So if you’re anything like me (which obviously you are or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog and/or wishing for those last 10 pounds to magically fall off), you’ve constantly got a never-ending stream of STUFF TO DO.
When you run a business, that never-ending stream sextuples in size, and you begin to feel like everybody in the whole wide world needs something from you at all times of day, at all times of the month (especially *that* time of the month), and at all times of the year, from now until approximately a quarter past fucking forever.
So naturally, you’re so hopped up on stress cortisol, and exhausted by demands, and hating everyone, that when your well-meaning husband innocently asks you if you want Italian or Balsamic, you snap back that, FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST, YOU SIMPLY CANNOT MAKE ANY MORE DECISIONS.
Calm down, tornado tits. You weren’t supposed to try this entrepreneur stuff at home. (Okay, so you were, but that’s besides the point.)
In this screaming, crying, bloody world of people who are constantly demanding every second of our attention, from emails to tweets to texts to Facebook messages, Direct Messages, Inbox Messages, to those jackals who repeatedly call your phone over and over until you answer *raises fist*, there is always going to be someone else who wants something from you.
Which means one thing, and one thing only: The only way to survive (without checking yourself into a mental institution every year), is by aggressively GUARDING YOUR TIME.
It’s way too easy to give the world what they want, and have no time left over for the things that you want.
And that’s a problem.
So, while most people will tell you to play games doing all sorts of happy horse shit, breaking down your day into 30-minute increments and playing Russian Roulette with a timer, I’ve adopted a much simpler system. It’s a groundbreaking methodology called: Prioritizing.
Now, I know you know what prioritizing means…but that’s not the hard part. The hard part is knowing what to prioritize so you can actually do it. When you’re starting a business and wearing 15 different hats, all the hats seem like they’re equally important, and the next thing you know, you’re trying to wear them all at once and YOU CAN’T BECAUSE YOU ONLY HAVE ONE HEAD. Note that this is both metaphorical and literal, you guys.
So, while I’d never recommend taking cooking advice from me, I’m going to share my personal system of figuring out how to work through that to-do list and actually get something done beyond your morning poop.
First thing in the morning, do the one thing that’s personally most important to you in the world.
Do this first, or it’ll become one of those things you accidentally put on the back burner for the next five years…and then hate yourself for. For half of the people reading this, that’s probably writing your book, isn’t it? That’s what you can find me doing at 6 o’clock in the morning: Writing that memoir that wasn’t getting written seriously for years…until I learned to make it the first thing I do every morning, without fail. (And now it’s getting written seriously, and I can’t wait to share it with you.) Bottom line: No one is going to make time for this stuff if you don’t. A cloud is never, ever going to part in your schedule and say to you, “Okay, now it’s your turn! Here’s the time you needed to write that book!” Not happening. You are the only person who can make the time. So make the time, and make it first on your list. After all, it is the most important thing to you in the world, isn’t it?
Next on your list of priorities: Do the one thing that’s most important to your business health right now.
Listen carefully: I didn’t say “answer emails”; I said do the thing that’s most important to your business health. For most people, that’s going to mean *marketing activities*. Why? First, because your business can’t dry up. What happens when you’re done with that big client project…and then have no other revenue coming in? Marketing is the #1 thing you should be doing in your business every day, before the client work, before the operational stuff, to keep it in a healthy state. Marketing. The second reason is because, when you make marketing a priority, then that means that more and more clients will want to work with you, and that means demand goes up. And what does that mean? It means you can remain selective with your fees and the types of projects you choose to take on, which is really important for your long-term happiness in this biz. Marketing helps you keep your demand high, so you can keep your business growing, stable and healthy. Most people put marketing last on their list, and rush through it to put out all the fires of the day, instead. They treat marketing like a luxury, or an afterthought, or something they only do in the very moment they *need* that client. This is wrong. This is foolish. Always stay two steps ahead of the amount of revenue you’re pulling today. This is why I put things like blogging & social media at the top of my list, instead of last. If you think you don’t have time for blogging, then you’re doing it wrong.
Next up: Do the one thing that’s most important to your business obligations…right now.
I define business obligations as all the things you have to do, and do well, in order to stay in business. For most of us, this is going to be client work. You won’t be in business long if you take people’s money and don’t fulfill your end of the bargain. Furthermore, you won’t be in demand long if you’re putting out crap work. So this is a big priority, and next after you secure the health of your business. Get in the zone, and make that magic happen. This is why you started your business in the first place, after all: Because you love what you do. (And if you don’t, get the fuck out.)
Next: Do the one thing that’s most important to your business operations…right now.
This is the stuff that most people start their day with; the little tasks that they want to get out of the way, but that accidentally end up eating all of their mental energy, leaving them with none for their clients, and none to work ON their business instead of in it. In this category falls emails, doing payroll, filing taxes, jumping through hoops, documenting paperwork, and the like. Those people in your inbox are important, yes, but not as important as the success or failure of your business. And you’ve got to treat it as that black and white: If I spend one hour answering emails and pleasing everybody else, that’s one hour that I am putting my business at risk. Only stop to answer an email if the risk is worth it, in terms of what it can BRING to your business…not take away.
And next to last: Do the one thing that’s on your mind, that you have to get done, and that’s an obligation, but not necessarily imperative for your business.
Maybe it’s helping that person you said you’d help, or donating your time. You want to be a do-gooder, yes, but you need to remember that, when you’re running a business, these types of activities get last priority. Not because you’re a greedy, heartless schmuck, but because you’re a savvy business person and if you’re not making the money, you can’t give other people your time. Period. PERIOD. This is not personal; this is math.
And last, but certainly not least: Shut down the damn computer and go live your life.
I mentioned the other day I’ve been painting a lot (which may or may not include hand painted Christmas cards that I am super giggly and proud of), and I can’t stress this piece enough. It’s a hard lesson I’ve had to learn over and over and over again, and I think it’s one we all need to remind ourselves of, all the time. With the holidays coming up, you don’t want to be that overworked, overstressed, overcrazed lunatic who can’t relax to save her life. You aren’t working so you can work some more; you’re working so you can raise the quality of your life. So don’t forget that your life is waiting for you to live it. That was the whole point.
Remember: You can always make more money, but you can never make more time.
Guard it with your life.
Or, at the very least, your priorities.
And the next time someone comes waltzing into your world demanding X, Y and Z?
You tell them to take a number.
Because first in line this year is you.