If you’re running your business single-handedly, there’s no doubting you have an exorbitant amount of juggling to do. Figuring out which high-value tasks and projects need your attention and how much time you should devote to them among all the tedious bills, emails, voicemails, and paperwork required of solopreneurs can be incredibly difficult. Also, a lot can fall through the cracks (including your potential profits!) when your plate is overloaded, you get buried in administrative work, and you feel overwhelmed, resulting in lost revenue or massive fires that need to be put out later at inconvenient times. Missing out on opportunities and income, and getting stuck on a plateau teeming with exhaustion and indecision is not where you want to be. Thankfully, effectively managing your time can help… a lot! Easier said than done though, right? Not when you’re implementing time management strategies that have been proven to work for solopreneurs to help reduce stress, maximize time, regain control, and increase profits. Here are some of my favorite strategies:
Time Management Strategies For Solopreneurs
Prioritize Revenue-Generating Activities
Here’s a cold, hard fact… if you want to stay in business, your business needs to be making money, so your #1 priority should be doing the high-value activities that generate revenue or directly lead to generating revenue. As a solopreneur, these activities include marketing/visibility, sales, and servicing your clients. Before filling up your calendar with lunch dates, social networking events, and conferences, block out time on your calendar to work on your high-value activities. Then, hold those time blocks sacred. Otherwise, you won’t be doing the necessary marketing to gain visibility in your niche and attract the clients who want to do business with you, can afford to work with you, and will tell their friends about you. Intentionally focus most of your time and effort on the work that directly leads to you getting paid for your services.
Staying organized is an important strategy for all solopreneurs because despite your sincere efforts to work on your high-value activities as much as humanly possible, your menial administrative tasks still need to get done if you don’t want the IRS, vendors, and clients breathing down your neck. That means you can’t be so disorganized that you let your administrative tasks fall through the cracks. If you do, they’ll have a high chance of showing back up again as major fires that need putting out. Staying organized is key. The average American spends 2.5 days a year looking for misplaced items. Imagine how much more you could get done if you didn’t have to constantly dig through emails and piles of papers to find needed documents and contact information and therefore had an extra 10 minutes to work on your priorities each day.
Do an organizational overhaul by creating an environment that enables your utmost efficiency. Detox your electronic filing system of no-longer-needed files and create a Work In Progress folder to house all the project documents you’re in and out of frequently. Create a paper filing system that reduces desk clutter and keeps documents organized, then actually use it! Execute a Rapid Fire Power Hour at the end of each week in which you complete all simple, outstanding tasks that only take a few minutes to complete. Getting and staying organized will help you stay on top of all the administrative tasks that need to get done and help you complete them efficiently.
Execute A Weekly Review
As all business owners know, a lot of unforeseen things happen throughout your week, which inevitably prevent you from getting all that you planned done. A vendor can’t make the delivery. Your printer stops working. Your kid gets sick. An important meeting gets cancelled. There are infinite ways a wrench can be thrown into your week to ruin even the best of plans. Adaptability is key and scheduling a weekly review at the end of each week can help you make the shifts you need to get back on track. It will also help you show up on Monday fully prepared to tie up loose ends and fill all the holes remaining from the previous week.
During your review, look back through the notes you took (hopefully in your project management system and not all over sticky notes, napkins, and random pieces of paper) and fully process them, determining what needs your attention and when it needs your attention, then add it to your digital task list. Review the outstanding tasks on your list and look ahead at what is coming up so you can schedule time blocks to work on your incomplete tasks and projects in priority order. Finally, review what you could have done better so you can adjust and have a more productive week.
Focus On Your Mindset
No matter how great your time management skills, if your self-talk is not on point, there’s no way your business can be. You must have a healthy mindset to run a healthy, sustainable business. Everything in your business flows from the top down and your mind is right there at the top. So what is it saying? Are you letting belittling self-talk influence your actions? Perhaps you have thoughts like, You don’t deserve this. There’s no way this is going to work. They are so much better than me. I can’t possibly learn that. I don’t have enough time. If so, you have some mindset work to do. Start with learning how to recognize negative thoughts and drown them out with positive affirmations which are simply positive beliefs you want to hold about yourself and your business. Repeat your affirmations daily and take the appropriate actions to transform your thinking, build your confidence, and acquire new skills and experience, so your affirmations are no longer just positive thoughts but matter-of-fact truths. An unhealthy mindset can only sabotage your success. Focus on improving your mindset so you can boldly pursue your goals.
Create An Environment That Supports Your Focus
When is the last time you were working so diligently and focused that a bomb going off or toddler tantrum in the next room couldn’t have fazed you? Where were you sitting? What were you hearing? What was the temperature in your office? When had you last eaten and what? What were you wearing? All of those factors and many more contribute to your ability or inability to focus. And when you block out time to work on your high-value activities, you want to be able to get into your zone of focus as quickly as possible, so you can power through your tasks efficiently and effectively, then move on to your next high-value activity.
