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How to find time to work ON your business

Business owners are some of the busiest people I know. So it never surprises me when I hear a prospective Coaching client say they just don’t have time to work on their business. They don’t even have time to spend with their family or exercise or volunteer doing something they’re passionate about, so where are they going to find the hour per day (at least) that we recommend be spent working on their business to transform it into what they want it to be?

The truth is, it’s not easy—but not for the reasons you may think.

Finding time isn’t the hard part. What’s hard is shifting your perspective, opening your mind to what’s really happening with your time—and changing that.

So to kick off a fresh new year, I’d like to share some ways to think about your time, your business, and your role in it, so you can create the space you need to work on it and use that space to make a real difference.

Figure out how you’re using your time

Before you do anything else—before you make a single list or start packing your calendar with appointments and meetings—you first need to understand what’s happening with your time. It’s the precursor to finding the space to work on your business. You have to study how you work and what you do with every single hour of every single day. This close study is the only way to recognize bad habits you’ve developed over time and get a comprehensive look at what’s consuming your time so that you can make intentional shifts to find the time you need.

In our Coaching Program, we’ve developed a tool called the Daily Time Log, but you could also use a free online time tracker such as Toggl. Our Daily Time Log helps you log every activity in your day (including those frustrating interruptions), when and for how long you perform each activity, and its category and work type. Of the two primary types of work most business owners engage in—strategic (working on your business) and tactical (working in your business)—you’ll probably find that the latter eats up most of your time.

For example, maybe you meet with Steve, your finance manager, for 25 minutes in the morning to discuss the budget and forecast for your upcoming year, which falls under strategic work. After you meet with Steve, you then spend the next 35 minutes checking payables and approving expenses, which is tactical work. Can you see the difference?

Log that time to the minute.

After two weeks of consistent tracking, you’ll see trends and patterns emerge in both your activities and types of work. How much strategic work are you doing? How much tactical work? What time of day are you most able to be productive with your strategic work? How often are you interrupted or distracted from completing a task? Really study those interruptions, and consider what they suggest about your business systems.

Making connections like this allows you to begin the process of becoming more deliberate about how you’re using valuable time.

Embrace the strategic work of your business

The truth is, most business owners are Technicians at heart. They feel the greatest sense of reward when they’re productive, working in the business and checking things off their lists. And strategic work—thinking about and developing strategies that guide the direction of your business—can be frustrating to the technically-driven person. It can feel at worst like a waste of time, and at best like a luxury.

But you need to shift from this tactical mindset. You need to believe that sitting and thinking about the business is actually incredibly valuable work. What’s more, it’s part of your job—the one you chose for yourself as an owner.

To stop and think differently about your business takes a massive shift in perspective. To break the mindset that built your business and got it to this point, you need accept that doing the strategic work has a big payoff. And it really does, because if you don’t take the time to think bigger than the day-to-day to create the structure your business needs to grow, nothing will ever change.

Work on your business during business hours

On the topic of shifting perspective, I run into another common hurdle with coaching clients: that business development is something to do in addition to all the other work in the business; that it should happen in the off hours. This misconception can derail you before you even get started.

Working on your business is not extracurricular.

It’s not something you do on the weekend or at night after your kids are in bed. That would just be more of your life taken up by your business, which is exactly what we’re trying to free you from. You absolutely must make space in your daily schedule to do this work—because as the owner, this is your true job.

Create systems for your life

At EMyth, creating systems for your business is a big part of what we do. Owners come to us looking for systems to give them control over all the critical parts of their businesses, to produce order out of chaos, to create consistency and predictability that eliminate overwhelm and boost business value. And yes, systems do all this, and can ultimately help you create a business that better serves the life you dream of having. But to truly transform your business, you also need systems in your life.

