Small business ownership is a dream come true for many. It gives you the chance to break free and carve your own path and live your own way. Of course, with that new freedom comes a mountain of new responsibilities, and often blurred lines when it comes to work-life vs. home life balance.
It may sound a bit intimidating, but maintaining a proper work/life balance is a skill. As is the case with all skills, it’s something you can learn and perfect. All it takes is a toolkit of helpful tips and tricks at your disposal, and the right perspective. The first thing to be aware of is this –
Work/life balance isn’t a problem to solve. It’s an ongoing issue that requires time and commitment to manage properly.
What works for you today probably won’t work for you five years from now. It might not even work for you a month from now. So be ready, willing, and able to make changes as needed to maintain the proper balance between your work life and home life as business grows and family needs change.
Getting Started: How Are You Spending Your Time?
Before you commit yourself to making any changes, it’s important to assess how you’re currently balancing your obligations. It’s worthwhile to sit down with a spreadsheet (or a notepad) and come up with an idea of how you typically spend your time throughout the day. Don’t leave anything out! Include in this representation factors such as:
You’re only just getting started, so things might not look that pretty. No worries. Remember this only intends to give you a rough idea of how you’re spending time now. Sometimes, simply having a representation of how you spend your time is the perfect starting point for identifying disparities in your work/life balance.
Setting (and Prioritizing) Your Goals
Goals are instrumental in coming up with a proper work/life balance, as they help you figure out the best usage for your time and the resources you have at your disposal. However, do bear in mind that proper goal setting is about more than saying you want to accomplish X, Y, and Z.
Good goals give you something actionable, and help you evaluate how you’re using your time to meet those goals. Remember – it’s just as important to set goals in your personal life as it is to set goals for your work life. Try setting goals on both sides using the SMART goals mnemonic: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. For example:
Specific goals eliminate ambiguity by answering questions of Who, What, Why, and Where, and make it possible to define whether or not you have been successful in meeting your goals. Some examples include:
Measurable goals ensure that you can track your progress (and in some cases can serve as a limit in place to keep you from overdoing things). For example:
Attainable goals are challenging but within the realm of possibility. If the potential to double your sales revenue isn’t supported by industry analysis, don’t box yourself in with a goal that will be impossible to meet. Instead, set a more realistic goal of increasing your sales revenue by 50%.
Relevant goals tie directly into your responsibilities. If you’re not immediately responsible for something, try replacing that goal. For example, if you have a marketing department, then a reduction in marketing costs isn’t the most relevant goal.
Timely goals give you a stopping point at which to assess what you’ve done and determine whether you’ve been successful in meeting your goals. For example:
Now you have goals that you can act on, measure, and evaluate. Great! But that’s still not enough. You also have to be able to prioritize your goals and learn when to let them go. If there’s a crisis at work that requires immediate intervention, then perhaps it might be best to set aside your goal of exercising that week, but not to the detriment of cutting out family time. Just remember – figure out what works for you and your loved ones on the personal side of things, and what’s best for your business on the work side.
Learn to Use Your Time Wisely
Now that you have a plan, the next step is putting that plan into action. Time management is tricky for everyone, but for small business owners it proves critical to maintaining a work/life balance. There are many important things that you can do to ensure you’re making most of the time that you have (and preventing common time-wasters).
One of the most important things that you can learn to do is be flexible. But, more than that, you need to understand the meaning of flexibility. It’s not about being passive, and it certainly doesn’t entail transforming yourself into a pushover. Rather, it’s about learning to embrace change and figuring out how to make it work for you.
Consider this scenario. You have a busy day ahead of you, with your agenda carefully scheduled from top to bottom. But you arrive at the office in the midst of a workplace crisis that requires your urgent attention.
At this point, you have to accept that your carefully planned agenda is now a thing of the past. But don’t let it throw you off course. Use this as an opportunity to reprioritize, reschedule, and to come up with a workable solution. Perhaps you’ll find that one of your employees can handle the conference call you had scheduled at one o’clock.
To that end, an important aspect of proper time management is learning how to delegate. Delegating tasks can be a scary proposition. After all, this is your business. Nobody knows better than you do what needs to be done.
