When I was working full time for an employer I used to dream of being my own boss and running my own business. I had the romantic notion in my head that I would set my own schedule and have no stress and no “big brother” watching me. I imagined being able to see some clients, do some work and then have plenty of free time to do what I wanted to do.
Boy did I have a shock when I went self-employed! It is hard work and nobody really tells you about the stress of having to bring in the business and pay all the bills yourself!
I found myself still working on marketing plans and business promotions at midnight, answering client emails or Facebook messages at random times of the day or night, not having any down time where I wasn’t in work mode and to be honest – I was stressed! Not good when I was the stress management counsellor people were coming to see!
It is still one of the best things I ever did though! I have since managed to find a way to run my business effectively and incorporate a healthy work/life balance. I had to take my own advice and learn to walk my talk so I thought I would pop a few pointers down for you to help you manage your time effectively so that you too can achieve a good balance.
Planning is vital!
When you work from home or if you are running a small business then it is vital to plan how you will use your time. If you fail to do this then you run the risk of getting side-tracked and then nothing will get done. It is often helpful to take 10 minutes the night before and work out a rough plan for the next day. I do this each evening and it helps me to sleep because I know I have a plan in place. I also spend some time each morning setting my intention for a positive and smooth running day.
Get out your diary or weekly planner and let’s get started!
1. Set your working hours for the week (and stick to them!)
This is important. As a small business owner who works from home I know the danger of not being disciplined in my working hours. It is really easy to look at my diary and see that I have no clients booked in and then take the day off completely.
Look at the hours you want to set aside for work and put them in your diary. For example – I don’t like to work on Mondays because I work Saturdays so rather than force myself to stick to traditional patterns I decided that Mondays were a non-working day for me. I also wanted to keep Fridays free so that I could do some other non-business tasks that kept my soul happy. I therefore set my working hours as follows: –
Tuesdays 9:30am – 4pm
Wednesdays & Thursdays 9:30am – 9:00pm
Saturdays 9:30am – 5pm
2. Book in the non-negotiable things
We all have things that we need to do such as eat, sleep, play, etc. It is vital that you book these things into your weekly planner, otherwise you will only have work-related items in there and your balance will be off.
So, in my example I don’t start work until 9:30am on the days that I have scheduled for business-related activities. This means that between 6:30am when the alarm goes off and 9:30am when I start work, I can fit in my non-negotiables – my morning bathroom routine, breakfast with my children, the school run and my daily meditation/Reiki practice.
I also ensure that each day I create a lunch break for myself (even if it is only for 20 minutes depending on my client load) and a dinner break if I am working until 9pm. You cannot give from an empty vessel so make sure you take breaks for food and water!
On Mondays, I use the time to help my elderly mum with some shopping, I go to Qi Gong, do my housework, see friends and I plan my weekly business activities so that I know what I am doing the rest of the week. On Fridays I book my personal appointments, go walking or paint. This keeps my soul happy and I allow myself, particularly on Fridays, to be completely out of work mode. Sundays have always been a private day for me and I have often turned down work so that I can dedicate this day for my partner and family.
3. Book in your work to the time that you have available
Look at the things you have on your to do list. What is the most important thing on your list? Note that I said important, not urgent – there is a world of difference between important and urgent.
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
Urgent means that a task requires immediate attention. These are the to-do’s that shout “Now!” Urgent tasks put us in a reactive mode, one marked by a defensive, negative, hurried, and narrowly-focused mindset.
Important tasks are things that contribute to our long-term mission, values, and goals. Sometimes important tasks are also urgent, but typically they’re not. When we focus on important activities we operate in a responsive mode, which helps us remain calm, rational, and open to new opportunities.
Your diary or to do list should therefore be mainly full of the important things.
4. Check that your tasks are in alignment with your mission
Why do you do what you do? What does your business do – who do you serve and what is your mission? It is important that you can clearly answer these questions.
Once you know your mission then look at the things on your to do list – are they in alignment with that mission? In other words do they take you closer to your goals or do they lead you away from them? Make sure you only schedule time in your diary for tasks and projects that help move you towards your goals.
5. Do not plan more than 90 days ahead
It is tempting to try and come up with a plan for your year. I am sure you have heard of people creating their annual business plan or marketing plan. The human mind loses interest if we plan too far ahead. I suggest breaking your year into 4 quarters and setting up quarterly plans.
I create a 90 day plan with an overall outcome that I want to achieve. The outcome must be measurable so that I know I have achieved it so I will often use revenue as a marker. For example I may state that I want an overall outcome of 25% increase in revenue from last quarter.
I then look at my outcome goal and think about what projects or plans that I need to work on in order to achieve it. So in order to increase revenue I may need to create a project to bring in more client appointments. OK, so how can I do that? I then need to think about how to promote myself in order to get more clients through the door – so I may set up a Facebook advertising campaign to promote one of my therapy special offers or I may need to create a new package of services and then work to sell them.
