Everyday Entrepreneurship

Five Simple Principles to Free Your Time  for Living the Life You Want

Sometimes quitting seems easier.

Have you ever thought about taking your ball and going home? When I was a college freshman on the football team, they called it “catching the night train” – packing up in the middle of the night and leaving – so that no one could see you give up.

If you have a job and a family, it can be hard to get it together. I get it because I’ve been there – shoot, I am there with you!

As a father and an entrepreneur, I understand the pressure you experience. But there’s good news: you can succeed at work AND home by using a few simple principles that apply both places. I know because I’ve done it and I’m excited to share them with you.

Using a few proven techniques, you can avoid the regret of being an absentee parent and a mediocre businessperson. Instead, experience success at home and work. If you follow these principles, you will:

  • Discover more time to build and grow a business you love
  • Have a family that’s happy to see you at home for dinner
  • Live a more fulfilled life

You must have a vision. If you have no followers at home or work, you are not a leader.

I work with a lot of entrepreneurs. The great ones share a crucial characteristic: a laser-like focus on their “why.” They know the story of their business from the beginning. They know where they are going and exactly how they plan to get there. They are relentless!

Most entrepreneurs follow Mark Cuban’s advice: “Work like someone is working 24 hours a day to take it all away from you.” What other philosophy would you expect from the guys who says, “You’re either an entrepreneur or a wantrepreneur?”

Every company has a vision, a picture of the desired future. The best are clear, concise and simple. Why? The team needs to focus on the execution, not the intricacies of the vision.

“People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important that people look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working,” said Elon Musk, Founder of Tesla and SpaceX.

Put it out there and give people a reason to follow you. What is the story of your company? Where is it going, and how do you plan to get there? When you share the vision, does it ignite passion within your team?

A vision is the basis of every decision you make. Will the decision bring you closer to or farther from your goals for the company? It’s your responsibility to set the course.

As important as having a vision for your business is, it is more important at home.

The scorecard in business is money. Regardless of your specific key performance indicators, they almost always involve a dollar sign. Are you making money or losing money? It’s that simple.

It’s not so easy at home, is it? If you’re like me, it is MUCH more challenging to determine success at home. There’s no spreadsheet to review or financial statement to read. The people you love don’t fit into a neat little box.

Your success at home, with your partner, your family, and friends, requires more planning than at work. There are so many variables and ways to measure success. What’s your vision for your family? When you must make a decision, how do you know what you should do?

My personal philosophy is simple: focus on doing “the next right thing.” But if you don’t have a clear idea of what’s important, how do you determine the right thing? How do you choose between lots of “good” options on how to spend your time, money or attention?

Setting a vision for your company and your family is crucial. It’s a fundamental component of success in both areas of your life. I can’t say what your business or family vision should be, but I can tell you it’s worth the time and energy to figure it out and set one.

It may seem daunting at first. Remember this: you can always make adjustments. Periodic reviews can keep your plan on course, but only if you have one. If you don’t have a clear vision, you should know you’re not the only one, but it’s time to sit down and plot your course. That’s your challenge, and I know you’re up for it!

Success at home and at work is much easier with a plan.
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Take Out the Trash – There’s a Difference Between Busy and Productive

Remember the last time you left work mentally and emotionally exhausted? You probably drove home in a fog, unable to remember doing anything important all day long. But you arrived early, left late, and stayed busy all day long. As you review your day, you realize you excelled at busyness, not productivity.

We’ve all had days like that, days where staying home in the bed would be as productive as working all day. These days are draining, frustrating, and exhausting. How do you stop having days like this? What changes can you make to be more productive and less busy?

The first step is to “take out the trash,” or stop doing things not in line with your vision. We’ve all read productivity books and attended productivity workshops. These experts tell us all the things we should do, which we cover shortly. Many of us desperately need a “To Don’t List.”

What are some common ways we waste time and become busy instead of productive?

Three-time wasters that can clutter your day at home and work

Staying too connected Are you preoccupied with your phone, tablet or computer? Are you constantly “somewhere else” no matter where you are? I’m guilty as charged on this one. The best thing we can do to get more done is to unplug and just “be present where we are.” In fact, our teams and families need us to disconnect frequently and engage directly with them.