There are few things more disappointing than having a scheduled block of time to work on a big project, free from distractions and interruptions, and you simply cannot stay focused. The key then, is to identify the exact environment that you focus and work best in and recreate that environment whenever possible. That may mean facing a wall rather than a window, having classical music playing softly in the background, keeping all paper far from your desk, or using a standing desk. You are unique and so is the way you work best. Lean into it.
Minimize Pesky Distractions
Creating an environment that supports your focus is important, but your effort is totally wasted if you constantly allow distractions to pull you out of your focused zone. That’s because succumbing to small distractions adds up to giant gaps in productivity. There are two main kinds of distractions you should focus on minimizing: internal and external. Internal distractions occur when you shift your focus from one task to another, such as giving in to the temptation to check your social media account during work hours. External distractions are disruptions you are aware of but don’t directly involve you, such as loud construction being done across the street, kids running through your office, and the phone ringing.
To combat internal distractions, work on each task for a predetermined, manageable about of time. Start with 15 minutes devoted to no internal distractions, then increase to 20 minutes. Take a short break at the end of each time block and use those few minutes to check social media, grab coffee, or buy supplies on Amazon - activities that you otherwise would have kept thinking about if you had not scheduled time specifically for them. Continue increasing the length of your time blocks until you find your optimal block of focused work time.
To reduce external distractions, turn off all unnecessary notifications that tend to disrupt concentration. If you’re unaware your phone just received a text or a follower just commented on your post, you will not be zapped out of your focused zone, feeling the need to check it. And by golly, if you know they will be drilling through concrete across the street for a few days, grab your laptop and work elsewhere if you can or wear some noise-cancelling headphones.
Manage Interruptions Effectively
Interruptions are another big focus disruptor and time waster. Interruptions occur when a person purposefully draws your attention away from the task or activity you’re currently working on. The average office worker is interrupted 73 times a day! While a solopreneur may experience less interruptions from bosses and co-workers, you certainly still deal with them. Controlling colleagues, clients, vendors, and kids is not possible but managing interruptions is because you can control how you make yourself available to them.
To better manage colleague interruptions, post open office hours on your closed door and if needed, express to trespassers that these are the only hours you’re available for questions, concerns, or mindless chit-chat. Similarly, you can set up a voicemail message and an auto-reply in your email account letting clients know that you will get back to them promptly during business hours, so they do not keep trying to contact you using different methods. To help your kids respect your boundaries when working from home, schedule regular times to meet their needs and give them the attention they so desire. “Mommy can’t right now but if you don’t come in this room again, I will come out and play potato heads with you for 10 minutes when the kitchen clock says 2:00pm,” can go a long way toward keeping your five-year-old out of your hair. To curtail vendor interruptions, schedule deliveries during specified times of the day and implement a new policy that vendors must schedule an appointment to meet with you. Express your request in advance and place a sign outside your door saying “Private Work Time. Please Schedule An Appointment.”
Implement Simple Business Systems
Slowing down to implement simple yet effective business systems will help you accomplish your repetitive tasks with more efficiency and free up time to focus on high-value tasks such as prospecting, serving your clients, and business development. A great place to get your feet wet with business systems is creating checklists. The benefits of checklists are numerous but most importantly, they tell you what needs to be done and in what order, so you don’t have to waste thinking about what to do next. When you utilize checklists, your work will also be more consistent and you will make fewer errors.
You can use checklists for just about any task you do on a recurring basis such as planning an event, leading a meeting, onboarding a client, posting to social media, and invoicing. You simply need to succinctly document each step you do in the proper order so you can follow the checklist easily any time you need to complete that task. Taking time to embolden, italicize, and underline words and phrases that you want to emphasize for clarity within your checklists will pay off. Once you become adept at using checklists consistently and are ready to implement more business systems, take a stab at creating templates, workflows, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) to level up your efficiency even more.
Being a one-man or one-woman show running a business is a huge undertaking that can be more stressful than rewarding. Sure, solopreneurs have an advantage over business owners in charge of other people because they don’t have to worry about whether their team is staying on task, making their deadlines, and providing a high level of service to their clients. But solopreneurs are at a disadvantage too - they have to fill every role in their business from janitor up to CEO whether they’re qualified or not which can be very stressful and feel overwhelming. Taking on so many roles also demands a lot of commitment, research, energy, and time. That is why it’s especially important for solopreneurs to effectively execute strategies that help them manage their time and therefore their business better. Your entrepreneurial journey will surely be full of varied challenges that affect your time but using the time management strategies above will equip you to tackle many of them, reduce stress, enable focus, and ultimately, increase your profits.