Struggling with your work-life balance?

jeremy-thomas-75753One of the most common problems for self-employed people is achieving or maintaining a good work/life balance.

I recently had a client who was finding that he was overwhelmed by the amount of work that had to be done and was seriously considering pulling back from the business because of work life balance issues.  So,  I thought it would be useful to write an article on how owners/managers should manage their work/life balance.

There are four steps in getting control of the situation:

Step 1 – Log your time

The first step is to figure out what exactly is happening with your time.  You have got to start to keep a log and record your time.

You should categorise how you are spending time so that you can see how time is being spent of the various work/life areas – your business, relationship time, your relaxing time, your family time, personal development time, exercise time, maybe spiritual time or personal admin time.

It would be useful for you to split out what is happening with the business so you have better information.   You can break business time down into a number of different categories. Are you problem solving? Are you in business development mode? Are you stepping in for other people who should be doing their job? What exactly is happening within your business?

Start to keep your log and use it to track your.  You need data for a reasonable period of time  – ideally for something like a month, but it might be worth looking into tracking for shorter period if you think it will be representative.

Step 2 – Decide how you want to be spending your time

Once you get that log and start getting an idea of where your time is going, next thing you want to do is sit down and decide what do you want your week to look like.

You need to make realistic decisions about how you are applying your time.  Take the key time categories that you used when logging and decide how much time you feel is optimal to spend on each of those.

Again, when analysing your business, it would be useful to break that down into different areas such as business development, production/operations, staff development.   Your business categories will depend on what stage your business is at and can be different for different people.

We know that there are 168 hours in a week – 7 x 24. During these 168 hours in the week you will be engaging in different activities – sleeping, eating, exercising, family time – all sorts of different things.  You need to decide how you want to spend that 168 hours? What is the best mix for you.

So develop a list of activities for the week and allocate the amount of time you think is best for each.

Step 3 – Identify the gaps

When you have a log of where time is going and a decision on how you would prefer to be applying your time, you go back and compare the two, identifying where the biggest problems are.

Let’s say you are spending 12 hours per day, 6 day per week at work, which is 72 hours, and your plan is to spend 10 hours per day Monday to Friday and 5 hours on a Saturday, which is 55 hours. I am trying to be realistic here, you might think it is still too high but let’s try and make incremental changes rather than dramatic changes.

Identify where the biggest gaps are. If you are spending, say, 20 hours a week problem solving, you might think you should only be spending 5 hours a week problem solving. If you are spending 10 hours a week for administration, you might think you should only be spending 5. Work down through the actual v desired time and identify the problem areas.

For each gap, consider how are you going to improve the situation. You have a few options.  You could stop doing it or you can reduce the time you spend on it or you could delegate it to somebody else.  Implementing these decisions may require other actions  You may have to hire someone or train someone already on your staff.

Step 4 – Make a plan to close the gaps

For each one of the area you want to improve,  you need to create a specific plan.

To do that there are a few tools that you could use. There are two that I find most useful.

1.     Time Management Matrix

The first one is what’s known as the Steven Covey time management matrix.

If you can imagine a grid and on the horizontal you have urgent – non urgent, and on the vertical you have important – not important.Covey Matrix

That grid then divides into four quadrants – see above.

Once you cateogorise tasks in that way you will see that the items in the not urgent and not important category may not even be worth doing.

Urgent but not important items might be stuff that you may delegate to somebody else.

For the urgent and important items, you probably don’t have much choice about, it just has to be done.

The key area to spend your time on those items that are not urgent at the moment, but that are important.  If you don’t deal with those and they are important, what is going to happen is that they will soon become urgent and important.

The trick is to classify all the things that you are doing into those four boxes and then you decide how you deal with them.

2. Must/Should/Could

Another slightly simpler tool that I have come across that many people find very helpful is just to categorize everything into ‘MUST’, ‘SHOULD’ and ‘COULD’.

The things that you MUST do are ones where you have no choice, you just have to do them.

The things that you SHOULD do sound like they are important and have to be done but you may not have to do them.  You could do some and delegate others

And the things that you COULD do are optional.   You may do some of them or better delegate them but you are more likely to try to stop doing them.

By actually analysing the various items you are doing you will get visibility and you will better insight into where your time is going and you will start to prioritise things, and then you will start to spend time better.

Play around with the tools and decide which you prefer.  Then each of the elements, put plans into place. When you are putting plans in place it is important to be realistic. There is no point in sitting down and putting plan into place if you don’t intend to do or if it is not possible to do it.

2.     Be accountable

The third tool that I find very helpful is try and find a way to be accountable. It might be your life partner; it could be another colleague or business partner; it could be your coach.  Pick someone and tell them what you are going to do and then set up maybe a weekly call or an email to review how you have been spending your time and to review this.

Put it out there and make yourself accountable for it. Phase the implementation, don’t try to do everything at once, but have a phased plan on how you are going to implement things and set a time to review it. Give yourself 4 weeks, 8 weeks something and go back and see whether this is working and whether you are making progress.

Conclusion

If you are in a situation where your work/life balance is a problem, step back from what you are doing, look at where your time is going and for each and single one of those elements put a plan together.

Seek help from outside, a family member, business colleague, mentor or a coach to help you with your planning.  You will find that things will improve and it will make a difference.

If you have any questions, or items needing clarification, feel free to drop me an email.  Remember, we’re available if you want to bring an external perspective to your situation.

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