. Or, it’s like you’ve been transported back to your teenage years and you can’t shake the silly “Dear Diary” feeling.

Don’t worry! This guide will teach you how to journal in a way that works for you

This guide is packed with journaling methods and resources to help you get started—and stick with it. It’s specifically for small business owners who want to harness the power of journaling to grow personally and professionally.

 

 

General Benefits of Journaling

Life can get hectic, and it can be easy to get consumed by all we have going on. Journaling is a way to slow down and take time for reflection.

Journaling is more than a feel-good, sound-good activity. There is plenty of scientific evidence to support that it actually delivers real and important results.

What’s more, writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational. This frees the right hemisphere to create, intuit and feel. That means writing harnesses all of your brainpower to find better solutions to problems.

 

Benefits of Journaling for Business Owners

Journaling is clearly useful for self-growth, which is useful for business owners. Additionally, there are other business-specific reasons that journaling can help create success. 

Whether you are hoping to launch a new business or wanting to grow an existing one, journaling can help.

1. Journaling sets ideas free.
The brain only has room for so many thoughts and feelings at once. Keep too many ideas locked up in your mind, and you’ll lose some as your brain makes room for others. Getting your brilliant business ideas out of your mind and onto paper captures them forever.

2. It increases productivity.
By releasing your brain from the responsibility of holding onto #AllTheIdeas, you free up space for others to take root and expand. That’s effectively doubling the number of ideas you can generate at any given time.

3. Journaling fills in the blanks.
Seeing all your seemingly disparate ideas on paper can help you (quite literally) draw connections among them. Finding those creative relationships can be difficult or darn near impossible when they’re trapped in your mind.

4. It weeds out bad ideas.
Journaling allows you to look at your business musings in black and white. This judgement-free space can help you more accurately evaluate which truly have legs—and those that sounded better in theory. Letting go of bad ideas quickly will keep you from wasting time and money on them. Even better, it can help you learn from them and perhaps reshape them into good ideas.

5. Journaling creates a record.
Tracking your ideas from fruition beyond implementation creates a record that can later be quite useful. When an idea comes to life and is successful, you can accurately reflect on how it all happened. This can help you re-create what led to your best ideas, and help lightning strike again.

Small business owners can use journaling to capture and track ideas for new businesses or offers. It can also help with brainstorming content ideas, planning social media, or mapping out sales funnels.

To get even more ideas for how journaling can help you and your business, check out How 14 Business Owners Use Journaling to Grow Their Businesses.

 

How to Journal for Success

There are as many ways to journal as there are people. Your journal is your own, and you can create it and use it however best suits you.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few ideas to help.

Journaling for success
As a business owner, a journal can be incredibly helpful in going from probable hunch to profitable reality (see above). You can use a journal to do biz-y things like hone your elevator pitch, brainstorm solutions to your customer’s problems, keep track of competitors and how you can separate from the herd, reflect on your values or your “why,” brainstorm ideas for scaling, dream about the future, and more.

No subject is off limits
Using a journal for business is great, but you don’t have to stop there. You can capture ideas of all sorts. Record your nightly dreams, write out a bucket list, jot down favorite mantras, or just jot down any random thing that pops into your head. If you do this all in one journal, you can later look for connections between seemingly random ideas. Or, you can use separate journals for different concepts.

Put pen to paper
Many studies have shown the benefits of handwriting vs. typing. Not only does it help you better retain information, it activates more areas of the brain to better unlock memories and trigger creativity. If you’re physically able, put pen to paper when you journal instead of typing or dictating.

Let it flow
Freewriting is a powerful journaling method. You write without stopping for a set length of time or until you fill a certain number of pages. Even if you only write, “I don’t know what to write,” you just keep going until time is up or the pages are full.​ The purpose is to free your brain from editing (or censoring) in real time. This allows our deepest feelings and ideas to flow. 

Too much can be too much
For journaling to have the greatest affect on your life and business, it helps to do it consistently over months and years. That said, too much of a good thing can actually be too much. Research suggests that doing it every day can be overwhelming, and that three to four days a week for 15 to 30 minutes at a time is ideal.

Shake things up
It can be easy to get stuck in a rut with anything, including journaling. If you’ve been doing it for a while and are feeling creatively stunted, do something unexpected. Write with your nondominant hand, try audio entries rather than handwritten, head outdoors or somewhere new to journal, use crayons, etc. Experiment from time to time to keep the creative juices flowing.

