Starting your own business is incredibly exciting. When it begins, you’re likely riding the high that comes with quitting the 9-5-grind to go your own way. Then things start picking up.
Where before it wasn’t hard to stay on top of your daily routine & separate the professional from the personal, now you’ve got more work than you can deal with, and things are beginning to blend together. Your work days might be bleeding into your personal time, and you catch yourself answering emails when you know you should be sleeping.
While too much work as a business owner or a freelancer is a “good problem” to have, it can still add up to more than you can handle. Taking on every project that comes your way is a common mistake most business owners make when first starting out. More work is always better than less, right? Plus, what if those projects dry up? You need a savings safety net to live on.
Here, we’ll go over why that might not necessarily be true, and some ways you can keep from getting so overwhelmed with work that you can’t enjoy the act of running your business.
How Not To Get Overwhelmed As A Business Owner
As you expand, it’s important to keep up with the growth of your business by scaling everything else along with it. That includes your time and effort. As the scale of the work increases, you’ll need to look at more people and resources you can use to handle the load efficiently. Which brings us to our first tip.
A tried and true tenet of entrepreneurship, delegation is key to maintaining your sanity as a business owner. In the beginning, you may have had to be your company’s writer, photographer, designer, accountant, and PR person. But once you’ve grown, it’s time to at least consider bringing on other people to do some of the tasks you don’t enjoy doing and are taking up too much of your time. Freeing up time is the quickest route to not becoming the overwhelmed owner of your business.
If you can afford it, hiring freelancers can help take the load off your shoulders. Working with people on an as-needed basis can help you figure out what areas of the business you’re comfortable delegating, and which you’d prefer to handle on your own. It’s also a way to possibly find someone to hire on long-term.
That can free up time to work on improving your core product, or maintaining relationships with established customers and new leads.
Learn to Prioritize
If you work for yourself, or you’re the boss at your small business, it’s easy to get distracted by the nearest pertinent thing and turn reactive instead of proactive. Avoid falling into this trap by learning to prioritize instead. One way to do this is to make time to plan out the day. Whether that’s in the morning or the night before, it can end up being a big time-saver.
“I always suggest that we need to start the day well, which means making time, quiet time, to plan out our day before the craziness commences and the overwhelm begins,” writes entrepreneur Andrew Griffiths for Inc. Breaking down the day’s tasks into manageable increments also helps with prioritization. Taking a massive project 20 minutes at a time seems a lot more doable than four hours of work.
Base your priorities on reality, not the (sometimes unrealistic) demands of clients or colleagues. Know what you can get done, how long it will take you, when it has to be accomplished by, and work from there.
Maybe you complete several small, easy-to-finish tasks at the beginning of the day before settling down to the more complicated work to give yourself a sense of accomplishment right off. Whatever it is, having a structure you can stick to will help you organize your day, making time less likely to get lost.
Make Time For Yourself As Well As Work
As we said in the previous section, making a little time before work begins to chart out the day can help organize it and make everything else flow more easily. The same goes for the period after work, between when the business of the day is done and going to bed.
Make sure you schedule some buffer-time between work and sleep, so that your brain has the space to wind down and won’t be racing at a million miles per hour mulling over the day’s problems when you’re trying to get some rest.
You can even do this during the day, creating small buffers of time for yourself to step away from work and recollect your thoughts. The Pomodoro Technique, for example, has you step away from what you’re doing for five minutes after working for 25. That way, you never find yourself hunched over the computer working for hours on end. Taking lunch outside at a park if you can do so, or going on a short walk outside can help untether you from the desk and reset for the rest of your work day.
Instead, take the last hour or so before bed to do something not involving a screen, like reading a book. This will decrease stress, allow your brain to get tired, and you’ll get a better night’s sleep. The next day, you’ll wake up hopefully more rested and ready to handle your business.
Write Down The Important Stuff
This one may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people think they can hold everything in their heads without it getting lost. They finish the day and find that they’ve forgotten something critical. That can be easily avoided by writing down important tasks, deadlines, and other information. You can do it old-school with a notebook or planner, or use productivity apps to keep track of your to-dos.
This adds a little more structure to the day-to-day of running your business & gives you something to check back in with to make sure nothing gets missed. This doesn’t even have to be a to-do list, either. Just writing important things down makes us go over the information again, and be more likely to remember it. If you forget, you’ve always got that physical (or digital) backup copy.
Organize Your Workspace
Physical clutter stresses us out, so make sure you aren’t adding anxiety to your life with a messy workspace. We recommend having a place for everything and everything in its place, instead. Keep the items in and around your desk as minimal as you can, and know where they’re stored so you can access them at a moment’s notice, rather than waste time hunting for them.
Michael Miqueli, founder of san Antonio Broker Services, has a peculiar but effective rule for the desks in his office that helps him and his employees be more productive. As he explains in an interview with Entrepreneur magazine:
“I have a rule that the desks in our office cannot have drawers. That way whatever work needs to be completed is usually sitting on your desk, which means it cannot be ignored and is usually handled the same day.”
Keep Yourself Focused On The Task At Hand
When you’ve got twenty things to get done in a day, it’s easy to start stressing about the next task in the middle of the one you’re doing, but try to avoid that. Focus your energy on the most important tasks and stay with them one at a time until they’re done. You’ll be finished with everything, or at least the most important items on your list, before you know it.
That can be easier said than done. Consider our tips earlier about making time during the day for planning, and learning how to prioritize. Practicing those things until they become habit will make it easier to stay on task when it counts.
Consider minimizing distractions by keeping your space uncluttered, using apps to block Facebook or Twitter, and putting your phone on ‘do not disturb’ or airplane mode, so you won’t be tempted by Instagram or emails that could be answered later.
You could clear your desk of everything that doesn’t have to do with the current project, keeping other work out of sight and out of mind until you need to address it.
Empower Your Employees
If you aren’t a solo entrepreneur or freelancer, your employees are one of the most essential parts of your business. They’re the lifeblood keeping it running from day to day, getting things done & helping the business thrive. So make sure you’re building those people up.
Surround yourself with people you know can take initiative, make decisions on their own, and be trusted with the tasks you choose to delegate to them.
“When we were able to transition to a company of people who have the ability to succeed and fail on their own, drive value and make decisions, our lives got way better,” said Alan Doan, founder of Missouri Star Quilt Company.
Always be checking in with your team for their input. Are they happy with their job? Is there something they notice could be done better? Getting their feedback is invaluable to keeping your employees happy, and your company running well. Even if you started your business on your own, no one person can do everything once your company starts to scale.
Take some time to reevaluate and reorganize your practices, and you’ll be back at it and better than ever in no time.
Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.
Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.