These days it seems like everyone and their brother has their own business. With big corporations becoming more soul-sucking by the day, and the job market being especially tight with not a lot of places for early career professionals to go to get ahead, it’s no wonder that 5 million new businesses were started in 2022, a 42% increase from pre-pandemic statistics.
Small business owners face many challenges, and being your own boss can be a pretty stressful replacement for a traditional 9 to 5 job. But punching a clock Monday thru Friday isn’t for everyone, so what do you do to break free of the rat race and still keep your sanity?
As someone who’s done it, I’m here to give you a number of tips, tricks and secrets that I use. Little solves offer big wins that give me more time, remove stress and provide me with a healthy work-life balance.
You can do it too!
Many small business owners could benefit from getting their day off to a good start. It’s important to put a routine in place that sets you up for success throughout the rest of the day.
One of the reasons you might have started your business in the first place was so that you don’t have to begrudgingly wake up to an alarm every day. But just because a clock isn’t ticking somewhere in the HR office anymore doesn’t mean you can get lazy. Set a sleep schedule that’s appropriate for your needs and allow yourself to adjust to waking up naturally in the morning.
Once you’re awake, follow a comforting routine that allows you to feel relaxed and refreshed before you put your nose to the grindstone, keyboard, workbench or artist’s easel.
If you’re an exercise-lover, get up and go for a jog or do a yoga session each morning. Make it a habit. Getting the blood pumping also activates the endorphins and makes you feel good. Getting exercise out of the way, right away, has always helped me approach the day with a positive attitude.
Join a nearby gym, close to home, so it’s quick and easy to get to. Then sign up for regular classes to help keep yourself accountable. I know a great yoga trainer, if you’re in Las Vegas looking for personal or group instruction!
Get yourself a nice coffee maker and learn how to use it, or how to set the timer so that it’s ready when you want it. Making good fresh coffee at home is cheaper and healthier than that sugar-filled $6 coffee shop habit.
Got kids? Make them part of your getting started routine. Kids don’t drink coffee and maybe you shouldn’t trust them to run the blender to make breakfast smoothies, but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate their needs into your routine. Find joy in the little things that make up their routine and smile while helping them create good habits for themselves too!
Staying Organized and Being Proactive
Set up your days so you are successful. By planning ahead, you’re less likely to get off task or be surprised by something that throws you off your objectives. If you know what you want to get done each day, and what you’re up against, it’s easier and less stressful to get through your day with a feeling of accomplishment.
I know a guy who calls this “Make Plan/Execute Plan.” When he makes his plan, he starts at the end of the day with the result he wants to have. Then he works backward.
Say he wants to make 5 widgets, mail the 20 widgets he made last week to his customers, take lunch with his wife and pick the kids up from school.
Well, he knows the post office opens at 8:30 am, so if he doesn’t want to wait in line, he makes sure to know how long it takes to get there, then leaves on time to be there when the doors open. Then he can spend a few hours before lunch working on the five widgets he needs to get done. During the time he’s working he knows that he has to stay on task, so he avoids his phone and puts his inbox notifications on silent, because if he gets distracted he won’t make it to lunch with his wife. If he has to deal with a hot potato before lunch, then he allows himself to switch gears. He can do this because he knows he left himself time after lunch and before school pickup to complete the widgets. If he doesn’t have any emergencies, then he can use the time after lunch to plan tomorrow’s day, deal with things he had to put off yesterday or get ahead for tomorrow.
Breaking the day into manageable chunks of time and tasks allows him to be proactive and stay organized. The plan he makes is evolving but rigid. If he has goals and milestones to reach, he builds them into his daily and weekly schedule, so that at the end of the day and the end of the week, he can relax knowing that he executed his plan.
I think his key is that he doesn’t overload himself and is realistic about what he can get done each day.
When the plan goes haywire, he chalks it up to learning how to work through the chaos and promises himself that he’ll do better tomorrow.
When the plan works, he takes pride in knowing that doing little things each day adds up to big accomplishments.
Setting boundaries is important — especially when you want to have a healthy work-life balance while running your small business.
It’s easy to get caught up in putting in a brute force effort. But that’s not the only way to get the job done or clear the next hurdle. The non-stop work mindset can lead to feeling stuck on a hamster wheel of your own creation. And wasn’t one of the biggest reasons for starting your own business to get off the conveyor belt?!
If you’re working efficiently, you are able to give time back to yourself.
Setting dedicated working and non-working hours (and sticking to them) isn’t always easy, but honestly, I’ve found it a must-do. My passion doesn’t turn off when I close up shop for the night, I just give myself the latitude to feel good that I made progress that day and call it a night. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is any part of my branding photography business.
My friends and family appreciate it, my kids know I’m there for them and I get to spend time enjoying the fruits of my labor.
Using a day planner, calendar tool on your phone, personal assistant app or keeping it all in a journal you can reference every day in order to ground yourself, can be so helpful. Don’t worry — if it’s not your style, you don’t have to get super fancy or take up time-consuming bullet journaling to stay organized.
As a small business owner myself, I wasn’t always as productive as I am now. And I’m still learning! 🧑🎓
When I wanted to get better at maximizing my productivity, I turned to an expert. Amber De La Garza and I have known each other awhile now, and I’m thankful she is able to help me be more efficient at running my business. Many small business owners find her podcast helpful because it offers simple tips for increasing your productivity, improving time management and, in turn, maximizing profits.
