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Op/Ed

5 underrated ways you can support small businesses

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Want to support small businesses but can’t afford to buy their products right now? No problem, take note of these other tips to support small!

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Woman standing in blue doorway welcoming people into their small businesses. Support for small businesses

Everyone’s felt at least a twinge of struggle over the last year. Those who are really feeling this struggle across the board are small business owners. With so much uncertainty and so much closing around them, there’s a great deal of added stress to go on top of what they typically deal with.

Luckily, there are plenty of things you can do to help. Let’s talk about them:

  1. Buy a gift card, for yourself or for a friend – if there is someone in your life you need to purchase a gift for, consider a gift card to a small business, either online or in the recipient’s area. Even buying a catch-all gift card for something like Etsy helps to support small businesses.
  2. Write a review – I never realized until recent years just how important online reviews are. I almost always refer to them now when deciding on a new purchase or trying a new business. Writing a review only takes a few minutes and can send new business to the company’s door. Consider writing one review and posting it across all of their platforms (Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.)
  3. Take social media a step further – again, if you like a business, follow them across all of their platforms. Interact and comment when appropriate, too, as this helps people who are considering trying the business. Sharing pictures is also helpful, if you tried a fancy coffee or got a great haircut that needs to be Instagrammed. When you buy something, post a story and tag the business in there. It alerts your followers of the business and also gives the business an option to share your post.
  4. Word of mouth – never forget how powerful of a marketing tool this is. Tell your friends and family about a new small business you tried and let them know how you liked it. Also grabbing a few business cards and handing them out is also a helpful tactic (and might just help you get a referral promo!)
  5. Mail them a thank you card – this is an obscure one, but some businesses will display cards they get in the mail, and giving them something to hang up will give new customers a sense of encouragement that the business they’re trying is liked by real people. (“Wow, someone went out of their way to send a thank you note. This place must be good!”) The business can then also share your card on social media and will further pass along the sense of encouragement to the potential customers in their followership.

At the end of the day, your feedback matters – not just to business owners, but to prospective clients and customers. Throw some good karma into the world and support the small businesses that you love.

Staff Writer, Taylor Leddin is a publicist and freelance writer for a number of national outlets. She was featured on Thrive Global as a successful woman in journalism, and is the editor-in-chief of The Tidbit. Taylor resides in Chicago and has a Bachelor in Communication Studies from Illinois State University.

Op/Ed

To-do list tips to maximize productivity and lower stress

(EDITORIAL) Even if you have a to-do list, the weight of your tasks might be overwhelming. Here’s advice on how to fix the overwhelm.

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To-do list in a journal with gold rings.

If you ask me, there’s no better way to unwind and ease everyday stress by making a to-do list. Like they said in the movie, Clueless, “It gives [you] a sense of control in a world full of chaos.”

While that quote was specific to a makeover, it certainly applies here. When you have too many things on your plate, making a to-do list is a quick way to get yourself in order. Typically, this does the trick for organizing your upcoming tasks.

It’s important to determine what method of listmaking works for you. I personally like to use sticky notes around my computer monitor to keep me in check for what’s needed to be done work-wise or by use of my computer. Other personal task items will either be kept in a list on my phone, or in my paper planner.

For work, I have a roster of clients I work with everyday. They each have their own list containing tasks I have to complete for them. I also use Google Calendar to keep these tasks in order if they have a specific deadline.

For personal use, I create a to-do list at the start of each week to determine what needs to be accomplished over the next seven days. I also have a monthly overview for big-picture items that need to be tackled (like an oil change).

This form of organization can be a lot and it can still be overwhelming, even if I have my ducks in a row. And, every once in a while, those tasks can really pile up on those lists and a whole new kind of overwhelm develops.

Fear not, as there are still ways to break it down from here. Let me explain.

First, what I’d recommend is going through all of your tasks and categorizing them (i.e. a work list, a personal list, a family list, etc.) From there, go through each subsequent list and determine priority.

You can do this by setting a deadline for each task, and then put every task in order based on what deadline is coming up first. From there, pieces start to fall into place and tasks begin to be eliminated. I do recognize that this is what works for my brain, and may not be what works for yours.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has some interesting insight on the topic and examines the importance of how you relate to your tasks. The concept is, instead of letting the tasks be some sort of scary stress, find ways to make them more relatable. Here are some examples that Babauta shares:

  • I’m fully committed to this task because it’s incredibly important to me, so I’m going to create a sacred space of 30 minutes today to be fully present with it.
  • This task is an opportunity for me to serve someone I care deeply about, with love.
  • These tasks are training ground for me to practice presence, devotion, getting comfortable with uncertainty.
  • These tasks are an adventure! An exploration of new ground, a learning space, a way to grow and discover and create and be curious.
  • This task list is a huge playground, full of ways for me to play today!

