You’ve taken the jump and now you’re a small business owner. Maybe you’re a freelancer or independent consultant working full-time. Maybe you’re no longer rolling solo and are now managing a team. Maybe you’re still a 9-to-5 worker and performing side gigs in your spare time.
Whichever is your status, you’ve gotten past mindset obstacles and you’re working on your dream job — owning and growing your own business.
There may be one or several reasons why you decided to become a business owner. Whether it was out of a necessity or checking off an item on your life goals list, one common reason for wanting to start your own business is you want more time.
More time to spend with your children, wife, husband, significant other or friends. More time to travel. More time to work on a hobby. More time to volunteer and give back to a community.
Just more frigging time to do other things besides spending the majority of your day working for someone else, and helping them achieve their business goals.
So, why is it that as a business owner, you now have even less time than you did before?
What? Did someone lie to you about the carefree life of being your own boss and all the extra time you’d have while still making a decent income?
No. It’s because your time management skills need improvement.
“It’s not about what time you get up, it’s about what you do with the time you’re up.” – Glynis Jones
At a recent networking event for freelancers and independent consultants, there were two common complaints:
- “I get up early and by the end of the day I’m so drained I don’t feel like doing anything but sleeping.“
- “I don’t have enough time to spend with my family, friends (or do a leisure activity/hobby) anymore.“
So, you’re busy. That’s certainly nothing to grumble about because you are closing prospects and winning contracts, which equates to income.
But are you accomplishing tasks that are moving you towards your business growth goals?
Eliminate the Unnecessaries
Time is the most precious commodity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. We, as freelancers and independent consultants, need to make the most of our time.
Being busy does not mean you’re productive.
If you find yourself always busy, yet your goal meter hasn’t moved in a positive direction — you’re spending too much time on unneeded tasks.
Let’s take a look at some of the daily activities that may be eating away at your time and productivity, and some practical solutions.
- Choose which projects you will personally take on.
An independent worker’s income may not always be consistent. For this sole reason, you may want to accept each and every project that comes into your inbox.
I get it. I understand. Been there and done that — a lot — when I initially began working as a freelancer.
Accepting a project that is significantly below your rate may sound good at the time. However, when you factor in meetings, emails, edits, testing, feedback, that’s a lot of time spent on a low budget project.
In the end, you’re doing yourself an injustice.
Solution: Delegate work that does not require your personal involvement and skills.
After you’ve worked on a particular project, you will always have an idea of the number of hours needed to perform similar work in the future. Use that to your benefit.
Review the time-consuming, low budget projects and assign work to your team or outsource certain tasks. Outsource work to individuals with a priority to build a portfolio over pocketing a certain amount of income per project.
Sure, you won’t get 100% of the project’s budget, but you will gain more time to concentrate on higher budget projects or more time to do leisure activities.
- Remove distractions.
When I first started doing freelance and consulting work, my remote routine entailed getting a mug of tea, my computer, and sitting in front of the TV while I worked.
I figured since I get to work from home, why not watch a bit of television while working on a project? Or, I would try a new recipe, because it’ll only take a “short while.” Or, I think I’ll see what’s happening on Facebook, Twitter, and Skype. Yes, that’s “and” not “or.” I had to check all three.
I quickly noticed that a project which should only take approximately 3-hours to complete was taking me twice the amount of time. There were too many distractions, within easy reach, adding to hours I could not bill.
Solution: Remove all distractions from your work environment.
- Designate office space separate from the rest of your home.
If you’re a remote worker, establish a quiet, clutter-free, work-space with zero to minimal non-work elements. I find that having a radio in the room works for me, but a TV is a huge distraction and had to go. Pets are OK too. However, pet toys within the office area is a strict off-limits rule. It’s too tempting to get caught up in playing with your pets.
If you work at an on-site or co-work space and find constant interruptions are taking you away from your tasks, it’s past the time to re-evaluate your work environment.
The open-office model trend is common in today’s workplace, especially the technology industry. It’s easy to get sucked into the conversations, laughing, and antics of others around you, and there goes the time.
