Time management: The balancing act

ScaleThe balancing act: Setting boundaries

I bet that one of the reasons you decided to set up your own business was because you wanted to work the hours that suited you, and probably less hours than you were when you were employed. Am I right? I meet many a business owner who has found themselves working more hours than they ideally want to. Is that you? Invariably this is driven by their clients requiring quick turn around on work, or, simply “things” just taking up more time than they expected.

So how can you take back the control of your diary & working hours? It’s actually easier than you think. Like all things this is in your control so all you need to do is decide what hours you want to work and stick to it. I know that’s easier said than done but bear with me and I’ll explain why I say it’s easy.

Let’s look at the 2 reasons I said were the trigger for working more hours than you want to be. So firstly I mentioned clients requesting quick responses. I totally understand that you want to deliver a great service and part of that is being responsive to your clients requirements. But, that doesn’t mean you need to agree to every timeline they give you. In fact I bet that in the majority of cases you are the one stating the timeframe you will deliver in rather than them. Am I right? I remember back towards the end of my first year of trading when I was working flat out to make sure I could hit my revenue targets. I had several pieces of client work I need to get finished so I could raise the invoices. In all cases I had set the timeframe for delivery not them. I was feeling so pressured that, for the first time ever, I actually had a panic attack and it happened during the night. It forced me to take a step back and evaluate why I felt so pressured and I realised that it was time pressure I had put on myself rather than it coming from my clients. The next day I changed my behaviour and rather than me stating when I would get things back to my clients, and assuming they would need it ASAP, I asked them when they would like it by. This resulted in far less stress and I still got everything done, and my clients were still happy.

The second reason tends to be that “things” just take up more time than you ever anticipated they would. By “things” I mean just running your business generally, so everything from answering emails and phone calls, to writing proposals to marketing your business. The general tendency here is to let this keep expanding and expanding so you have less and less time off from your laptop. Sound familiar? The key here is to make a clear decision about how long you are prepared to work and then stick to it. I know that sounds a bit flippant but it’s true. I’ve never yet met someone who couldn’t work more efficiently if they chose to, and that’s the key here…you need to make a conscious decision to work differently. You don’t have to answer the phone every time it rings. You don’t have to reply to an email as soon as it pings into your inbox. The world won’t grind to a halt if you take a few hours off. In fact you’ll find you work more efficiently if you do set some clear boundaries around when you will and won’t work.

For instance, I know I want to work ~3 days a week during the summer holidays so I can spend time with my children. I work full time during term time so the challenge is always how do I fit 5 days of work into 3 without impacting my revenue. The answer is that I do it through setting clear boundaries and maximising the hours I do work. I also plan it! I know how many clients I can be working with during that period and I dial back on marketing too which fits perfectly as everyone takes time off over the summer so are less likely to want to start working with me between July & September.

I often find that the hours my clients are working are impacting on their lives, and that’s not good. A worn out you will not work well and ultimately your business suffers too. Everything I’ve discussed here requires clear boundaries to be set, whether they are with your clients or with yourself. What working habit have you found yourself doing that is eroding an aspect of your non-work life? Working on your laptop in the living room watching TV of an evening rather than being fully present with your family? Working at weekends when you could be out with friends? Not finding time to do exercise because you need to catch up on emails? Letting your clients rule your day? No matter what the specific challenge is you can change it and claim that time back. All you need to do is decide to take control of it.

So what boundary are you going to set yourself this week that allows you to reclaim a bit of time?

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