Having a plan in place for delegating tasks can make the process much simpler (and far less nerve-wracking). Consider these tips:
Delegate less urgent, less sensitive tasks to others. Even if it feels as if nobody will fix the printer if you don’t do it yourself, this is not the best use of your time.
Be clear in your expectations. Don’t approach delegation with a, “Someone will get to it, eventually,” mentality. Firmly communicate your expectations to the people in your workplace. When delegating, assign responsibility clearly for each task.
Make deadlines. Avoid worries about incomplete tasks by setting firm deadlines and having real consequences in place for those who don’t meet their deadlines.
Make yourself available. Perhaps you’re the only person who’s fixed the printer up to this point, but that doesn’t mean nobody else can do it. Make yourself available to answer questions or provide help if necessary, but don’t hover. Give others the chance to figure things out.
To expand on that, it’s important for you as a small business owner to understand that there is a critical difference between tasks that are “urgent” and tasks that are “important.”
While it’s true that the printer needs fixing, and that your office can’t function without it, this is hardly an important task when it comes to meeting your organization’s overall goals. When assessing the items on your day’s to-do list, learn to break everything down into four categories.
Urgent and Important – These are the items that are crucial to your business’s goals and require immediate action. Things that are both urgent and important include meeting a deadline for a client or dealing with a matter such as a public relations slip-up. These are matters that you must take the time to deal with yourself, as quickly as possible.
Urgent, but Not Important – Tasks that require timely completion, but that don’t strictly align with your business’s goals include inputting data into a spreadsheet or performing routine office maintenance. If you determine it’s worth the investment, you may even consider hiring outside help to take care of these tasks.
Important, but Not Urgent – These tasks align with your business’s goals, but don’t necessarily need to be dealt with right away. Examples of important but not urgent tasks include following up on potential leads or organizing a marketing plan. Pencil in time to deal with these tasks, but realize that they might not take priority over other necessary responsibilities.
Not Important and Not Urgent – Who’s going to join the employee softball league? Did you see what So-and-So said on TV last night? How about going to that new Vietnamese place for lunch? Save the chit chat, and these more leisurely tasks, for those moments when you have time for them. (If you’ve been smart in your time management, you’ll have enough to spare.)
Embrace Office Alternatives
One of the biggest reasons people decide to start their own business is because of the freedom it offers them. So be sure you’re using that freedom to your advantage! Perhaps the biggest allure of being in the business world in the 21st century is the multitude of office alternatives that are available to you.
Telecommuting offers you great benefits, and while you don’t enjoy the same level of communication as spending time at the office affords you, it makes it easier to balance work life with home life. Telecommuting into the office once or twice a week (or even for a partial work day here and there) can be a great way to give yourself a little extra time, even if you only use it to avoid the morning rush hour.
In addition to delegating tasks, consider sharing tasks with others. Come up with a clear schedule, so you always know who is doing what, and when, and you can have someone else available to help you shoulder the responsibility of certain jobs within your office. As a bonus, this can be a great way to start training some of your employees to take on certain jobs, freeing up even more of your time.
As a small business owner, you have to wear many different hats at many different times. And while flexibility remains important, it’s important to define what you do clearly (and to have a plan in place for your employees to take care of the rest). If necessary, take the time to redesign your role in the workplace and to make needed accommodations for the redesign.
And finally, always feel welcome to embrace one of the biggest benefits of being a small business owner – flexible hours. Sure, there are times when you’re going to have to be in the office, whether you like it or not. On the flipside there are other days when it won’t hurt you to come in a couple hours later than normal, or to give up a few hours on the weekend for the sake of getting out of the office early on a Wednesday.
Advanced Tips for Time Management
Perhaps you’ve already attended a time management course, or you seem to be doing pretty well with the schedule you have in place. However, there will always be things that throw you off-balance, especially when you’re moving into the busy season. Keeping a few tips in mind can help you, even if you have the time management skills of a pro.
Maintaining a great work/life balance is a challenge for small business owners, yes. But the important thing to keep in mind is that you have the power to transform your life and to make it everything you envision. It requires constant effort, but with a little practice, you’ll be juggling your responsibilities like a pro.
At Breakout Capital we value work-life balance, contact us today to let your small business soar.