Let go of perfection
Nothing is a bigger killer of journaling (or any creative outlet) than perfectionism. Remind yourself that your journal is a private space only for you. Write quickly to help free your brain from worries about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. The more you can learn to accept and embrace bad writing, the freer you’ll be and the more rewarding journaling will become.

Try using prompts
There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank page. When you encounter writer’s block (and even the best writers do from time to time), journaling prompts can be a useful tool to help the words flow. More on that next.

The only rule with journaling is there are no rules! Treat your journal like an accepting, loving confidant, or like a free therapist. The more you open up to it, the more it will reveal to you.

Journaling can be messy, and that’s okay. In fact, in journaling and in life, in the mess is often where we find the magic.

 

Best Journals to Buy

If possible, use old-fashioned pen and paper to journal. Research has shown that people learn better and retain more information when they write things down instead of type. Even so, journaling in any form can be incredibly beneficial, so don’t let this be the thing that keeps you from starting!

Most stationery designers offer blank journals that are beautiful and may help inspire you to start writing! If you’re like some people and don’t want to “ruin” a pretty journal by actually writing in it, then consider using a basic notebook.

 

Read This: The Best Journals to Buy

 

You can also maximize productivity (and ensure you don’t forget to do your journaling) by having your planner double as a journal. Most daily, weekly, and even monthly planners have space for taking notes.

Prefer digital journaling? You can use the notes section in your phone or computer, or choose among the many online options for capturing your thoughts. Penzu is a private, totally customizable online journal (also available as an app) and Evernote has a very robust notekeeping desktop and mobile app that can be used for journaling (along with any business/personal notekeeping). Both programs have free versions.

 

Journaling Exercises

Still unsure how to get started? The easiest journaling practice is to simply take a few minutes and reflect on your day or dream about the future.

Each day, take out a sheet of paper (or your journal or planner) and answer one or several of these questions:

  • What made yesterday great?
  • What could have made yesterday better?
  • For what are you grateful?
  • What do you want to accomplish in the coming years?
  • How could you push closer to those dreams today?

Some other journaling exercises include things like writing out a simple pro/con list for a challenge you’re facing, doing a brain dump to get all of the thoughts in your head onto paper, a to-do list or a list of big-picture goals, or just writing uninterrupted for 10-15 minutes about a thematic word of the day (family, community, mindset, change, hope, etc.).

If facing a blank page feels overwhelming, but you want more variety than what I’ve already suggested above, then you may love using journaling prompts. These are questions or other starters to unlock your brain.

A few examples of prompts include:

  • Words to live by…
  • What I wish others knew about me…
  • I’m most content when…
  • What I’ve learned from mistakes/failure

If you love journaling prompts, check out these posts: Morning Journaling Prompts, Creative Journaling Prompts, and Journaling Prompts for Self-Discovery.

The ultimate guide to journaling for success for business owners, plus prompts to get started

Planners for 2020: The best options for women

Planners for 2020: The best options for women

It’s my favorite time of year—time to order fresh new planners for the new year! This popular post highlights more than a dozen of the best planners made for creative women business owners by creative women business owners.

I’m an old pro at this by now. I’ve been using paper organizers forever (seriously, I’ve tried and failed digital options many times), and this is the fourth year that I’ve put together this roundup. 

What I’ve learned is this: There isn’t one option that suits everyone. That said, I’m hopeful that among this great collection of planners you can find the right one for your organizational and inspirational needs.

(This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase via a link here, I may receive a commission. The price is the same for you whether you use my link or buy directly from the vendor.)

The Ashley Shelly Planner

Ashley ShellyAshley Shelly Planner Roundup has a passion for planning and organization—on paper and in her environment. Her brand’s tagline is “Create Your Best Days” because she knows planning is such a huge part of a woman’s day (and life!). She created a planner that combines scheduling, to-do lists, and inspirational planning. “I believe function and inspiration are the key ingredients in a perfect planner,” she says

The Ashley Shelly Planner ($44.95) features a combination of organization and inspiration. It includes a weekly layout on two pages with equal space for all days of the week. Each day has a section for your schedule, to-do list, and notes or meal planning. I love the Creative Spreads, which are positioned at the start of each month, to help you get inspired and set goals. It has a hard, semi-gloss cover, and measures 7.25 x 9.25 inches including binding.

Learn more/order: AshleyShelly.com

 

InkWELL Press 360º Disc Planners

Tonya DaltonTonya Dalton, creator of Inkwell Press planners started InkWELL Press in 2014 to pursue her passion of providing productivity tools, training and education. She believes “in ending the glorification of busy. No one can do it all, but we can take what we’re given and develop a system that allows us to manage our days in a way that leaves us feeling happy and fulfilled.”

