So, you’ve logged another weekend at your desk. You can’t recall if you’ve had a full day off work this month and wonder if you’ll ever actually make it to movie night with your friends. Does this sound familiar? If so, pause. Take a breath and accept that your business management needs major tweaking, and you’re not alone.
This summer, I picked up several new projects and tried to cram them into my already full schedule. My Google Calendar turned into a game of Tetris. Soon, I realized tasks were stacking up on my days off. It started with half days on Saturdays, then my poor business management morphed it into back-to-back, seven-day weeks. I justified the chaos because I love what I do, and as a self-employed individual, you definitely can’t turn down a good project, right? Wrong. It’s perfectly fine to say “no” to an opportunity, by the way.
Steering Clear of the Big “B”
In a Psychology Today article, psychotherapist Jade Barclay discusses stress and burnout among entrepreneurs. She experienced burnout from juggling her freelance work with a chronic illness, and explains that entrepreneurs view time differently than employees.
“In an employee situation, your start time is set by someone else. Your end time is set by someone else. Usually, the duration of your meetings is set by someone else within this hour by hour by our regimented world,” Barclay explains.
“When we’re talking about entrepreneurs, in particular solo entrepreneurs and decisions — there’s zillions of decisions. What time to wake up? Whether to bother getting dressed properly or not? What time we’re going to eat? What project we’re going to focus on now? All of these decisions [that] are taken out of your hands when you’re an employee … are put back in your hands. There’s big decisions and there’s micro-decisions. It is overwhelming and it over-taxes and overloads the system. That’s something that people had to become conscious of … to actively manage those things.”
Don’t Let Your Business Run You
The past few weeks I’ve been digging deep into my schedule and analyzing where my time leaks so I can tighten up my days, boost my productivity and still have time to binge on Netflix and Mexican takeout. Sounds pretty good, right? Here’s what I’ve come up with.
1. Hire an Assistant
It can be a little scary to think of outsourcing office tasks like data entry and sending invoices when you’ve been doing it yourself for years, but there are professionals out there who can help. The average pay for an administrative assistant in 2016 was $17.90 per hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you earn more than that with your freelance business, you’ll come out ahead each hour you swap your non-earning office tasks with billable work.
2. Cut Projects With Low Returns on Investment
By far, this is the most difficult strategy I face at the moment. I have loyal clients I’ve worked with for years that haven’t been able to increase their budgets over time. Slowly, I’ve had to back away from some of these opportunities, because it doesn’t make sense to continue on when other projects offer considerably higher rates. Before slashing your client list, evaluate the worth of your relationships and your income. Remember, a loyal client may offer better projects in the future, and you want to stay top-of-mind when they have these opportunities.
3. Make Your Business Hours Public
Nobody expects you to be available 24/7, but as entrepreneurs, we tend to check our email and social media relentlessly to give good customer service — even at 10 p.m. on a Sunday. These tasks could easily be outsourced to an assistant, or you could simply post your working hours on your website and social media profiles. Once you do, make sure to stick to them.
4. Automate Some Tasks
I’ve found that I can save hours each week by using simple automation methods in my home office. Each time a new blog post publishes on my website, an automatic email goes out to my subscribers (thanks to a setting on WordPress). I also bulk prepare most of my social media messages and have Buffer distribute them throughout the day while I’m busy writing (and earning). Not stopping to share an article I enjoyed or send a message to my readers keeps my mind razor-focused for longer stretches of time so I don’t linger at my desk into the evening.
5. Stick to a Schedule
Each day I review my Google Calendar — where I have everything from work tasks and lunch breaks to exercise classes clearly posted. When I follow the road map I’ve created for each day, and stay on task, I don’t end up working endless hours. Of course, random unplanned phone calls and client needs pop up, but I account for those, too. Each day, I schedule a “make up” block. That little pocket of time generally absorbs random tasks and keeps me from working too many extra hours.
6. Prioritize Your Top-Earning Tasks
Finally, follow the classic “eat a live frog” analogy, but with a financial spin. Tackle your highest earning project first thing in the morning, if possible. Doing so will allow you to get this task done with a clear mind and fresh eyes. Plus, it just feels good to know you’re kicking off the day by adding cash to your bank account. I try to save tasks that don’t directly produce income (accounting, self-marketing and errands) for later in the afternoon.
As an entrepreneur, you don’t have to be available every moment of every day for your customers. You can work with an assistant (human or digital) to take tasks off your plate, and you can map your business hours to manage your time. Keep in mind: When your personal and work life fall out of balance due to poor business management, you’re ultimately putting your career (and yourself) at risk of burnout.