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Streamlining Stress

Trying to do all the legwork of small-business activities without using the shortcuts available is guaranteed to eat up your time, wear out your patience, and possibly burn you out.

Michele Chiappetta
January 28, 2020

It’s the month of love. But how well are you loving your small business — and yourself as the boss? Here’s a hint: consider how well (or not so well) you are maintaining all the essential elements of keeping your company running smoothly. If the daily ride feels bumpier than it has to, your business systems may need a little tender loving care.

It is all too easy to get lost in the regular grind of getting activities done. Between the work you love doing, which earns you income, and the stuff you don’t enjoy so much but that has to get done (like invoicing), small-business owners can often find themselves working crazy hours. Well-known sources like Gallup and the Bureau of Labor Statistics say that small-business owners work, on average, six days a week, at least 50 hours or more per week. The average employee, by comparison, works about 35 hours a week.

The reality is, small-business owners wear a lot of hats, and you have to get the work done at the end of the day. But merely performing task after task all day long can be draining. And trying to do all the legwork of activities like billing and scheduling and writing contracts without using the shortcuts available to you is guaranteed to eat up your time, wear out your patience, and make you pull your hair out.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Periodically, it’s essential to take a step back and look at how your business is running and what’s needed to help it run more smoothly. This is one of the best ways to love your business and yourself— by streamlining and creating better systems to keep things moving as easily as possible, with the least amount of stress on you. Here are some handy tips from the trenches to help you do that.

Handoff administrative tasks
Chances are if you’re a small-business owner, it’s because you like control. You enjoy running your schedule, on your terms, doing the work you love, and taking charge of the salary you make. This is a great trait, but it can also backfire, because you may want to — or feel you have to — get all the work done yourself, including things that don’t earn you money.

Any size business can benefit from handing off some tasks to a vendor, like accounting. If you get a lot of phone calls, a concierge service can handle receptionist duties while you focus on projects and clients. Or, go a different route and hire someone to do domestic tasks, like grocery shopping and house cleaning, so you can put that time into your business and then relax.

If you are in a position to hire employees, then get serious about doing so. First, consider which tasks are taking up a lot of your time without earning you income (such as balancing the books). Second, think about tasks that are crucial to growth but that you don’t like to do (like marketing). Hire employees for those areas.

Streamline business systems
There are a lot of things on a business owner’s plate — everything from tracking time, calculating mileage, organizing business receipts, and on and on and on. It’s easy to procrastinate doing those things, but if you do, they just stay on your to-do list, mocking you. And they’re important.

Of course, you may not have a whole lot of time to do those things, because after all, you’re running a business. If you don’t have the budget to hire or outsource these tasks, then you need to get the must-dos done yourself. The key is to do it as quickly as possible to maximize the time you spend on client work.

This is where streamlining tasks by using the right tools can be handy. Beyond the obvious, like using accounting software (QuickBooks, Freshbooks, and Wave are popular, but there are others), think about what bogs you down or is hard to manage, and then research tech solutions to handle it. Whether you want to keep to-do lists, manage client projects, organize file storage, or schedule employees, there are apps and software to do it. And many have free options so you can test them out and see which ones you like.

Make time for time off
When you’re working those 50-60 hour work weeks, it’s easy to feel burned out. It can get to the point where you feel like there’s no time to relax and have a life. But we all know how vital it is to take care of ourselves. That includes getting to the gym, spending time with the kids, visiting the family, taking vacations — all the things that add to your enjoyment of life.

The key to this area is making room for time off. Don’t overschedule yourself. Calendar in blocks of time for all the things beyond work that make life worth living. Prioritize work projects that pay more, so you can work less. All of these strategies allow you to enjoy the best part of working for yourself — the freedom to run your life the way you want to.