360º Disc Planners (starting at $52) are full customizable and allow you to create the ideal planner for your lifestyle. No more trying to fit your schedule into someone else’s idea of how it should flow. The 360º Disc system offers multiple covers, page formats, and accessories. You can choose undated daily, horizontal weekly, vertical weekly, monthly, or goal setting spreads. It can take a bit to get the hang of building your own planner, but for control freaks (like me) it may be the best solution and worth the price of admission.

Learn more/order: InkWELLPress.com

Life Planners

Erin Condren Planner RoundupErin Condren left 12-hour days in the apparel industry to become a stay-at-home mom of two. She developed a case of cabin fever, and searched online for career opportunities she could do from home. She began making cards for friends, and a friend encouraged her to sell her designs in June 2004. The rest is history.

The LifePlanner™ ($50+) is the ultimate planning system to get organized, achieve your goals, and preserve memories in one stylish space. This feature-packed design boasts two-page spreads per month, three layouts (vertical, horizontal, or hourly), stylish elements and inspirational quotes, coiled-in stickers, and a two-page goal setting spread. It’s ideal for anyone who loves scrapbooking or is otherwise artistic (and I know teachers love this one!). There are so many accessories you can use to personalize and make yours a true reflection of you!

Learn more/order: ErinCondren.com

Dailygreatness Planner

dailygreatness planner founderLyndelle Palmer-Clarke os a recovering self-help junkie who’s read all the books, been to all the seminars, listened to all the DVD’s and followed all the gurus only to realize that something was seriously missing from the picture—applied knowledgeShe made it her life mission to empower others to apply self-help ideas into their lives so they can start seeing results, and created the Dailygreatness planner to help.

The Dailygreatness Original Yearly Planner ($49.95) combines a yearly diary, goal and appointment planner, and daily tools for self-mastery. It includes space for appointments, reminders, gratitude, intentions, and evening reflections. This beautifully designed undated journal, with 488 full-color pages, will inspire you to upgrade your life and achieve your goals. Why wait for January 1st to start achieving your goals, when you can start today. 

Learn more/order: Dailygreatness.com

The Commit 30 Planner

jenny newcomer commit 30 plannerJenny Newcomer searched for years for the perfect planner that would help keep her busy work and home life in order. Eventually, she decided to create our own and manufacture it in the USA. A successful Kickstarter campaign funded the initial 2016 production run, and now this planner is a popular choice among entrepreneurs, moms, and busy people of all types.

The Commit 30 Planner ($29-36) is designed to help you crush your goals and dreams by focusing on 30 Day Challenges every month. I freaking love this sleek little planner, which comes in weekly (Sunday or Monday start) or monthly formats. It includes vision mapping, planning and goal setting pages, life and work to-do lists, note pages, a back pocket, and motivational quotes. Best of all, part of the sales of certain planners go to Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (Jenny, the creator, is thriving after ovarian cancer in her early 20s).

Learn more/order: Commit30.com

Cultivate What Matters PowerSheets

Lara Casey is passionate about helping women get unstuck, unrushed, and living on purpose instead of by accident. Because that was her story, too. She created PowerSheets to help women make what matters happen, right where they are. She wants to get women asking themselves what makes them tick, what do they most want to cultivate in their lives, and what are the things they’ve always wanted to do. I love that!

The PowerSheets®  Intentional Goal Planner ($58) is a best-selling goal planning tool for a reason. They help you uncover the right goals for your season of life, have goal coaching on every page to keep you motivated, and include seasonal worksheets to refresh and refocus your goals. Plus, you get access to a free library of downloadable pages (including things like a meal planner, finance tracker, reading list, and budget). I highly recommend this system for anyone looking for a very in-depth, comprehensive approach to setting big goals.

Learn more/order: CultivateWhatMatters.com

The Day Designer

Whitney EnglishWhitney English Day Designer planner faced an overflowing email inbox, a hand-scribbled to-do list, a pile of meeting notes, and felt overwhelmed and disorganized back in November 2011. She needed a solution—quickly. That’s when she came up with the Day Designer™. It was my first “real” (non-drugstore) planner, and I remain totally smitten with it.

The Day Designer ($59) is the original daily planner. It’s a simple and easy system created to help women find balance and productivity. There are yearly and monthly glances, but this one is all about the daily pages. There is a focus on the top three things you need to do each day (my favorite part!). There’s also a ton of space for events, to-dos, notes, meal planning, gratitude, and more. If you prefer a daily planner, I doesn’t get more elegant and practical than this.

