Avoid the Rabbit Hole of Starting Your Small Business

Clipboard with paper and a stack of brown notebooks.

We’ve all gone down the rabbit hole for something. Maybe you were looking for inspiration on Pinterest for some summer decor only to realize hours have elapsed and you’ve created boards for each and every holiday and season you celebrate. Or maybe you’ve been looking for the best project management tool and now have an elaborate system of criteria for the fifteen options but aren’t actually any closer to choosing one. Now don’t get me wrong, doing research is important and necessary. There is a gray line when research can turn into procrastination that turns into you charging down a rabbit hole that is not going to move your business forward. Here are five tips to help you avoid those rabbit holes of starting your small business.

Brown Rabbit licking a humans finger

Make Your List

Oh, lists are wonderful! Thus far in my life, I have ONE instance where a waitress took my table’s order without writing it down and remembered everything. I was shocked! My guess is she worked VERY hard to build her recall skills and she learned tricks to remember our specific requests, or she is one of the rare few who can remember everything. Either way, she was an objection to the rule. The majority of the population can only hold four to seven thoughts in their short term memory

For small business owners, we are setting ourselves up for failure if we trust our brains to remember our business to-do lists, family to-do lists, and personal to-do lists. It’s just too much!

For small business owners, we are setting ourselves up for failure if we trust our brains to remember our business to-do lists, family to-do lists, and personal to-do lists. It’s just too much! Things will be forgotten. And you want to do all you can to not let something fall through the cracks.

How you make and update and store your list is up to you! Some use paper and pen, others use whiteboards, others use project management software such as Asana, Notion, Trello, or Google Calendar. And some use a combination. Over time with trial and error, you will find the method that works best for you.

I’ve been following the What Works Commitment Blueprint and it’s been a wonderful method for me to create, organize and have flexibility around my lists. I have three large priorities that span a twelve-month period. I then choose up to twelve projects that move me towards those priorities. Then, towards the end of each quarter, I pick up to three tasks to work on the following quarter. From there I create a calendar database in Notion and schedule 3-4 tasks daily from Monday through Friday that I want to complete. I add in any appointments from my Google Calendar so I don’t over-schedule myself. My personal list is on a chalkboard in our house for the cleaning list, or errand list, or other to-dos that are communal.

Most important is to find a method that is easy and approachable for your style of work.

Most important is to find a method that is easy and approachable for your style of work. This is a living document that will be referenced often and adjusted often. Lists are powerful tools to help keep you focused on the tasks that need to happen.

Set a Time Limit

Setting a time limit for different projects in your business can help you keep moving forward in the big picture of your business. You can set a time limit for pretty much all your tasks. Researching a tool? Set a time limit. Writing a blog post? Set a time limit. Working on an off day? Set a time limit.

When you are researching for the right tool to use in your business, it can be overwhelming when you look at all the different companies and all the different features, and all the different prices.

One way to help organize your time around a decision is to only spend a set amount of time on the research.

Paper to do list on top of a paper calendar.

One way to help organize your time around a decision is to only spend a set amount of time on the research. Depending on the tool, this time will vary. Let’s take scheduling software as an example. In the first week, you set a time limit of two hours to research different options and make a list of those that may work, and those you know won’t. In the second week, you take two to four hours to choose two or three potentials and set up a free account to dig deeper into the features of each. You pick a few friends or chosen clients to use the software and get feedback. In the final week, you take another two to four hours to make your choice, upgrade to a paid version, if necessary, and do the final setup and integration into your business. This task that could have taken up weeks and exceeded the ten hours maximum you’ve set aside now has time limit boundaries. This way the other tasks on your to-do list aren’t taken over by choosing scheduling software.

Choosing to put in a bit of work time on your day off is another place where time limits come in really handy. As a small business owner, there will be times when you may need to work on a day you typically deem off-limits. Communicating your needs to your friends or family who will be impacted is always important. The other important task is to agree to when you will stop working, and honor that.

