Time is stretched – small business struggles
When you’re an entrepreneur, especially in the first stages of just starting your own business, your time seems to be your most stretched resource.
Many people choose to have a ‘side hustle’ which they want to develop into a business, all while maintaining a full-time job and having to juggle the demands of home and family life, and it seems to achieve everything you must never sleep or spend any time for yourself!
Finding the time to invest in your business just as much as your family is hard, and the pressures of both don’t let up the larger your business grows.
I’ve read a lot of small business advice that set out schedules and recommend planners for putting together your life in a way that supposedly better manages your time.
However, I’ve found bullet journaling and weekly planners a time-consuming task in themselves, and almost counter-productive in what I wanted to initially achieve – stretching my time productively to achieve both work and family goals.
How many times have you thought of a task, and brushed it off with a “I’ll do that when...”?
I’ll do that when I get back from work.
I’ll do that when I’ve cooked dinner, bathed the kids, walked the dog, had a nap.
Before you know it, that task you set out to do has been swept under the carpet and de-prioritised for other demands. This is an everyday reality for a lot of entrepreneurs, especially when starting a business.
Why it’s important to get the life-work balance
In today’s time when families are spending a little over half an hour quality time together in the weekdays due to the demands of work and education, it has become difficult for entrepreneurs to make enough time for their family.
For many people, myself included, starting your own business means ideally having a better work-life balance.
I decided to start my own business to escape the eye-watering childcare fees and the morning crush of a busy London tube, giving up a regular salary for more time with my young son.
It’s been hard, and sometimes when I feel frustrated that I am not going anywhere, I remember why I started my business and just what my focus is.
Having a life-work balance rather than a work-life balance means that my life, and my family’s, comes before work, and for me that’s what I want to achieve.
How to achieve it
It’s all well and good talking about needing more time and spending more time with family, but how do you actually achieve it? I’m not going to be selling any planners, or nagging you to start bullet journaling or something else meant to better manage your time.
Instead, I suggest you look at your day as a schedule, a timetable, 24 hours broken up into hour blocks dedicated to such tasks. I’m going to detail below how I manage my time using a timetable format to achieve my business, family and personal goals.
1. Start by acknowledging the tasks that don’t vary and have to be done on a regular basis
Eg: the school runs, any extra-curricular classes your children may attend, religious practices you must keep.
For example, I know that between 8:30am and 9:15am I am out of my house 5 days a week for my son’s school run.
In the afternoon, I spend another 45 minutes on the school run. That’s 1 hour and 30 minutes already blocked up out of my day, time when I love to switch off work mode and just focus on my son, asking questions about his day and learning what he’s been up to at school.
I also know that his football training is on Saturday mornings and takes up 3 hours of time, including travel to and from the pitch, Wednesday is my gym class which takes up 2 hours of my morning, and Sunday afternoons I like to see my mum.
I know when I am busy with pre-planned activities, which means I also know which hours I am free to dedicate to work.
2. Look at the hours you are working and when you are most productive.
I am an early riser, and usually have my best ideas first thing in the morning.
I therefore wake up at 6am every day, (which may not be considered early for everyone I know!) and spend an hour working before my son wakes at 7am.
This means I have 7 hours a week dedicated to answering emails, responding to social media, and other small work tasks, without eating into my son’s timetable.
When my son gets up, I then switch into mummy mode and don’t check work until after the morning school run.
Again, this means I get to have quality time with my son, and enjoy moments such as sharing breakfast together, a luxury I didn’t have in my previous job.
In the evenings, I like to do tasks that don’t require my full attention, such as posting on social media.
I therefore set aside the evenings to do these tasks, and keep the days free for more time-consuming and attention-needing activities like writing blog posts or creating content for clients.
3. Self-love, sleep and sustenance
These three things ensure that you do not burn and crash by doing too much, too quickly.
As an entrepreneur, I cannot tell you the amount of times I have forgotten to eat because I was too busy, or went to sleep at a silly hour because I had a deadline I’d forgotten about.
The problem with doing this too often though is that it’s not a sustainable lifestyle, and something will crack.
Taking time for food, sleep and personal time is essential to keep your mind and body sharp and ready for work mode.
I like to schedule in occasional lunch dates, pamper sessions, nights out and other self-love activities to ensure I am not forgetting to care for myself first and foremost.
Sometimes switching off from working on your business allows you to recharge and dream up new goals and ideas to achieve.
4. This may sound strange, but I have 13 alarms set on my phone right now.
I appreciate this may not be the same for all entrepreneurs and small businesses, but each week I have a list of set tasks I need to achieve for both myself and my clients.
One of the main tasks is scheduling social media posts.
I spend so much time on social media for my clients, (and also for memes, because yes, I am a millennial!) I often forget why I was on there to begin with.
A dear friend of mine once confessed to always forgetting what they were meant to do at set times, so they set alarm reminders to prompt them.
This is a genius idea of course, especially for an entrepreneur who already has a busy lifestyle, and it’s something that I now practice.
I have alarms set mainly related to social media, telling me when to post and what to post.
And it works, because at 8pm when I’m settling down to watch Netflix after my son has drifted off to sleep, usually the last thing on my mind is posting on Instagram or Facebook.
It helps to keep me focused as well as reminding me to tick off the ever-growing to-do list.
5. Block out your days as well as your hours.
Better time management isn’t just about working harder, but about working smarter.
On Thursdays, I write. I spend the hours my son is at school writing blogs, articles, and commentary. From 10am until 3pm, I am sat at the table, tapping away on my laptop, sometimes writing rubbish, but the practice means I am disciplined if I have a deadline.
Blocking out a whole day also means I have no distractions, and can focus fully on one task that I know I need to achieve perfectly.
6. By scheduling in your work, personal and family commitments, you know what time you have free.
I know when I’ve got time for meetings, new clients, networking sessions, whatever it may be.
In the same way my son has a routine for when he comes home from school, ensuring he does his homework and has dinner and a bath before bed, I have a routine that means my work is achieved.
I also block out times for housework and house admin, otherwise those things would slide!
My schedule means I usually do 7-8 hours of work a day like a full-time job, sometimes more, but it doesn’t feel like it as it is broken up by fun activities rather than just sitting at a desk.
I get to cook dinner with my son while other people are commuting home from their job, take him to school every single day without needing wrap-around-care, and watch him play his matches on the weekend, all whilst knowing my business is growing and achieving the success I want it to.
Minimising decision making
Timetabling is all about minimising decision making. By bookmarking hours for dedicated tasks, you don’t have to spend time thinking about what you need to do this week and juggling time to fit it all in.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wears the same t-shirt daily. He once said in an interview “I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.”
Decision making takes time, no matter how small the decision appears to be, from replying to an email, to writing a blog, to attending your appointments.
Minimise decision making with a timetable and you will surprisingly save tonnes of time that you can then spend with your family (or dog).
Emily Duff launched JAE Consultancy in January 2018 to help small businesses and entrepreneurs get their social media profiles off the ground.
JAE Consultancy has a personal approach that makes individuals feel at ease at the beginning of their business journeys.
Her journalistic background and experience with digital publishing means she excels at the creative side of marketing.
Emily has 10 years of online blog experience, and has a keen eye for design when it comes to social media images and website design.