Learn more/order: DayDesigner.com

The Refresh Weekly Planner

Jenna Murillo Planner RoundupJenna Murillo has felt a sense of magic with paper since childhood. She’s energized by turning a blank canvas into something beautiful. That’s what led her to planner design. “Designing a product that’s a stunning and functional tool for others was always a dream,” she says. “In 2015, fueled by the encouragement of friends and family and a fire inside of me to create, I fulfilled that dream.”

The Refresh Weekly Planner ($39.95) is back for 2020 with three fun new cover design options (they are all great, but the Kennedy, below, is my fave). The Refresh Planner includes a pocket design, goal-planning pages, monthly and weekly spreads, intentional space for weekly action steps and gratitude notes, and a notes section. It’s all beautifully bound with hard covers, so it won’t fall apart by April. This one always makes my list because it’s so pretty and practical.

Also, don’t miss the Enneagram Planners if you love that personality test. They are so cool for helping each type actually plan in a way that makes the most sense to their unique needs!

Learn more/order: WorkSpacery.com 

Grab this free workbook filled with daily prompts to guide your journaling for self-discovery and business growth.

Mama Love Planner

Brooke-Sidney Harbour quickly learned when she became a mom that if she didn’t schedule time for self-care, it wouldn’t happen. She scoured the market for a planner that would help her organize her time, incorporate a gratitude practice, and prioritize her new mama self-care goals. She couldn’t find one that did it all, so she created her own. Thus began the The Mama Love Planner.

The Mama Love Planner ($39.97-$49.97) is practical tool to change the common pattern of moms prioritizing everyone else and leaving too little time, energy, and love for themselves. Available in daily and weekly versions, this planner helps mamas and mamas-to-be tackle their busy lives while carving out time for daily and monthly self-care. It also puts the spiritual aspects first by drawing attention to spiritual goals, affirmations for their lives, and incorporating a gratitude practice.

Learn more/order: MamaLovePlanner.com

My PA Planner

Alexandra Stearn  tested numerous planners over the years, but none offered what she needed. She out to create the ‘Champion’ of planners—one with a place for everything, that addresses her productivity and time management problems, and is second only to actually having a personal assistant.

My PA Planner ($39-$49) is more than just a planner, it’s a road map for your success with everything you need to turn your vision into a reality. It’s designed for creatives, freelancers, and entrepreneurs who want to make the most of their gifts and lives. Think of it as having your very own 24/7 personal assistant helping you to stay on top of your game, stop you from feeling overwhelmed and help you make every single day count. There is a place for every goal, project, idea, thought or intention.

Learn more/order: MyPAPlanner.com

Passion Planner

Angelia TrinidadAngelia Trinidad wanted to create a planner that helped people break down their short- and long-term goals into actionable steps that they could complete over time. From her parents’ garage, she launched Passion on Kickstarter, and to her surprise raised, $48,000 in 30 days with the help of 2,000 strangers and friends.

The Passion Planner ($30-35) is designed to encourage you to plan for the future, reflect on the past, but most importantly, act on the present. It includes a step-by-step guide for mapping out goals, mind mapping for achieving them, monthly and weekly calendars, and space for monthly reflections. It’s available dated and undated and comes in three sizes. Best of all: $1 from each one sold benefits Malala Fund, a non-profit working for a world where all girls can learn and lead.

Learn more/order: PassionPlanner.com

Hope Planner

Heather Vreelandheather vreeland, creator of hopefuel christian planner for women is a wife, mother, founder of Occasions Media Group, and the creator of The Celebration Society, St. Augustine Social and Littleature Children’s Books. In 2016, she was inspired to design her own daily agenda that helped reorganize her priorities and make room in her schedule to read God’s word every day. That simple goal sparked new life and greater perspective in her normally stressed out days and became an agent of change in her life.

The Hope Planner ($34) is more than a daily planner with Bible verses—it’s an all-in-one Christian planner that combines a daily planner and prayer journal to help you be organized and put your faith first each day. This is a beautiful option for Christian women who need a daily planner that helps them make time for faith, just as they make time for tasks and appointments. It’s an undated day planner with space for monthly project tracking, goal setting weekly sermon notes, and more.

Learn more/order: Hopefuel.co

Ponderlily Planner

Carina Lawson, creator of Ponderlily plannerCarina Lawson is a Brazilian-born, Arabian Gulf-raised, Brit-wed, higher-ed executive, and twin mum. Like most of the creators on this list, Lawson created her planner for herself to solve her problem of overwhelm. “I’d internalized the message that making time for myself was less important than my to-do list,” she says. “But I wanted space to grow, learn, laugh, and to be honest, sleep, too!”