Mindlessly doing things because they’ve always been done

Do you ever ask why you’re doing the things you’re doing? Do your kids like the sports you sign them up for year after year? Or is it about what you like? I did this for years, and then one year I asked. Two of my boys didn’t even want to play baseball! Like magic, our lives stopped being crazy for three months every year. The same applies when we continue to produce reports for clients that they never read. Next time, ask this question: why are we doing this?

Taking irrelevant phone calls

A couple of years ago, I made two new personal rules

  1. If you call and I don’t recognize your phone number, I don’t answer the phone.
  2. If you don’t leave a message, I won’t call you back (no matter who you are.)

I can’t tell you how much time it saves me (because I don’t know!), but it is a game changer for my productivity. I haven’t lost a friend or a client over it (probably because I recognize their phone numbers) and I never talk to telemarketers. #winning

Four Questions to Ask When Taking Out the Trash

Why am I doing this?  If you don’t know, STOP doing it. If it’s for someone else, ask them if it’s important to them that you do it. Believe me, they will tell you. If there’s something you’re doing for someone else and they tell you it’s not important to them – believe them and stop doing it immediately.

Does this move me toward my vision for my company and my life? Your responsibility isn’t busyness; it’s productivity. Any activity not taking you closer to your vision is moving you farther away.

What will happen if I don’t do it (or if I say no?) I admit it, I sometimes overestimate my importance. I convince myself that if I don’t (insert “important” event or activity here) no one will. After reading the book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, I decided to try saying no first. Guess what, the next time I declined a board seat and missed a social event no one died – in fact, I’m pretty sure they didn’t even notice! While it was hard on my pride to learn this lesson, it was great for my calendar.

If this task must be done, am I the best person to do it?  Some things must be done, but they don’t have to be done BY YOU. To maximize your potential for success, focus your time, effort and attention on the things that only you can do. More on that later!

Time buying – Outsourcing isn’t just for big companies

Once you make room in your calendar and your mind, it’s time to take care of the things that remain on your plate. Remember the question from the last principle: if this task must be done, am I the best person to do it?

Most of the time the answer is NO. It must be done, but it doesn’t have to be done by you.

What are the things in your life that no one can do but you? For me there are three things that are ALL ME:

  • No one else can set and drive the vision for my family and my business
  • No one else can be Trish’s fiancé (assuming she’ll continue to have me)
  • No one else can be my boys’ father and guide them to be the men I’m raising them to be

There are other things that I do because I can. These three literally cannot be done by anyone but me. So I focus on suiting up and showing up for those – no matter what. Steve Bartoli said, “When someone tells you they’re too “busy” it’s not a reflection of their schedule… It’s a reflection of YOUR spot on their schedule.” I want the people closest to me – my family and my team members – to know that their spot is at the front of the line.

If you want to make sure that your family and team members are very clear about their position on your schedule, then delegate or outsource non-essential tasks.

For some folks, the concept of outsourcing seems absurd, particularly at home. My guess is you’ve already done it, whether you think of it as outsourcing or not.

  • Have you ever hired a babysitter? Outsourced child care (even if it’s to their grandparent – it had to be done and you didn’t do it.)
  • Have you ever used a dry cleaner? Outsourced laundry.
  • Caught an Uber? Outsourced driving (ok, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but you get the idea.)

At work, you can delegate administrative work to virtual assistants – in fact, we use local virtual workers for our videos and our marketing and graphics design team is in Romania! We needed expertise, and we found it. Believe me, if I were doing the graphics work on our projects I’d get nothing else done!

Here are some other things you can delegate at work:

  • All forms of technology work – Upwork and Fiverr offer fast one-time solutions and services like virtualstafffinder.com can source and interview a long term virtual assistant.
  • File organization – Whether it’s an assistant or an intern, you can find someone to help keep you organized.
  • Accounting – Most businesses could benefit from professional accounting services; it’s just not worth it to do it yourself. Let the pros handle your money.
  • Social media – There are lots of services that allow for automation of social media posts and plenty of professionals to help.

Here are some other things you can delegate at home:

  • Cleaning – There are services and individuals that specialize in maintaining your home.
  • Cooking – Some companies send you fresh ingredients and recipes every week, and some grocery stores now offer delivery services. You can even get someone to prepare meals for you.
  • Laundry – Whether you have someone come to you or use a local dry cleaner, there are plenty of people who can help with laundry.
  • Yard, home and pool maintenance – Just ask around, everyone has “a guy.”

When we focus on things only we can do, we suddenly have more time for our top priorities. These priorities, combined with our vision for home and work, make it easier to invest our time wisely.