One of her typical case studies reads like this:
[A client’s] business was thriving, profits were climbing and the phone never stopped ringing. But running her business didn’t feel good. She was investing everything she had into her business and very little into herself. She wanted to be more present with her family but kept feeding the monster, giving the business more and more of herself. And no matter how much she gave, it didn’t feel like enough.
Now she is no longer bogged down working IN her business and actually works ON her business. She weighs opportunities against her goals and only goes down avenues she deems worthy of her time and energy. She anchors down her list of priorities and makes them happen instead of making excuses for why they can’t.
If this sounds like you, and the solutions you’re looking for, drop Amber a line. She’s helped me a bunch and can do the same for you.
Dealing with Distractions
I just found this great tool for avoiding the habit of letting my emails and phone app notifications interrupt my workflow.
When I am busy plugging away on a task and my phone dings with a notification or message of some kind, it used to be hard for me not to drop what I was doing to attend to it instantaneously. When I am on deadline, or trying to get something done, the last thing I need is bothersome notifications staring me in the face.
Now, I use the “Focus” feature on my iPhone. (Android phones have a similar function.) It’s highly customizable and allows me to pause these distractions at certain times, while I’m using specific programs, at certain places or doing certain tasks. Working with the other hardware and software in your phone, Focus can be set up to do its thing based on your location, time of day and many other useful parameters. It’s a great way to block off time.
Taking Control of Your Email
Speaking of email… it’s the great necessary evil of our time.
I like to focus on inbox management. This means I’m in control rather than it controlling me.
There are different schools of thought on the Inbox Zero Method, but I like to use the framework it provides. Instead of reacting to every new email as it comes in, I set specific times throughout the day to sort and deal with email that has accumulated. I’ve adopted a routine of taking half an hour at the beginning of my day, half an hour after lunch and half an hour before I check out for the evening. During that half hour I “Delete, Delegate, Deal With It or Delay.”
The first two Ds are the two biggest time savers. Straight up deleting emails that don’t need my attention gets rid of things quickly. This includes periodically making sure to unsubscribe from newsletters I do not read or archiving old threads I no longer need.
Meanwhile, delegating moves the things off my-plate that are really better handled by someone else. Use this polite language to send it along in the right direction with the right attitude:
I’ve received your email and am looping in <Appropriate Person> so they can get you what you need.
<Appropriate Person>, can you please help <Sender> on this?
“Dealing With It” is best if the response can take 5 minutes or less. If that’s the case, then I’ll get it done right away.
“Delay” sounds like you’re avoiding it and hoping it goes away, but actually, delaying it means I know the email requires a more in-depth response or isn’t a priority, and I can set it aside and come back to it later. I file it into a “Reply Later Folder” or I assign the task to my to-do list so that it has a place to live while I tackle it and make sure to assign a deadline. Then I reply to the sender to let them know what they can expect of me and when I’ll deliver on the promise I’ve made.
This simple method keeps me on top of my inbox without being chained to it.
The benefits of outsourcing are numerous. If you’re a successful small business, you’ll notice that you’re quickly running out of time to get everything done that needs to be done. Keeping up with existing tasks is hard enough. Taking on new ones can feel impossible. When you reach this stage of small business ownership, you need to start outsourcing.
Don’t be afraid to hand off some of the tasks that keep your business humming. Paying someone for a few hours of work each week to do even one time-consuming task, like your payroll for example, frees you up to handle more important things — and more of the things that you love about owning your own business!
Here are a few simple ideas you can implement right away to gain some quick wins leading you to an improved and more sustainable work-life balance.
- Take advantage of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to do menial tasks that stress you out. For example, give ChatGPT a chance to create a meal plan and grocery list by inputting your dietary restrictions, ingredients you don’t like and budget.
- Keep a notebook handy at all times to make it easier to separate work and leisure. This way you can get things out of your head and move on. If you make a habit of writing important things down, the benefit is twofold; you won’t forget it, and you can jump straight back into the present and enjoy the moment (or even fall asleep) knowing that it will be there for you when you are ready.
- Make a dedicated physical space for work and keep it separate from the rest of your life. When you associate a particular place with work, you’ll find it far easier to get into gear when you’re there and easier to leave work in the work-zone when you step away.
- Prioritize your to-do list each day by writing down your “3 Most Important Things.” If, at the end of the day, you can say that you’ve completed each of them, then you’ve had a good day, even if you didn’t get things beyond the top three done.
- Implement some form of reward system. For example, a golf-lover may agree that a Friday afternoon round of golf is a fair reward for completing a pre-specified amount of work by Friday lunchtime. The important thing is to make the reward something that drives you to work productively to meet your targets, so you won’t miss out on the prize.
- Make a “30-Minute Job List.” Fill in the small gaps throughout your day by working off of a list of tasks that would otherwise hang over your head for a while but really only need 20 or 30 minutes to complete.
I hope these strategies have given you some inspiration and can allow you to create your ideal work-life balance. As you’re implementing some of these ideas and planning for how to move forward please, be sure to include some time to book a session with me so we can get you in for your next branding photo session.