The Ponderlily Planner (£35 GBP) is made with eco-conscious materials and plastic-free packaging, and is designed to prompt you to dream fearlessly, set meaningful intentions, and take bold actions. It available in either dated or undated weekly layouts, and comes in several beautiful colors. There are gentle prompts, lists, gratitude reflections, habit trackers, and more to hold you accountable and help you celebrate triumphs. This is perfect for my European readers: It won’t fly across the world to get to you, meaning a smaller carbon footprint and a cleaner conscience!

Learn more/order: Ponderlily.com

Inspired Year

Kathy Pine Planner RoundupKathy Pine started her first company at age 25. After navigating the challenges of balancing entrepreneurship and early motherhood, Kathy realized she had a passion for helping women pursue their dreams and she began making inspirational and practical paper products. She created her first planner with a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017. Now the Inspired Year is the flagship product of her One Love Paper Co.

The 2020 Inspired Year Planner ($49) is the ultimate goal-setting calendar for busy creatives who are juggling it all. Its no-nonsense approach, functional design, and roomy pages provide everything you need to stay organized and inspired. It’s designed with goal-setting and work-life balance in mind. My favorite part is all the incredibly helpful and inspiring annual, quarterly, and monthly goal-setting exercises. The “wheel” activity really opened my eyes!

Learn more/order: 1LovePaper.com

Perfect Project (digital download)

Eve Tokens, creator of the Perfect Project PlannerEve Tokens created a planner to help her manage multiple small businesses. “I was using a bullet journal, Trello, and my phone calendar. It was too much, and I found I was getting less done than ever before,” she says. The planner has evolved over three years into a strategic tool used to help her stay on track with both business and personal goals.

The Perfect Project Planner ($30) is designed to help bloggers, small business owners, and entrepreneurs take control of their lives and business plans. With dedicated space for planning out and prioritizing goals, the planner helps you schedule your business tasks and your personal life in a way that doesn’t make you feel like a planning failure. With a year-end review, weekly income tracking, monthly Google Analytics tracking, 90-day sprint pages, and monthly + weekly planner pages, this printable planner is perfect for any small business owner or blogger who has struggled to stay on top of things.

Learn more/order: PerfectProjectPlanner.com

Rule The World

Ilana Griffo Planner RoundupIlana Griffo decided to make a planner when she couldn’t find one that fit her needs. “As a design student, I wanted a place I could doodle, take notes, and stay on track of my classwork,” she says. In the last five years, Griffo’s planner has evolved to reflect her creative journey and her customers’ needs. 

The Rule The World Planner ($35) is full of goal-setting tools bound to help you crush your goals. From budget-planning worksheets to inspirational quotes, it’s bound to make this year your best yet.

Learn more/order: Amazon.com

There you have it! My roundup of the best planners for 2020. I hope you find one you love! If you found this post useful, please share it with your friends and on social media. Help me spread the love for these amazing women who are making beautiful products to help all of us get more organized. Thanks!

The best 2020 planners for women from BeckyMollenkamp.comThe best 2020 planners for women from BeckyMollenkamp.comThe best 2020 planners for women from BeckyMollenkamp.comThe best 2020 planners for women from BeckyMollenkamp.com
Don’t List

Don’t List

Even without knowing you, I can almost guarantee that you have a to-do list. And if you’re anything like me, you have a half-dozen or more! We make these lists all the time with the goal of remembering important tasks, and in hopes they will prompt us to start check items off.

Knowing what you need and want to do is important, of course, but have you ever given much thought to the things you don’t want to do? Probably not.

The truth is, a to-don’t list is probably even more important than a to-do list.

Having clarity about what you don’t need or want to do can go a long way toward helping you live a better-quality life.

There are many ways you can go about creating such a list. You can have make one each morning to help you reduce distractions and focus on pressing priorities. You can create a big-picture one to help you stay on your intended life path. You can also make them for various aspects of your life—professional, finances, relationships, parenting, etc.

No matter how you use them, the goal of to-don’t lists is to reduce distractions, temptations, and obligations so you can stay on your intended path.

Doing the right things is far more important than doing #AllTheThings. Getting rid of tasks and activities that you shouldn’t be doing will free up time and energy for you to do what matters most. And that will make you more effective, efficient, and happy.

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker, Managing for Business Effectiveness

How to Write a To-Don’t List

You need a guide for knowing what to embrace (to-do) and when to intentionally say no (to-don’t).