In all my time working with business owners, I’ve learned not only how much business impacts life, but how life can impact business. Imagine this: Every morning, you struggle to get your kids off to school, which creates a ripple effect. As a result, you get onto the highway ten minutes later than you want—a critical ten minutes that means traffic is much worse—so you get to work later. You’re late to your first meeting, which pushes out the next one. So the whole day you’re playing catch up, and it all started with getting your kids out the door on time.

Maybe you don’t need to imagine.

To help you work on yourself as a leader, work on yourself in your life. Look at your life and ask what’s happening that’s negatively impacting your ability to be present and conscious enough to do the strategic work of your business. Then develop a routine that takes you from a reactive to proactive state of mind—and stick to it.

Break down big projects

If you say to yourself, “This week, I’m going to redesign our organizational structure,” you’re going to quickly drown in the overwhelm of all the questions and considerations that come with such a massive project, and likely move on to dealing with pressing, tactical—technical—needs. To successfully complete any business development project, you need to break down your project into bite-sized pieces.

Ask yourself: What are the steps involved in getting this project done? Maybe there are five steps, maybe more. Regardless of the size of the project, you can complete it by dividing it into manageable segments that you can begin to fit into your day.

Set and manage your daily priorities

After you’ve broken down your projects into bite-sized pieces, add those pieces little by little into your schedule as daily priorities. Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a given day. They load up their to-do list with everything they’d like to get done, and don’t differentiate between what truly needs to get done right now and the items that can wait until tomorrow or next week.

In our Coaching Program, we use a tool called the Daily Prioritizer. It’s a template that helps you manage your typical workday to maximize your productivity and set aside your business development hour. It allows you to take what you’ve learned about how you currently spend your day—your most productive times, creative periods, and your distractions—and build a more intentional daily routine, one that limits your focus to no more than five essential and realistic activities.

Whatever tool you use, what’s important is to intentionally design your day and choose a planning method that works for you. For many, this is a calendar. It seems obvious, I know, but it’s surprising how often a simple calendar is ignored as a tool for keeping you on track. After you determine your daily priorities, make sure you schedule them into your calendar so that you know you’ve carved out the space to get them done.

Plan your day before the day

If your day isn’t set before it begins, there’s no shot you’ll ever find the space you need to work on strategic priorities. Every business owner goes to bed the night before with great intentions, but if you don’t have the next day planned out, you inevitably fall into the familiar trap of having the day just happen to you. And before you know it, it’s 5 p.m. and you wonder where your time went.

So before your day begins, plan your schedule. Don’t make it the first task of the day. It won’t happen. Something else—an email, a customer, a fire—will demand your immediate attention, and your priorities will be sidelined. Sit down at the end of each day, the night before, or in the morning before you arrive at the office, and get your priority tasks on your schedule.

Be ready (and willing) to deal with distractions

Rarely will you have a day that goes exactly as planned. Inevitably, something is going to come up, and you’ll need to renegotiate your calendar. That’s okay. Rather than allow interruptions to stress you out, take a moment to review your schedule and shift around your priorities—but don’t allow things to fall off your calendar. Take that block of time and physically move it to another time when you can get it done. That way, you’re still making space to get your strategic work done even if it’s not exactly at the moment you planned.

If you’d like to talk more about how you can get help and guidance to create more space to work on your business, sign up for a Free Coaching Session and spend 60 minutes talking with an EMyth Coaching Advisor about your business and your needs.

Tricia Huebner

Written by Tricia Huebner

Tricia Huebner is one of the leading experts in all facets of the EMyth Approach. Her 15+ years of experience at EMyth have included leadership roles in program development, coaching, coach training and marketing. Tricia’s commitment to helping business owners comes from her own upbringing in a family of small business owners. As a speaker and trainer, Tricia has addressed business audiences throughout the U.S., and internationally in Canada, Europe and Africa. She’s designed programs for the Small Business Administration and consulted with Fortune 1000 companies. Throughout her career, she's personally coached more than 200 small and mid-sized businesses, helping owners create businesses they love leading and lives they love living.