5 Tips for “Frightening” Efficiency

Every day, as entrepreneurs and business owners, we have two focuses. First, we need to take care of day-to-day business to earn money in the present.  Second, we need to make sure we have work tomorrow (through business development activities) … so we can continue to earn money in the future.  When I check out of my business for a few days, not only do I not earn money today, but my future business also suffers.

In the past few weeks, I had a family emergency that necessitated most of my energy and time.  It forced me to focus on the important things in my life – my family, of course – but also the bare essentials my business. While it’s difficult to completely walk away from my business (as I like to joke, my boss is a real tyrant!), I had to make sure I still had work when I emerged from taking care of my family.

During this time, I’ve had to maximize every moment of the day. As my sister commented: “You’re frighteningly efficient.”  I’m not sure she meant it as a compliment (probably because I sometimes get impatient with her lack of efficiency), but I take pride in and value efficiency. With greater efficiency, you can get more done in the day. During the time of family focus, that was paramount.

Here are the five things I do during especially busy times to increase efficiency:

  1. Prioritize self-care

If you’ve ever been a passenger on a commercial jet, you’ve heard the safety presentation “put your own oxygen mask on, before helping others.”  In other words, you can best take care of others when you’re taken care of. Taking care of yourself also means that you have the physical resources to work at peak performance.

For me, self-care centers around sleeping well. More than anything else, I feel like I can conquer the world after a good night’s rest.  To that end, I avoid rich foods, minimize alcohol consumption, and exercise regularly. For some people, yoga and meditation is the trick.

  1. Exercise

Exercise is more than just about sleeping well. It clears my head, helps me refocus, and improves my mood.  If I  feel stressed and overwhelmed, without fail, I feel better after a long walk or run. I have renewed energy to tackle more projects. What felt overwhelming, becomes doable.

  1. Separate my mind and body

When I stopped cooking for a living, and started consulting work, I was frustrated at how inefficient I had become. I just couldn’t seem to get enough done during the day, especially with client projects. It took me a while to realize that when I cooked for a living, I could multi-task with my mind and body… while my body was cooking (and getting paid!), my mind was thinking about my to-do list. My mind planned out each step of my day, and the order of tasks so that I could maximize efficiency.  When my body checked off a task in the kitchen, my mind had already planned out the next step so I could jump right in.

Now that I spend much of my work-time behind a desk, it’s harder to multi-task in this way. I can’t be plotting out my day while building financial projections in Excel… both tasks require my mind. But I still make the most of the times when my body is occupied, and my mind is free.  When I’m cooking dinner, folding laundry, running, or working in the garden, I think through client projects and strategize to improve efficiencies.  In fact, it was on my run this morning that I came up with this idea for a newsletter article and thought through the outline. When I sat down to write, it took only an hour.

  1. Understand my rhythms

When I wake up in the morning (and after I’ve had a few cups of coffee), I have the most energy and can work with the greatest clarity. It’s this time that I dedicate to banging out work projects. My energy and productivity wax and wane throughout the day.  I try to recognize the “wanes” – and take those times to walk away from desk.  Maybe I need to eat something, get some exercise, or just do some mindless project (like enter receipts into QuickBooks).  Working when I’m tired or hungry leads to inefficiency and frustration. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable, but for as much as I can, I plan my work around my rhythms.

Perhaps you were expecting some more concrete tips for improving efficiency.  For me, it’s mostly a mindset, and a way of operating as noted above. But I can offer you this one tip that is very specific:

  1. Put your to-do list on a calendar… and turn the reminders on

I know many people prefer a paper list that they can carry around; or even a memo on their phone.  But putting your to-do list on your calendar achieves three things:

  • It insures that you block out time for even the most mundane tasks.
  • It allows you to see your tasks on your phone and computer (assuming the two are synced). If you can’t complete a task on the designated day, you can reschedule it for another day.
  • The reminders ensure that you don’t forget.

Are you an efficiency-freak? What do you do?  I’m always looking for new ways to be more efficient. Leave a comment here.  For every 10 tips I receive from you, dear readers, I will give away (to a random respondent) a copy of one of my books (The Farmer’s Office or The Farmers Market Cookbook.)

Busyness in Business: Getting Support to Get the Job Done

Blair Welchel launched her heirloom grain and pasta business in 2015, and moved into a retail location in 2016. Like most start-ups, the to-do list is longer than hours in a day. From the basic operations of milling grains and rolling pasta, to making sales calls, managing the store, inventory and developing her brand… Blair’s days are full. And like most start-ups, cash is tight, so she needs to be careful about how much of her to-do list she delegates – she needs to manage her resources (and cash!) carefully. Continue reading

Increase the Range of Voices and Quality of Ideas We Hear in the World

We all have opinions… as banal as what we like to eat or movies we enjoy seeing, to more deeply held beliefs that revolve around our values, religion and work. For me, I’m adamant that farmers think about themselves as entrepreneurs and business people, and not just growers of food; that farmers need to be financially sustainable to continue doing what they love. Continue reading

10 Tips for Surviving a Labor Shortage

Google “labor shortage in New England” and you’ll see a long list of articles lamenting what farm and hospitality business owners know too well.  A confluence of events has made it harder than ever to find good employees. Rents in Boston are so high that workers on the lower end of the pay-scale can’t afford to live here. Continue reading

What I learned about business from tea sandwiches

When I launched my catering business in 1997, I was starved for work. While I had a clear mission of the kind of events I wanted to do, I also needed to pay the bills.  So when a prospective client called asking for tea sandwiches for 60 people, I said, “Sure!” He had called the Four Seasons Hotel who quoted him $12/person; and asked me if I could do it for $6.  “No problem,” I said. Continue reading

10 Tips for Getting the Most from Your Advisors

“Opinions are like armpits: everyone has them, and they usually stink.”

When asked my opinion, whether in a casual conversation or through my consulting work, I’m quick to acknowledge that I don’t have all the answers, but I’m happy to offer my recommendations. I encourage entrepreneurs to filter my advice through their own experiences. And it’s generally a good idea to get a second opinion.
Continue reading

Tips, Tools
And Templates

Writing a business plan? Looking for investors? Getting set up in QuickBooks? We’ve got the tools and templates you need, from planning a startup to growing your business.

Learn More

Our Services
What We Offer You

Whether you’re just starting out, or expanding your business to the next phase of growth, Julia Shanks Food Consulting can help you succeed. Click below to find out more about our services.

Learn More

Have Julia Speak
At Your Conference

Julia speaks about small business accounting, business planning and sustainability. Recent conferences include Slow Money’s National Gathering and The National Young Farmers’ Conference.

Learn More