To do create your to-don’t list, identify what you want to let go of. What actions in your life suck up time, make you feel trapped, or are completely unrewarding? They may be things you want to completely eliminate or just hand off to someone else. Some will be big, others will be small.

Here are some guiding questions to help you think about what should go on your to-don’t list:

  • What are you priorities?
  • What do you want to get out of your (business, relationship, parenting, finances etc.)?
  • What are you currently doing that won’t help you achieve those goals or that aren’t contributing to success?
  • When are you least productive?
  • What do you find yourself distracted by over and over?
  • When do you most often get sidetracked?
  • What activities are you hardest to complete?
  • What do I always regret saying yes to?
  • What do I do out of a sense of obligation, guilt, or “should”?
  • What always leaves me feeling “icky” later?

Here are some examples of items that could end up on your to-don’t list:

  • I won’t answer the phone on the first ring.
  • I won’t immediately say yes or no to requests.
  • I won’t answer email before 10 am.
  • I won’t drink coffee after 2 pm.
  • I won’t accept meetings or calls from someone I wouldn’t have invited myself.
  • I won’t go to sleep after 11 pm.
  • I won’t try to win the regard of NAME.
  • I won’t use “just” or “sorry” without thoughtful consideration.
  • I won’t be lured by gossip.
  • I won’t feel guilty for saying no.
  • I won’t live in the past.

Write your to-don’t list on paper and post it above your desk. Keep a copy in your planner, in Trello, or in an app like ToDon’t so you can always access it when you are faced with a decision. The goal is to start relying on the to-don’t list as much as we get focused on our to-do lists.

Want to learn more? Read How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith.

5 Tools to Find Focus

5 Tools to Find Focus

When you own a business, there’s never a shortage of things to do (especially when you aren’t yet able to afford employees or a ton of contract help). The longer your to-do list, the more you can feel overwhelmed the more difficult it can be to find focus.

If you’re anything like me, it’s not always enough to “just do it.” Sometimes you need to force yourself to find focus. These are a few tools that may help.

(Some of the links below are affiliate links meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.) 

 

1. Planner

Trying to remember everything you need to do is enough to make anyone mad. You need to get the tasks out of your brain and stored somewhere you can access at any time.

I prefer a paper planner because, well, I’m old. Or maybe it’s because I’m tactile. Or both. If you also like to put pen to paper and hold your to-do list and calendar, then find a paper planner that suits your personality (I use a weekly now after having used a daily for years).

If you prefer digital tools to old-school ones, then you may like something like Trello or Asana. These are project management tools that act as an editable record of all of your tasks.

 

2. Pomodoro Timer

I love the Pomodoro Technique (I wrote about it here). It’s a super simple way to block out distractions and focus on the task at hand. When I use this method, I get so much more accomplished.

Using the Pomodoro Technique can be as simple as setting the timer on your phone. If you like fancy tools (or want to really ensure distraction-free work by putting the phone away), then you may want to invest in a timer.

  • The Saent button is a high-tech smart device that helps you launch pomodoros (working sessions), block digital distractions, and take timed breaks. It’s fancy, but pretty cool. $59
  • The Miracle TimeCube starts a countdown as soon as you turn it over. It doesn’t get much easier than this. $20
  • Keep it simple and classic with a tomato-shaped kitchen timer … this is tool the technique was based on; if it was good enough for the founder, it’s good enough for anyone! $6.99

 

3. News Feed Eradicator / Rescue Time

Stop the scroll! For many of us, the biggest source of distraction during the work day is social media. Whenever we feel stuck, overwhelmed, or disinterested in work, we fall into the rabbit hole that is Facebook or Instagram.

The *free* News Feed Eradicator extension for Chrome is simple to install and automatically quashes the Facebook temptation. With it installed, you no longer see a busy newsfeed filled with cat videos calling your name. Instead, you just get an inspirational quote (I use the Feminist News Feed Eradicator to get empowering quotes!). If you tend to use your laptop or desktop computer for work, install this extension today! (And don’t worry, you can still see your notifications so you won’t miss anything that’s actually directed at you and may require your attention.)

Don’t think you are wasting time on social media? Put it to the test. Install RescueTime (there is a free basic version) to see exactly how much time you are spending on specific sites and applications each week. Seeing the report in black and white may be enough to shock you into changing your habits.

 

4. FlowState

Writer’s block is a tricky beast that can be difficult to tame. One way to push past it is to make yourself write nonstop—even if it’s awful—until you get into the flow and unleash the good stuff that’s hiding within.