Finding the best method of creating your to-do list or your task list and the best method for accomplishing those tasks is all about how you relate and work best. It can be trial and error, but there is certainly a method for everyone. What are your methods?

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Op/Ed

Why delegation of work doesn’t always lead to productivity

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Delegation is tricky, and can end up creating more work for yourself if it isn’t done well. Here’s how to fix that.

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Man talking on virtual meeting, using delegation to get more work done.

Delegating work is a logical step in the process of attaining peak efficiency. It’s also a step that, when executed incorrectly, leads to a huge headache and a lot of extra work for whomever is delegating tasks—not to mention frustration on the part of those asked to complete said tasks. Here is how you can assign work with the confidence that it will be done quickly and effectively.

Firstly, realizing that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work can be a bit of a blow. It’s certainly easier to assign tasks across the board and wait for them to be completed; however, when you consider how much clean-up work you have to do when those tasks don’t end the way you expect them to, it’s actually simpler to assign tasks according to employees’ strengths and weaknesses, providing appropriate supports along the way.

In education, this process is called “differentiation”, and it’s the same idea: If you assign 30 students the exact same work, you’ll see pretty close to 30 different answers. Assigning that same piece with the accommodations each student needs to succeed—or giving them different parameters according to their strengths—means more consistency overall. You can apply that same concept to your delegation.

Another weak point in many people’s management models revolves around how employees see their superiors. In part, this isn’t your fault; American authority paradigms mandate that employees fear their bosses, bend over backward to impress them, and refrain from communicating concerns. However, it is ultimately your job to make sure that your employees feel both supported and capable.

To wit, assign your employees open-ended questions and thought-provoking problems early on to allow them to foster critical thinking skills. The more you solve their problems for them, the more they will begin to rely on you in a crisis—and the more work you’ll take home despite all of your delegation efforts. Molding employees into problem-solvers can certainly take time, but it’s worth the wait.

Finally, your employees may lack strength in the areas of quality and initiative. That sounds a lot worse than it actually is—basically, employees may not know what you expect, and in the absence of certainty, they will flounder. You can solve this by providing employees with the aforementioned supports; in this case, those look like a list of things to avoid, a bulleted list of priorities for a given project, or even a demo of how to complete their work.

Again, this sounds like a lot of effort upfront for your delegation, but you’ll find your patience rewarded come deadline time.

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Op/Ed

5 things your home office may not need

(EDITORIAL) Since many of us are working entirely from home now, we are probably getting annoyed at a messy desk, let’s take a crack at minimalism!

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desk minimalism

COVID-19 is changing our behaviors. As more people stay home, they’re seeing (and having to deal with) the clutter in their home. Many people are turning to minimalism to reduce clutter and find more joy. There are many ways to define minimalism. Some people define it as the number of items you own. Others think of it as only owning items that you actually need.

I prefer to think of minimalism as intentionality of possessions. I have a couple of dishes that are not practical, nor do I use them very often. But they belonged to my grandma, and out of sentimentality, I keep them. Most minimalists probably wouldn’t.

They say a messy desk is a sign of creativity. Unfortunately, that same messy desk limits productivity. Harvard Business Review reports that cluttered spaces have negative effects on us. Keep your messy desk, but get rid of the clutter. Take a minimalistic approach to your home office. Here are 5 things to clean up:

  1. Old technology – When was the last time you printed something for work? Most of us don’t print much anymore. Get rid of the old printers, computer parts, and other pieces of hardware that are collecting dust.
  2. Papers and documents – Go digital, or just save the documents that absolutely matter. Of course, this may vary by industry, but take a hard look at the paper you’ve saved over the past month or so. Then ask yourself whether you will really ever look at it again.
  3. Filing cabinets – If you’re not saving paper, you don’t need filing cabinets.
  4. Trade magazines and journals – Go digital, and keep your magazines on your Kindle, or pass down the print versions to colleagues who may be interested.
  5. Anything unrelated to work – Ok, save the picture of your family and coffee mug, but clean off your desk of things that aren’t required for work. It’s easy for home and work to get mixed up when you’re working and living in one place. Keep it separate for your own peace of mind and better workflow. If space is tight and you’re sharing a dining room table with work, get a laundry basket or box. At the start of the workday, remove home items and put them in the box. Transfer work items to another box at the end of the day.

This might seem like a little more work, but all these practices will give you some boundaries.

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