Tiny Read: The key to beating overwhelm is to guard your time like a mother and learn how to properly manage your time — and the only way to know how to properly manage your time is to get crystal clear on how you’re spending it.
Once you identify which activities bring you the most benefit and which ones just end up making you want to tear your hair out for no reward, you can cut out the extra fat by outsourcing, automating, or simply removing them from your business altogether. Get rid of clients or services that are eating up too much of your time and let go of passion projects or collaborations that just simply won’t bring you the returns.
If I scroll past one more “inspirational” quote telling me how many hours Beyoncé has in a day, I might just flip a switch. I’m pretty sure if we all had the bank balance to support a cleaning service, a personal chef, a chauffeur (think of how many blog posts you could write while someone else drives you around!), a nanny, and a dog walker… we’d all be well on our way to world domination too.
Instead, here you are, hustling your tush off trying to do #allthethings in your business: marketing, accounting, payroll, managing employees and subcontractors (or trying to figure out how get a little bit off your plate), chasing new leads, fleshing out new ideas, and planning new services, collaborations and projects. Girl, meet overwhelm. She’s one nasty b*tch.
As entrepreneurs (or wantrepreneurs — no judgment), the minute we start feeling like we can’t do it all, our good ol’ friend self-doubt comes for a visit and we start wondering if we’re not cut out for this entrepreneur thing after all.
If you want to get over the overwhelm and feel more in control of your business, it’s time to take a serious look at how you’re spending your time.
Here’s how to zero in on how you’re spending your hours… so you can make changes where needed:
1. Track your time.
This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many entrepreneurs have NEVER tracked how long it takes them to complete their tasks (I’m willing to bet you’ve never done it either!) The only way to really know how you’re using your time day-to-day is to log it. And there are great tools out there like Toggl, RescueTime or Harvest that make this very important step easy to do. Just add the timer as an extension on your browser and turn it on whenever you’re working on your business.
Once you get a clearer picture of how much time you spend on tasks that don’t directly generate income for you, you can easily look at how you can outsource and automate these specific activities so that you can focus on those revenue-generating to-dos.
Pro Tip: Create categories for your tasks so that you can instantly see how much time you spend answering emails, crafting blog content, writing proposals, or surfing social media. Give it a try and I promise you, you’ll be amazed by how much time you actually spend (waste?) on “small” tasks.
2. Do a client list audit.
We all have them… those smaller clients you took on at the start of your business because you were happy to have any paying client. Things have changed: Your business has grown, you’re working with clients who pay more for better service, and your rates are inching up. And yet, those smaller clients are still eating up your most precious resource — time. It’s okay to fire a client or, if you can ride the situation out (aka, they have a wedding coming up or some other final deadline), you should at least make sure to journal about the experience for the next time you’re tempted to discount your services “because you felt bad charging full price.”
This is a perfect situation to try Pareto’s rule: Aim to bring down your client roster so that 20% of your time is spent working with clients who bring in 80% of your revenue. The bonus of doing this is that once you’ve identified the characteristics of who those 20% clients are, you can more easily go out and find more of them.
Pro Tip: Build a good, solid referral network. When you’re letting an old client go who can no longer afford you, don’t leave them high and dry. Send them to someone trustworthy that will be thrilled to serve them and do it better than you’re willing or able to. You want to end your working relationship on a good note! It goes without saying that notice is always appreciated.
3. Be honest with yourself.
This is crucial (which is why it’s sometimes the hardest thing to do). If you’re providing a service that takes you many hours of “overhead” time to complete… but you’re only charging for a fraction of those “billable” hours, you’re losing. For example, let’s say you’re a photographer with an hourly rate of $250 an hour advertised to clients, “because that’s what everyone else is charging.” You spend eight hours editing, and only charge your client for the two hours you spent in session with them. Congratulations, your hourly take home pay is less than $30 an hour when you take into account taxes and minimal overhead. Throw in the need for some new gear, and you’re now working a minimum wage job.
Running your business in this way is NOT sustainable, and you can quickly start to resent your business or your clients. Make sure that the services you’re providing are streamlined and that the benefits and pricing are aligned with the time you’re investing in them, NOT with what “everyone else is charging.”
The same needs to be said for collaborations or side-projects. If you’re working on a collaboration or passion project that’s taking you hours, but you’ll only really see minimal rewards, it’s time to get honest with yourself and stop working on them.
Pro Tip: You can always throw in bonuses to your clients, so if you scale back the value of your service to align with the pricing, that doesn’t mean you can’t add a little extra when you do have time to spare.
BONUS TIP: Step away from the screen.
When things get serious and overwhelm is determined to bring my mood down, the one thing that always works for me without fail is to step away from my computer. It’s so cliche, I know. Sometimes it’s for 15 minutes, other times it’s for a day… most recently it’s been an indefinite road trip around the US (you’ll want to follow my Instagram stories for that adventure). I even started scheduling a lunch break on my calendar to give myself permission to do whatever I want in the noon-hour.
We all need to do the things we enjoy to stay “us”, for our family, our clients, and our work. Remember that the next time you find yourself ‘accidentally’ in the stationery aisle at Target on a random Tuesday afternoon at 3:47pm (<< zero experience, purely hypothetical…)
Tell me one thing you’re going to work on cutting out so that you can focus on revenue-generating tasks.