When the option to work from home is off the table, try getting yourself a pair of noise cancellation headphones or noise isolation headphones. As a frequent traveler who has worked in co-work space, noisy airports and train stations, headsets that deaden or eliminate surrounding noise is a necessity when talking online with team members and clients.
Some people prefer a noisy environment while working and can be quite productive in such a setting.
If you do not fall into that category and need a quiet zone to be more productive, you must take steps to get yourself into a workspace that works for you and not against you — no matter how fun and social the office buzz is.
- Curb your social media, internet browsing, and email habits.
If it’s unrelated to your project, stay off social media and websites while you work. Yes, this can be a mindset challenge and difficult to balance, especially if your project involves being on social platforms and the internet.
Facekbook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Skype, Email, Messenger. All of these daily distractions cause you to lose time and distracts from focusing on your business.
Try limiting the number of times you check your email to once or twice a day. If an email doesn’t require an immediate response, don’t hit reply right away. This rule will also encourage your clients to realize not every email is urgent and they will not always expect an immediate response to the non-critical ones.
Mental breaks are necessary. Your work day doesn’t mean you should only be working as if you’re at a 9-to-5.
Not allowing yourself to step away from your desk can be counter-productive. Try taking short breaks to refresh your mind, and adjust those breaks until you find the best use of your time while still staying productivity.
What works for me is carving out time from my workday to workout, walk around the neighborhood, talk with locals, do quick chores, browse online, check personal mail, etc. I set a timer (a deafening buzzer on my cellphone) for two morning, a lunch, and two evening breaks.
During these breaks, I allow myself to do anything non-business related — even play a quick on-line game — but once that buzzer goes off, it’s back to business.
In the end, it’s about setting and maintaining your online boundaries with personal and work activities.
- Designate office space separate from the rest of your home.
- Learn to say no.
- Say no to friends and family.
Friends and family are aware you have a small business. They know you control your own time, what you do and when you do it. So, naturally, they think you can do them a favor.
Watch their child who is staying home, sick from school. Take their child to a school event because they have to work late at the office. Babysit because they have to work late at the office. House sit because they’re expecting a delivery. Teach them what you do … for free.
Maybe you’ve been asked to do one of these or another favor. It’s good to be able to help out family and friends.
However, if it is continually taking you away from your business, you must learn to say no.
Explain to family and friends that you run a business, want to grow your business, and like any successful business, you must optimize your time and maintain a productive schedule.
It’s OK to help out now and then. The problem arises when it becomes a routine favor and is taking away from the time you should be working on your business.
Do not feel guilty about saying no. There’s doing a favor, and then there’s allowing family and friends to take advantage of your time.
- Say no to clients.
As a new business owner, you may be eager for work and a good rapport with all clients. It’s easy to think, “I’ll just do this extra modification, even though the client is already at their maximum.”
Even if it’s something that will take a short amount of time, it’s still time. Your time and you’re not getting paid for it.
If it’s not part of the original project’s specifications or the client doesn’t want to modify the agreement to include the additional requests — say no.
Don’t be afraid that you will lose the project if you don’t perform the client’s additional tasks. That’s one purpose of having a contract or a written agreement for services to be performed.
You run a professional business, right? It is unprofessional of anyone to expect you to do work for free.
Say no. Finish the original agreed upon work, and move on.
- Say no to yourself.
As a business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in becoming a workaholic. It can even be difficult maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
Set aside time to have a life.
Disconnect from work. Plan, at a minimum, one full day where you do absolutely nothing related to your work. Everything on that day is 100% leisure time with family and friends.
Being tired is not a badge of honor. If you have daytime fatigue, your body is screaming, “Something is wrong!” It may be a lack of sleep.
Say no when you start telling yourself, “Just another 10 minutes on this project (or email, blog post, design, whatever), and then I’ll go to bed.”
Establish a routine sleep pattern and try to stick to it. Your mind and body will thank you.
- Say no to friends and family.
As a business owner, time management is about establishing a work regime that works best for your business and your life, while staying productive. We have to not only educate ourselves about our time, but also educate our clients, friends, and family about how our time works.
It may take a few trials, and some mistakes will happen. Learning from those time management mistakes will result in the higher productivity for your business.