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Managing your time when you’re self-employed can be a challenge. Work-life balance can seem like a pipe dream when clients are constantly emailing and your to-do list never ends. It’s important to remember why you became a business owner in the first place, you wanted to manage your own schedule and be able to be where you wanted when you wanted, remember? Okay, easier said than done. But not impossible. Entrepreneurs like the word impossible, it’s just another challenge to conquer!
Imagine you have a rockstar employee. Like the person you know you couldn’t be successful without. Maybe you already have one... If so, congrats! They are dedicated to you and your business so want to properly compensate them for all they give to you. What’s the first thing you do? Do you make sure they have work-life balance, that you leave them alone once they clock out for the weekend so they can come back refreshed and ready to go for you Monday morning? If not, you should reevaluate how you do business because your rockstar employee is probably looking for another job... and most likely on your time.
The second thing you do is make sure you pay them well. The reason this is the second thing is that studies have shown over and over again that a happy employee is willing to take a little less money to enjoy going to work every day. But it’s obvious that the pay is not what’s most important... it’s more about making the employee happy so that they can do their best work for you.
Guess what? Even if you already have your rockstar on staff, your biggest star is YOU. Without you, where would your business be? Therefore you have to treat yourself the same as you treat your employee... starting with work-life balance. You need to show up ready to rock when that time comes. So rule number one is the first and most important step in managing your time...
Turn off your work phone and email after hours.
I use my personal cellphone for work and found this to be a challenge at first. I found a great solution by getting an online office phone number and only allowing it to forward during my set business hours. After hours callers get an after hours voicemail. It only costs me around $12 per month and I was able to remove my cellphone from all online advertising and my website, a huge bonus! Other clients already have my cell number and used to contact me whenever they had that “oh I forgot to ask Jen something“ moment. I had conversations with these clients, explaining that I won’t respond until my next business day, and they all understood! Same rules apply to email. If you have a hard time keeping up by Monday morning, go through them all at a set time on Monday. (I address email challenges specifically later in this post.)
Schedule your days, in detail.
Again, a good exercise here is to remember you are your best employee. What time do you need you to be at work by? How long do you need you to be there? When will you take breaks/lunch? Then... stick to it. Arrive on time. Once you get there, prepare your daily list, put out any fires, and then knock out your hardest task. Take your scheduled breaks, and stay focused in between them. Around 15 minutes before you’re off for the day, write down anything you need to address the next day and physically go through a process of closing down for the day. Leave on time.
If you work from home, this applies to you just the same. Get dressed as if you’re physically going to work and have a dedicated space in your home that you do all your work from. Schedule breaks and walk the dog or make some lunch, but NO HOUSEWORK! (What would you want your employee doing on your time? Probably not your laundry.) Have a desk lamp that only goes on while you’re working, and close your computer down and turn the lamp off when you “close”. You have to convince your subconscious that you’re done with work for the day.
Scheduling your days also includes penciling in time for the kids, your spouse or significant other, and yourself. Often we are at the mercy of our clients, but if you want to volunteer to chaperone a field trip or maybe even treat yourself a massage, schedule it in and block that time out! If you need to be home by a certain time, build your work schedule around that. It’s okay to leave early or arrive late occasionally if you plan ahead. I use a cool feature from Square that links to my Google calendar and my website where clients can see my availability and book me directly from the website. Google calendar in particular has been a great tool for my business.
How to deal with constantly incoming emails.
Like cell phones, email has made our society a 24/7 communication world. Entrepreneurs are notorious for being night owls, working at two and three in the morning on a Tuesday. I have gotten more than my share of prospect emails at all hours of the day. I also have multiple emails thanks to upgrades over the years. I came across my personal solution by accident when I hired my own rockstar assistant Kristen. I set her up with an admin email account. When I thought of random tasks that I needed her to do I just sent Kristen an email which she would check when she got to the office.
Recently I sent Kristen to go work on site at one of our clients; However, I continued sending all my tasks to the admin email, essentially creating my very own morning to do list. Anytime I get an email when I’m not at work that I need to follow up on, I forward it to the admin email. When I have an “OMG I need to do that” moment, I write a quick email to the admin email. I then check the admin email and write down everything on my to-do list as part of my daily routine, and respond to new emails as they come in during working hours. If the new email involve a task I add it to my to-do list and write a short reply with a follow up when the task is completed.
If you want to go another step, you can add an auto-responder to reply to client emails during non business hours so you don’t feel like you’re neglecting them!
Build time into your work day for non-operational tasks.
Most of us are do it all ourselves people, and that’s okay when you’re small. If you can’t afford to outsource your marketing and/or accounting then undoubtably some of these tasks fall on you as well. Problems arise when you’re spending your off hours working on these tasks, as they can be physically and emotionally draining. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, you probably aren’t in business to be an accountant or a marketing guru, so these are not most likely your strong points. But if you are in the position of having to handle all three corners of your triangle on your own, it’s especially important to build these tasks into your day.
The first step is to find out how much time you actually spend on these tasks. If it is more than a few hours a week, you may want to consider hiring a marketing or accounting firm within your budget. Time is money, and the more time you are spending not working on your business operations the less money you are making. If you do find that you can complete your non-operational tasks in a reasonable amount of time on your own, schedule them into your working day. If you need to start the day at your computer for one hour a day, do it, knock out the tasks, and move on.
A final thought regarding time management in general...
Someone told me once that I cannot make time, I have to take it. I think of this often when I start feeling like there’s not enough time in the day. There’s always enough time if you take time for what’s important to you. If you’re scrambling around feeling like you’re always working and never resting, it’s quite possible that you’re just aren’t very good at managing your time. When you are working, stay focused. We have to stay disciplined during our working time so we can enjoy our off hours. Nobody I’ve ever met became a business owner so they could work 24/7. We all do what we do to try and create a life for ourselves, and our work is what we do it’s not who we are. As a recent cancer survivor I can say from experience I wasn’t thinking about my clients when I got the news that changed my life. Today I work my butt off for my clients partially so they can create their own lives, but mostly so I can create my own.