Ever since I first started my business in 2008 I have never, ever been able to say that I got everything done on my to-do list. There are always extra ways to grow your business, always new things to try and new people to reach. That said, there are ways to save time and cut the work you need to do day to do (or to give you more time for the new tactics). Here’s how I do it…
On Being a Workaholic
I am a workaholic, I admit it. Sometimes I feel guilty if I’m not working, and that I should be doing as much as possible, all the time. But that’s not healthy, and it’s just not true! Successful business owners think about the future and how they can grow their business, and that means allowing in people and tools that can take the stress away from you and give you more time to come up with amazing ideas.
There is nothing wrong with sacrificing a little hustle in favour of working smarter in your business, which is really what this blog post is all about.Click here to sign up to my free library of biz-building worksheets, guides and tools
One of the biggest problems I have with my own business is overwhelm. There are just so many new ideas and things I want to try that I often end up spinning my wheels not choosing any of them. That’s why learning to prioritise and actually decide is a key skill for any online entrepreneur.
How do you prioritise? Well sometimes it's clear when you take a bit of time to think things through. Need extra cash right now? Then it makes sense to focus on your current products or to ramp up services you offer. Or maybe you’ve got no cash to invest in your business, so you simply have to work on free marketing methods for a while.
Sometimes, though, you find yourself with a choice to make that isn’t so obvious. Spend a little time with your feelings and seeing what feels right to you. When that doesn’t work for me, I force myself to just CHOOSE SOMETHING and then I write deadlines in my calendar. It might sound simple but it has saved me so many times from just stalling.
What if you decide to head in the wrong direction? Well, that’s an understandable fear and one that I often come up against. But the truth is that running a business is all about trying things and learning from your mistakes, so there really isn’t a “wrong” decision. You can always stop and reevaluate if things aren’t going according to plan.
2) 80/20 principle
The 80/20 rule is also known as the Pareto principle, and states that 80% of results will come from just 20% of actions. For example, 80% of your income could come from 20% of your products, customers or marketing efforts. Of course, this is a general rule and won't be exactly true for everyone, but the important thing to remember is that a small number of your actions can be responsible for a large portion of results.
So, how does this apply to making more time in your business? It means learning to focus on the activities that bring you most gain. This can really help you put things into perspective and learn where to focus your time. Is your to-do list full of small but probably insignificant tasks? Or are you focusing on one or two tasks that really have the potential to bring in bigger results? Something to think about 😉
It's a good idea to keep this principle in mind as you grow your business, and eventually you can start outsourcing smaller tasks and spending your personal time on the bigger picture.
3) Organise Your Calendar & Your Workday
It has taken me a long time to get into a good groove with my schedule (it doesn’t help that I am totally the kind of person who always rushes to meet deadlines at the last minute), but I think I can finally say that I’ve figured out the right system for me that keeps things running smoothly.
I do believe we’re all very different when it comes to how we work best, so this may not work for you, but here’s how I do it:
- Firstly, I decided which tools to use for my calendar. I use iCal on my computer, which syncs easily to my iPhone, and have a number of different calendars for things like my blogging schedule, emails, launches etc. Then I have my daily paper planner where I’ll break those bigger tasks into specific to-do items. I try to write my to-dos inside my planner at least by Friday in time for the upcoming week. When I miss this self-imposed deadline, I really start to get disorganised!
- Recently I’ve also got set days for certain types of tasks. For example, on certain days I’ll work on content creation and on other days I’ll focus on marketing. This makes it easier for me to work on things in batches, getting me into the “zone”, and therefore getting more done than I would do if I did a little but every single day.
- I also make sure to schedule time off way in advance (if possible) so that I can be really organised about getting my work done and enjoying holidays, which I think is very important when you run your own business!
Once you’re in a bit of a groove and you know what you’re working on, it’s time to get smart and automate as much of that as possible. You’d be surprised at how much difference tiny automation tweaks can make to the smooth running of your business (think back to the 80/20 principle above).
Here are a few ways I have automated my business through time:
- Social Media: Pretty early on I started automated some social media posts (not all, because it is important to connect with people, too!) Tools like Buffer make this really easy. Simply spend an afternoon batching your social media posts – whether that’s writing helpful tips, creating posts to share your own content, or finding useful posts from other people – and then load it into your software. Your software should show you when your automated content should run out, so make a note in your calendar to add more posts before this date.
- Email Marketing & Sales Funnels: Make sure you have email opt-in forms set up on your website to make it easy for visitors to subscribe to your newsletter. And, in time, put together an email sequence to deliver useful content to them and promote your paid products and services.
- Handling Emails: Checking and responding to emails can quickly become a massive time-suck. When I noticed I was spending way too long in my emails I firstly started using a free Help Desk plan to get organized (Help Scout). This stopped me from forgetting to reply to emails and them getting lost in my inbox. Then, I started noticing which questions kept coming in repeatedly, or which would help others. Then I created FAQ to address these needs, and canned responses to make replies easy. I cannot emphasise enough how much time this has saved me, even though it’s so simple!
- Create Templates: If you regularly create graphics in a certain style, or downloadable PDFs featuring your branding etc. then try to make a master template that you can easily edit each time to speed up the process.
- Selling Products: If you do have products or services available for sale, consider using some sort of automation here, too. For products, use shopping cart software that delivers it instantly. For services, you could deliver a welcome pack with instructions for your clients, or even direct them to a calendar where they can chose a time to meet with you etc.
5) Build Your Team
I am a big advocate of outsourcing tasks and building your team as soon as you can in your business. You don’t have to outsource much if you don’t have the money, but try to outsource something as it can really make a huge difference to your growth. When I was writing for several clients I started outsourcing a small amount of the marketing, and small other tasks like formatting eBooks. You could start with something tiny that costs $50 a month, then grow from there.
If you’re not sure what to outsource, start listing all of the different tasks you do in your business. Which ones of those need your skill to create? I am guessing lots of little tasks don’t need to be done specifically by you. Those are great candidates for outsourcing.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t need to learn to do everything in your business. You may be great at writing but bad at designing or coding. You could spend money on a course and time learning how to do it, but why not just pay an expert to do it? They will do it better than you can, anyway!
6) Invest in Your Business
For a long time I was afraid to spend too much money on my business. If there was a tool that could save me time in some way, but it had a large monthly cost, then I’d put off buying it as I thought it would hurt my problems. That is such a backwards way of looking at things! If anything can save you time then it (a) frees up your energy to work on growing your business or (b) gives you more time to spend doing the things that really matter to you in life! So don’t be afraid to put some of your profits back into your business on tools or people to help you work better.
7) Let Go!
If all else fails, you’re stressed, burnt out, and overwhelmed then sometimes you just need to let go. There’s nothing wrong with not being productive sometimes, not getting that blog post written or missing your weekly email newsletter from time to time. Consistency matters in business, to a degree, but the sky certainly won’t fall if you take a few unexpected days off. And it’s just not worth sacrificing your happiness and mental health for your business!Click here to sign up to my free library of biz-building worksheets, guides and tools
Over to you… are you a workaholic like me? Or have you got some tips to share about how you work smarter in your biz?