Running your own business is an enormous undertaking – much more than most of us ever imagined when we first decided to hang out our shingle. Unfortunately, an original vision of not being bound by traditional hours and having the freedom to enjoy life can seem like a distant dream as the reality of self-employment sets in. 

There comes a time when the challenges of operating a business seem insurmountable. Falling behind, not delivering on promised due dates, forgetting critical tasks, and constantly putting family second all indicate it’s time to rethink our priorities. When it all gets to be too much, what’s the correct answer – slack off on the business or forfeit family time? Risk losing the business or losing your health? 

The hamster wheel turning non-stop in our head tells us to keep going, keep sacrificing so we can stay in business. If our customers turn away and the business dries up, how will we pay the rent/mortgage and take care of the family? The answer seems like a no-brainer: keep working long hours and plugging away.

Sounds right, but at what price? Pure exhaustion combined with the impact of stress on both our physical and mental health will land us in a place where we can’t work. Before reaching that state, taking an inventory of our working habits helps identify areas we can control and change.

Are you working hard or working smart?

  • There’s a big difference. Working smart does not mean there’s no hard work involved. It’s wise to work strategically with an effective plan, not with your head down, churning through never-ending tasks, hoping the result will be positive. The amount of time you spend on both approaches can be the same, but you’ll achieve more if you concentrate on work connecting to the big picture goals you want to achieve. 
  • A particular twelve-step group says the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. No matter how many long hours you spend working hard, if the results don’t make sense and aren’t propelling you in the right direction, then you’re not working smart. 

Is everything you’re doing necessary or just because you’ve always done it that way?

  • Take an objective look at every step of your process. Can anything be streamlined or eliminated? Ask trusted contacts for their input on what could be changed to reduce time but still maintain a high standard. 

Can someone else take over specific tasks and free up some time?

  • You are ultimately responsible for every aspect of your business, but that doesn’t mean you need to do it all personally. Trust that others can learn and are willing to help. 

Are you trying to save money by not investing in expert help?

  • Many business owners don’t sit down and calculate their value. If it takes you three hours to complete a task that it would take a professional one hour, how much are you losing by tying yourself to that task?

Is it time to streamline your product or service offerings?

  • Remember that business plan you made ages ago? Are your goals still the same, or have you gone in a different direction to better meet client needs? If so, that’s great. It shows you are flexible and customer-focused. The pitfall is if you are still hanging on to your original concept plus your new ones. Chop what doesn’t apply anymore or doesn’t earn you money. Simplify and think outside the box. 

We work to make a living; we don’t live to work. It may be an old saying, but the reason these adages last is because they are true. Time for yourself and your loved ones is key to your success in business and life.

Identify your prime time.

  • We all have a time of day when our energy is highest. If you can barrel through tons first thing in the morning, then schedule your day’s activities based on that. And if your brain leaves the building late afternoon, then catch up on routine tasks then. The point is to use your time wisely. 

Take a ten-minute walk.

  • The therapeutic qualities of being outside, even for a short time, are well known. When faced with a big decision or mounting problems, a quick walk can clear your head, help you think, and refresh your determination.
  • Mindfulness is a skill that plays a big part in the success of many business owners. Developing a practice involves identifying techniques that work best for you, so learn more about it and discover how living with purpose and intent are your powerful allies.

Block out daily time for yourself.

  • A one-hour time out might seem impossible at first, so start with short breaks where you step away for a few minutes. Do some deep breathing, eat something nutritious (but not in front of your laptop), or call your kids. It might seem counterintuitive, but working less can increase your productivity.

Stop checking your social media accounts every five seconds.

  • One of the most significant time traps to sabotage your day is our obsession with digital platforms. Nothing earth-shattering is going to happen if you don’t respond to a comment on one of your posts within 3.5 nanoseconds. Schedule a time each day to review activity and stop letting social media eat away your time.
  • Technology’s purpose is to serve us and make our lives easier, not master over us. Put your phone on mute, or better yet, turn it off occasionally. Avoid responding to texts and emails instantly and give yourself time to think first. Remember, you’re the one who sets the pace, and the expectations of others don’t run your life. You do.

Keep your word to your family – don’t put them last.

  • Think of your family as your #1 client. How would you treat them? They should never come last. Quality, not quantity, applies here. When you are with them, try to give them your full attention. Turn your phone to mute. The time together may be less, but full engagement pays off. It’s how you make people feel that counts, both in business and life. Work on making them feel valued. 

Always be honest with clients and family.

  • Don’t overpromise and under-deliver. If something unexpected prevents you from meeting a deadline or commitment, admit it, explain the cause (and be honest here, don’t play the blame game), deal with the situation, then get back on track.  

It takes a concentrated effort to run a business and enjoy your life at the same time. Make it your job to find ways to combine both and thrive. 

Not seen a tombstone: I wish I had spent more time at work.