That’s easier said than done for most of us. We put pen to paper and then nothing. We internally edit and don’t allow ourselves to let loose.

Enter FlowState. This app (only available for Apple users, OS X or iOS) allows you to set timed writing sessions in which anything you write will disappear if you stop writing for more than seven seconds. Terrifying, but also a great push.

 

5. Headspace/Calm

You’ve probably heard that meditation can help you remain calm and focused, even in the face of incredible stress and overwhelm. But how do you actually do it?

If it’s new to you, it may feel silly. It may even seem impossible. That’s why I love the Headspace app (and even switched from the free to the paid version after a few months). The short, guided meditations tell you exactly what to do and make it really easy. Plus, the guy’s British accent is quite soothing.

I don’t use the Calm app, but I’ve heard from many people that it’s also a fantastic tool for beginning to experienced meditation.

 

Final Note

What works for one person may not work for someone else. There are a ton of great books all about how to reduce distractions, get more focused, and increase productivity. Keep reading until you find systems that work for you.

Here are a few suggestions to help you find focus:

  • Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport
  • The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan
  • Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
  • The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too)” by Gretchen Rubin
  • How to Get Sh*t Done: Why Women Need to Stop Doing Everything so They Can Achieve Anything by Erin Falconer
  • Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals by Michael Hyatt
  • Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs” by John Doerr
5 tools to help business owners find focus
Pomodoro Technique

Pomodoro Technique

Staying focused isn’t simple. Even when you have pressing deadlines and a to-do list in your planner, it’s easy to get sucked into social media or into a funny text exchange with your biz bestie. Heck, sometimes doing laundry seems more appealing than sitting down and actually working on your business. That’s why I love the Pomodoro Technique. It’s a simple way to force yourself to focus.

How to use the Pomodoro Technique to find focus and get things done in your business.

Developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to break work into intervals, separated by short breaks. Each interval is called a “pomodoro” (Italian for tomatoes) after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer Cirillo used when he developed the method during college.

Here’s how it works:

  • Choose a task you want to accomplish.
  • Set a timer for 25 minutes.
  • Eliminate all distractions (that means turn off the phone and log off Facebook!).
  • Work on the task nonstop until the timer goes off.
  • Take a 5-minute break.
  • Repeat.
  • After 4 intervals, take a 30-minute break.

Does it sound insanely simple? That’s because it is. Yet, it can really work.

Remember: Nothing is set in stone. You can adapt the Pomodoro Technique to better suit your style. The intervals can be longer or shorter than 25 minutes. The breaks can be longer or shorter than 5 minutes. You can do more or less than 4 intervals before taking a long break. Your long break can be as long as you like. You can do as many intervals as you want in a day. You can use the technique every day or just for certain tasks. You can do it for many days in a row and then not use it again for months.

Make it your own!

I don’t use the Pomodoro Technique all the time. When I do, though, I end up with far more checks on my to-do list. I tend to use it most when I have a big project that I’m dreading or just can’t seem to get motivated to start.

Also, I don’t like setting a timer—it feels too intrusive when it rings. Instead, I often use my vinyl record collection as a timer. One side of an album is usually about 22-minutes long. So, I drop the needle on an album that motivates me and then sit down to work without any other distraction. When the music stops, I get up to flip the album (and maybe use the restroom) as my break time.

Of course, no productivity hack works for 100% of people (here are some other ideas from 30 business owners if this one isn’t for you). You won’t know if the Pomodoro Technique suits your personality, however, until you give it a shot. If you do try it, or find variations that work particularly well, tell me about in the comments below!

How to use the Pomodoro Technique to find focus and get things done in your business.
My Business Tools

My Business Tools

Before I give you the rundown of the business tools I use and how much I spend, let me offer a little food for thought. If you’re still bootstrapping #AllTheThings in your business, consider this:

Not spending money may be costing you more than you realize. Let’s say your hourly rate is $50. If it takes you 5 hours to manually post to Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, that’s $250. If a social scheduling tool costs you $20 a month, and a VA would take 2 hours to load it up for $60 a month, that’s $80. So … $250 vs. $80 …  the decision now seems like a no-brainer, right?

It’s hard to part with money, especially for something you could do yourself. But if you actually think through the time you spend vs. the low costs for automation tools, it quickly becomes clear these programs are worth their weight in gold.

Here are the 7 tools that I’m willing to hand over money for every month (that’s saying a lot because I love my money!).

Also, I’m totally transparent. There are affiliate links for each of these business tools. You’ll pay what you would anyway, but if you sign up using my link, I get a small reward (typically in the form of a free month or discount on my fees).