Within each project then I break down the steps that I need to take. This then forms my 90 day plan and I go to my diary and block in the time. If it is not scheduled it won’t get done!
6. Leave buffer time
Make sure that you leave time in your diary for unexpected things. I call this buffer time. Allow up to an hour a day for your buffer – this gives you room to breathe!
For example in my online booking system I make sure there are 15 minutes between each client so that if someone is running late it doesn’t impact my other clients.
I also have two children at school and you never know when you’ll get a call saying one needs to come home for some reason! So always leave some wriggle room in your diary.
7. Eat your frogs first!
If you have difficult tasks or things that you have been putting off then schedule them in for first thing in your working day. This means that you get the unpleasant thing done first and you are then free to focus on the remaining activities in your day.
It is tempting to put these things off but that leads to stress because you know they are waiting for you so be brave – get them done first thing and then you can congratulate yourself on making progress and achieving your goals!
Once you have scheduled in your frogs then you can put in the other important tasks.
8. Set realistic deadlines
It is really easy to fall into the trap of over-promising and under-delivering. Even when you are your own boss – you still have to deliver projects on time and to deadlines. For example – I record monthly podcasts for Natural Health Radio and if I do not schedule the time into my diary to do this then it simply won’t get done. I was also guilty of under-estimating the time it takes to carry out this work. I now set aside one full day each month to do this work plus an extra half day for technical issues. This takes the pressure off because I know I have allowed more than enough time for the job, rather than trying to squeeze it all in to a morning before seeing 5 clients!
Look at what you have identified as important in your list and spend some time working out realistically how long it will take you to complete the work. Larger projects or tasks may need to be broken down into smaller steps so schedule time in your diary for each step. Let’s use my podcast work as an example: –
9:30am-11am – Write the content for the recording/draft the blog
11am-12pm – Record the audio content
12pm-1pm – Edit and polish the podcast for broadcast.
2pm-3pm – Upload the podcast and finalise the blog post
3pm-4pm – Contact Natural Health Radio with the details and schedule the promotional work for the show.
This is better than simply writing “Do Natural Health Radio Pod” in my diary – at least now I know that I have various tasks to do and I have allowed enough time to get them done. If I am ahead of schedule then that is wonderful and I can then perhaps tick something else off my list!
9. Schedule time in your day for email and social media
It is a fact of life that we are slaves to our mobile phones and the constant notification ping. It is therefore vital that you schedule in time to check these things. By creating a specified time in your day where you check your social media and email accounts, you stop losing time elsewhere in your day.
Did you know that each time you switch from one task to another it takes your brain 10 minutes to re-focus? That means if you are working on a client proposal or project and you then check your phone, you’ve lost 10 minutes in addition to the time you have spent looking at your phone. If you then go back to the project and then get side-tracked by an email with a web link to another site then you lose another 10 minutes of focus plus the time you take to look at the link! It is easy to see why we often find our to do list not getting done!
I used to think that I would lose clients if I did not answer their email or Facebook comment immediately. I would be working on the computer doing a blog post or updating online course materials and then my phone would ping. I would jump to check it and then answer the query straight away, often finding that I ended up in an email conversation which took an hour to complete!
I now set aside time to answer client emails each day. I allow myself 10 minutes Facebook checking at lunchtime when I am on a break and before I wrap up for the day I check my emails and respond to all the client enquiries that have come in. This gives me back control and I can end my day knowing that everyone has been answered.
10. Use technology to help you
There is so much technology out there it is easy to get overwhelmed but it is really useful to know what works for your business.
Take a look at your needs – what can you automate and what tools do you need? Where do you store client information and records, what about appointments, emails, website, back-ups and day to day activities? Use technology to help you rather than hinder you!
I have a background in IT so technology doesn’t scare me but at the same time I just want simple, easy to use and free (if possible) tools to help me run my business.
Look at where you are losing most time and start there – for me it was sorting out client appointments. People would text or email rather than ringing and it would often take 3 or 4 emails or texts before an appointment would be sorted out. I have now employed an online booking system for appointments so that clients can be directed there to make their bookings – this frees up my time and it empowers clients to choose appointments at any time. It also sends helpful reminders to clients so it cuts down on no-shows! Win Win!
I also used to feel pressured into answering private messages on Facebook outside of my working hours. I now use Facebook’s “away” option on my business page with an auto-responder so that people are made aware that I am not working at 3 a.m. and therefore can’t answer their message!
Has this helped?
I hope these pointers and ideas will help you to sort out your schedule and in turn make more time for your personal life. Let me know what you struggle with the most – answer a quick question here for me and I’ll use the responses to come up with more help and advice!