How do you feel when you get to the office in the morning? Do you arrive at your desk with a clear sense of purpose, an uncluttered inbox and a well-defined series of daily objectives to meet that will best serve your company’s needs?
Or do you arrive – already stressed – to an email inbox that’s stuffed full of new messages, a seemingly never-ending list of “to do” items and a queue of employees waiting outside of your office for their daily assignments?
Certainly, these are two extreme examples, but they highlight an important distinction that all entrepreneurs must deal with at some point in their careers. You’re the business owner – so why does it feel like your business is the one running your life?
If you feel like your business has taken on a life of its own – one that’s threatening your ability to get the things done that you need to – put the following process into place in order to reclaim your business schedule and your life in general:
Step #1 – Analyze your activities
Before you can begin taking charge of your business, you need to understand where your time is going and how your energy is being allocated.
As an entrepreneur, you’re probably already familiar with Pareto’s law – the idea that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. If you haven’t carefully analyzed the way you’re spending your time as a business owner, there’s a good chance that most of your results and productive moments come from a very small percentage of your activities. It’s up to you to isolate these activities and weed out others that are contributing to your business in a demonstrable way.
And really, the only way to do this is to sit down and go through your day – minute by minute – in order to assess the impact of everything you do. If you normally spend 8:00-8:05am checking email, ask yourself whether this activity contributes positively to your business’s growth or whether it’s keeping you from higher-priority tasks.
It can be difficult to look at your busy schedule and deem any tasks “unproductive,” but trust me – if you feel like your business is running your life, you’re wasting time on activities that take you away from your primary goals.
Step #2 – Eliminate unnecessary actions
Once you’ve identified the unnecessary habits that are clogging up your daily schedule, get rid of them!
Of course, this may be easier in some cases than in others. If you’re dealing with a few extraneous email checks, simply setting a time on your schedule for email management can free up time that can then be redirected to other important business functions.
However, your analysis might also reveal that you’re wasting huge amounts of time on activities that aren’t generating any value for your company. Maybe, for example, you’re spending hours commenting on other industry blogs – all because some entrepreneurship guru told you that you needed to in order to build up your network. If your assessment reveals that this activity isn’t providing measurable results for your business, you need to give it up – even though it can be difficult to mentally disconnect from an activity you’ve invested so much time into.
Step #3 – Delegate appropriately
If you truly can’t stand to give up certain activities, there’s always the delegation route of passing on tasks to others in your company or to remote virtual assistants. This process can also be useful if you’ve identified tasks that should still play a role in your company’s operation, but can be done as effectively by somebody else as they can by you.
Remember, your time as an entrepreneur is valuable. As much as we all wish it were possible, there’s no way to replicate yourself or to bring another person with your exact skill set and though processes onto the team. For this reason, your time needs to be carefully protected in order to be directed to only the most mission-critical of tasks.
If you have employees, pass as many tasks as you can think of that don’t require your direct involvement onto their plates – that’s what they’re there for, after all. Or, if you don’t have employees, look into the services of virtual assistants who can handle many administrative and marketing tasks for a fraction of the cost of a traditional employee.
Just keep in mind that it makes no sense to delegate an unnecessary task to an employee or VA. Hopefully, you’ll have weeded out many of these time-wasters in Steps #1 and #2, but if you’re still clinging to tasks that you know aren’t providing a valuable return, cut them out before you delegate them. When you delegate unnecessary tasks to employees or VAs, you aren’t just wasting your time any more – you’re wasting your money as well.
Step #4 – Identify environmental time-wasters
Going through the first three steps in this process alone should be enough to make a tremendous difference in how much stress you feel over your business’s operation. However, there’s a whole other set of variables you can analyze if you still haven’t achieved the level of control you desire – the time-wasters that are primarily environmental, not procedural.
To see what these factors look like and how they can be resolved, consider the following problems and solutions:
- Do you arrive at the office in the morning already stressed over a rough commute? If so, could you possibly take public transportation instead in order to free up time to check email or listen to training materials while on the road?
- Does the clutter in your office prevent you from starting your day with a clear head? If so, investing a small amount of up-front time in creating an organizational system that you’ll actually use could pay off huge later.
- Is your work frequently interrupted by employee questions or office chatter? If so, you may find it worthwhile to set “quiet hours” where you can’t be disturbed or to give employees the additional authority needed to resolve their own issues without you.
While none of these factors – in addition to the hundreds of other environmental issues that can disrupt your progress – would be addressed in a simple analysis of the relative importance of each task in your day, they can be just as problematic when it comes to feeling like your business is running you. Take the time to find the issues that are disrupting your day and be ruthless about doing whatever you need to in order to resolve them.
Believe me, your overall stress levels will thank you!
Step #5 – Continually reevaluate your schedule
Now, while it’s important to go through this entire process if you feel that your business is running your life – instead of the other way around – this isn’t a “one and done” kind of thing. Just because you’ve freed up extra time in your day doesn’t mean that you won’t fill it with tasks that are equally as unnecessary to your business’s success!
To prevent this task-creep, it’s important that you check in with yourself in order to continually reevaluate how you’re spending your time. At first, I recommend conducting this type of analysis at least every 1-2 months in order to uncover the patterns that regularly leave you feel stressed and unproductive. Once you start to recognize the personal quirks that threaten to throw off you’re your carefully-tuned calendar, you can carry out full assessments less frequently (though I’d still make it habit to revisit your schedule at least once every six months).
Can the whole process be a lot of work? Absolutely! At least at the start, going over your schedule with a finely-toothed comb can be both time-consuming and challenging, as it can be difficult to realize that you’ve been wasting your time on unnecessary tasks. However, if a one-day long analysis can cut out activities that’ll save you four hours a week for the foreseeable future, it’s easy to see how the elimination process can pay off big in the long run.