When you think of an effective entrepreneur, what image comes to mind?
I was raised to put work ahead of everything, so to me, an effective entrepreneur was someone who’d work day and night, sacrifice his or her personal life, and never take holidays or sick days. I thought a successful entrepreneur always looked like this:
But I was wrong. When I tried to work nonstop, the image would turn into an entrepreneur with a box of tissues and cough medicine beside the computer, or an entrepreneur with her head on the desk, fast asleep.
So, although the photo above is part of being diligent and successful, it’s not the whole story. An effective entrepreneur can also look like this:
And what links the two photos? Healthy habits… because HEALTHY entrepreneurs are EFFECTIVE entrepreneurs.
Now, the idea of building healthy habits can seem like an onerous task, but don’t let it stress you out. In an article titled “5 ways to build healthy habits and routines as a freelancer,” Shannon Byrne recommends James Clear’s advice “to go super micro and start with an incredibly small habit. Make it so easy you can’t say no.” Byrne recommends doing that same thing every day and then increasing it in small ways.
So, as we go through the following Seven Healthy Habits to Be More Effective in Your Work (and Life), don’t worry about tackling them all at once. Some you may already be doing. And if there are others you need to work on in your Virtual Assistant business, pick an easy one first and then build up these habits gradually.
1. Be Kind to Yourself.
At the start of a New Year, it’s hard to feel accomplished. We go from messages of “Eat, drink, and be merry,” to messages of “Take this vitamin, lose this weight, clean your office, hunker down and work,” among others. When I was at my local wholesale warehouse recently, I saw tables full of nutritional supplements, workout gear, office supplies, and business success books. A month before, these same tables had been full of chocolates, games, and DVD movies.
In the above article, Shannon Byrne reminds us to be patient with ourselves and celebrate the little wins when starting to build small, healthy habits. I also recommend taking some time to celebrate your wins now, even before you start working on your habits. Look at how far you’ve come, and celebrate how much you’ve achieved. Be kind to yourself and begin building healthy habits from a place of confidence and hope, not from a place of desperation and self-criticism. You’ll be more effective in both work and life when you’re in the habit of being kind to yourself!
2. Set Healthy Boundaries.
In a previous blog post, we talked about the importance of having boundaries. This habit can’t be emphasized enough – it’s crucial to our health and effectiveness.
Boundaries apply to both your personal and work life. Remember that as an entrepreneur, you have the freedom to set rules for when you’ll work and respond to messages from clients. Tough as it is, you also have the responsibility to establish rules for when you’ll accept social invitations and leave your desk to spend time with family and friends.
A good way to start building this habit is to choose your office hours and stick to them. Find the time of day when you’re most productive, and commit to it. If you’re in the habit of saying yes to invitations for coffee at any hour, block out your office hours in your calendar and organize coffee dates around it. If your children or family members walk in on you unannounced while you’re working, create a fun, friendly sign that says something like “Freelancer at Work! Next Coffee Break at X o’clock,” and hang it on your door so they’ll know to come back later.
To establish boundaries with clients, you can use a tool like Boomerang for Gmail that allows you to compose an email and schedule it to be sent automatically at a later time. This tool is helpful if you want to quickly answer an email outside office hours on occasion, but don’t want to give the impression you’re always available.
As much as possible, you can also negotiate deadlines with your clients to make sure you aren’t burning the candle at both ends.
3. Maintain a Healthy Office Setup.
To be effective entrepreneurs, we need to have a healthy home office. When we’re just starting out as freelancers or Virtual Assistants, it’s tempting to sacrifice comfort for price and use makeshift office furniture until our business grows.
One of the best articles I’ve seen on office setup is called “How To Design A Healthy Home Office That Increases Productivity” by Kelsey Roadruck. I recommend reading it in its entirety but will share a few highlights.
First of all, this article suggests we get in the habit of listening to our bodies when we work from home. If you have a sore back or your eyes hurt after working, it’s time to make a change. Roadruck shares the following tips:
– Reduce glare on your computer screen by pointing lighting sources away from your line of sight or setting up your desk so windows run alongside your workstation.
– If cost is an issue, make an adjustable desk chair your priority, and try sitting in it for a while before buying it. Also, make sure you can return it if you bring it home and it causes discomfort.
– Consider using a desk with a flexible height, or a sit-stand desk.
Above all, note any new aches or pains you experience. As Roadruck says,
“It’s also important to remember that bodies change. You may need bifocals one day, in which case your monitor will need to be adjustable for you to read the screen clearly without bending your neck. Or perhaps your doctor has finally put his foot down about your sedentary work life. It might be helpful to move your treadmill from the basement to your home office. The bottom line is that what worked for you three years ago may no longer work for you today. It’s crucial that your workspace evolve with you, your work and your body.”
