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Dave Crenshaw, in his book The Focused Business: How Entrepreneurs Can Triumph Over Chaos, contends that the #1 reason more than half of all businesses fail in the first 5 years is because they are unfocused and embrace chaos. Crenshaw defines chaos as “the haphazard allocation of resources toward that which is of variable value.” By working smarter, we can minimize the chaos in the workplace and focus our resources on what matters most for the success of our business.

Before we stretch our legs and get started in 2014, I’d like to share 7 steps that I’ve found helpful in working smarter – evaluate, set goals, prioritize, delegate, research, take care of yourself, and work hard.


Evaluate

As you work on your goals for 2014, take some time to evaluate the successes and difficulties of 2013 – what were your victories, what were your losses, where did you lose steam, what did you learn, what trends did you notice within your growth? When you have the answers, be sure to ask why, and then make an effort to emulate the actions that created victories and pinpoint the attitudes or behaviors that led to loss. Take some time to evaluate your brand, online presence, competition, and industry at large, and grade yourself on how you measure up. Once you’ve made these evaluations, begin to form goals for 2014 based on what you’ve learned. Be sure to involve your business partner or C-level employees and your CPA in your evaluation.

Set Goals

Forbes’ advice on setting goals and making sure they stick is to (1) write them down (3-5 is best), (2) be realistic with your expectations, and (3) make milestones to track your progress. I would add a fourth step, which to me is crucial to maintaining goals – accountability. Share your goals with your staff and let them know how they can be a part of achieving them. If you haven’t set goals for 2014, there’s still time.


Prioritize

Make prioritizing a priority in 2014. Prioritizing helps you organize your day based on which tasks are most important and protects you from being sidetracked by unimportant matters. After you have a list for the day, try to estimate how much time you’ll need for each activity, and then determine the best time of day to complete each task. Some of the best advice I’ve received is to organize tasks based on the times of day you are most effective – I schedule creative tasks for early morning when I’m the freshest and alone in the office, follow that time with 3-5 items that must be accomplished that day, and do most of my planning for the next day before leaving work in the evening.

Delegate

You can’t do it all, and I believe that’s one of the greatest temptations as a small business owner. At some point, we have to trust others with tasks. To help delegate, start making a list of everything you do during the day, from preparing proposals to filling orders to taking out the trash, and keep a list each day for 2-3 weeks. Then, take a red pen and go through each list, marking the tasks that could easily be delegated and note which staff member would be most suited to complete them. Then, schedule a time to create procedures and train that team member. Not only will this reveal the strengths of your team, it will also put you in a position to cast vision instead of being bogged down in details.


Research

One of our mantras at M&R is if there’s a way to do it, there’s also a better way to do it. There are lots of great resources that can make your work life and personal life easier – magazines, blogs, and forums are all great resources, but even more valuable are the experiences of people within your industry – find an expert, offer to take them to lunch, and start picking their brain.

Take Care of Yourself

We spend a lot of time taking care of our business and what’s left is spread across so many other areas of life. Outside of work, our time is usually spent on the 5 F’s – faith, family, finances, friends, and fitness. Keeping a healthy balance of the F’s is crucial for staying healthy enough to lead an effective business. I begin most every day with faith and fitness and without compromise end each day with family.


Work Hard

Lastly, work hard. We’ve all heard, “work smarter, not harder,” but it doesn’t remove the need for hard work (obviously). For the majority of business owners, working hard means arriving first and leaving last, but that’s not the goal – the goal is to maximize our time at work in order to help us better focus on life outside of the office.

– Matthew Michael is co-founder of M&R Marketing Group.

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