If you think that giving up a realistic work-life balance is an inevitable consequence of deciding to run your own business, think again:
While it's true that being an entrepreneur requires dedication and tenacity, just as conventional employees can find ways to work smarter rather than harder, so can business owners.
If you're looking for ways to streamline your work habits, try utilizing the five strategies below:
1. Take More Breaks
For entrepreneurs, the office can feel like a constant maelstrom of tasks to attend to; emails are always incoming, the phone is always ringing, and there's always something that needs to be done. As such, many entrepreneurs find that by 11 a.m., their focus already feels frayed; getting through the rest of the day, therefore, becomes difficult and productivity takes a nose dive.
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According to scientific research, there's a simple solution to the aforementioned problem: Rather than running around frantically trying to balance three tasks at once, respect the natural limits of the human attention span. The ultradian rhythms of our brains function in such a way that most of us are only able to focus for 90 minutes at a time and we need at least 20 minutes worth of rest after those 90 minutes have passed (in order to recuperate our ability to focus). So, take a lunch break (and not at your desk. Go out for a walk), take coffee breaks, and make an afternoon date with your favorite online diversion. Counter-intuitive as it may seem, your productivity will actually increase.
The number one mistake most small business owners make is treating their business like a new baby: Something precious and fragile that no one else can possibly handle correctly. Operating under this delusion, many entrepreneurs refuse to delegate tasks appropriately, instead trying to do everything themselves... But of course, as established business owners know, "If you truly want to be successful in your own business, you cannot and should not do everything yourself." Taking on too much inevitably leads to burnout, and a business owner who is in the throes of exhaustion cannot properly organize and run a company.
To stop occupational burnout before it has a chance to begin, focus on “big picture” thinking (e.g. managing employees, planning growth strategies) and give your employees a chance to tackle the smaller, detail-oriented tasks that need to be completed.
Small businesses typically have a limited number of employees, a fact which can render delegation alone ineffective. If you're in this situation, you need to consider the next best thing outsourcing. As the experts at Entrepreneur And Investor so aptly put it, “Outsourcing is a way of accessing the skills you need to get jobs done which will strengthen your business. For start-ups, it is the perfect way to buy the expertise required on an affordable and scalable basis. Gone are the days when, if you needed a bookkeeper, you hired one and provided them with sick pay, holiday pay, a desk and an office.”
A quick search through online freelancing sites will likely turn up all of the professional services your business requires and then some at surprisingly reasonable rates. Don't be afraid to give freelancers a try.
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4. Plan for the Future
Entrepreneurs often feel overloaded with duties on a day-to-day basis, and as such, they focus exclusively on keeping their heads above water; they do what has to be done each day and forget about tomorrow. However, this approach often means working harder for a longer period of time: A lack of growth planning puts many small businesses at risk of bankruptcy and a failure to plan for retirement leaves many entrepreneurs faced with the prospect of working well into their old age.
Don't fall into these traps: Consult with a professional accountant as soon as you can afford to do so and work with him or her to create a five-year growth strategy that accounts for probable expenses and affords the ability to take investment risks that may pay off in a big way down the road. Likewise, you should talk to a financial planning specialist about how to effectively save up for retirement while running your own business.
According to the financial planning agency Plentitude, “Solid planning includes making sure we have the ability to draw from a solid base of dividend stocks, income from bond funds or individual issues, including municipal, corporates, and U.S. government-backed paper, and any other sources of future income we’ve planned for since our 20s.” That's right, since your 20s. Even if you're starting a business fresh out of college, the time to start planning for your retirement is now.
5. Take Care of Your Body
We tend to envision entrepreneurs as people who work through lunch hour while wolfing down cheap microwave food and who sleep for about four hours per night and sometimes not at all. If you think this is the path to enhanced productivity, think again: Research has shown that neglecting your body winds up short-changing your business, too. When you're tired all the time, not only does work feel much more arduous than it actually is, you become prone to making errors (due to an impaired short-term memory) and bad business decisions.
Additionally, over time, this physical neglect adds up, leading to illnesses (such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer) that have the potential to seriously impact your productivity. Don't gamble with your health; work adequate sleep and nutritious food into your daily schedule to help ensure a strong future for you and your business.
Remember, the soul of remaining competitive as a business lies in doing more, faster, and with less effort. Don't mistake drudgery for productivity; if you're working too hard for too little measurable gain, go back to the drawing board and reexamine your working strategy.