Side note: I’m not advocating that you delegate because you’re too lazy to do the work.

I advocate you spend money, if possible, and let pros handle some things for you. You can’t be a pro at everything, so be the pro at the things you’re best qualified to do.

Multiply your effort and your time – Automation and Batching

You eliminated unnecessary tasks and delegated things to other people. Great! But there is still more work to do in order to achieve our vision and create success at home and at work.

Now that your “To Don’t List” is filled with things you eliminated or delegated, it’s time to automate some things. Automation software (or manual staff processes) is what I call a multiplier. You do the thinking and the work one time. Except for the occasional check-in to ensure everything works, the system handles the rest.

Automatically paying bills by debit or credit card is an excellent example of automation. Once the bill is set up in the system, you may never have to touch it again. For repetitive tasks, can spend 15 minutes on something once and save yourself 15 minutes a month for the next year – or longer.

It may not sound like a lot, but that’s three hours per year (just on one task.) If you want to do a little math to see what that multiplier is worth, calculate what your hourly rate was regarding your annual savings relative to the time it took to set up the automation.

Example: Spend 15 minutes once to set up automation that saved you 15 minutes a month for a year, you saved 3 hours. If you make $15/hour, you’ve saved $45 worth of your time in 15 minutes. That means that setting up the automation was $180/hour work for you AND you won’t have to do it again anytime soon.

Once you’ve automated some tasks, it’s time to leverage another powerful tool for productivity: batching. Batching is the grouping of similar tasks that require similar resources to get them done faster.

By grouping like tasks together, we have the freedom to focus on one task for a set amount of time without getting distracted. When we get distracted, it takes about 15 minutes to regain focus. Batch processing minimizes distraction.

One helpful example of batching at work is email. Set aside two thirty minute blocks every day to go through email. During that time, you are entirely focused on reviewing, responding, and acting on the items in your inbox. Once you finish, don’t open your email again.

You can batch tasks at home too. One of my clients gets paid once a month, so payday is the day he pays all the bills he must mail. In just 30 minutes per month, he handles all of his mail for the entire month. Talk about efficient!

Other things that can be batched to make work easier:

  • Writing – Setting aside to write business correspondence is crucial
  • Social media posting – Spend an hour or two with software like Buffer and schedule a week’s worth of social media posts
  • Meetings or phone calls – Many entrepreneurs have set days or times for meetings and phone calls, knocking them out one after the other

Other things that can be batched to make home life easier:

  • Shopping – With a little planning, it’s easy to make a list and go shopping once a week (or even once a month if you’re ambitious)
  • Cooking – Lots of busy people also want to eat healthily, so they use Sunday to batch cooking and prepare for the coming week
  • Reading – I don’t get enough time to read, so I compile a folder of articles (both physical and digital) and set aside several hours to read them all at once

The key to using batching is simple: Setting aside a block of time that allows you to use the power of focus to get more done in less time.

There’s no such thing as work-life balance – and that’s ok

John Cage famously said, “Our highest business is our daily life.” I spend more time with spreadsheets and formulas than I’d care to admit. I’ve come to like them because they’re predictable and – with three sons and various business interests – predictability isn’t something I get often.

My life is probably like yours: hectic. But it’s a reality I finally embraced. Why? Because for folks like us there simply is no such thing as work/life balance.

The idea of balance suggests work and life are both separate and equal. I don’t know about you, but my work and my life aren’t different, what my business is a part of my family and my family is a big part of my business.

Instead of balance, I strive for work-life synergy. Businesses and families run in cycles – each needing more of me some times than others. When my boys are “in season” with one of the sports that all of them play, there’s a lot of extra family time needed. During certain times of the year, my business requires more time than usual.

How do we as entrepreneurs stay sane? Plan. Prepare for those seasons before they arrive. By following the steps I outlined, I maximize my time on the important things at the right time. Instead of being surprised by the hectic pace of life, I go on the offensive. I won’t be caught off guard! You can do the same.

An entrepreneur is “a person who starts, organizes and manages any enterprise, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” This definition is equally applicable to parents with their families. Success at work and home require the same core competencies: organization, management, and communication.

The risks are real. But the rewards are big and last a lifetime. It takes guts to start a business or a family. And it takes more than that to run either successfully for the long haul. But if we set a vision, maximize our priorities, and work at it daily, we discover it’s an incredible ride.