7 business tools worth every penny

 

The 7 Business Tools I Use & Recommend

1. Podia

launched my first course in 2017 and thought about bootstrapping it using YouTube and a password-protected page on my website, but then thought better of it after chatting with other more experienced course creators. I started on Thinkific, but in 2018 I upgraded to Podia. You can read here why I made the switch, but in short I’ve become a die-hard Podia fan. It allows me to host my courses, sell digital downloads, and manage my membership community. It does more than the competition and costs less. You can’t beat that.

Investment: $79/month

2. Honeybook

It took me years to finally admit I needed a customer resource management (CRM) tool. The truth is, though, I was so sick of manually sending my coaching clients applications, welcome emails, invoices, contracts, homework assignments, and more. Honeybook now automates all of it. I have a custom workflow that handles everything from the point of a client inquiry to their end-of-engagement survey. I can’t even tell you how much time this saves me each month, so it’s absolutely ridiculous that I waited so long to spend a measly $40 to do it (and it’s less if you pre-pay for the entire year. If you need a CRM, use my link to get 50% off for your first year. No more excuses!

Investment: $40/month (or just $20 with my promo code)

3. QuickBooks

I finally stopped my Excel spreadsheet madness this year and started using QuickBooks like a grown-up business owner. It integrates with my business bank account/debit card so I don’t have to remember to manually track expenditures anymore. I can categorize income/expenses and it adds repeat items automatically. I also use it for invoicing, which is leaps and bounds better than my old-school method of making them in Word and tracking them in Excel.

Investment: $10/month

4. Acuity Scheduling

I really resisted paying for a scheduling system. Why pay when I can just add events into my iCal? The truth is I have a ton of appointments—virtual coffee dates (integral to growing your network), interviews for my podcast and for the masterclasses for my membership community, and discovery calls for my coaching work. Managing all of that was cumbersome back when I had to go back and forth via email to nail down times with people. Now I can just send a link and they can book themselves into my calendar. The system sets different available times based on the type of appointment, and it integrates with my iCal and my Gmail, so I can easily block off time without having to go to the Acuity site.

Investment: $15/month

5. ConvertKit

When I started my email list in 2016, I used Mailchimp because it was free and easy. As my list grew, I wanted to do things like automatically send my opt-ins, create automated welcome and sales sequences, and segment my list based on purchases. That’s when I switched to ConvertKit. I paid someone about $200 to help me set everything up, but now it’s pretty straightforward to add new opt-ins and sequences, write regular newsletters, and manage my subscriber list. Also, paying for a list based on its size has made me more inclined to prune cold subscribers on a regular basis (something I never did before because I was so caught up on vanity metrics). Now my list is more engaged than ever, with an average open rate of 40%.

Investment: $49/month (I was paying $29/month, but recently moved up to the 1,000-3,000 subscriber plan)

6. Zoom

For the longest time, I used Skype (free) for video calls. The problem, though, was figuring out how to record those sessions if needed. Also, they didn’t allow for group calls. I like to provide recordings of my coaching sessions so my clients can review them as needed. Also, I host virtual co-working and masterminds for my membership community, so I need to be able to host dozens of people. Enter Zoom. This very cool, and super affordable, tool solves all my problems. I’m also using it to record my podcast interviews.

Investment: $14.99/month

7. SmarterQueue

I don’t know if I have the words to describe my love for SmarterQueue. I’ve been using Hootsuite for free for years, and I hated the idea of paying to schedule social media posts. I only switched to this program recently, and it’s already my favorite tool. It replaces everything I managed on Hootsuite (Facebook page, Twitter, and LinkedIn), plus can manage Instagram and Pinterest. What’s so great about it? You can create content categories—tips, blog posts, quotes, as examples—and fill them up with evergreen content. Then you can let those posts recycle as many times as you want. There’s also a cool drag-and-drop calendar where you can plot out which categories will be used at which times on which accounts. Like, seriously, this thing is so incredibly robust for the price. I can’t get over it.

Investment: $19.99/month

In all, I spend $227.98/month on tools for my business. At a billable rate of $100/hour, I’d have to handle all of those tasks in less than three hours a month to make it worth the DIY route. Impossible.

If you’re reading this thinking, “Oh boy, that sounds familiar. I am totally DIYing things I shouldn’t,” then take my advice and start investing in your business. It’s really true that you have to spend money to make money. Just be sure to spend it wisely!

Oh, and if you’re a paper planner kind of person like me, check out this list of my favorite planners.