Why affording yourself some ‘me’ time matters so much for small-business owners

When I started my career, I was given the book Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracey. In it, he spruiks the idea that, to be more productive, we should always do the most unappealing task on our to-do list first. By doing so, you prevent the tendency to procrastinate, and clear the way to plough through the more tempting jobs that await easily. 

Published in 2001, the book became an instant best-seller and its dogma entrenched in many small businesses. However, I now realise the book makes a dangerous assumption. It implies our workplaces are isolated fortresses, immune to outside influences, that we’re all somehow able to switch our personal selves off and turn our professional selves on. And, at the start of each working day, we suddenly have the unbridled motivation to tackle our hardest and most daunting task.

As a small-business owner, striving to succeed against the odds, I’ve found this business ‘bible’ misses three critical pieces that complete the productivity picture.

But first, let me tell you how I came to this realisation.

When I started my own consulting business, I was buoyed by my new-found freedom. As a sole trader and mother of two, it was a huge benefit to me to structure my ideal work week. I loved having the flexibility to drop my kids off at day-care and take my red heeler, Yogi, for a walk before starting my workday. My usual route ascends a steep hill to a lookout before circling back down a stunning boardwalk that flanks the coastline. Once home, Yogi would always assume his position under my desk, his loyalty and moral support an ever-present comfort. 

To maintain my lifestyle, however, I couldn’t favour flexibility over finance. I was acutely aware that a staggering 48 per cent of new Australian businesses fail within the first four years. I needed to work hard and learn all I could to avoid becoming another statistic. While servicing my clients, I networked, listened to business podcasts, invested in marketing tactics, attended events, and read countless whitepapers and articles – all touting the latest trends and blueprints. 

It was at one of these events that I was captively taking notes during a presentation. The speaker revved the audience up for his number one business tip. With pen poised and bated breath, I waited for him to disclose it. “You are the master of your business…Your business should never get in the way of your health,” he remarked. Frankly, I was disappointed. I wanted the secret to business success and practical steps to solve all my business challenges. I didn’t even bother writing down his advice and promptly forgot what he said.

Fast forward a few months, and the honeymoon period had faded. My blissful outlook was overshadowed as the more I learnt, the more I felt I needed to do. To Yogi’s dismay, our walks slowly went on the back burner. He would get a few ball throws while I shovelled lunch into my face or a little jaunt to the shop, but we rarely embarked on our favourite challenging and breathtaking route.

Having no work/life guardrails became a curse, not a blessing. I was oscillating between tasks, but barely ticking any boxes. Despite all my best efforts to ‘eat that frog’ each morning, I’d work late into the night and skip breaks. I reached the point where I imagined joining that dreaded pile of failed businesses.

Frustrated and flat, I wracked my brain for a solution and the presenter’s words echoed in my head. Sacrificing your physical and mental health will leave you with nothing to put into the business. 

So, before you subscribe to the next organisational fad, try these three things first.

Get moving

After dropping the kids off the next morning, I eyed my laptop. It was coaxing me to pry it open, and get me sucked into a vortex of emails, articles and LinkedIn posts. But, to Yogi’s delight, I reached for his lead and laced on my runners instead. Restarting my daily walks was directly correlated with my mind sharpening and rediscovering my work ‘flow’. And I’m not alone.

In 2023, researchers wanted to see if daily physical activity affected the next-day job performance of 200 employees. They found exercise improved task focus by enhancing information processing, attention and concentration.

Whether you prefer going for a surf, hitting the gym, yoga or, like me, a walk, setting small, achievable exercise goals and carving out time in your calendar to do them will improve your professional outcomes.

Immerse yourself in nature

There’s a stack of evidence that shows the positive impact nature has on mental health. A Beyond Blue study by Deakin University found spending time in green spaces can reduce stress and improve positivity. In fact, there is an increasing global movement where health professionals are prescribing people a ‘dose of nature’.

What hope do you have of convincing a customer or client of your worth, when you feel utterly unworthy? Getting outside, breathing in the scent of eucalyptus and marvelling at an expansive view can contribute to a better mindset and set you up for success when you’re back at your desk.


If there’s one thing small-business owners lack, it’s time. Getting a good night’s sleep can often be the first thing sacrificed as work is prioritised. But when you’re tired and run down, it’s nearly impossible to develop a quality piece of work.  

Prominent neuroscientist, sleep expert and author of Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker, explains we can harness sleep to improve learning, decision-making, mood and energy levels. This fundamental aspect of our lives enriches our ability to be creative and boosts the efficiency and success of our businesses. So, stop doom-scrolling and start dreaming.

Productive work days depend on healthy habits 

When Yogi and I walk, I’m reminded of what truly matters and I’m proud that I dedicate this small part of the day to putting myself first. I mull over the most difficult tasks I’ve been struggling with, my ‘frogs’. I subconsciously brainstorm and am inspired, constantly pulling out my phone to jot down new ideas. The pressure’s off and I’m at my most effective. Back at home, the work/life chaos keeps churning, but I’m re-energised to take it in my stride. 

These are not new insights, by any means. But there’s a toxic, always-on mentality among us small-business owners, which seems to be drowning out this tried and tested advice. Quality sleep, regular exercise and a dose of nature are the three simple things that can have an incredible, lasting impact. The solution I’d been looking for was staring me in the face, literally, with big brown eyes, from down at my feet.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t ‘eat that frog’; rather, that we spend equal – if not more – time focusing our efforts on ‘preparing ourselves to swim’. This will ensure we’re in the best position to catch the slippery little things in the first place.

This article first appeared in issue 44 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine