Does it feel to you like you work all the time, yet there’s always more to do? It often seems that in order to do well financially, an entrepreneur must work through the weekends, ignore family and friends, and leave no time for himself or herself. How can you get your working hours under control?
First, acknowledge yourself for recognizing that this is a problem and looking for some help. Many entrepreneurs work like this until they burn out completely or become seriously ill. By that time, it’s often too late to make changes.
In any business, there are always more tasks left to do. When you have employees, there is a natural limit to the number of hours you can ask them to work for you. If you’re paying them by the hour, your bank account sets the limit. If they’re on salary, the employees themselves rebel against working too many extra hours. But it’s easy to get into the habit of thinking that your own time is “free.”
Once you realize that there is a personal cost to non-stop work, you can start retraining yourself to be a better boss for your company’s most valuable employee — you.
When I work with coaching clients on solving an overwork problem, I ask them to start by keeping track of the number of hours they are actually working. You can use your appointment calendar to note when you start and stop work each day. If you tend to jump back and forth between business and personal tasks, use a time clock app like Toggl to help you track. Then add up the hours worked at the end of each day and week.
This exercise serves the same purpose as writing down everything you eat when you begin a diet — it makes you conscious of what your work habits truly are. The very act of noticing when you are and aren’t working may cause a shift in how you are using your time.
If you find that the number of hours you are working on a weekly basis is more than you would like, try setting a pre-defined ceiling on work hours, and when you reach it, just stop working. You may be surprised how many tasks suddenly become nonessential when there is no longer unlimited time to perform them.
Or you may discover that you are actually not working more hours than you think is reasonable, but your work hours are scattered throughout the day and week. This practice can make you feel as if you are always working, because you never have any clearly marked time off. Try grouping your work hours together in shifts. When your scheduled shift is over for the day, knock off work and allow yourself to relax.
If you have trouble getting even the most important things done without putting in extra hours, you may need to be more rigorous about planning your week. Make a daily or weekly list of to-do’s, and include an estimate of how much time you think each task will take. Add up the total, and see if it fits into the amount of time you have available. Remember that in any given day, you need to allow a certain amount of time for routine activities and unpredictable events. It is not unusual to require up to four hours per day simply to answer phone calls, respond to email, and have unscheduled interactions with employees or clients.
When your planning makes clear that your list has more tasks on it than you can possibly do, choose at the beginning of the day what you will eliminate, rather than hoping you will somehow get it all done. This will help you to complete your day with a sense of accomplishment, instead of always feeling as if there is more left to do.
For many entrepreneurs, overwork is more of a habit than a necessity. Working a lot does not necessarily mean that you are working productively. When you become more rigorous about how you plan and use your time, you may find that working less hours actually makes you more efficient, because you become much more selective about how your precious work time is spent.