Are you feeling overwhelmed and on the edge of burnout because you work all the time? Do you lull yourself to sleep thinking: “One day my business will be profitable enough to ease up and slow down a bit. One day.”
Friend, I’ve been there. But we don’t have to be slaves to our businesses, to our dreams.
When we get caught up doing #allthethings, we easily forget that we chose to be our own boss so we could have more freedom.
According to a work-life balance survey by The Alternative Board, 66% of small business owners work 40–60 hours per week.
Now, while the outward purpose of our business is to serve people and add value to their lives, the inward purpose is to give ourselves the freedom that comes along with being our own boss.
Isn’t it ironic that we go into business for freedom, but end up being a slave to our creation?
GAIN FREEDOM THROUGH BOUNDARIES
Like all good things in life, freedom must have boundaries. If we allow ourselves to eat all the ice cream we want, there will be consequences.
True freedom in business comes from having strategic boundaries in place, and it all starts with time boundaries.
We didn't go into business for ourselves so we could work 60+ hours a week, spending nights and weekends in front of a computer instead of with our families. But that’s what we’ll do if we don't define a work schedule.
You see, our work will expand to fill the time available for its completion. That’s Parkinson’s Law. Simply stated, if you give yourself one month to design a new product, it will take one month to complete. But if Anthropologie called and wanted that product on their shelves one week from today, you’d make it happen. A dramatic (and slightly unrealistic) example, I know, but it proves my point. Tonya Dalton has a great mini podcast episode that perfectly explains this theory.
I think it’s also important to note that productivity has boundaries of its own. Your productivity drops once you’ve worked more than 50 hours in one week. (source) So when it comes to work hours, it’s all about the quality of your work over the quantity of hours you put in.
START LIVING YOUR DREAM
I create boundaries by working from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday and Friday. Those two half days provide me the freedom to attend my youngest stepson’s soccer/baseball/hockey games on Wednesdays, and prepare my house for the weekend (grocery shop, clean, etc.) on Fridays.
This structured schedule, combined with a very intentional to-do list, puts me in charge of my days. I am the boss after all! I have clearly defined work hours, which automatically creates deadlines for the work I do. With this schedule, I benefit from both freedom and maximum productivity.
My schedule wasn’t always like this. I used to work a whole lot more, but didn’t have much to show for it. And I still feel guilty for not working those two afternoons a week. It’s a work in progress! My schedule also changes with the seasons. During the summer months, my focused time switches to the mornings—when the teenagers are still asleep. I'm all about creating a work schedule that fits my life, not the other way around.
What does your ideal work week look like? Let’s map it out.
Get my free Work Schedule template to help you map out your ideal week.
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Here are a few things to keep in mind while creating your ideal work schedule:
Schedule your priorities first. Remember why you chose to be your own boss . . . freedom, right? And the freedom to do whatever you choose first, letting your work hours fill in the gaps.
Schedule focused work time second. This is when you will be working on larger tasks (the real “meat” of your business), so schedule these blocks of time for when you are confident you will not be distracted.
Note that your brain can only handle about 1.5–2 hours of focused work before it needs a break. Also, it takes about 23 minutes to get into the groove of focused work. I call this “start-up time.” If you switch tasks (or try to multitask) during focused work time, it will take your brain 10 minutes to refocus on the original task. Make sure you block out your time accordingly.
Block out dedicated email and admin time. Email has a tendency to suck us in. We can waste hours inside an inbox. Make it a goal to completely shut down email outside of these times. You’ll find yourself becoming more efficient with your inbox, which can be life changing!
Make time for yourself. I like to schedule in “me time”— or quite time—in the mornings, and workouts and walks at some point each day. This personal time gives me a chance to recharge, contributing to my overall creativity, happiness, health, and productivity.
Remember that YOU call the shots. You do not need to work a classic 9–5, M–F work schedule, nor do you need to work 40+ hours each week. You’re the boss. Create a schedule that works best for you and your business.
Pro tip: Don't create a schedule based on your current workload. Right now, focus on creating your ideal, or dream, schedule. Then head to this blog post to help you tackle your to-do list with the 80/20 Rule.
Here’s a sample of my weekly schedule to help get you started.
PERMISSION AND PEACE
Know that this is not a perfect system and give yourself permission to be at peace with that. Because no system is perfect. Days are going to bleed into one another. Someone else’s schedule won’t work with the time you allotted for meetings. And more often than not, nap times will not go according to plan . . . and the kids will get sick.
But at least you’ll have this really good framework to help guide you, and you’ll begin setting boundaries for freedom in your business.
I also want you to know that you alone cannot do everything. Learn to let go, delegate, and say no. That in and of itself will bring you all the freedom in the world.