According to an infographic released by Visa Business, half of the world’s entrepreneurs fall between the ages of 25–44, and 20% of employers used less than $5000 for startup financing. (Note: you can see the full infographic at the end of this article)
That has certainly been true in my experience – my father started a multimillion dollar business for $2000, and three businesses I’ve been involved in were started when I was in my 30s and financed for less than $5000 (including one that sold for six-figures).
It doesn’t have to take a lot of money to start a business, but it often involves a lot more time than would-be entrepreneurs expect.
Why? Because somewhere along the way we start thinking about our business 24/7, end up with a workload that starts to consume our lives. Our health and personal relationships suffer, and we lament: “If only I had more time!”
To escape this vicious circle, I’m going to share with you a time management system I picked up years ago specifically geared for entrepreneurs, one designed to help you increase productivity and therefore increase both your income and the quality of your time off.
With this system, we do away with the usual “weekdays” and “weekends” and instead classify days into the 3 F’s:
- Focused Days
- Fun Days
- Flexible Days
What are these?
A Focused Day is a day where you only work on activities that will directly increase your bottom line in the next 90 days.
The concept of Focused Days is about getting the most important things done each week, the ones that will make the most impact in your business. By identifying your priorities and blocking out a day to do them, more general activities that do not contribute to your bottom line get put aside.
Focused Days need to be an entire day so that you gain momentum. When you begin, you will most likely do easy tasks first. If you’ve set a whole day aside, eventually you will get to the more challenging work, which is usually where the growth of your business lies. Try to spend at least 80% of your workday in your critical activities and see how having Focused Days can directly increase your bottom line.
As an example, my focused days are Mondays and Thursdays. Here are some of the activities I might do:
- Billable client work (i.e., Strategic plans, contributed articles, press release writing, media outreach via email only)
- Preparing proposals for new business
- Writing blog posts
- Writing an ebook or special report to sell
- Mapping upcoming launches or special events
As you can see, a lot of the work involves focused thinking time. There’s a momentum that’s gained in doing a task repetitively and with concentration. When you are interrupted by a phone call, for example, a psychological switching of gears takes place that can take up to 45 minutes to reset. Which means, you should guard your Focused Days against interruptions.
Especially when entrepreneurs love their work, or your income is based on results, it’s easy to give up taking any time off. However, if you don’t take the time to re-energize and rejuvenate yourself, your productivity and good judgment diminish, and the creativity and quality of your work deteriorates.
Many statistics that show that 40 hours a week is the sweet spot for work and productivity Even Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, recently admitted she leaves the office at 5:30 pm everyday! Work-life balance is not anti-work; it can really enhance what is going on and turn into money for your business.
A Fun Day is 24 hours entirely for you. These days are reserved for you to rest, relax, and recharge your batteries.
No work-related activities, phone calls, e-mail or reading business magazines, no checking voice mail, no planning, no meetings. Don’t spend the entire day running errands or chores.
The gift of Fun Days is to spend them doing activities you love that bring you both energy and pleasure. It isn’t necessarily the big pleasures that bring the most happiness; sometimes it’s the small stuff! Have breakfast in bed. Walk on the beach at sunset. Hug your children. Take that class you’ve always wanted to take. Spend an hour at the bookstore. Plant flowers in your garden. Give someone a compliment and make their day.
It might be hard at first, so decide in advance what you are going to do on your Fun Days and, if necessary, make a commitment to do things with others so you’ll have to follow through. Book vacations that are non-refundable, so you can’t back out. Remember that, even as an entrepreneur, you should have at least one Fun Day a week.
If it seems impossible to have a Fun Day, take a look at your priorities and make sure your business is supporting you in creating the lifestyle you want. You may have to give up some things — social obligations, less important “business” stuff, or tasks you can delegate to others, for example. It will be worth it!
Any day that is not a Focused Day or a Fun Day is called a Flexible Day. At first, this will probably represent most of your time.
Keep in mind that Flexible Days are not less important than Focused or Fun Days. They are also productive days, but are focused on longer-term opportunities because you need both short and long-term opportunities for a successful business. For me, a Flexible Day may involve phone calls, administrative tasks, and social media activities.
As an example, my Flexible Days are Tuesday, Wednesday and half of Friday (I try to take Friday afternoons off). On these days, here are some of the activities I might do:
- Internal team calls or client team calls
- One-off consulting requests via phone
- New business inquiries that would like to talk by phone
- Media follow-up by phone
- In-person meetings at client sites
- Non-revenue generating meetings and “coffee meeting” requests
- Personal development (i.e., taking an online course, working with a mentor)
- Administration and paperwork (Fridays)
- Planning and preparation for the next week (Fridays)
Maximizing Your Focused, Flexible and Fun Days
Book Focused, Flexible and Freedom Days into your calendar one or two weeks in advance and make a point of protecting them. Treat them as client appointments you cannot cancel.
The day before a Focused Day, proactively deal with anything that might interrupt your flow. This may include changing your voice mail to say you are working offsite that day, or ensuring employees know not to interrupt you unless it is critical. Limit checking email to two or three times at predetermined times of the day. Do not make or receive unrelated phone calls, or do anything not connected to the projects you are working on.
On a Fun Day, resist the temptation to “check email just once,” stop by the office, or bring work home with you the day before.
On a Flexible Day, try to have recurring calls with your team set up, and do all your in-person meetings in one day.
By planning carefully, you can take back control of your time, and actually achieve more for your small business.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of National Small Business Week, Visa Business created the following infographic highlighting eye-opening facts about small business owners and examining important small business trends.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments section what time management techniques have worked for you, and if you recognize your business in the infographic below.
I am blogging on behalf of Visa Business and received compensation for my time from Visa for sharing my views in this post, but the views expressed here are solely mine, not Visa’s. Visit http://facebook.com/visasmallbiz to take a look at the reinvented Facebook Page: Well Sourced by Visa Business. The Page serves as a space where small business owners can access educational resources, read success stories from other business owners, engage with peers, and find tips to help businesses run more efficiently. Every month, the Page will introduce a new theme that will focus on a topic important to a small business owner’s success. For additional tips and advice, and information about Visa’s small business solutions, follow @VisaSmallBiz and visit http://visa.com/business.
Elena is founder of a technology PR agency that works with startups to billion-dollar companies. She is passionate about helping marketers and small business owners with practical publicity strategies, which she's also using for her own bling flip flop company.
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