As a small business owner, the excitement of starting the business, or the million good ideas and inspiration, or the drive towards profitability can cloud your need for boundaries between work time and personal time.

As a small business owner, the excitement of starting the business, or the million good ideas and inspiration, or the drive towards profitability can cloud your need for boundaries between work time and personal time. They are all tempting rabbit holes for us. Set an alarm on your computer or your phone when you’ve got 30 minutes left to work. Do what you need to do to have some outside accountability to your time limit. I do not suggest trusting your brain to be aware of the time and remember when to stop. The rabbit hole has a magical way of making time subjective!

Segment your task (research, pros and cons, other’s opinion)

Let’s keep going with researching the scheduling software example. You can see where segmenting tasks into different time limits helps move the project forward. By breaking up a task or project into small chunks, you set yourself up to stay on task and better avoid distraction. Also, segmenting your tasks allows you to build your schedule to incorporate everything you need to. Whether you take a task and segment it into time chunks through a week, or take an entire day and segment your tasks into time chunks within the day, this allows you to keep track of where you’re at, what you’ve done, and what’s left to do.

Whether you take a task and segment it into time chunks through a week, or take an entire day and segment your tasks into time chunks within the day, this allows you to keep track of where you’re at, what you’ve done, and what’s left to do.

Deadline for decision

Creating and honoring deadlines for yourself and your business is an empowering boss move! If you’re coming from a job where you had a manager or boss, or perhaps you’re still working a job where you have someone else managing your time, it can be a challenging learning curve to now set your own deadlines. One of the perks of being a small business owner is usually, you only answer to yourself. Yes, you do have your customers and clients that you’ve committed a service to. But they are also an outside motivator. The rabbit hole of not setting a deadline is decisions can go unmade and projects can drag on. And on. And on. Your launch date for your business is then pushed back, and your motivation wanes. When you don’t set and honor deadlines, you don’t respect yourself or your business. Not so boss!

A note I want to address on the three tips so far is about perfectionism. As you work to implement these tips, understand that life doesn’t always go to plan, and things will need to be adjusted. Remember, these tips are you help you stay focused and avoid distractions that prolong the tasks, decisions, and projects that will continue to move your business forward.

Knowing when to stop

And finally, avoid rabbit holes by learning or knowing when to stop. This is a cumulation of the other four tips. By creating your list, setting time limits, assigning duties to those time limits, segmenting them, and creating deadlines for your projects and tasks, you’ve already created points in time to stop working. However, that doesn’t mean you’re now void of the rabbit hole temptation. Self-awareness is a lifelong practice that comes into play when knowing when to stop. For example, if I realize I keep reading the same sentence multiple times to stay present, I know my brain is at capacity and it’s time to either stop for the day or at least take a break. Or, if you are stumped on part of a new skill or project and feel like you’re spinning your wheels, it may be time to stop and take a break. With starting a new business, your diligence in understanding when you’re unable to be productive allows you to work when you’re in your most productive state of mind, and avoid wasting time down rabbit holes when you should really stop for a moment and check in with your list, or time limits or big plan.

With starting a new business, your diligence in understanding when you’re unable to be productive allows you to work when you’re in your most productive state of mind, and avoid wasting time down rabbit holes when you should really stop for a moment and check in with your list, or time limits or big plan.

Person taking a stretch break in front of their computer.

My hope is if you are able to apply these tips into your routines now, you will be able to run your business successfully, with fewer road bumps because you’ve set up habits to keep you focused and on task. Do you have any tips for avoiding the rabbit hole of starting a business? I would love to hear them! Tag me on Instagram with what works best!

Erin Detka is the owner of DTK Studios, a website and marketing agency. DTK Studios works with small and micro business owners to create customer-focused simple websites designed quickly and within a small business budget. What was supposed to be an easy task, setting up a business, can turn into a huge list of tasks that some small business owners don’t have the knowledge or skills to do in the amount of time they thought it would take. By investing in a website designer instead of trudging up the learning curve, they can jump-start their business and start serving their community sooner. 

Erin Detka DTK Studios