Forget losing 10 pounds, or joining a trendy gym you'll never use.

This year, resolve to make some changes aimed at improving your personal and professional health. If you try a few of these suggestions, I promise you'll be in better shape physically, emotionally and financially by this time next year.

- Question why you are in the business you're in. It sounds scary, but if you do some soul searching, you may find you are in business for the wrong reasons, or in the wrong business altogether. If you got into business because you couldn't find a job or bought a franchise 10 years ago, it's time to evaluate whether your business is still a good fit for your skills and temperament. If it isn't right, you'll never be truly successful.

One simple way to decide whether you really love what you're doing is to gauge how you feel when the alarm clock buzzes. If you wake up feeling happy about heading to the office, you're OK. If you smack the snooze button, roll over and put the pillow over your head with a loud sigh, it may be time for a big change. Remember that changing your direction can be extremely positive. Most true entrepreneurs start three or four companies in a lifetime. So, do some soul searching and decide whether 2001 is the year that you should sell, merge, or close down your current venture.

- Fire your worst clients and customers. Life is too short to work with people who give you a headache or a stomachache. I've said this a hundred times, and I'll say it again. If you dread receiving phone calls or e-mails from certain people, listen to your gut and get them out of your life. Toxic people sap your energy and affect employee morale. Eliminating toxic people isn't as tough as you may think. You don't have to move or change your name. You can diplomatically refer them to other companies. (Maybe they'll get along better with someone else!) If you sell a product, refer them to another distributor. Tell them you must be doing something wrong, and because you want them to be happy you must terminate your business relationship. Making room for new and better relationships is a great way to begin the year.

- Provide outplacement for your worst employees. If you dread going to work every morning, you have a serious people problem. One motivation to start your own business was to get away from people you didn't enjoy working with. Why should you spend your day dealing with people who annoy, aggravate, or otherwise bug you? You know who the problem employees are, so schedule a private counseling session. Before you meet, carefully document all the problems you can in writing.

Be very specific about the changes you want to see, and set deadlines for improvement. Just telling someone they are "lazy" or have "poor work habits" isn't going to protect you from a wrongful termination lawsuit. Set deadlines for improvement, and make sure the employee acknowledges your requests in writing. Taking a direct approach works best. Tell them you two may have a "chemistry" problem, and offer to pay their tuition for a college class or technical training if they agree to resign. Help them find another job or offer them a generous severance package to get them out of your life.

- Take better care of yourself. By now, you know whether you are a morning, afternoon or night person. Since you are the boss, adjust your work schedule to fit your personal clock. I like being the first one in the office on most days because it's quiet, and I can get a lot accomplished between 8 and 9 a.m. Starting early in the morning means I feel no guilt about booking a manicure at 4 p.m. It's very important to get out of the office for at least a half hour a day. Buy a portable CD player and comfortable headphones so you can listen to music while you take a walk. Buy an exercise mat so you can shut your door and do some slow stretches. Lie down and take a short nap. Remember that slurping coffee and yogurt at your desk does not constitute a lunch break. Drinking water will actually refresh you more than tea or coffee.

- Get a grip on your financial situation. Despite all the bookkeeping and money-management software programs, managing cash flow is still one of the top small-business challenges. No matter how well you treat your customers or clients, getting paid in a timely fashion is tough. Consider charging a deposit, no matter what kind of business you run. Getting some cash up front can help you keep the lights on while waiting for the balance. If you always pay your bills in full and on time, try negotiating more lenient terms with your vendors and suppliers.

Gaining an extra week or two to pay your bills can make a big difference. If you don't have a business credit line, apply for one. Every business needs a cushion to soften the blow of a late payment. (If you are a Costco "executive" member, be sure to check out Key Bank's terrific credit lines and business loans.)

- Spend more time with friends and family. Most entrepreneurs are guilty of putting work before family. Although you may justify your insane work schedule by telling your kids that your hard work provides all the goodies they expect, what they really need is more of your time. Two lavish weeks at a resort in Maui or the Caribbean won't make up for 50 weeks of serious neglect. Resolve to enjoy at least one four-day weekend a month. Promise yourself that you won't check e-mail or voicemail on the weekends unless you are in the middle of a huge deal. Make an unbreakable lunch, dinner or movie date with your significant other at least once a week. Be home in time to put the kids to bed at least three days during the week. If your marriage is faltering, seek professional counseling and try to put it back on track.

- Buy whatever you need to clear away clutter and better manage your time. I finally broke down and let our COO buy me a Handspring Visor. Now, I'm transferring information from hundreds of business cards stapled to index cards to my cool new personal digital assistant. (The stylus and shorthand are good for short entries, but I just ordered a keyboard to speed things up.) To free up more time, our production assistant sorts the mail and distributes the mail to others. Rather than checking e-mail every five minutes, check it every two hours. Remember the good old days when people mailed business letters and proposals to each other? We used to have a week or so to respond to a request for information now people expect an answer in 10 minutes or less. Taking time to think things over is a good thing for your business. Don't feel pressured to respond to anything immediately.

Finally, remember to praise yourself every day for the great job you are doing. Nobody works harder than a busy small-business owner does.

Jane Applegate is the author of "201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business" and is CEO of, a multimedia site providing small-business resources. She can be contacted via e-mail at, or by mail at P.O. Box 768, Pelham, NY 10803.

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