4. Keep your Body Healthy.
Along with listening to your body, it’s good to get in the habit of keeping your body as healthy as you can. Many articles talk about the importance of staying hydrated, eating regular healthy meals, getting enough sleep, and exercising. If this is a struggle for you, here are some small habits you can start incorporating into your lifestyle:
– Keep a glass of water on your desk to sip while you’re working.
– Build mealtime breaks into your office hours routine.
– Set a regular time to do easy exercise. Even a 10-minute walk once a day can do wonders.
– Whether you finish working in the early or late evening, incorporate a “winding-down” routine to quiet your mind and help you sleep better. In her article “You Snooze, You Win: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Healthy Sleep Habits,” Amy Rigby strongly recommends leaving your smartphone, laptop, and any other mobile devices outside your bedroom to help you make the switch from “work mode” to “sleep mode.”
– If you wear glasses or think you might need some, see an optometrist regularly to ensure you’re wearing the right lens prescription. I wear a pair of reading glasses with anti-reflective lenses while I’m using the computer, and it does wonders in preventing eye strain and fatigue.
5. Eliminate Unnecessary Stressors.
While it’s impossible to eliminate all the stress in your life, reducing the number of small, unnecessary stressors is a good habit to have. For example, if your office door bangs into the trash can, making an annoying metallic sound that drives you crazy every time you leave the room, see if there’s another place you can put the trash can. If you’re stressed out because you have a coffee date with a neighbor early tomorrow morning and are rushing to finish a project the night before, ask your neighbor if you can change the time of your coffee date. If you feel you need more time to finish a project, see if you can talk to your client and negotiate an extension on the due date.
The point is to get in the habit of figuring out which stressors you need to accept and manage, and which you can eliminate by making simple changes. Start by asking yourself three questions:
– What’s stressing me out right now?
– Is there a way I can eliminate this stressor?
– If so, what do I need to change or do?
6. Manage Your Time.
As a Freelancer or Virtual Assistant, managing your time goes hand in hand with maintaining healthy boundaries with clients, friends, and family members. At first the flexibility of the entrepreneurial lifestyle can make it seem like we have all the time in the world, but very quickly we realize that it’s impossible to do everything. I used to have a bad habit of going out for dinner or to a football game and then come home and finish my work late at night. I can tell you, I had quite a few close calls when I underestimated how long it would take me to finish my project.
So, in addition to setting office hours for yourself, here are some other helpful time management habits:
– Batch your emails and social media so that you check them at certain times each day. I had to start doing this because answering emails and Facebook comments as they came in broke my concentration and made me less productive in my other tasks.
– Use online tools like Freshbooks, Toggl, Harvest, and RescueTime to track your time and improve your productivity.
– Schedule breaks to do whatever refreshes, recharges, and rejuvenates you!
An article titled “12 Habits of Highly Effective Entrepreneurs” puts it this way:
“Effective entrepreneurs value time as their most precious commodity. They understand they must maintain their much-needed quiet time to avoid burnout. For this reason, they pre-plan vacation time, take days off when sick or otherwise necessary. Because they take the breaks to enjoy their lives, they are actually more successful than the entrepreneur who works non-stop, lives on caffeine, nicotine and fast food in order to not miss work. Time for self-care is sacred in an effective entrepreneur’s world.”
7. Be Social.
It may sound funny to call this last one a habit, but in our online world, sometimes it needs to be. The life of a Freelancer or Virtual Assistant can be lonely, especially if you’ve recently made the transition from the corporate world to a home office. It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of working and taking care of our household, without a lot of social interaction.
Social needs vary depending on the individual, so you can design this habit in whatever way works for you. I’m quite introverted, so for me, a short exchange of witty Facebook comments is enough to make me say, “That was a fun visit!” If you’re more extroverted, you might want to schedule regular visits or phone calls with friends, or even a fun night out to recharge your social batteries.
As we often mention here at VAClassroom, belonging to business mentoring or mastermind groups is another healthy social habit. It allows you to connect with like-minded individuals who can support you, challenge you, and listen to your concerns in a welcoming environment.
So remember, a HEALTHY entrepreneur is an EFFECTIVE entrepreneur! These are just seven of the many healthy habits we can adopt to make ourselves more productive in our work and life.
Let us know in the comments below which ones you find most helpful and if there are any others you’d add to the list!